The NVidia Shield I’ve had for a day now. I’ve played games on it, I’ve tried it out, and I have to say, it’s gorgeous. It’s got a pleasing weight to it, it’s got thunderous speakers, it’s got a gorgeous screen, it’s got a great gamepad. All the elements for a great game system are here except… what’s the missing ingredient… oh, right. Games.
In terms of hardware, I can’t emphasize this enough, this is one of the Android devices to get. Seriously. Bar the new Nexus 7, I don’t think there’s a better demonstration of what Android can do as an operating system. NVidia nearly manages to beat Google at its own game, with this. Hardware-wise, it has a great feel, and for non-game software, it’s perfect.
And therein lies the problem; your choice of games are either Android games, which don’t necessarily work with it very well, or PC games, which don’t necessarily work with it very well for entirely different reasons.
The PC game streaming is probably the selling point, and it looks really, really cool, right up until you turn around and the audio cuts out for a few seconds, or artifacting smears across the screen for a second in the middle of a tense firefight. It’s not a dealbreaker, per se, and the feature is still in beta, but if you were hoping to use this to stream games on the couch, it’s not there yet.
Similarly, booting up an Android game on this thing is like giving a Ferrari to a gorilla. It might realize that there is speed and glory right in front of it. It might even figure out how to start the car and drive off. But it’s more likely to look at the car, scratch its head, and then drop a massive gorilla load all over the leather upholstery.
For example, the first game I went to was Grand Theft Auto: Vice City because of course. I fire it up, start the tutorial, and the game has absolutely no idea what the hell I’m using as an input device. Basically you’ve got to poke at the controls to find each button. Max Payne? Same problem. The Dark Knight mobile game? Same problem.
I wasn’t expecting it to “just work”, of course, but yeesh. To be fair, with some experimentation and fiddling, all of these games did work and once the Shield got the hang of it, they delivered a far, far better experience than I’ve yet had with mobile gaming. But once you get out of the heavy hitters and into strictly mobile games, welcome to configuration hell. It’s not as miserable an experience as getting a mobile game to work on a Ouya, but it can be pretty close.
It’s frustrating because the Shield is pretty much the solution to the mobile gaming conundrum. I can see exactly what NVidia was thinking; Android games are an enormously popular genre, and if we give the hardcore a tool to enjoy them, that will mean more Tegra sales and piles of money for Android developers. But the Android developers aren’t on board, and they seem confused as to why anyone would give them a system that, you know, does stuff and has inputs beyond a volume button.
Hopefully the Shield can straighten this out, either by having some Android games made for it or by helping developers make their games more Shield-friendly. Because this is a gorgeous piece of gear, and you can taste the potential in your fingertips. It just isn’t being met yet.