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Moga Ace Power review: Turn your iPhone into a gaming handheld

I played Bugdom 2, Limbo, Dead Trigger 2, Galaxy on Fire 2 HD, Oceanhorn, Bastion, FurFighters, and Otto Matic. Some of these were on a test iPod Touch provided by Moga, and others were on my iPhone 5S test unit that I loaded with some games. In both cases, the games played well. A few, like Limbo, seemed to display a bit of response lag, but that seemed to be part of the game's actual interface design.

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How do you know which games support controllers? Good question. Right now it's tough. According to Apple, hundreds of games in the App Store already support it. Finding those games is the challenge: there's no actual way, at the moment, to know which games do and don't support controllers like the Moga Ace Power short of message-board searches, gaming sites, and, well, places like CNET. At least, once you've found a game, the ability to fold in controller support is easy: iOS 7 already allows it, and Apple has a standardized API for controller accessories, so the Moga Ace Power -- and any other controller -- should play the same way.

Some games immediately recognize the controller, and even offer controller-specific tutorial tips. Others, more often, just end up working with premapped button layouts that turn out fine, but take a while to guess and figure out.

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Do buttons make a difference? For certain games, absolutely. You're not going to use the Moga Ace Power for Angry Birds or Words With Friends, but a game of Pac-Man suddenly becomes a lot more enjoyable. So would any platformer, racing game, or sports game.

AirPlay remains a curious wild-card amid all of this. You can connect an iPhone, iPod, or iPad to an Apple TV via AirPlay Mirroring and enjoy many games in full screen -- and some even have second-screen support that turns the paired devices into additional control panels or view screens.

I tried using AirPlay with a few games and had mixed success. Galaxy on Fire 2, when it worked, was really cool with a controller: it felt like having a little video game console. But, AirPlay streaming of gameplay can get pretty choppy in my experience, at least over my home network. It's not smooth or consistent enough yet to be a killer feature, or even a feature.

It's early days for iOS game controllers and controller-supported games, but odds are there's more exciting stuff to come. Most big game developers are already supporting these controllers before they've even arrived: Lego The Lord of the Rings and Oceanhorn, in particular, show how AAA games will probably be arriving with controller support standard. So, for early adopters of a game controller like this one, that's good news. But you'll have to go along for the ride. This is a peripheral that screams "hobby" in big letters.

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Battery charging: A pleasant extra
Interestingly enough, the Ace Power also doubles as an iPhone/iPod Touch battery pack, with an 1,800mAh battery. That's equivalent to some standalone battery-pack cases. The controller uses a bit of that power, but the rest is meant to charge the iDevice you've got in it. A little button shows battery life, and to recharge you plug in an included Micro-USB cable. To activate charging, you slide a toggle on the lower left from red to green.

For extralong gaming sessions it's a nice touch, but I wonder if a less expensive and smaller device could have been made without the battery.

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Conclusion: Killer stocking stuffer...and possible console alternative?
An iPhone with a game controller case will never replace a game console...at least, not this year. At $100, the Moga Ace Power may be a more tempting proposition than a PlayStation Vita for some, but the Nintendo 2DS, already a full-featured game system, costs nearly the same.

Once more games and future wireless AirPlay uses arrive, maybe game controllers will be the open door for iOS games to evolve to the next level. Right now, the Moga Ace Power is the best iOS game controller I've ever seen -- which might not be saying much -- but it holds promise for future games, too. Android gamers may be laughing at how iOS is late to the game controller party, but I'm at least glad the party's on at all.

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