The new iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus are the most powerful handheld game systems you can buy today. They're capable of displaying richly detailed CG worlds that outstrip what you'd find on a Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita. But the iPhone is missing one thing a lot of gamers still crave: a physical gamepad with buttons and joysticks. If that sounds like something you'd want, the new Gamevice for iPhone is the one I'd probably recommend. That is, if you forced me to recommend one.
The Gamevice is definitely the most practical iPhone gamepad I've tried, and that's mostly thanks to its flexible, folding frame. While most iOS game controllers look like standard Xbox or PlayStation gamepads, the Gamevice is a wispy pair of surprisingly comfy grips with a stretchy fabric band between. Not only does the band expand from iPhone 6 size to accommodate the larger iPhone 6 Plus and 6S Plus, it also lets the controller fold down into a small package (about the size of my fist) that'll fit in a shoulder bag or a decent-size purse.
When I took the Gamevice to my family gatherings over the holiday break, I was pleasantly surprised at some of the compatible games I found to pass the time. Zooming through the colorful worlds of Sonic the Hedgehog and avoiding certain death from the devious traps in Limbo felt easier with the Gamevice's responsive buttons to help me make tricky jumps. Mowing down zombies and aliens in Dead Effect and Unkilled felt more engaging with a real set of dual-analog controls to help me aim. It's also pretty nice to see the entire screen while playing cinematic console smash hits like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Final Fantasy VII, instead of having a bunch of touchscreen buttons in the way.
But for every game I found that worked well, I found another that inexplicably didn't. Games like XCOM, This War of Mine, Worms and Max Payne, which support controllers on other platforms, don't here. Some games that work with a gamepad on Android don't support them on iPhone, for that matter. There are a couple of apps you can download that try to keep track of which games support physical controls, but there's nothing in Apple's own App Store to help you find controller games or keep you from purchasing ones that don't support controllers.
For $100 (or £80 or AU$150), the retail price for a Gamevice, I'd want to know that I was making an investment in a gamepad with some staying power, something that I'd be able to use for years with future games and future iPhones to come thanks to Apple's active support. That isn't the case. Instead, you'd be buying a pretty decent controller that works with today's iPhones and a small selection of today's games -- games which mostly work just fine without the controller. In Apple's world, the gamepad is unfortunately still a luxury.