I love gaming on my iPod and my iPad, but I simply can’t stand those virtual analog sticks and joysticks used in so many titles. Sure, I can use them, and I understand that sometimes a game’s design dictates that as the only option. But I always find them either too sensitive or not sensitive enough, and damn it, sometimes I miss the tactile feel of a traditional stick while gaming.
ThinkGeek’s JOYSTICK-IT Tablet Arcade Stick seems like the answer to all of my problems. Designed to stick to the surface of any tablet (the iPad in my case), it adds an arcade-style joystick for use in games that simply seem to demand one.
It’s a genius little idea, at least in theory, invented and designed internally by ThinkGeek. I was intrigued enough by the concept that I simply could not turn down ThinkGeek’s offer to try the JOYSTICK-IT out for myself.
The JOYSTICK-IT arrived in a tiny cardboard box, stuffed inside and sitting comfortably in a white foam protector. The shining, silver design is immediately striking, made of solid aluminum. It has a sleek, classy look, although the gaudy bullseye/target on the top of the stick seems a bit unnecessary. It’s also small, the ball of the joystick designed to be held between your thumb and forefinger.
How it works is actually incredibly simple; you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it first. The JOYSTICK-IT has a suction cup on its base, surrounded by a foam that’s designed to mimic your finger touching the device’s screen. It’ll work, in theory, with any game that uses one of those virtual analog sticks. So instead of swiping up, down, left, and right with no feedback, the concept is to get a more authentic arcade experience. At least that’s the idea, and the good news is that feels pretty good and works… most of the time.
I tested the stick across a few games, mostly notably arcade titles designed for use with a traditional cabinet joystick. My obvious first choice was Namco’s Pac-Man, a game that relies on quick and accurate stick movements to out maneuver those stinky ghosts. The JOYSTICK-IT plops down firmly on the game’s virtual stick, and covers it almost completely; it’s clear that the size of the base was carefully considered.
With a game like Pac-Man, the JOYSTICK-IT works wonderfully. The experience feels more authentic, and it’s actually a hell of a lot easier to navigate the little yellow pellet eater while using it. I did find some difficulty playing when I tried to lay the iPad flat on a table; every movement of the stick would slide the entire device. I found more success holding the iPad in two hands like a traditional controller. The iPad is a bit big, so eensy-weensy baby hands might have an issue, but average sized humans should feel comfortable playing this way.
While I found the JOYSTICK-IT great for arcade games like Pac-Man that require quick, single direction movements, I had less success with games that try to emulate console analog sticks. One example was Gameloft’s Dungeon Defenders II, which was mostly unplayable using the JOYSTICK-IT. It fits on the game’s virtual pad just fine, but doesn’t offer enough range of movement in any one direction. The result was my on-screen character tip-toeing around the screen ver… y… slow… ly.
I also found that when the JOYSTICK-IT is attached to the device that it’s a bit “wobbly,” especially noticeable if you move the iPad around with the peripheral attached to it. That’s not to say it feels like it’s going to fall off, though. The suction cup gets a surprisingly snug grip on the iPad’s screen, and I was never afraid it was going to go anywhere while playing. But the stick itself has a very “loose” feel; it’s not the same kind of tight arcade stick feel you’d get at your local arcade.
Until Apple decides to give in and release its own, internally designed Bluetooth game controller for the iPad, you don’t have many options for a tactile controller experience. If you’re looking to bring an arcade-style experience to your iPad for use on those arcade-style games, despite a few issues, JOYSTICK-IT is easily your best (and perhaps only) bet.
You can buy the JOYSTICK-IT online at ThinkGeek for $24.99, or two for $39.99. You know, for Geometry Wars or something.