The iCade’s “8-Bitty” controller is solid, affordable and pretty, but where are all the games? Image courtesy ThinkGeek
ThinkGeek and Ion have yet another addition to the iCade family of gaming controllers for mobile devices, and its new baby looks suspiciously like the controller for the 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System.
The 8-Bitty is a Bluetooth-enabled wireless controller that lets you play some iPhone, iPad and Android games with the added accuracy of buttons and a D-pad.
It’s a well-made, responsive controller, especially considering the $30 price tag. The buttons feel just a little on the cheap side, but not unsteady, and the brick is easy to open up and fiddle with if something goes wrong.
8-Bitty is great — if you can find games that work with it. The problem is, there aren’t very many at all.
After the idea was born as an April Fool’s joke in 2010, ThinkGeek and Ion released the first iCade controller, a miniature “arcade machine” that the iPad could dock inside, in June of last year. 8-Bitty works with any game that has iCade support. But even after more than a year on the market, iCade devices still don’t have very many games that support them.
ThinkGeek and Ion claim that the controller is compatible with “hundreds” of games. That’s technically true, but only if you count the bundle packages of creaky, ancient Atari 2600 games being sold by publishers like Atari and Activision.
Really, there are only around 10 truly worthwhile games that support iCade and 8-Bitty, and only a handful of them benefit greatly from the added accuracy of a physical controller.
The brilliant Forget-Me-Not, sort of a mash-up of Pac-Man and roguelike dungeon hacking, was a great game even with swipe controls. But 8-Bitty’s D-pad makes it one of the best original games on any mobile device.
Super Crate Box is much more fun with iCade support. I often had trouble jumping and shooting simultaneously when playing using the otherwise-excellent game’s touch controls, but now it feels just as tight as any console game.
The endless-climbing game The Blocks Cometh is also vastly improved by physical controls. I beat my previous high score on the first try using the 8-Bitty.
But aside from a few other games, that’s all the fun you’re going to get out of your iPad joystick.
These things have been on the market for over a year. They’re well-made and not too expensive. And they dramatically improve certain types of game experiences on iPad. But if you want to buy one, be aware that the idea of a joystick add-on hasn’t caught on enough to get more than a few developers to support it.