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Thumbs-on review of ThinkGeek's JOYSTICK-IT for iPad

A while ago we were sent a couple of Joystick-IT "thumb sticks" from ThinkGeek (note: ThinkGeek uses all caps for the product name -- I respectfully decline to shout at readers throughout this post, and I consider this an increasingly annoying practice by marketers). Designed to give an old analog joystick feel to your iPad, the Joystick-IT sticks are little metal joysticks with conductive pads on the bottom coupled with a suction cup so that they can stick to your iPad, provide some "bounce" (with the conductive sponge) and control a game by using your fingers or thumbs. Read on for a quick review of how these work in real life and whether they are worth the US$24.99 price ($39.99 if you buy two at once).

Design

Well, I have to say these are cleverly designed. As you can see in the gallery, they provide a bit of spring from the spongy parts, and under the spongy parts is a conductive mesh to relay your controls to the screen. The metal on the sticks (necessary for these to work) feels solid and sturdy, not like a cheap plastic toy. The suction cup is necessary for sticking the thing onto the screen of your iPad, and comes off easily but not so easily it'll pop off during gameplay.

Still, the suction cups look like they'll eventually snap off as they are connected by a very small diameter of rubber to the stick itself. By "snap off" I mean they look like they'll break. They definitely popped off the screen without too much pressure. Plus, while the metal is necessary, I am a little concerned about damaging my screen should I push down too hard.

Gameplay

I tried the Joystick-IT on several games. Notably, Pac-Man, Galaxy on Fire II, Guerrilla Bob, Death Rally, Heavy Gunner HD and the iPhone version of Karate Champ. There's a reason why the demo video on ThinkGeek primarily shows old style arcade games. Of all the games I played, Pac-Mac performed best. Karate Champ perhaps suffered from the upscaling, but I couldn't exactly figure out why it was so impossible to control. Galaxy on Fire II should have been perfect for the Joystick-IT, but for whatever reason, it was really wonky; it was, at times, unresponsive or overly responsive. I found the same to be true of the rest -- either the gameplay suffered, or the controls were out of kilter. Pac-Man was pretty fun and felt more "natural" despite the fact that I had to use my thumbs. Death Rally suffered because where you place your thumb as you steer controls your velocity. In short, it's almost as if the game needs to be designed with a physical thumb stick in mind.

About those thumbs... You'll find you wish you could control the Joystick-IT with your fingers, or even gripping it with your hand, like we old timers did in the 80s at strange, loud caves in shopping malls known as "arcades." Except, you really can't. This is a true thumb stick and performs best when you're applying just enough pressure to keep from yanking the tiny suction cup off your screen. Unfortunately, as I played through several games, the suction cups did fail, sending the stick flying off the screen. Thank goodness for the sturdy glass on my iPad.

Final thoughts

Is this worth a penny short of $25 for one? Or around $20 each for two? Eh, if you're really dedicated to old arcade games on your iPad and you can't afford the backordered iCADE (hey, there's ThinkGeek shouting at you again), I guess.

Personally, I find toting around these awkward metal nubs pretty pointless, and the only games they help are the ones formerly designed for joysticks to begin with. If you have the money to burn, they're fun and kind've a conversation starter, but otherwise, your already-provided thumbs will get the job done on whatever games you happen to play on your iPad. In fact, I found your thumbs will generally get the job done better than the Joystick-IT.

If you're looking for a simpler and less-retro alternative, check out Ten One's Fling joystick for iPad.

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