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If you’ve ever gone out shopping for PC gaming peripherals, it’s likely you would have encountered SteelSeries products. It’s represented at all kinds of eSports events, and with good reason, as SteelSeries makes quality products.

SteelSeries has taken its expertise in PC gaming and translated it into the world of iOS gaming, and they’ve come up with a game controller for devices running iOS 7. It’s called the Stratus, and just from a quick glance, this $79.99 device looks like a promising way to play games on an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. Does it stack up to the competition? Is it a worthwhile way to play games? That’s just what we are going to figure out today.

Best of all, we have a SteelSeries Stratus to give away to one lucky reader! Keep reading to the end of the review to find out how you can enter for your chance to take this controller home for free!

Introducing the SteelSeries Stratus

The market for iOS game controllers has been growing slowly, but it’s not exactly exploding in the way it could have. This is likely due to the lack of games available, a problem we will get to later in this review. It could also be that a lot of casual iOS users don’t even realize that these controllers are on the market. In spite of that, there are still quite a few major brands selling the devices, many of which we’ve covered in this article Game Controllers & iOS: Here's What You Need To Know Game Controllers & iOS: Here's What You Need To Know Read More .

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The MOGA Ace Power and Logitech Powershell are two of the major competitors for the SteelSeries Stratus, but both of them require you to dock your device in the controller. On the bright side, you can charge your phone and extend your gameplay sessions, but the drawback is that it leaves iPads out of the equation. With the SteelSeries Stratus, you don’t get the benefit of a charger, but you get a truly wireless controller that can work with both phones and tablets. The price is comparable, with the both the SteelSeries Stratus and MOGA Ace Power selling for $79, while Logitech’s Powershell sells for $69.

The MOGA Ace Power and SteelSeries Stratus both have Sony’s controller design with extra shoulder buttons and two joysticks. Logitech’s, on the other hand, uses the more basic design, with only two shoulder buttons and no joysticks. For gameplay options, more buttons is definitely superior, so SteelSeries Stratus wins there, but how is the rest of the device in terms of quality and comfort? You’ll have to keep reading to find out!

Initial Impressions

The first thing you’ll notice when you pull the controller out of the box is how small it is. I mean this thing is really tiny. It’s even smaller than a classic NES controller, but it features about three times as many buttons. It makes sense though, as this controller is designed to be carried around in your pocket along with your phone, so by being a portable controller, it provides a more pleasant experience.

The setup process is extremely painless. You’ll need to charge up the controller, which is done via the included micro-USB cable. From there, it’s just a matter of hitting the power switch on the side of the controller, going to your iPhone or iPad’s Settings section, and connecting to the controller via Bluetooth like you would any other device. At least, that’s the intended process, though I did run into a small snag on my first try.

On my first attempt at connecting the device, the controller was not working correctly, with many buttons not functioning in games and my character just running up and left all the time. After some troubleshooting, I found out there was a firmware update – after following the update procedure, all of the issues were resolved, and the controller worked as intended. It was a small annoyance, and although it was not documented in the instructional booklet, it was easy enough to solve.

Overall, my initial impressions were positive. In spite of how small the controller is, it feels solid in your hand, though the joysticks are a little on the stiff side, a complaint that will surely come up again. The other buttons, including the d-pad, have a good feel, and while the layout of the shoulder buttons is a little odd, it didn’t feel too weird.

Design

As I mentioned from the outset, this is a tiny controller. It’s 2.66 inches wide, 4.33 inches long, and 1.3 inches deep. To give you some perspective, the Xbox 360 controller is 6.05 inches long, or close to two inches longer. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but relative to the total size, it’s a big difference.

As far the buttons goes, it’s a very standard layout if you’ve ever played with a modern video game controller. There are four face buttons, four triggers, two parallel joysticks, a d-pad, and a pause button in the middle. The only real difference is the layout of the triggers, which have large R1 and L1 buttons, and smaller, inset R2 and L2 buttons. This means you have to reach in to hit those buttons, which feels a little strange at first, but I was able to adjust quickly.

A smart design choice from SteelSeries is the cover for the controller. When not in use, you place it over the buttons to prevent you from hitting them by mistake while in your pocket. When you are using the controller, you slide the cover over the back, giving it a little more depth. This makes it fill up more of your hand and feel better while playing games, something we will get to a little later in this review.

Overall, the controller is well-designed. After a short amount of use, you’ll actually forget how small it is, which is impressive. Personally, I prefer the offset joysticks found on Xbox controllers, but that’s not a deal-breaker and just a matter of personal preference.

