The wireless controller, on the other hand, really shows off what's possible with a service like this. Read on for impressions of using OnLive's new accessory with the iPad, as well as a full list of game compatibility on the service at launch.
OnLive's wireless controller will be available for $49.99, and if you have a device that runs the OnLive app, it's almost certainly worth the purchase. It's hard to believe until you see it, but once you pair the controller up with the device, the service is essentially seamless: You're actually playing modern HD console games, from Batman: Arkham City to Assassin's Creed Revelations and every other console title in OnLive's library, on your tablet or smartphone.
There is a slight bit of lag noticeable if you're paying attention, but I found that in most games (especially single-player titles or games that don't require a huge amount of twitch anyway), it melts right away, and you essentially just play the games as you would on a console.
This kind of gameplay likely won't replace console gaming completely -- obviously, if you have an HDTV and a nice sound system, playing a game on that versus playing it on your iPad's screen (which OnLive has unfortunately made even smaller with two black bars on top and bottom, presumably to fix the aspect ratio) is a very different experience.
Still, pairing an OnLive controller with an iPad will change mobile gaming forever, at the very least. As long as you have access to usable Wi-Fi (OnLive recommends a very forgiving 2mbps, but you can play comfortably with even less than that), you've got access to these HD games, which means you'll never be stuck in a hotel room without something good to play again. And seeing these games, like Batman and Human Revolution, running on the iPad almost causes a disconnect in your mind, as if iOS developers have somehow been handcuffing themselves all these years by running things locally. It doesn't make Jetpack Joyride any less fun, but it does make your head spin when you imagine what's possible here.
It's just a shame that OnLive's own virtual controllers (and its "emulated mouse" setup) don't work better. Some games do just fine -- Puzzle Quest obviously works with a virtual mouse cursor (even though it already runs on iOS natively), and casual console games like Lego Batman are controllable, though the interface itself is a jumbled mess. But while you can play games like Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light or Split/Second with a virtual controller, it's more of an exercise in frustration than a faithful recreation of the game.
Unfortunately, OnLive's jewel in the crown for the mobile launch, Rockstar's LA Noire with custom-made touch controls for the service, wasn't ready to play yet. The other native touch title, Defense Grid Gold, was fairly awkward -- sometimes the game menu would stay open even though it graphically closed, blocking actual game touches until it was opened and closed again. The experience was less than ideal, and it's not like the iOS platform is hurting for native tower defense games.
If publishers and game developers can create faithful and responsive custom controls, OnLive could have something here, even outside of a wireless controller purchase. But for now, playing with the controller is almost a must, and turns the experience from a weird, mostly failed experiment into what's probably the future of gaming itself: Slimmer hardware running high-tech games over a cloud service.
Here's the full list of game compatibility at launch, provided by OnLive. All games do include a free trial, so if you'd like to try them out, you'll need to sign up for free on OnLive's site, and then download and install the mobile app. The wireless controller will be available soon for $49.99.
Games with native touch controls designed for OnLive:
Defense Grid Gold
LA Noire (not available for testing)
Games with virtual controller overlays:
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4
Virtua Tennis 2009
Games that use an emulated mouse and keyboard:
Around the World in 80 Days
World of Goo
All other games on the service that currently work with a controller work just fine with the OnLive wireless controller. OnLive promises that more compatibility is coming just as soon as it's ready.