Traditionally, if you were looking for a quality gaming experience you’d turn to a games console. PlayStation or Xbox for the more seasoned player, Wii for fun family game time, perhaps a PC for the hardcore gamer. Almost certainly a Nintendo handheld if you wanted to take your gaming mobile.
Times are changing however, and increasingly
powerful mobile devices are drawing people away
from conventional gaming experiences and
high-quality, low-cost games on mobiles could
spell trouble for the gaming incumbents. Players
are moving towards having their game time at
their convenience on devices that they already
own and carry with them.
Mad Catz is looking to create a blend of the two
concepts with hardware that’s strikingly similar to
your phone or tablet but played on the big screen
and with a conventional controller. An interesting
concept and certainly the idea of paying a few
pounds per game instead of £50+ is appealing,
but does it work?
The M.O.J.O. has the internals of a high-end
Android device with a skew towards the powerful
graphics processing needed for gaming. At its
heart is a Nvidia Tegra 4 processor complemented
by 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM (expandable using micro
SD), dual-band Wi-Fi and a couple of things you
won’t fi nd on your phone – an Ethernet port and
dual, full-size USB ports (1 x USB 2.0 and 1 x 3.0).
Connection to your TV comes via a full-size HDMI
port and there’s a 3.5mm socket for your
headphones. The design of the machine itself is
understated but attractive – a compact wedge
shape with a blue LED on the front. You don’t turn
the M.O.J.O. off, so that LED is always illuminated.
If the hardware is reassuringly familiar, then the
same can defi nitely be said about the software.
Packing Android 4.2.2 with a KitKat upgrade
imminent, the M.O.J.O. offers an almost
completely stock version of Google Android. This
brings exactly the same user experience that you
would fi nd on a Google Nexus phone or tablet.
With no touchscreen, navigation is carried out
using the ‘C.T.R.L.R.’ (Mad Catz love their full
stops), a Bluetooth Smart-ready device specifi cally
designed for minimal latency in play.
The controller itself has a number of modes
– Game Smart mode, which acts like a
conventional gaming controller, Mouse mode
where a pointer appears on screen that is moved
using the left analogue stick and a PC mode that
replicates a PC controller. While the mode switch
itself was more awkward to use on our device than we’d like, it’s clear the controller itself builds
upon Mad Catz’s considerable experience in the
area, with great-feeling analogue sticks and
reassuring, clicky buttons. Everything you’d expect
to see is here – dual analogue sticks, a D-pad, four
main buttons, two shoulder buttons, two triggers
and back and start buttons. Media control buttons
are also included.
Offering a conventional Android user interface is
very much a double-edged sword. While it’s
immediately familiar to anyone who uses an
Android device, it means that unlike some of its
peers such as the Ouya, navigating around on the M.O.J.O. isn’t optimised for a non-touch
experience. You’ll generally fi nd yourself using the
controller in Mouse mode to navigate around then
switching to the Game Smart mode. This is rather
frustrating at fi rst, although it is something that
becomes easier with practice, at least until you
come to enter some text (such as logging in to
your Google account). Using an on-screen
keyboard with an analogue stick and a mouse
pointer is not a pleasant experience – a Bluetooth
keyboard/touchpad is a very sensible investment,
which thankfully works fi ne on the M.O.J.O.
Loading games onto the M.O.J.O. itself should
be a breeze thanks to the inclusion of the Google
Play store (the M.O.J.O. has GMS certifi cation) but
unfortunately the reality is a little more complex.
The Google Play store uses hardware profi le
information to determine which applications are
compatible with which devices. The problem here
is that a huge number of Play store apps are set to
require the touchscreen feature, and the M.O.J.O.
doesn’t have that, so swathes of the store shows
as ‘not compatible’ (even some parts of GMS such
as Gmail). Mad Catz is educating developers to
change their apps to be compatible, but out of the box it means apps you’d expect to be able to
install on the M.O.J.O. are unavailable.
As is often the case with Android, the OS’s
inherent hackability comes to the rescue. The
M.O.J.O. has an unlocked bootloader and a
third-party mod is already available that roots the
device and adds the missing touchscreen fl ag,
restoring the missing apps from the Play store.
Things will improve over time, but you’ll want to
use this at this early stage in the product’s life.
The good news is that once you get your apps
on, the two main things the M.O.J.O. is going to be
used for – gaming and media playback – really are great. Plex, the popular media playback
application, runs like a dream and the 5GHz Wi-Fi
support is a real boon. The most power-hungry
games run smoothly on the device and retro
gaming is fantastic fun.
There is another huge caveat though and it
reveals another weakness of using a virtually
stock version of Android on the M.O.J.O. –
controller mapping. Where games are designed to
be played using a controller (or updated for the
M.O.J.O.), then everything is awesome. But where
games are designed to use touchscreen or
tilt-control only, then the game can end up
unplayable as Mad Catz has provided no way to
map controller buttons to on-screen actions
(unlike, say, the Nvidia Shield).
The M.O.J.O. is very much an Android
enthusiast’s machine, demonstrating both how
much potential the concept has together with how
much work is still to be done. If you’re willing to put
a bit of effort in to tweaking it, and also embrace
that it’s very much ‘stock Android on a TV’, then it
can ultimately be rewarding. The M.O.J.O. will no
doubt improve, but be ready for some frustrations.
And don’t throw away your Xbox just yet.