Playing Apple Arcade games on an iPhone 12 with a Backbone One controller

When a friend first sent me a link to the Backbone One, I brushed it off. It just wasn’t something I found interesting. But as I’ll explain, once I had it in my hands, my thoughts completely changed. The main thing that stood out to me at first was the design. Including the Razer Kishi, all of the mobile controllers I had seen before looked bulky and quite frankly bad compared to Backbone. Backbone, on the other hand, was much slimmer and more nicely designed.

The idea of playing games on mobile has always been something that I felt wasn’t particularly suited to me. Sure, mobile was perfect for the random, casual game I could play on the subway on my way to work. But for anything more substantial, well, I had all of the consoles. Particularly a Nintendo Switch, if I wanted to bring it out of the house with me.

Since then, with services like Apple Arcade, Microsoft’s Cloud Gaming, and Google Stadia, I thought it might be time to buy myself a Backbone and try it out. In particular, it was Fantasian that sold me. I’ve talked about it before, but it was a multi-hour JRPG designed and developed by a stellar team and is iPhone-only. Using a controller like Backbone allows the annoying onscreen control overlays to disappear, and your thumbs aren’t always in front of the screen either. It makes for a much more engaging and fun gaming experience.

The Actual Hardware

From a hardware standpoint, the Backbone is incredibly well made. The analog sticks and triggers all feel excellent. The face buttons on the right side are clicky, like a Nintendo Joy-Con. And the directional pad on the left side has a bit more of a soft rubbery feel. The softer d-pad, in my opinion, is better for platformers and retro-inspired games than the clicky ones we have on Xbox Controllers and the Switch’s Joy-Con today.

There is a pass-through charging port so you can charge while playing. And there is a headphone jack, something Apple egregiously removed from iPhones years ago. The one bad thing about the headphone jack on Backbone is that it is slightly recessed. So likely, not all headphones will work with it—kind of like the recessed headphone jack on the first-generation iPhone. Fixing the headphone jack is something that I hope they do in a future hardware revision, perhaps in an eventual Backbone Two.

Final Thoughts

For what it is—a phone-attachable controller—the Backbone, in my opinion, is one of the best you can get. Backbone is priced competitively at $99 and has an excellent build quality. If you play a lot of mobile games and you’re in the market for something like this, you won’t be disappointed. If you absolutely can’t justify the price and already have an Xbox controller lying around, my cheaper recommendation would be 8BitDo’s Mobile Gaming Clip at just $14.99. That way, you can use a Bluetooth-compatible Xbox controller instead. I’m glad I bought Backbone and tend to reach for it when I’m running out of the house briefly instead of my Switch. For any longer trips, I will still probably grab my Switch, though.

Do you have any favorite mobile games you’d recommend? I’m looking to try a few new ones out.