One iPhone Game That's Worse With An Xbox Controller

When it comes to mobile gaming, there's one complaint that has bubbled up for years now, and never seems to go away: touchscreen controls are a pain in the ass.

See, for a lot of games, those touch-based controls are just straight-up inferior to buttons and joysticks, and to many gamers, recent iOS ports like Dragon Quest VIII are hard to play without a real controller.

But, hey: it works both ways.

Last week at E3, the folks behind the hit mobile game Threes announced that they'd be bringing it to Xbox One. It was a neat surprise; Threes is one of the best games you can play on your phone, powerful in how it challenges you to play more, more, more until you're two subway stops past home and you've just looked up for the first time in 30 minutes.

Now, I play a lot of Threes.

A lot of Threes.

Look, I'm not kidding when I say I play a lot of Threes.

One iPhone Game That's Worse With An Xbox Controller

Threes is pretty much the only game I'm good at, so when I was wandering around the E3 show floor last week, I thought I'd go try to set the high score on the demo booth for Xbox One. How hard could it be?

But... playing with a controller felt terrible. Awful. Clunky. Atrocious. Minutes after I tried it, I had to load up some Threes on my phone just to cleanse my fingers. Where swiping the screen to match tiles in Threes feels elegant, like gliding along a lake, maneuvering this board with an Xbox controller is like hammering nails with a piece of plywood—it gets the job done, but it all just feels wrong.

One of Threes' most important tactics is the half-move—when you start sliding your tiles in one direction just to see where everything will fit. With a joystick, this is nearly impossible to pull off, because you get a significantly less precise sense of how far you're sliding the board forward. It's much easier to feel that elastic pull when your finger is right on the screen, and consequently, it's much easier to make the right decisions as you play through the game.

As I'm sure you can tell, I take Threes very seriously. And though the talented folks behind the game might find other ways to optimize it for use on controllers, I can't see it ever feeling better than it does on a touchscreen.

If you've got a smartphone, play Threes. It's wonderful. Just don't wait for it to come to the Xbox. Some games are better without a controller.