My favourite mobile controller is Backbone. It’s a decent selection for anyone looking to game on the go, but its Xbox face buttons and Game Pass marketing skewed disproportionately toward Microsoft. PlayStation teaming with Backbone to build a PlayStation-centric mobile controller was thrilling.
Now that I have it, I wonder if it’s what I wanted. Backbone and PlayStation made it clear when marketing the controller that it’s not meant to be a portable DualSense, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. It’s a DualSense-colored Backbone with PlayStation buttons. The controller is “influenced by the look and feel of the PS DualSense,” but only in looks.
Despite being “inspired” by DualSense, the PlayStation Backbone has none of its features. After trying a few first-party PlayStation 5 titles on the PlayStation Backbone, I think there’s a larger problem.
An incomplete Package
The DualSense controller is great. It’s nice to handle, has weight, and is responsive. It has exclusive features like haptic feedback, adjustable triggers, and 3D audio. Every PlayStation 5-exclusive game uses these aspects to give it a unique feel.
PlayStation Backbone lacks this. It’s a basic, high-quality gamepad with few features. Because it’s an approved PlayStation product, the fact that certain functionalities are absent is a problem while playing PS5 games.
A DualSense controller next to a DualSense Backbone with Returnal displayed.
I tried few PS5-exclusive games using PlayStation Backbone and was underwhelmed. Astro’s Playroom, which comes pre-installed on every PS5, serves as a tech demo for DualSense.
The PlayStation Backbone version is nearly unusable. Astro Bot’s 3D audio footsteps inside the PS5 are missing. The game stops when you have to tilt the controller, blow into it to power fans, or use the touchpad with accuracy.
Astro’s Playroom was the only PS5 game unfinished on PlayStation Backbone, although it wasn’t the only one affected. Next on my list were Returnal and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, two games that rely significantly on controller functionality. Both were played well.
Playing despite the difficulties
Returnal and Rift Apart used adaptive triggers not merely to mimic resistance or a jammed weapon, but as additional combat buttons. Both games provide alternate control schemes that map partial and full trigger pulls to other buttons, but not all PS5 exclusives will allow this.
Astro’s Playroom, Returnal, Ratchet and Clank, Ghostwire: Tokyo, Demon’s Souls, and Deathloop all lacked adaptive trigger functionality. Due to the lack of 3D audio and haptic sensation, they all felt flat. Games may stand alone without DualSense (save for Astro’s Playroom), but the PS5’s distinctiveness is lost.
It would be unreasonable to expect a mobile controller to contain all DualSense’s features, but it’s still disappointing. Third-party PS5 controllers like the Scuf Reflex can offer DualSense-exclusive functionality, so it’s not unrealistic to expect an official PlayStation partner to do likewise. The PlayStation Backbone costs $100, $30 more than a DualSense.
PS5 games that came alongside PS4 versions still play nicely utilising PlayStation Backbone since they need to run on both DualSense and the DualShock 4, thus they don’t rely on DualSense-only capabilities. You won’t have any problems playing Horizon: Forbidden West or God of War: Ragnarok on the fly.
The PlayStation Backbone lacks features, yet it’s still one of the greatest mobile controllers. It’s unlike the PlayStation 5’s controller. When used for general mobile gaming (which Backbone seems more interested with), it’s everything you’d expect out of a controller, but it’s a PlayStation-branded controller, so it should have more. That’s especially true when considering the DualSense’s list of controller improvements.
Great controller, terrible PlayStation controller.