There are two elements to the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play's success as a portable gaming console; hardware and software. And on one of these fronts it falls some way short while the other is a rip roaring success. Thankfully, it's the one that can't be changed that is the success.
The game controls are simply superb. It really is quite astonishing how Sony Ericsson has made such an easy to use set of physical game controls fit in such a confined space.
Open the sturdy metal slide mechanism – which is easy to do one handed – and you're greeted by a directional-pad on the left; the classic triangle, circle, cross and square buttons on the right; two touch sensitive analogue pads in-between and small Start and Select buttons tucked away in the bottom right.
Starting with the physical buttons, they have a nice discernible break to their action so you know when you've pressed them, yet they require a relatively light touch. As such they just feel effortless to use and will be instantly familiar to any PlayStation owners. Even the shoulder pads are easy to use, though as the screen slides over the top of them, it can get a little cramped if you have large fingers.
Putting the buttons to task on a number of titles, we were instant converts to the idea of playing mobile games in this way. It's not only easier to control the games but you of course don't have your screen half taken up with onscreen controls.
We were prepared to be underwhelmed by the analogue touchpads but again they proved a joy to use. We're sure those that have honed their analogue stick skills on the likes of Call Of Duty will find them a little inaccurate but on all the games we tried they provided a sufficient amount of responsiveness. For instance, on the run-and-gun game Gun Bros, we found it easy to vary the speed and direction our character was moving (using the left pad) while staying accurate with our gun fire (using the right pad).
Were more games to start taking full advantage of the full set of buttons, we can see it getting difficult to keep a firm grip on the phone while reaching for both shoulder buttons and performing some impressive thumb acrobatics on the main controls in the heat of battle, but overall they're surprisingly effective.