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No matter how many console-quality games arrive on mobile platforms—either through emulation or official ports—they’ll always suffer from a lack of control. Making intuitive control schemes on touchscreens is hard, especially when dealing with emulating games. It makes sense then that inventive new control methods are indeed required for mobile gaming, especially with services like Google Stadia and Project xCloud on the way. Although, the latter is already working on its own touchscreen methods.
Handscape’s MUJA gaming touchpad aims to alleviate some of these issues with mobile gaming. Attaching to your device through a series of suction cups, the MUJA is a simple but sleekly designed slab of plastic with a touch sensor on its rear. It’s remarkably light, even with its lengthy 450mAh battery.
However, using the device is a tad fiddlier than simply slapping it onto the back of your device. Of course, you have to turn it on, then connect it through Bluetooth to your device. Then, through a series of Chinese webpages, you’ll have to download the MUJA app. On Android, you’ll have to enable the use of unknown applications to do this.
Once you’re inside, the MUJA app is simple to use despite its cumbersomeness. After allowing (or denying) a tonne of permissions, it’s as simple as adding a program and then running the program through the MUJA app. Then, the app will simply boot up the game with a watermark in the corner and the touchpad will work with whatever software you’re using. The four sections of the back panel can either be customised or used as a mirror to your touchscreen.
Gaming is obviously the MUJA’s main purpose, although it can be used for controlling other apps if you so desire. In gaming, it does add more options for you to use and, in emulation, it can be a lot more relaxing to move the bumpers and triggers of more modern controllers to the four sections on the MUJA’s back. Using all four buttons regularly with the use of your touchpad requires a lot more effort, though. Instead of holding your phone normally, you’ll find yourself gripping it with the start of your palm leading to a very uncomfortable time.
Games designed for mobile also don’t benefit much from the addition of the second touchpad. I spent most of my time playing PUBG Mobile with the device as this is the game MUJA use to advertise the product. Using the device was definitely a new experience—one that takes a fair bit of time getting used to—but it never felt like it was aiding me in any way. In fact, during intense firefights, I’d find myself abandoning the device entirely and simply using my phone’s screen.
Outside of simple comfort issues, the MUJA is simply unsatisfying to use. Despite being advertised as powerful suction cups, the controller does have the tendency to slip and slide around the back of your phone. I tried the device on two phones—a ceramic-backed Essential PH-1 and a glass-backed Xiaomi Mi 8. While the MUJA stuck much harder to the ceramic Essential, it slid around heavily on the Mi 8. As a device targeted towards phones—most of which have a glass sandwich design—this is a rather poor design.
Then there’s the issues with touch sensitivity, the real crippling design flaw of the MUJA controller. During games of PUBG especially, I constantly found myself struggling with providing the perfect amount of pressure for the game to register my inputs. Especially during firefights, moving back to the touchscreen completely felt more responsive and natural.
It’s a shame then, because the MUJA controller is a great concept. With a better panel, more powerful suction cups and a much more intuitive frontend application, this could be a great method of controlling games on mobile. After all, while cumbersome to use, the PlayStation Vita offered a very similar control method. It can be used, but only if it’s done well.
If you want a proper way to control games on your phone, just get a controller-cradle combo. With some fiddling, you can even get an Xbox One or PS4 controller to work on your mobile. That fiddling will lead to a much greater experience than what’s available here.