Let’s face it, touch controls are terrible for many games. Have you ever tried playing a platformer game on a touchscreen? It’s an exercise in frustration. The good news is that you can connect a game controller to your Android device and play games the way they were meant to be played, whether they’re controller-enabled Android games or old games played via an emulator.
We’ll be using a wired Xbox 360 controller for this. It’s the most popular controller used by PC gamers for a reason, as it offers a standard USB connection and can be used with both Android devices and PCs with no additional configuration required — just plug it in and go. We’ll also offer some tips for using other types of controllers you may have lying around, including Wiimotes, PlayStation 3 Sixaxis gamepads, wireless Xbox 360 controllers, and Bluetooth controllers.
Connecting an Xbox 360 Controller to Android
Using a game controller with Android is actually pretty simple. All you’ll need is:
- A wired Xbox 360 controller.
- A USB OTG cable, which can be purchased on Amazon and elsewhere for under $2.
USB OTG stands for “USB on the go.” It’s essentially a tiny adapter cable that contains a full USB plug at one end and a micro USB connector on the other end. It allows you to plug standard USB devices into your Android phone or tablet, including USB drives, mice, keyboards, and Xbox 360 controllers.
This should be plug-and-play on newer devices. We did this on a Nexus 7, and everything worked with no additional configuration required. On an older device, you may need to use USB/Joystick Center to make this work — see the last section of this article for more details.
You can now fire up games that support controllers and play them with the controller. Some games may have a settings screen where you can select between controller and touch controls, while some games will respond to the controller immediately. For example, Riptide GP offers such a configuration screen, while Sonic games respond to the controller immediately.
The controller works surprisingly well with Android. You can even use it to navigate through your home screen and launch games and other apps, something that can’t be done with an Xbox 360 controller on the Windows desktop. Some games won’t respond to the ABXY buttons and will require you to depress the right thumb stick to perform an action — such as jumping in Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 — while some games work fine with the A/B/X/Y buttons — such as Sonic CD for Android, which allows you to jump by pressing A.
The controller even works with many games that offer no indication they support controllers. For example, the controller works well with Super Hexagon, which was a pleasant surprise. Be sure to experiment with the controller in your games — you never know what games it will work with. You can also look for lists of games that support controllers online.
Using a Controller with Unsupported Games
It’s possible to use an Xbox 360 controller with unsupported games on Android, just as you can use a controller with unsupported games on Windows. To do this, you’ll need to be using a rooted device. Most people recommend the as the most convenient solution for setting this up, although it will only work on certain devices and certain ROMs. Be prepared for some tweaking if you opt to go this route.
Wireless Xbox 360 Controllers
Using a wireless Xbox 360 controller is also possible, although it isn’t quite as easy. To do this, you’ll need the same Xbox 360 Wireless Controller Dongle that you’d use to connect your wireless controller to a PC. You can then plug this wireless dongle into the USB OTG cable and connect the dongle to your tablet.
This will be enough to make many emulators and games work. However, some games won’t work with this setup. You can find a solution to make the wireless Xbox 360 controller work with more games on the XDA Developers forum. The solution is intended for the Nexus 7, but may work with other Android devices. View it here.
Bluetooth, Wii, and PlayStation Controllers
- Bluetooth Controller: Any Bluetooth gamepad can be paired with your Android device using its standard Bluetooth pairing options — no wires required.
- WiiMote: Check out our guide to connecting your WiiMote to your Android device.
- PlayStation 3 Sixaxis Gamepad: You’ll need to be using a rooted Android device. You’ll then need to install the Sixaxis Compatability Checker app to verify your device is compatible with your controller, use the SixaxisPairTool app on a Windows PC to pair your controller with your device, and then install the Sixaxis Controller app on your device.
For some great Android games to try your controller with, check out our list of the best Android games.
Have you connected a game controller to your Android device? Did it go this easily, or did you need to do more tweaking? Is there a controller that works better than the wired Xbox 360 controller? Leave a comment and share your experiences!