The Apple TV promises nothing less than the future of television, from video to apps to gaming. And while the included Siri remote functions well enough for one-button endless runners, it fails when tested against anything more complex.
The trackpad is wildly inaccurate, often completely unresponsive, and overburdened with too much functionality. The clicky, brittle buttons react nothing like any game controller from a console of any generation. In short, the Apple TV might be able to play games, but if you’re doing it with the Siri remote, it’s a disappointing, diminished version of what the system is capable.
In Apple’s promotional materials for the new Apple TV, the SteelSeries Nimbus features prominently. As the de-facto suggestion from the manufacturer, it is an acceptable — if not excellent — choice.
As a Gamer
For most players third party controllers are the worst. This is especially true for those who spend hours with their favorite titles or own multiple systems (including various consoles, portables, and gaming PCs). These controllers tend to be flimsy, unreliable, and expensive relative to their quality. So it is fair to say that I went into my own trial of the Nimbus with some bias.
I’d love to tell you that SteelSeries has blown away the expectations for a third party controller, but I can’t. Instead, they’ve put together a respectable — and reasonably priced — choice for gamers who want to explore the Apple TV’s controller-enabled library.
The face buttons feel great, in line with Xbox or Playstation first party offerings, and as these receive the most presses, their responsiveness and resistance (both of which are also great) are key to an enjoyable experience.
The shoulder buttons are less impressive and feel a bit squishy in comparison, though in my testing they are the least used of all the gameplay-oriented buttons and so detract only minimally.
The triggers, however, feel so great that I’d favor them over the triggers on any console. Just the right amount of depth and just the right amount of resistance work together with a nice contour that doesn’t over exaggerate the hooked shape of an actual trigger or emphasize visual appeal over function (I’m looking at you, DualShock 3).
Speaking of Sony’s controller design, the analog sticks on the Nimbus use the same inferior matched placement as the DualShock line instead of Microsoft’s offset style which places the primary movement stick above the d-pad. The Nimbus, with its matched sticks, inherits the increased fatigue and feeling of constant reaching, especially on the left side which are standard for Playstation gamers. The sticks themselves respond well and show neither flimsy wobble nor excessive resistance.
And as for the d-pad, I’m just not sure anyone knows how to make them properly anymore. The last d-pad I can remember liking was on the SNES controller (I have two that work, and they’re still the best). So though the d-pad on the Nimbus is serviceable, and curiously larger than those on current consoles, it suffers the same “Back in my day…” fate.
Most importantly, when used with well-designed games (in my testing: Transistor, Rayman Adventures, and Disney Infinity 3.0) the Nimbus does what great controllers do, which is to disappear while the game pulls you into its world. I will say that the nature of the games currently available for Apple TV give the Nimbus fewer chances to do so, but specifically while playing Transistor, I found the controller to simply fade away while the game took center stage.
As an Apple Enthusiast
Apple fans expect a certain level of polish. The Nimbus, being an Apple endorsed accessory, carries with it some of that expectation. It shouldn’t.
The device itself is well-made and sturdily constructed, but from its packaging to its power switch (which is oddly labeled “Hold”) to its “Menu” button which seems to be confused about its intended function (sometimes the “B” button is like “Menu” on the Siri remote sometimes not) the Nimbus only serves to remind clearly that there is not a first party Apple TV gaming controller. Though, with their form-over-function choices with the Siri remote itself, maybe that’s a good thing.
As a Dad
With my kids getting older and not only playing games more often but more proficiently and precisely, I get to see how someone else (and importantly, someone significantly less picky) uses a controller and how they play games in general. From the dad standpoint, the Nimbus not only passes with flying colors, it is a no-brainer, go-and-get-one-right-now recommendation.
Since picking up ours — my son especially — chooses to play on the Apple TV almost exclusively (despite the wealth of options at our house). He’s having much more fun with Rayman than he did with the Siri remote because the Nimbus enables full control of the character, making it more Mario-style platformer than mobile runner. He’s able to play Disney Infinity 3.0 and Skylanders (Oh dear lord, the Skylanders!). Even Alto’s Adventure is more responsive and fun (for him, and us together) than it was with the Siri remote. If you have kids who play games on the Apple TV, I cannot recommend the Nimbus more. It’s great.
So, Apple lovers, just close your eyes when you get the box and open the packaging. Gamers, it’s worth your fifty bucks even as a curiosity about this almost-console thing from Apple.
But parents whose kids play games on the Apple TV — I won’t go as far as to say you owe it to them, but I will say that the excitement my kids showed about how much better it was, is for my money, well worth the price.