New games come out pretty frequently for the Apple TV, and while there are thankfully more games that work well with the Siri Remote, there are also many that just cry out for a dedicated gamepad. Many of these are console favorites—or console-inspired games—that just aren’t meant for a small touchpad, and a gamepad goes a long way towards making your Apple TV feel like a proper gaming machine.
Included here are 12 of our favorite Apple TV games that are best experienced with a gamepad, but we’re not claiming that each individual game warrants an investment in extra hardware. Rather, collectively, they show how much widespread benefit you’ll get from a controller, and why it’s a crucial pick-up if you have plenty of Apple TV couch gaming in your future. And if you’re looking for MFi gamepad recommendations, we have those as well.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved
Activision’s Geometry Wars is one of the greatest dual analog stick showcases ever created, delivering effortlessly (and endlessly) amusing arcade shooting with one stick for movement and the other for firing. Sadly, it doesn’t convert too well to the Siri Remote: Automating firing makes it more manageable, but the tiny touchpad makes movement feel too fidgety.
Add in a gamepad, however, and Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved ($10) is every bit as brilliant as it is on Xbox and other consoles, with precise and challenging combat that will keep you coming back to improve your high scores. And Dimensions Evolved is absolutely packed with content, including a campaign and the classic arcade modes of earlier entries.
Why would video game pinball need a full gamepad? Zen Pinball (free) is worth experiencing either way, but swiping the Siri Remote’s touchpad just doesn’t give you that satisfying click of frantically jamming a paddle button. Grab a gamepad and you can use the flick the triggers to bat the digital ball around the dozens of available boards.
Zen Pinball is excellent on iPhone and iPad, and it’s even better on Apple TV, with the same large library of original and licensed tables available to purchase. You get one table free, with others—including many Marvel, Star Wars, and South Park ones—sold for $2 apiece with unlimited play. Buttons just feel a lot more responsive here than Siri Remote swipes.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Octodad: Dadliest Catch ($5) is like nothing you’ve ever played before, in part because it’s a game about hiding out in suburbia as an octopus amidst an unaware human family. It’s also unique because to nail that “simulation,” the developers made the game intentionally cumbersome, which is a very tricky approach for a game you’re meant to enjoy.
While solidly playable with the Siri Remote, Octodad is a lot more fun with a gamepad, as it removes the frustration of needing to switch between upper tentacles (for grabbing things) and lower ones (for walking). Octodad is worth experiencing on any device you have, including an iPhone or iPad, but this former console game really shines on a big screen with a gamepad.
Modern Combat 5: Blackout
Spend a couple minutes with Modern Combat 5: Blackout (free) using a Siri Remote and you’ll quickly learn that they really, really aren’t meant to be together. Gameloft’s first-person shooter automates player movement when using the Siri Remote, but the resulting experience is incredibly awkward and fumbly, and really not worth the hassle.
Luckily, a gamepad solves all problems here: Modern Combat 5 emulates the Call of Duty console game template, and it feels right at home with analog sticks and triggers. The quick-hit missions are solid fun, and the multiplayer combat is a delight if you can find enough players to face off against. And it’s free, albeit with an energy system and paid perks to contend with.
Transistor ($10) was one of the first big games available for Apple TV, and it’s clear that a lot of work went into making it fit on the Siri Remote. Through some clever streamlining and configuring, it’s relatively easy to experience this dazzling sci-fi adventure with just the Siri Remote, although jamming a lot of commands onto the tiny device can make things feel cramped.
And that’s where a gamepad provides some welcome breathing room. Transistor was originally designed for a proper controller, and with it, you’ll have sharper control of heroine Red and be more comfortably able to interact with and explore the city. It’s not only a big-screen showcase, but also a nicely meaty quest, so this is one well worth enjoying with a gamepad.
Real Racing 3
Real Racing 3 (free) is the best simulation-style racing game on iOS, and it’s much the same on Apple TV, delivering loads of licensed cars and numerous real-life tracks to zip around—and it looks really sharp on the big screen. The Siri Remote’s tilt controls work solidly for steering, and if you’re only playing casually, it’ll do the trick.
