One thought I've had since the Nintendo Switch was released was if Apple would note what Nintendo has done and come a bit closer to supporting games in a more classic way. Tap games have been a huge part of gaming for some but some games just don't translate well and that distance makes a full gaming experience hard on phones and tablets. That is, it was until Apple decided to support a ton of different controllers on iOS such as Xbox Wireless Controllers that support bluetooth, PlayStation DualShock 4 and any MFI Apple certified controller. Apple certified MFI controllers have been supported in iOS for ages but when Apple officially added support for XBox & Playstation 4 controllers I knew Apple was trying to give controller gaming a shot in the arm as a lot of gamers have access to these controllers already.
Fast forward to now and I have recently secured a fresh new iPad Air 4th gen and one major part of getting it was to play games on it. But support for controllers on iOS isn't widespread and tap gaming still rules the roost so how good is gaming on an iPad and iOS? One big miss of this post is Apple Arcade as I don't have a subscription and haven't felt the need to get one. One big reason is frankly the iPad naturally comes with enough gaming for me in it's free to play and games I've already purchased. At some point I may jump into Apple Arcade but for now, I'm good.
Games Are As Fun As The Controls Are
I'll just say right out of the box that a lot of my experience of gaming on phones hasn't been fun because the controls aren't fun. Like I said before, some games just don't work for me by tippy tapping on a screen. I know some folks love tapping away playing a shooter on a phone but I just don't. I've spent so many hours playing shooters with a keyboard and mouse and controller it's harder to move to a less precise scheme. Platformers also don't always transfer well to phones either so, to date, unless the game was made with the tapping in mind it hasn't been much fun for me. Adding in some totally bullshit free to play mechanics and a lot of phone games don't hold my attention very long.
All that in mind I bought an XBox One bluetooth wireless controller knowing that it would pair well with iOS to play games on my iPad. I wasn't sure how well the XBox controller would work with iOS but I can honestly say that after using it for a week it's incredibly seamless and a real testament to Microsoft engineering (it's a great controller) and Apple to do such a great job making it feel like a native device on iOS. The native integration with the XBox controller is so good on iOS that the new battery widget that shows battery life on your iPad and other devices like bluetooth headphones also shows the XBox One battery level. It seems a lot of tech companies are using open technology to connect devices such as bluetooth, usb c and that means when we buy something we can use it many more situations. Not only can the XBox One bluetooth controller pair with iOS but also my PC and Mac too.
What Tablet Games Work With Controllers?
Call of Duty Mobile: Historically I'm not a Call of Duty fan but I heard good things about Call of Duty Mobile and that it had great controller support. I'd say if you played Call of Duty mobile with tap controls it's a good shooter. Solid effort, some fun there but with a controller it's such an elevated experience. In fact, Call of Duty mobile with the XBox controller on the iPad feels like Counter Strike or at least it does the way I'm playing it. The cool part of Call of Duty mobile is like Fortnite it's a free to play game where you buy in a season pass and skins. There are some unfortunate loot box mechanics to getting certain skins but if you don't care about "catching them all" it's entirely avoidable. I've already unlocked a couple skins and find you can collect enough stuff through normal play or watching videos to get currency to unlock stuff to be completely fine. In fact I find the whole watch a video to unlock currency thing to be a good trade if you wanted to get something in game and get the developers money in a way that doesn't cost you anything but time.
I've avoided the Call of Duty Mobile Battle Royale modes entirely in favor of playing Frontline mode which reminds me of a simplified Counter Strike style of gameplay. There are other modes such as free for all or other capture and hold modes that make Call of Duty Mobile a more compelling game than it's Desktop/PC counterpart Call of Duty Warzone (add more game modes please).
NBA 2K Mobile: NBA 2K Mobile takes the battle tested NBA 2K formula and simplifies it for mobile tap controls and a free to play ecosystem. The free to play revolves around energy so the idea is you play matches that takes energy and at some point if you play enough you wait for more energy to recharge or pay to buy more. I find this a fine free to play model because I've never played enough to run down my energy. Oh and it works really well with a controller too. In fact NBA 2K mobile with a controller feels like a normal ol' NBA 2K game with shorter matches and some simplified controls. I'm not saying this is the best basketball game experience you can have, in fact just getting a full NBA 2K game would be, but it's a solid mobile effort and it being free isn't a bad thing either.
Gwent: Card games on mobile work because the card game mechanic is perfect for tap controls. As such there is no controller support and even if they had it I'm not sure I'd play it that way. I'm a very light Gwent player and as such am not very good but it's a great game on a Tablet and is also a good example of a free to play game that doesn't feel too predatory. It might be harder for hardcore Gwent players and you may need to buy a fair amount of packs to be competitive but for just playing around in training mode it's fun enough for me.
Did I say Gwent's art style is incredibly beautiful too? I'm not sure if it's my new iPad display or what but Gwent pops for me and is a good example of a very rich art design that works great on a tablet.
Wayward Souls: Wayward Souls is a game I bought a few years ago on my iPhone that is one of the best rogue like platformers with tap controls. That said, it's native support on tablet for controllers blows it up to one of the most fun rogue likes I've played in years. Given that I prefer a controller for these kinds of games Wayward Souls feels at home on my tablet. Given how good this is I might pick it up on PC and if you haven't played it I seriously recommend you give it a go.
Doom: We all knew I'd squeeze yet another Doom review into this post so let's get to it. Yes I love Doom and yes I have to get it on every platform I can. So far I have Doom on DOS, PC, Mac, PS3, Switch and now iOS. First I wanted to see how well Doom with tap controls fared and it's not great. It's a good effort by Bethesda here but Doom wasn't made for these kinds of controls and it doesn't feel natural to play it this way. Recently Doom on mobile added support for controllers and it makes it feel as good as Doom is to play on the Switch, which is to say, it's a very worthy port.
My Thoughts on How Gaming Goes From Here
For the most part you can port just about any game to any system and there is a good story now that the game can even be quite a bit of fun. When ports of games like Bioshock, Borderlands and Doom sell fantastically well on the Switch and we now see how good controller gaming has come to tablets I'm wondering how long until tablets and the like are normal delivery platforms for big box games? The monetization for games on mobile platforms seems like the final hurdle here and how people consider pricing on these platforms might be more prohibitive than the technology itself. Case in point I just picked up Stardew Valley on iOS for $3 and with a controller it feels like a very natural way to play but it's $14.99 on Steam and that price distance, while good for me, makes it hard for bigger games to come to mobile.
That said, the future of games seems to be every game can be played anywhere and it seems like it's just a matter of which platforms the developers decide make the most sense to work with.
More Information on What Controllers Are Supported in iOS