After months of testing from thousands of faithful gamers, Project xCloud graduated from game-streaming-in-preview to Xbox Cloud Gaming, the latest service to be integrated into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. A piece of news that may have slipped by people, however, was the announcement that Minecraft Dungeons, the ARPG from Minecraft-creators Mojang Studios, was going to be the very first game to implement touch controls on Microsoft's fully-fledged cloud streaming platform.
Of course, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take these touch controls for a spin, and find out how well a console game translates to a mobile one. The result was surprising, pleasant, and shows a future where you can not only bring your entire console on the go with you, but you may be able to leave the controller behind.
A catalog of games
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
All your gaming needs, in one subscription
Is the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate the best value in all of gaming? It's possible. Ultimate bundles your Xbox Live Gold subscription, an Xbox Game Pass subscription for both Xbox consoles and Windows PCs, and Xbox Cloud Gaming. That means access to hundreds of games, with more added all the time, for a single monthly subscription cost.
Setting up Minecraft Dungeons on Xbox Cloud Gaming is a breeze
The idea behind touch controls in Xbox Cloud Gaming is simplicity. You load up the game you want to play, and if there's no controller connected, touch controls will pop up and you can begin gaming immediately. Microsoft aims to achieve this by allowing the developer, in this case Mojang Studios, to customize the controls to fit their game before the player logs on. You only get the buttons and controls you need for the game so every player trying out Minecraft Dungeons through Xbox Cloud Gaming will get the exact same control setup, and it'll just work every single time.
You only get the controls you need, every player will get the exact same controls, and it'll just work every time.
Mojang Studios also enabled touch controls for all the game's various menus, meaning you can navigate around the map, inventory, or main menu by touch alone, which goes a long way towards making the game feel more at home on your mobile device. This is even more noticeable whenever you go into the Xbox Guide, which brings up its own virtual touch controls to navigate since it doesn't accept touch controls itself (future update, Microsoft?).
These are all notable accomplishments, considering this is a game that occassionally struggles to run well on the Switch, let alone on a mobile Android device. However, Microsoft takes it one step further by giving the player control over, well, their controls, with intuitive ways to customize the layout of the touch controls. This couldn't be any easier, with an always-present but often-hidden button in the top right corner (it's cut off on my tall phone, but this feature is still beta), that brings up the touch controls with simple menus to manipulate them.
These controls allow you to change the position of each control cluster, increase the spacing between buttons, and rotate the clusters so that you can position the buttons in a place that makes sense for you. You can also choose to mirror certain actions if you want it to be the exact same on both sides, or freely manipulate one at a time. With Minecraft Dungeons, for example, you may want to position the controls a little lower on the screen, increase the spacing around the joystick side, and then rotate the buttons around the joystick so that you don't accidentally open your inventory with the bottom of your thumb.
With this, the overall layout remains the same, and is instantly accessible for anyone who is familiar with an Xbox controller, but it's now personally tailored to you. This will likely be saved per game, so other games that add touch controls will have their own custom layouts that you can then customize even further. Microsoft clearly put a lot of thought into how to make this as seamless as possible.
Playing feels natural, if not flawless
So how do these controls feel in practice? Surprisingly natural. Minecraft Dungeons isn't a first person shooter like Halo, and doesn't require fast reaction speeds foremost, so touch controls feel at home on this third-person dungeon looter. I never once felt like using touch controls was the reason I failed (just my terrible playing), and I never wished that I had a controller in my hands instead of just my phone. This was shocking to me, as I genuinely expected I would want a physical controller after only a few minutes of play.
I didn't take it easy on myself either. I chose to play through Desert Temple on the hardest difficulty level in the game, and took on the Nameless One, one of the more difficult bosses. Despite using a character the priortizes hit-and-run tactics with high attack speeds, I was able to overcome the Nameless One and finish the level while only losing a single life. Even then, the one life I lost wasn't because touch controls failed me, but because I dumbly rolled into a skirmish I couldn't escape from.
All that being said, the touch controls aren't perfect. There were numerous instances where certain controls, most notably the joystick, would freeze on me, becoming locked in place for a few seconds at a time. This meant every now and then I'd just start walking in one direction, occassionally directly into a group of baddies, or I'd stop and punch the air uncontrollably. I can only assume this is a bug, but hopefully Microsoft resolves this soon.
The value of touch controls and game streaming
Going into this experience, I wasn't sold on the thought of touch controls with cloud gaming. While it makes sense conceptually, I couldn't wrap my mind around playing a console-level game only typically terrible screen controls. Microsoft and Mojang Studios have officially won me over, and shown me the value of touch controls and game streaming. I could see myself playing Minecraft Dungeons out and about, not having to worry about having a controller with me, because the touch controls really do feel that good.
It also helps that Xbox Cloud Gaming prioritizes responsiveness over visual fidelity, so I never felt like the game wasn't going to respond when I tapped my screen. It was reliable, intuitive, and comfortable, and short of buying a Razer Kishi and carrying it around with you, I'm not sure how it could get better than this.
The future is on display: the best games at home on your console, or away from home on your phone.
It's especially enticing for gamers on a budget, who possibly don't want to invest in a full setup or sometimes pricey accessories. All you need is a decent budget phone or tablet, and an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription that gives you instant access to over 150 games, more of which will add touch controls over time.
Xbox Cloud Gaming touch controls feel good enough that I could almost see Microsoft implementing touch controls for every game and letting players customize the touch controls, with interested developers coming in to put in the extra time for their games. It would be clunkier for games that don't make the effort like Minecraft Dungeons did, but would still mean console gaming without a controller. That's the future on display here. You can get the best games either at home on your console or PC, or on the go entirely on your phone.
Let it be known it all started with Minecraft Dungeons, and it was pretty great.
Not your average Minecraft
Minecraft explores the dungeons
Minecraft Dungeons is the next saga in Minecraft's story, and Mojang Studios have knocked another one out of the park. Awesome co-op combat paired with powerful loot, all at a crazy affordable price? There's not much more you could ask for in an epic dungeon crawling ARPG.
A catalog of games
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
All your gaming needs, in one subscription.
Is the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate the best value in all of gaming? It's possible. Ultimate bundles your Xbox Live Gold subscription, an Xbox Game Pass subscription for both Xbox consoles and Windows PC's, and Xbox Cloud Gaming for on-the-go. That means access to hundreds of games, with more added all the time, for a single monthly subscription cost.
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