Available Games

Unfortunately, the list of games available to use with the Stratus leaves much to be desired. This isn’t a problem that is specific to this controller though, but rather a problem that stems to a lack of game developers supporting iOS controllers across the board. As it stands, there isn’t much motivation for developers to update existing games, and the same holds true for new releases, as the install base is too small to devote the extra resources. It’s similar to the problem the Xbox 360 faced when the Kinect first launched — not every Xbox 360 owner owned a Kinect, and as such, developers didn’t believe that enough people would use Kinect features to justify the extra time.

That being said, there’s some pretty cool games, as you can see from the list offered by SteelSeries. Most of the games are also available on other platforms such as Bastion, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. You’ll also find games like GameLoft’s relatively new Dungeon Hunter 4, and lots of classic games that have been ported to iOS.

Is it the best list of games you’ll ever find? Probably not, but there is enough there to justify the purchase if you’ve always felt like touchscreen gaming just isn’t your thing. There’s a wide range of genres and enough to play for a good amount of time. One thing to note though, is that a large percentage of the games offered are not free, so on top of the $80 investment for the controller, you are likely to be spending some money on the games you choose to play. Additionally, we expect more games will support external controllers as the adoption rate grows, so there should be new stuff to play consistently.

Playing Games on the SteelSeries Stratus

So we’ve talked about the games that are available, but that doesn’t really matter if playing games with the controller is not an enjoyable experience. Thankfully, it is, but it’s not without flaws. Let’s start with the good stuff before we jump into some of the things I don’t necessarily love about it.

First, the buttons feel good. All of the face buttons have good tactile response while playing. The d-pad, while not the best I’ve ever used, gets the job done. As I mentioned before, the shoulder buttons have a pretty weird layout, with the R2 and L2 buttons being quite a bit smaller than R1 and L1, but it works, and it feel completely natural while playing.

In our review of the Xbox One Microsoft Xbox One Review And Giveaway Microsoft Xbox One Review And Giveaway The console wars are officially raging, and we've had sufficient time with both of them. That begs the question: how does the Xbox One compare? Read More , one of my biggest complaints was the looseness of the joysticks, and the Stratus goes the opposite way, with sticks that don’t feel loose enough. The Xbox 360 still has the perfect joystick feel locked down, and you’d think others would copy it, but SteelSeries Stratus is just a little too tight. However, it’s not unusable, and it’s something that could loosen over time. It’s a minor issue, but not a deal-breaker.

The biggest problem I have with the controller is the size. This won’t be a problem for everyone, and I did eventually grow comfortable with it. I have very long fingers, and it never felt perfect. For people with average to smaller hands, it will feel natural, but for my big-handed brethren, it’s something to keep in mind. However, you have to consider the tradeoff. Do you want to carry around an Xbox 360 or PlayStation controller in your pocket? I’m going to assume you don’t, and since this controller is not too small, it’s not a bad sacrifice to make.

Overall, this is not the best controller I’ve ever used by any stretch, but it’s not bad either. It feels pretty good, and it’s certainly better than a touchscreen for games originally designed to be used with a controller.

Wrapping Up

All in all, I’m not in love with the SteelSeries Stratus, but it certainly has some great qualities. It has some gameplay issues, but many of those are cancelled out by the other factors such as the portability and the fact that it works with the iPad. It also has a full suit of buttons, which allows it to be used with lots of games (compared to other products like Logitech’s offering).

If you just don’t love touchscreen gaming, but want to be able to enjoy some of the cool stuff offered on the App Store, you could definitely do worse than the SteelSeries Status. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s the best iOS game controller on the market so far, though it doesn’t have a ton of competition.

Our verdict of the SteelSeries Stratus iOS Game Controller:
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it if you want a controller that works with your iPhone and iPad while still offering solid gameplay and portability.
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The Winner

Congratulations, Steve Blankenbaker! You would have received an email from jackson@makeuseof.com. Please respond before August 9 to claim your prize. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.

This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, August 1. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email. View the list of winners here.

Send your products to be reviewed. Contact Jackson Chung for further details.

  1. Morrison
    August 2, 2014 at 7:14 am

    Physical controller gives me more control; Racing games.

  2. Jaffer A
    August 2, 2014 at 1:29 am

    Physical Controller for racing games

  3. Daniel Ooi
    July 31, 2014 at 5:43 am

    I prefer physical controller because I would have better control of the games. I usually play RPG games.

  4. Steve
    July 31, 2014 at 3:50 am

    Physical Controller

  5. Sriram Srinivasan
    July 30, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Physical controller will be good!!! And I usually play FIFA 2014!!!!

