Blacknut isn't new to cloud gaming, but they'll be one of the first streaming platforms to make it to iOS. We've been sampling their 500+ games on the small screen to see exactly how it holds up.
Gaming, and the way that we game, is constantly changing. Microsactions, free-to-play and subscription services are all things that have become integral to the expanding games industry, and we already know that the use of The Cloud, in streaming and gaming, is likely to be the next widely adopted technology. Blacknut isn't new to the scene, they've been doing it for years, but in a short while (tentatively, early May) they'll be coming to iPhone and iPad.
Blacknut In The CloudsThere's a wide selection of reasons why that's impressive, not least due to the firm grip that Apple holds over its own eco-system - be that for security reasons or other reasons. It's meant that companies have had to deploy progressive web apps (PWAs) to create a program that works on a platform when they are locked outside of traditional storefronts. For giants like Microsoft, Google or Amazon, this is a very achievable feat, after all, two of them own and operate popular browsers. However, for smaller companies, this is certainly notable.
Either way, they've managed it. I've played a selection of the 500+ games available on the service using my phone and a Bluetooth controller. I used an Xbox One controller to connect up to Blacknut, and managed to play a few of the games, streaming them with no problem to my iPhone 11 Pro Max. At the time of writing, about 70-80% of the games on the service can be played on iOS, which certainly isn't bad.
What I was excited to try, but didn't manage to - as it hasn't been deployed yet - was the virtual touch gamepad overlay that Blacknut's iOS app will launch with. While I'd imagine that it would be a standard, translucent controller-shaped overlay, the ability to play games on the go without taking along extra peripherals or controllers is completely invaluable when it comes to accessibility.
Blacknut controlsThat aside, I was very happy with how the controls worked on mobile. There was almost zero latency between the controller, the phone and the servers, and when I booted up Blacknut on my PC later, I had the same experience.
One big concern when it comes to streaming games has always been the delay and picture quality. A decade ago people were tinkering around with OnLive, which was definitely a pioneer in the streaming space. I was one of those people, and on my shoddy internet, I experienced a massive quality drop, although the framerate never dropped. With OnLive it had been like somebody was sliding a quality/performance slider up and down as I played. Blacknut is stable, and I didn't experience any sudden drop in either graphics or performance as I played my way through a couple of games.
On The ScreenWhen playing on the PC I did notice a few things which, interestingly, weren't of any concern to me when I was playing on iPhone. For a start, the graphics settings for most of the games are lower than I'd have expected, some of the textures feel a little rough, although - because of this - there is no framerate drop at all, and no mouse is skipping when moving it around the screen. You can tinker with the settings if you wish, and it's clear that there's a degree of 'reading the bitrate' when it comes to the settings on the game - IE, higher-quality rendering will come with stronger internet speeds.
On an iPhone 11 Pro Max, those rough edges were hard - if not impossible - to spot. Although on a retina display iPad you might notice some of them. Besides this, a lot of the games I chose - for instance, WRC 8 - looked beautiful in motion.
The second thing was that some of the games defaulted to controller input when playing with a keyboard and mouse on PC. Pang Adventures, for example. Once again, this wasn't an issue when using a Bluetooth controller on the phone.
It's rare that a platform 'launches' onto a new device with 500~ games on it. Blacknut's library has an extensive selection available, from Focus Home Interactive's The Technomancer through to Square Enix' Hitman Go. There are even a few surprises in there for mobile games, Deus Ex The Fall, which is no longer available on the App Store, is right there in the library.
And the library is an interesting one, you can navigate the homepage (which includes a new release section) or browse or filter by genre. You can also, however, filter by age, suitability, whether the games are multiplayer and, interestingly, the 'duration', which is great to see.
Sometimes platforms with big libraries achieve this pumping them full of middleware and older games which have been released through shareware. There's only a small element of this in the Blacknut library, maybe a dozen titles that I recognised as frequenting other platforms. This is quite impressive, and I was quite taken with the variety on show. In fact, there are quite a few of my favourites in there: Bomber Crew, Chroma Squad, Shadow Tactics, Metro 2033 Redux, Holy Potatoes A Spy Story, The Flame in the Flood, Overcooked and much more.
As a matter of fact, there are over a dozen games on Blacknut that are premium on mobile, games like Northgard, Skyhill, Hue and Mud Runner among others.
Blacknut In The PocketBlacknut isn't alone in the streaming space, directly competing with the likes of Xbox Games Pass (via xCloud) and Google Stadia, however, there's something that it has that the others don't, and that's the touchscreen input.
While the Nintendo Switch, and DS before it, made lugging around a 'controller' (even if attached) a bit more common, there's still something uncanny about connecting up a controller to a phone while you're commuting or on the go. Their touch controls, which will work for the majority of the games, really helps them stand out from the competition - although it should be added that Microsoft have recently stepped up their game, and now have around 50 games with touch screen controls, although that pales in comparison to Blacknut.
For those interested, we'll be running a Blacknut giveaway when it launches on iOS. Make sure to keep checking back, or sign up for our newsletter, to get involved!Portability comparisons aside, there's an elephant in the room that needs discussing: The price. Blacknut is currently 50% off for 3 months, at the time of writing, at £6.49, which means that it's normally £12.99 a month. That comes in at more expensive than Apple Arcade (which isn't streaming) at £4.99 a month, and more expensive than retro-rekindling Game Club (also not streaming) which is the same price. It's also more expensive than Google's Google Stadia offering, which is £8.99 per month outside of discounts. However, Google Stadia's streaming capacity varies from device to device, unlike Blacknut.
Competing against these, Blacknut does lose out on the price point, however, the 500~ strong library is unrivalled in the space, and the browsing and filtering options in the library - and the parental controls - mean that this can instantly be tweaked to being family appropriate, unlike other options. In fact, you can have five separate accounts within one subscription, with saves - and the like - paired to the account. This means that if you've got a busy, full household, you can all move around seamlessly, switching from screen to screen to continue gameplay on one subscription. That's a value offering that others can't provide.
Blacknut is already available for Windows, Linux, MacOS computers, as well as Amazon, Google, Android and Apple TV boxes, it can also run on Android. It'll be coming soon to iOS, targeting a May release. There are many more details on the Blacknut site, where, as I said earlier, there's currently a discount for subscribers.