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Mad Catz C.T.R.L. Mobile Gamepads

I am not much of a mobile-game player. A reluctant elitist, I prefer my simulations to REQUIRE controllers with extra buttons on their buttons. As a selfish rule of thumb, if I can play it without a HOTAS, I’m probably not going to be interested. I do enjoy a few mobile games—2048 and Crossy Road are two current favorites—but as the mobile interface is primarily finger-tap and swipe controls, this greatly limits the complexity of inputs I enjoy mastering and removes that tactile feel I’ve grown to expect from my gaming interface.

That said, Mad Catz recently approached Mudspike about some new products they’ve got for mobile devices: specifically their C.T.R.LR controller for Android devices and their C.T.R.Li for iOS. Hesitant but curious, I accepted a review copy of each and decided to give them a fair shake.

Disclaimer: Mudspike prides itself on unbiased and honest article content. In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this article was provided both a C.T.R.LR and a C.T.R.Li by Mad Catz for the purpose of this review, but the comments and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone.

The C.T.R.Li controller works with iOS devices (iPod, iPhone, iPad).
The C.T.R.Li controller works with iOS devices (iPod, iPhone, iPad).

Before the devices even arrived, I did a little homework – how many mobile games even support the use of a controller? The answer was surprising: quite a few! Mad Catz maintains a list of controller-friendly apps for the both the Android version and the Apple version on the associated product page. I don’t know how often this list is updated, but it was the most current of the lists I could find via Google. Not all of the apps are free but were enough to give the controller a good test drive without too much investment.

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The C.T.R.Lr is for Android devices.

Unboxing

This might seem superficial, but I have found that a product’s box is usually a good sign of the quality of the product inside. The C.T.R.LR/i boxes are pretty spiffy, definitely something that would catch my eye on the shelf.

 

 

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Note: if you try to google what the C.T.R.L. acronym means, you’re going to be disappointed: the letters don’t actually stand for anything! The acronym-ish name reflects the Mad Catz branding-style: R.A.T., S.T.R.I.K.E., etc.

Our house is predominantly an Android house, so I open the C.T.R.LR box first, and am further pleased with the contents.

The box comes with a nice thick manual, a pair of AAA batteries, and a fat stack of Mad Catz stickers (my daughter is going to LOVE these!). Far from just a collection of legalese, terms and conditions, and warranty verbiage, the manual describes the different modes of the controller, how to perform the Bluetooth pairing, and a nice although completely unnecessary pictorial guide of how to use the device.

Setting It Up

I don’t need to read no stinking instructions, though, so I pop off the battery cover, go to put in the batteries, and find a mini-usb port exactly where I don’t expect to find one—behind the batteries. Is this a power port? Ugh, now I have to read the manual.

I read that the controller’s firmware can be updated via this mini-USB port. I’m not 100% sure why the port had to be hidden behind the batteries, but I like the updatable firmware. As more and more mobile games take advantage of external controllers, C.T.R.LR/i owners will be able to keep pace with regular updates from Mad Catz.

Batteries installed, battery cover snapped back on, I give the controller a good heft. It’s nice and heavy—not plastic-y or flimsy—and it has a smooth yet non-slippery grip. My thumbs naturally rest on top of the sturdy dual-analog sticks, the crosspad and pushbuttons are easy to reach and push, and the left and right triggers and shoulder buttons don’t take any unusual stretching to depress. The whole layout feels lifted from Xbox controller—which, as an Xbox player, I find very reassuring.

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The button layout is easy to reach and very familiar to Xbox players.

Play Time

Now for the games. The first game I tried with my new controller was Zen Pinball. I have a big soft spot for electronic pinball games (who doesn’t love Space Cadet?), but one of my biggest issues with mobile versions of this pastime is that the fingertaps on a flat, dead screen separate the player from the flipper. This complete lack of tactile feedback literally numbs the experience. In addition, getting down the timing for tricky shots is difficult, and I seem to regularly miss shots: probably because I end up resting my finger on the glass and try to push an imaginary button instead of making the tap motion the game is looking for.

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Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball…

With the C.T.R.LR, I’m quickly able to intuitively time my flipper shots and make some skill shots on purpose. My thick fingers aren’t obscuring the view, and I’m not accidentally tilting the table or bumping the flippers as I adjust the controller in my hands. Overall, the experience is way better than the tap screen, in a game-changing way. Experimentation with a few other games—including Real Racing 3—shows a great improvement over gameplay feel as well. Several games from the GTA series are also compatible with the C.T.R.LR, which I can’t even imagine trying to play without a controller.