  6. Haroon Khan
    July 30, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    I prefer physical controllers!

  7. Mesut Yaver
    July 30, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    I prefer physical controllers.

  8. Alessio A
    July 29, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Physical controllers, easy :D

  9. Ashwin
    July 28, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Touch screen for regular games. USB Game controller + OTG cable for GTA, Dead Trigger

  10. Sam K
    July 27, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    thanks. I prefer physical controllers....my choice Action Games, racing...

  11. Dirk M
    July 27, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    physical controller

  12. Muhammad Rifqi Saifudin
    July 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    I prefer a physical controller, for playing soccer games or GTA :)

  13. Tom S
    July 25, 2014 at 3:19 am

    I prefer using a physical controller, I currently love to play Dead Trigger 2!

  14. Amit Konstabler
    July 24, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I don't have controller and player mostly soccer

  15. Wi F
    July 23, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    I prefer using a controller. I like to play racing games.

  16. AlSam
    July 22, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    physical controller....none, but I'm used to console gaming

  17. María C
    July 22, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    Physical Controller

  18. Ronnie Schwartz
    July 22, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Controller and stealth games

  19. Paul Yates
    July 22, 2014 at 5:52 am

    I too prefer a physical controller. Not just for games...

  20. Bill Fleet
    July 21, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Either will work, it depends on the game.

  21. Thalia
    July 21, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I prefer a physical controller.

  22. Kendall B
    July 21, 2014 at 4:20 am

    I prefer a physical controller, but I figure most mobile games are optimized for touch controls.

  23. Ismael R
    July 20, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Depends on what type of game, I'm playing. FPS would be better with a controller; so would games like The Dark Knight Rises. Most other games are fine with a touch screen. I play a lot of different games, depending on my mood. Right now, it's mostly The Dark Knight Rises, Plague Inc., and Marvel's Puzzle Quest.

  24. Justin K
    July 20, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    I don't mind the touchscreen games usually. I'd like to try Oceanhorn with this awesome little device though!

  25. curiouskit10
    July 20, 2014 at 11:37 am

    I'm getting really, really happy with touch control, but my partner can't deal with it.

  26. orcan tiryakioglu
    July 20, 2014 at 11:09 am

    I prefer a controller to play asphalt series

  27. Gaurav Bhargava
    July 20, 2014 at 2:56 am

    I use touchscreen but prefer to use controller with any kind of racing game...

  28. Alan Tong
    July 20, 2014 at 2:04 am

    it depends on the game.. but most games i play would benefit from a controller. i like the shoot em up games.

  29. Ryan
    July 19, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    I prefer a physical controller. Side scrollers

  30. Alex B
    July 19, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    physical for sure

  31. nitin hassija
    July 19, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    I no much of a gamer but I do play NOVA 3, Riptide GP and Asphalt 8. I like the touch screen control only, wouldn't mind trying out the physical controller.

  32. Rachel Beltz
    July 19, 2014 at 3:24 am

    I love having a physical controller. It makes it more "real". If that makes sense!

  33. Juan
    July 19, 2014 at 12:31 am

    I prefer a controller. It's easier for me than to keep touching my Ipod. I play Dead Zone, Batman Arkham Origins ios and Injustice ios.

  34. Julian A.
    July 18, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    dedicated controller if possible. don't play games right now since I don't have the controller but I have purchased some (can't remember right now).

  35. Joel G
    July 18, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    External Controller is always better. Play games like, The Simpsons (arcade), R-Type, GTA

  36. Dragos N
    July 18, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I prefer a controller to play Dungeon Humter 4.

  37. Peter H
    July 18, 2014 at 8:35 am

    I prefer the touchscreen. Don't really need a controller to slingshot a bird or steer a car.

  38. Zak Laughton
    July 18, 2014 at 6:53 am

    I prefer a physical controller over a touchscreen. I play borderlands, Farmville, and Crash Bandicoot.

  39. Shacha G
    July 18, 2014 at 12:48 am

    physical controller Emulator and JRPG games

  40. Kim M
    July 17, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    I'm really not much of a gamer.

  41. Anupam
    July 17, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    I like to play action,racing,platformers and RPG games.I play via the touchscreen as I dont have a controller.Angry birds series,Real racing,Riptide GP2,Asphalt 8,Shadowgun Dead zone,NOVA 3 are some of the games I played recently

  42. Bogdan
    July 17, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    Physical controller, Real Racing 3.

  43. Zinoviya Obizuyk
    July 17, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    I don’t have a physical controller

  44. Victor Obizuyk
    July 17, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    don¨t have a controller, I’m used to keyboard

  45. Mukola Obizuyk
    July 17, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Physical controller

  46. Ashley
    July 17, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    I split between controller and touch screen.