Switching to a gamepad makes it feel much more like a console-like simulation, however, offering more precise steering and better control over acceleration and braking. Real Racing 3 scales well between those two experiences, but it’s especially great with a gamepad, and really gives the Apple TV some console gaming cred in the process.
Disney Infinity: 3.0 Edition
This one requires some explanation: You’ll need the Disney Infinity: 3.0 Edition starter pack to play the full game, and it actually comes with the great SteelSeries Nimbus controller. It’s also priced at $80 as of this writing, but the gamepad itself would be $50. So what do you get?
Well, you get a full-fledged Star Wars console game, along with two smart chip-equipped figurines and a Bluetooth base that pulls those characters into the game. You can also add on new Star Wars, Marvel, and Disney adventures and use a wide array of Infinity figurines in the Toy Box mode to create and share your own little games and worlds. It’s a big, exciting game, and well worth the investment if you love Disney’s myriad properties. And if you’re planning on buying the Nimbus anyway, this is a perfect way to do so.
Meanwhile, if you want a game that looks and plays like a big console adventure, but lacks the heft, extra plastic, and big price tag of something like Disney Infinity, give a strong look to Oceanhorn ($9). This iOS original is strongly modeled after Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series, but the action role-player deftly avoids feeling like a half-hearted clone.
The Siri Remote’s touchpad isn’t the best option for 3D character movement, as it can feel a bit confined, although Oceanhorn does a fair job of making this adventure playable with your thumb alone. Switch to a gamepad, however, and Oceanhorn better resembles the classic games it emulates, giving you precise control of your hero on land and at sea.
The most ideal way to play Skylanders Superchargers (free) is to buy the starter kit, which sells for $50 to $75 and comes with a couple of smart toys, a Bluetooth portal, and a small gamepad that only works with Skylanders. But if you already have an Apple TV gamepad—and/or you don’t want all that expense and plastic—you can just download the app and buy the content within.
The full Superchargers game is sold as a $20 in-app purchase, and that gets you a full-fledged console action game, complete with on-foot beat-‘em-up action and various vehicle missions that let you race and fly. And the free initial download lets you try out the game before you consider shelling out for more. Like Disney Infinity, it offers up a fun, kid-friendly adventure and really makes your little set-top box seem like a proper game console.
Many iOS games have tried to replicate the intense fun of anti-gravity racing classics like F-Zero and Wipeout, but AG Drive ($4) is the only one that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those greats—and it’s on Apple TV, as well. It looks fantastic and has thumping techno beats to match, and like Real Racing 3, there’s a precision upgrade to using a gamepad.
AG Drive has you hold the Siri Remote sideways and keep your thumb on the touchpad, sliding in either direction to whip around the wild curves. This works well enough, but using an analog stick makes steering feel so much smoother and gives you more command on the track. And AG Drive isn’t an easy game, so every little bit of added control helps.
DuckTales is a proper old-school game from the 8-bit era, which means it doesn’t really have a use for analog sticks and trigger buttons—but even a relatively simplistic 2D platformer isn’t best experienced with the Siri Remote. It’s solid enough, with the touchpad used for movement and all other actions mapped to the play/pause button, but that scheme sacrifices some fluidity of movement and action.
Meanwhile, a gamepad has a directional pad and at least a couple of dedicated buttons for jumping and using Scrooge McDuck’s cane as a pogo stick or weapon, which make this updated classic a lot more enjoyable. And DuckTales: Remastered ($5) has crisp, redone graphics that look really superb on a TV screen.
Like Geometry Wars 3, Xenowerk ($2) is an arcade-style game built for analog sticks, as you guide a gun-toting heroine through alien-infested facilities. But unlike Geometry Wars 3, I wouldn’t try to play Xenowerk with the Siri Remote for more than a couple minutes. The scheme is very awkward, and it honestly takes away from the tension and excitement of the game.
Luckily, this is a very fun little shooter to experience if you do have a gamepad, as the twin-stick controls work well for movement and blasting, and there’s a visceral thrill to the combat. It can be repetitive, but it’s very easy to get your couple bucks of fun out of Xenowerk.