The Fire TV is an impressive first effort in the field of media hubs from Amazon. It's functional and responsive, and its Android core gives it the potential to run plenty of apps and games. It’s only out in the US at the moment, but we reviewed it earlier this month, and hopefully it will be bound for the UK soon enough.
Fire TV’s included remote, however, isn't particularly suited for gameplay. That's where the Fire Game Controller comes in – and we thought it was worth taking an early look at this device, for the keen gamers who want to know how it stacks up ahead of Fire TV’s UK debut.
Ostensibly a Fire TV accessory, priced at $40 (£24) in the States, the Fire Game Controller is a well-built Bluetooth gamepad that adds responsive game controls to most titles available on the Fire TV. Amazon sweetens the deal by adding $10 (£6) in Amazon Coins for use in the Fire TV app store, and it also bundles Amazon Games Studios' own third-person shooter/tower defence game Sev Zero. It's not a must-have if you just want the Fire TV to stream movies and television shows, but if you're interested in exploring its gaming chops as an inexpensive console comparable to the Ouya, the Fire Game Controller is an important accessory (and a far better way to play games on a media hub than the Roku 3 and its motion sensing remote for Angry Birds).
The Fire Game Controller looks like a matte black, slightly flattened Xbox controller. It's a dual analogue gamepad with the left stick horizontally aligned with the four face buttons on the right, and the right stick horizontally aligned with the direction pad on the left. Four more menu buttons sit between the left stick and the X, Y, A, and B buttons – these are for Home, Back, Menu, and "GameCircle," which jumps to Amazon's Xbox Live-like progress tracking and social networking service. Two triggers and two bumpers sit on the top edge of the controller, and three playback control buttons sit flush against the bottom edge, between the two wing-like grips.
The controller feels sturdy, weighing a good 280 grams for its 150 x 60 x 105mm (WxDxH) frame, with two AA batteries. The battery compartment sits on the underside of the controller, sticking out just like the compartment on an Xbox 360 pad. Four white LED lights sit next to the left bumper to indicate the gamepad's status, and show which player has which gamepad if more than one gamepad is being used.
Like the Fire TV remote, the Fire Game Controller uses Bluetooth to connect to the Fire TV wirelessly. Setup is a simple process that the Fire TV walks users through with on-screen prompts. It's primarily designed for the Fire TV and isn't specifically supported by non-Amazon Android devices, but we paired the controller with a Kindle Fire HDX and it also worked well.
The Game Controller feels comfortable and plays fairly responsively. It doesn't have the tight build or precision of first-party, dedicated game system controllers like the DualShock 4 or the Xbox One gamepad, or even the integrated gamepad on the bulky Nvidia Shield. But it feels much more comfortable than any other controller we've tested for Android or iOS devices. It’s certainly more satisfying to hold and use than the Ouya's gamepad.
The direction pad feels slightly mushy and the analogue sticks have a bit too much give for my taste, but these complaints veer more into personal preference territory than any particularly egregious flaw; gamers have been complaining about different direction pad feels for years, and even the superlative DualShock 4 doesn't get that quite perfect.
Because the Fire Game Controller is primarily focused on the Fire TV, US owners are likely to be limited to Amazon's Kindle Fire and Fire TV game ecosystems. That’s a much more limited selection than Google Play's library of Android games, and unless owners want to sideload programs to either device, that’s all they'll have.
Amazon currently offers a small but solid variety of games from Gameloft, Sega, Ubisoft, and other publishers spread across several genres. For classic gaming, several Sonic the Hedgehog games are available, along with Crazy Taxi, Double Dragon Trilogy and Prince of Persia: The Shadow and the Flame. First and third-person shooters include Modern Combat 4, Sev Zero, and Deus Ex: The Fall. There are several sports and racing games, including NBA 2K14, Asphalt 8, and Riptide GP2. You can even play world building survival games Minecraft: Pocket Edition and Terraria on the Fire TV with the Fire Game Controller. Over 100 games are currently available on the Fire TV in the States, and individual games generally cost between $2 (£1.20) and $10 (£6).
I played Sonic CD, Riptide GP2, Asphalt 8, and Sev Zero on the Fire TV with the Fire Game Controller, and they all felt solid and responsive. The direction pad wasn't as tight under the thumb as I would have liked for Sonic, but the analogue sticks felt responsive across all games. The Bluetooth connection to the Fire TV was quick enough to handle Sega's decades-old platforming, and the gamepad offered enough precision to reliably get head shots on aliens in Sev Zero.
A dedicated game system like a PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or Wii U will still offer a roundly superior gaming experience than a media hub with gaming features, but the Amazon Fire Game Controller used with the Fire TV provides a solid showing that at least stands high among Android-based micro-consoles like the Ouya. The gamepad feels solid and comfortable, and it's responsive enough to enjoy classic games on the Fire TV. It's not a vital accessory for Amazon's set-top box, but it's a welcome add-on.