  47. Dmitriy S
    July 17, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Physical controller!

  48. Kim
    July 17, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    I've never used a controller to play any iOS games but I'd like to try. I struggle with the XBOX controller, mainly because I hardly ever use it and have not gotten used to it. Maybe using a controller for iOS will help me with the XBOX controller.

  49. Stan P
    July 17, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    I love playing with a Xbox 360 controller on my PC, action games or stuff like fighting but i can't really say i prefere it over a console or over mouse/keyboard. Playing games on PC with its native devices is still better in my book, call me a classic :)

    Anyway this looks like a nifty thing to have. :P

  50. Simone
    July 17, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    plants vs zombies, trials frontiers, angry birds, ...
    I use touch screen because I don't own a physical controller

  51. Travis Faulkner
    July 17, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I prefer a physical controller

  52. Bártfay Meszike Inke
    July 17, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    I don’t have a physical controller! :)

    Inke
    Hungary!

  53. Jan Phillips
    July 17, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I don¨t have a controller, I'm used to keyboard ;)

  54. Oliver Wiegand
    July 17, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    I don’t have a physical controller.

    LG Oliver

  55. Fritz Toch
    July 17, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    I think a controller is preferable for some games.

  56. Stoja Todoric
    July 17, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    I never tried physical controller but I would love to get it

  57. Raymond C
    July 17, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    i love sports and racing games so i prefer using a controller

  58. Cheryl Rahkonen
    July 17, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    I prefer using a controller. I like playing RPG's.

  59. Mile zec
    July 17, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    I don't have a physical controller. I play games using touch screen

  60. Nikola Todoric
    July 17, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    That depends on the game. I love Angry Birds, Flappy Bird

  61. Ana Vukasin
    July 17, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I love NFS, Fast and Furious, Angry Birds and I use physical controller

  62. Dragana Todoric
    July 17, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    I use physical controller

  63. Diana Cote
    July 17, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    I prefer using a controller, I actually dont play games on my phone much because i dont enjoy them with touchscreen but love playing games on pc or console because i find it much easier.

  64. Ken Haggerty
    July 17, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    It depends on the type of game. For example; first-person-shooters are suited to separate, hand held controllers, where driving games (such as RR3) work best using the device as the controller.

  65. Ron Ablang
    July 17, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I am comfortable doing either one, except I don't like the newer controllers.

  66. Johnna Rhodus
    July 17, 2014 at 11:44 am

    I prefer using a physical controller. I like to play the Wolf Among Us,Back To The Future,and a lot of trivia games!

  67. Jo-anne P
    July 17, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I am a controller girl all the way I really do not like touch screen especially if I am snacking cuz man that really messes up my screen lol.

  68. eric
    July 17, 2014 at 11:22 am

    I prefer the physical controller to a touch screen.

  69. Alexander K
    July 17, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Physical controller

  70. Sanchay Pahalwani
    July 17, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Both depends on game actually :P
    I play usually FPS and MMORPG's

  71. thiagu
    July 17, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Never tried with a controller. Favorite games includes hayday, Subway surfers etc

  72. Beh H
    July 17, 2014 at 8:51 am

    I prefer playing with controller more. Asphalt every time!

  73. George Ath
    July 17, 2014 at 8:35 am

    Controllers!

  74. Jeevan R
    July 17, 2014 at 6:49 am

    Controllers.. racing games

  75. Ann
    July 17, 2014 at 6:29 am

    Prefer a controller. Love to play Fast and Furious!

  76. Gerald S
    July 17, 2014 at 6:29 am

    Controller mouse keyboard no touchscreen Counter Strike Source.

  77. allen gagle
    July 17, 2014 at 6:28 am

    I like controllers, I HATE touchscreen control. I play FPS games mostly, shadowwarror and games like that

  78. Michael
    July 17, 2014 at 6:10 am

    Never had a chance to play with a controller but there are a lot of games out there that require a controller. Touch screen controls won't do for games like Sonic.

  79. Jules C
    July 17, 2014 at 5:39 am

    Controller and first person rpgs

  80. iMactouch
    July 17, 2014 at 5:37 am

    Until now I didn't use a controller to play racing games. But this can change in near future. :-)

  81. Adly A
    July 17, 2014 at 5:12 am

    Both, but prefer more into physical controller.

  82. Howard B
    July 17, 2014 at 5:12 am

    Would this work as a Bluetooth controller for PC/Android? If not, it's useless to me; I gave away my (secondhand) iPod and I'm not buying Apple. Ever. Again.

