It’s so easy in the tech world for critics to be incredibly dismissive of a new idea or concept – especially when it attempts to rethink something established. So when I’m handed something new I always try and approach it from a positive point of view.
Thing is though, after a couple of weeks with the GameStick – try as I might, aI just can’t.
It’s an interesting idea. A games console built into a small stick you can plug into any television paired with the bluetooth controller. Games that are cheap and easy to download through the online store and play, then when you’re done simply click the device into the controller and take it wherever you like.
Some of the tech behind this is genuinely impressive. It’s the innards from an Android phone put into a case the size of a big USB drive that then fits into your TV’s HDMI port – with all the bluetooth, wifi and graphics capabilities that come along with that. Ultimately though it fails on a really basic level – having something you’ll actually want to play.
Before we get to the games let’s take a look at one of the supposed big selling points of the GameStick – the fact you can put the little console into the controller itself (through a little flap at the top) and carry it around. It’s a simple trick that looks great in reviews and on Kickstarter videos, but the reality of using it is quite different. The fact is most TVs don’t provide power through their HDMI ports – so the GameStick won’t work. You’ll need to take some extra cables with you – and this means carrying both a power adapter as well as a USB cable.
Basically it’s extra crap you’re going to have to shove in your bag to use this anywhere and makes the process of taking this out with you a bit more complicated than just slotting the device into the controller. That whole selling point of ‘portability’ is completely destroyed by the extra stuff you have to carry, and makes the thing only mildly more portable than the OUYA (another Android gaming console).
Alright, so I could see past this if there were some decent games that worked well. There are some mobile gaming classics to buy (EDGE, Orborun, Fist of Awesome) but they just don’t work well. The GameStick feels underpowered and struggles to deal with what PlayJam are loading the store with – and to make things worse there just aren’t any exciting exclusive games you won’t find anywhere else. There are a handful of free titles but generally you’re looking at paying a couple of quid per title – and there’s no way of trialling them before stumping up some cash. Don’t like what you’ve just bought? Tough. You can have a browse of the store yourself just here.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that one of the most important parts of this whole thing – the gamepad – is one of the worst I’ve ever used. It feels cheap, ‘clicky’, unresponsive, and really uncomfortable. It’s got a layout similar to an Xbox controller, with two analogue thumb-sticks, your typical face buttons – along with two trigger buttons up top. I’ve constantly had issues with connectivity. In particular the range hasn’t been quite what was promised. The further I sat away from the TV the lag between pressing a button and something happening on screen became more and more distracting, and in some occasions the button presses weren’t even registered at all – and this is just from a few metres away.
Maybe the fact there aren’t any amazing games is a blessing in disguise – because trust me, you won’t want to be spending any serious amount of time gaming with this in your hand.
Despite the many faults of the other big Android console, the OUYA, it’s at least easily hackable and able to be loading up with emulators for some of your favourite old-school consoles like the SNES or the Megadrive. This in itself could be enough to sell you on that console. The GameStick is more firmly locked down so at the moment you’re stuck with the official store – along with its sluggish browsing and awkward game discovery.
I’m left feeling like the GameStick is unfinished – and for £79.99 this just isn’t good enough. The prospect of an £80 console is an enticing one but when there’s nothing good to play – and the tools you use to actually play them feel so cheap – it’s a complete false economy. Save your money.