If you're anything like me, you've been consistently disappointed by the state of mobile gaming. Though the average simpleton may be entertained for hours by time-wasters like Angry Birds, these bite-sized experiences obviously pale in comparison to the portable gems of yesteryear. The problem seems to be that most smartphones rely entirely on touchscreen functionality, and without an assortment of tactile nubs with which to control our avatars, games much choose between being simple one-button distractions or implementing awkward on-screen controls. It seems then that what the mobile gaming world needs is a standard gamepad, one which developers will come together to embrace, ushering in a true era of mobile gaming.
Only now, after spending several weeks with my new iControlPad, can I confidently declare that we have found our mobile messiah.
The iControlPad is a brilliant piece of technology, one which turns just about any smartphone into a fully fledged gaming device. The small, all-black device connects to your iPhone or Android device via Bluetooth, letting gamers enjoy a variety of iControlPad-supported games and apps. There are similar devices on the market (the ION iCade mobile for instance), though these devices seem more like a novelty, whereas the iControlPad is fine tuned for true gamers. The buttons are wonderfully responsive, with the d-pad offering a precise level of control needed for even twitch shooters (one of the the iCade Mobile's biggest flaws). This is also one of the only devices I've seen that sports a pair of analog sticks, opening up a wide variety of gaming possibilities. Not to mention that the device is easily charged by a standard mini-USB cord, this use of an internal battery making the iControlPad much lighter than competing gamepads.
The one concern some might have is whether enough apps support the iControlPad to make it worth a purchase. Truthfully, the selection of iControlPad-specific games is small, though the device seems most loved by fans of classic game emulation. Though the morality of pirating game ROMs you don't own is questionable (I'm lucky enough to own most of the original releases…), the iControlPad allows gamers to enjoy the many emulators available for Android (and jailbroken iPhone) the way they were meant to be played. I personally loaded my phone up with a variety of Gameboy Advance classics, and got so deep into Castlevania: Circle of the Moon I honestly forgot I was playing it on a phone! Not to mention that newer cell phone models are capable of even running PSone titles like Final Fantasy VII, and being able to enjoy that caliber of game without bothering with a horrible on-screen analog stick is a godsend.
To be fair, there are more than a few issues with the iControlPad. Upon first setting up the device, I discovered that certain HTC phones don't play nice with Bluetooth, which meant installing a special app to force my system to recognize the device as a keyboard. Though this wasn't too troublesome, it did mean that I was unable to test the iControlPad's full functionality (namely the analog stick controls). Meanwhile, though the device ships with a so-called "Universal Holder," what you really get is a piece of bent metal which extends out from the back of the device. Unfortunately this is a far from ideal solution, and the foam pads included to help add some additional support didn't prove much help in getting my HTZ Rezound to fit comfortably. After bending the holder a bit I actually did manage to achieve a rather snug fit (to the point where I could violently shake the device without my phone flying out), though I still would've preferred something more easily adjustable. Also, the holder really only accommodates slim devices, so if you have any sort of extended battery pack on your phone, good luck.
Even despite these flaws however, the iControlPad is still the best gamepad I've even seen for mobile devices, and a must buy product for any fan of classic game emulation. However, you may want to hold out for the iControlPad2, a redesigned device which is currently making the rounds on Kickstarter (just three days left!). I'm especially excited about how the new resdesign not only includes a full keyboard, but will actually rotate behind your device, making it much easier to slip into a pocket. If you were on the fence about making a donation, trust me, the folks making the iControlPad know what they're doing. Throwdown the minimum $69 and get on the list ASAP!
-Vito Gesualdi is pleased that his phone can run the original Wild Arms. Follow him on Twitter @vitogesualdi