So far, I’ve been disappointed that I can’t find a key command layout in game or a way to customize the mapping to my liking—most apps have a default mapping and you’re stuck with it. Luckily, the default layout seems to work well for me in the games I’ve played, but I hope the developers of some more complex games, like a mobile flight sim, will enable customization for their picky customers. It’d also be nice if Mad Catz had an app/utility to re-map, maybe enable users to set unique profiles for each of their apps, but I realize that might be dreaming. {ahem}

Mount Up

There is one almost game-killing problem: with both hands on the controller, who is holding your mobile device at the right distance and angle so you can keep your eyes on the action? Laying the device flat on the table leads to kinks in your neck, and asking your significant other to hold it for you just brings a load of sass.

The smart G.U.Y.Z. and G.A.L.Z. at Mad Catz have the solution for both your neck and sass problems: both the C.T.R.LR and the C.T.R.Li come with phone mount that screws to the front of the controller and holds your phone (or iPod) in a padded spring-clamp to keep it at the right distance and angle. I own a Note 4, which is on the girthier side of phones, but the mount accommodated it quite nicely. I’ve also tested the mount on The Wife’s more slender LG 3, and our daughter’s third generation iPod. All of the devices were held quite securely and I was still able to reach the power and volume buttons.

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The mount is easy to use and fairly grip-y, but don’t expect to fling this around the room and still hold onto your phone.

Another option is to connect your phone/tablet to your TV or monitor (either via an HDMI cable or a “cast screen” type app) then sit back in your recliner and let the good times roll! At this point, it should feel just like playing a console, except without all those 12-year olds saying awful things about your mother. Unfortunately, I’ve never set up this capability with my devices, so I wasn’t able to test it.

Media Control

Another feature unique to the C.T.R.LR is media control. A row of media control buttons at the top of the controller enables play/pause/fast forward/rewind and volume control. I’m already finding this natively-supported little trick very handy for controlling music on my Note 4.

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The controller interface for media playback is intuitive, easy-to-reach, and pretty robust.

C.T.R.Li

The iOS controller is very similar to the Android version – nice packaging, decent manual, easy-to-install process, and great heft/feel. The same phone mount is included in the box, and the button layout is nearly identical except for the media control buttons: these are missing on the C.T.R.Li.

As a “that’s weird” note, when using the C.T.R.Li, I would occasionally find that the iPad had lost connection with the controller, requiring a quick flick of a switch and a several second delay to reconnect. This occurred several times during gameplay, and there’s never a convenient time for a disconnect in mobile gaming. Reading up on it a little, this seems to be an issue with the way some apps use the Bluetooth on iOS, and is not a fault of the controller, but this doesn’t make the disconnects any less frustrating.

Conclusion

For me, $49.99 US is a bit of a price tag for an accessory to a platform I rarely use for gaming, but I am glad I got the opportunity to try it out. The pinball experience alone would have justified the purchase, in my opinion, but I’m excited to try the additional level of control and tactile feedback on other games (Come on Xplane, bring in controller support!). While carrying a nice heft, the controller is compact enough to easily slide into a pocket and its 60 hours of battery life means it will make a great road companion. If you play a lot of mobile games, you will probably find that the C.T.R.LR/i greatly expands your experience, adding that necessary tactile feedback and more intuitive whole-hand control to your gameplay.

The Good:

  • Nice feel. Definitely feels solid in your hands but not weighty, materials are high-quality, buttons and sticks feel solid.
  • Plug and play. Installation is as easy as Bluetooth pairing, and can be easily swapped between devices, if you have more than one.
  • App support. While not ALL apps are guaranteed to be controller-friendly, there is a pretty decent selection available now, and this selection should grow as mobile controllers become more popular.
  • Mobility. The small size, excellent battery life, and use of standard batteries instead of a proprietary inaccessible rechargeable pack makes this device ready to go anywhere.
  • Phone mount. The included phone stand is practically a must for holding your mobile device at a viewable height and angle while using the controller.
  • Future capability. The ability to update firmware ensures a longer compatible life.
  • Comes with a lot of stickers!

Could Be Better:

  • Price tag. Costing more than an Xbox 360 wireless controller, the C.T.R.LR/i price-point is a bit ambitious, but the quality of the controller definitely steps up to the game.
  • iOS stability. Also not Mad Catz’s fault, but it can be disappointing to have your controller disconnected during a game, regardless of whose fault it is.