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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Green Throttle officially launches its Android gaming platform, we go hands-on

Green Throttle Games officially launches, we go handson
Thinking of rounding out your entertainment center's arsenal with an Android-based game console? You've certainly got options: Ouya, GameStick and Project Shield are all vying for a spot on your couch. On the other hand, you might already have a perfectly serviceable Android device just waiting to be converted into a makeshift games console -- that's where Green Throttle Games comes in. By pairing a dual-stick gamepad with a console-like game launcher, Green Throttle aims to turn any Android device into a gaming platform. We spent some time with adeveloper build of the setup late last year, but today the company officially launched the Green Throttle Arena and its companion Atlas controller. We popped in to the firm's Santa Clara office to see what changed.
Green Throttle Games officially launches, we go handson
Green Throttle's consumer debut is much cleaner than the developer software we saw back in November -- the Arena app now features large, attractive menu tiles reminiscent of Windows 8's start screen, dividing its home screen into sections for recently played titles, featured games and advertisements. Headlining the billboard of squares are four self-explanatory menu options: home, my games, recommended and settings. Green Throttle's Matt Crowley told us the app soft launched to Google Play over the weekend, and showed us how it can be used as a simple touchscreen launcher for Green Throttle supported titles. On its own, the Arena app is aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn't really come to life until it's paired with an Atlas controller.
Crowley paired a Kindle Fire HD with a gamepad and plopped us down in front of an HDMI-connected display. Under the Atlas controller's thumbsticks, the Arena app did an admirable job of emulating a console environment, giving the gamepad full control of all its features. We didn't need to touch the tablet's screen once -- a nice change from trying to use a gamepad on most Android devices. The ease of use is by design, of course: games compatible with Green Throttle's Arena app have to not only play nice with its gamepad, but need to be fully usable by controller alone. It seems like a nitpicky detail, but it allows the company to present gamers with a unified experience. Toggling the Green Throttle "G" button, for instance, universally returns users to the Arena menu. Multiplayer games will even detect when a second player controller is connected, prompting the user to choose one player or two. Overall, the system does a decent job of emulating a home console environment.
Green Throttle Games officially launches, we go handson
We were a little disappointed to find that the Atlas controller hasn't changed much since we last saw it. The familiar Xbox 360 gamepad layout is as comfortable as ever, but the controller's shoulder buttons feel a little stiff, responding with loud clicks when toggled. The Atlas' thumbsticks and face buttons have plenty of spring to them, however, and its d-pad is certainly no worse than the Xbox controller'smushy affair. The controller's selling point isn't form, though -- it's function. Using proprietary drivers, Green Throttle's Arena app can recognize up to four Atlas controllers at once, opening the door to local multiplayer on an Android device. It's a neat trick, but it comes at a price: the Atlas controller will only work on Green Throttle enabled games.
Green Throttle Games officially launches, we go handson
Unfortunately, Green Throttle's console experience falters when it comes to software. The suite's small collection of launch titles just doesn't offer much depth when it comes to gameplay. They serve their purpose of course, demonstrating key features like local multiplayer and gamepad support, but Space Invaders clones like Green Throttle's own Coral Combat aren't going to sell Atlas controllers. Luckily, Crowley told us more games are on the way, including ChronoBlade, a side scrolling beat 'em up, and Freefall Tournament, a multiplayer 3rd person shooter. Moreover, we're told that more than 1,000 Atlas controllers have been sent to developers, adding more promise to the suite's budding game library. The app is officially live in Google Play and the Amazon App store as of today, and users can purchase Atlas controllers from the Arena interface. If Green Throttle can catch the attention of more developers, it could grow into a strong gaming ecosystem, and could even give Ouya a run for its money -- but without software support, it might wind up as a lesson in lost potential. Care to make a wager? Read on for Green Throttle's official press release and place your bets in the comments.

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