  83. Rebecca Parsons
    July 17, 2014 at 4:55 am

    Definitely love playing using a controller.

  84. Jack
    July 17, 2014 at 4:49 am

    Never had a controller to try, but would like to!

  85. Alexander G
    July 17, 2014 at 4:14 am

    touchscreen, racing games

  86. Vic L
    July 17, 2014 at 3:50 am

    Actually, it depends on the game. Many games that are emulated in a touch screen device is much comfortable with a physical controller.

  87. Maegan
    July 17, 2014 at 3:40 am

    I have yet to try playing any games with a controller. I definately think it would be awesome!!

  88. Charlita M
    July 17, 2014 at 3:19 am

    I've never played WITH a controller, but would certainly like to experiment with it.

  89. amy m
    July 17, 2014 at 3:17 am

    Love the guys T-shirt, AVGN is awesome

  90. Bill
    July 17, 2014 at 2:50 am

    controller

  91. Daniel V
    July 17, 2014 at 2:45 am

    Physical controllers, or *whispers* "PC master race".

  92. Aaron
    July 17, 2014 at 1:50 am

    On the touch screen, but it is not fun.

  93. Brady Wallace
    July 17, 2014 at 1:18 am

    I've been playing Asphalt 8 and 8 Ball Pool on the iPad mini. I don't have a controller for the iPad, but I would prefer it over the touchscreen controls. I grew up playing mostly racing games on the consoles.

  94. Mark P
    July 17, 2014 at 1:16 am

    I prefer the controller. I play Dungeon Hunter and Car Racing games feels better played on controllers.

  95. Dave Wells
    July 17, 2014 at 1:08 am

    Physical controller, platform games.

  96. Andrew L
    July 16, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    It depends on the game. I play some RPG's, for which a physical controller is better.

  97. marcelo
    July 16, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Nice one!

  98. effe
    July 16, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    ok

  99. Dan D
    July 16, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    I play all types of games so it doesn't matter how I play the games. I grew up playing with a physical controller on the PC and consoles but mobile games with the touch screen are just as fun. I play everything from mobile to PC, console to real life.

  100. Alexandru S
    July 16, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    I really like RPG games and never tried a controller. I think that I if I'd had one, I would've used it always instead of touch.

  101. Va Du
    July 16, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    While touch screen is awesome for certain games nothing beats pressing buttons to execute certain commands from a physical controller. I can't imagine playing certain games like fighting games with a touch screen over a fighting stick or driving w/o using a steering wheel.

  102. Denis K
    July 16, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Hope to use a chance to try a controller, thou I'd get used to use screen. Dead Trigger is my favourite game.

  103. Salvador H
    July 16, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    I just like playing games

  104. moorandro
    July 16, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    A controller feels more comfortable, GTA

  105. Debbie Bashford
    July 16, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    I prefer a physical controller, I just got my ipad so not up on what games I will be playing on it yet

  106. Mac Christensen
    July 16, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    I wish I had a controller for playing emulators, but for most mobile games, the touchscreen is fine.

  107. Stephen G.
    July 16, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    For most games I prefer the touchscreen, but for some RPGs I play, a controller feels a better fit.

  108. Keith W
    July 16, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    I've been playing a lot of racing games recently which seem like they would work batter with the device's accelerometer - but I don't have a controller to compare with.

  109. Dave N
    July 16, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    For games that are designed well for a touchscreen, I prefer the touchscreen. But some games, usually ones that exist on other platforms (like game consoles) as well, can be kind of awkward on a touchscreen. So, I'd love to give this controller a try.

  110. jim forrester
    July 16, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    I would use the controller my grandson would love it

  111. Sreeraj R
    July 16, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Prefer Touchscreen

  112. Tate S
    July 16, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    I would prefer with controller, but I usually play games in PC

  113. Gord
    July 16, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    I preference is for using my mouse and keyboard. I usually play first person shooter games.

  114. Antonio R
    July 16, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    I think it depends on the game.

  115. Rachel K
    July 16, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    I definitely prefer a controller as it feels like you are really part of the game and adds to the excitement. I love Grand Theft Auto, Injustice and Survival.

  116. Paul V
    July 16, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Physical controller

  117. Renee D
    July 16, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    controller

  118. Carlos M
    July 16, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I prefer to play games using a physical controller. I play GTA SA, Vice City, GTA III

  119. Diana Ward
    July 16, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    I prefer to play games on my touchscreen or with a mouse, but my son and grandson love their controllers!

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