By now you've likely seen the Ion iCade, a mini arcade cabinet for the iPad that allows gamers to enjoy a selection of retro classics with real arcade-style controls. Now Ion is looking to bring similar gaming capabilities to the iPhone with the iCade Mobile, finally bringing a proper d-pad and button setup to the famous device. As someone who's never been too comfortable with the iPhone's gaming capabilities, I was very excited to check this piece of hardware out to see if it could improve my gaming experience.
The iCade Mobile features a fairly standard suite of controls, including a d-pad, four face buttons, and four shoulder buttons. Noticeably absent are any analog controls, though with such few titles to support this feature, this exclusion is more than forgivable. The iPhone (or iPod touch) rests comfortably in the rubberized holster at the center, with an extra piece of rubber available to add some padding for thinner devices. Interestingly, the holster can even rotate to play games vertically, and though this looks a bit bizarre, fans of games like Space Invaders will likely appreciate the consideration.
After connecting the iCade Mobile to your phone via bluetooth, it's time to find some games! Ion maintains a comprehensive list of iCade compatible games on their website (http://www.ionaudio.com/products/icade-games), with more than a few gems to be found. For a real test however, I decided to see how the iCade Mobile fared when dealing with the wealth of classic games available for emulation on a jailbroken Apple device. After finding a cheap Gameboy Advance emulator which boasted iCade support, I quickly booted up some of my favorite games (all of which I own the originals of…) to see how they handled.
Unfortunately, this is where some of the iCade Mobile's problems became apparent. For starters, the d-pad is much too sensitive, making the kind of precise control needed for a game like Gradius Galaxies impossible. The buttons all feel very cheap and plastic-y, and the device itself is very heavy, something not helped by the pair of AA batteries used to power it. Not to mention that the device's design is awkwardly long, and I would've much preferred a design which stuck the controls below the screen, much like a classic Gameboy. Though the iCade Mobile definitely performed better with turn-based strategy and puzzle games, the design just doesn't seem adequate for serious gaming. I'll be waiting to see if Ion chooses to offer a revised device to accommodate the newly launched iPhone 5, giving them a chance to address some of these control and material issues.
Thankfully, the iCade Mobile makes up for being a bit wonky by way of price, and a quick search shows many stores have it for just under $50. It's definitely a cool idea, and a great present for casual gamers and kids, though if you're looking for a mobile gamepad for serious gaming you'd likely be better off with something like the iControlPad.