Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hardware Review: iCade Mobile (iPhone)

One of the common complaints that people have about iOS gaming is the lack of physical buttons. Especially with the iPhone, the limited screen size and virtual buttons makes it difficult to come up with control systems that gamers are comfortable with.

There's been a couple of attempts at developing controllers for the iOS platforms. Last year we reviewed the quality 60beat controller. What hampered that controller was a lack of quality game support. The superb The Bard's Tale aside, there was no compelling reason to buy that hardware. iCade Mobile is different. It has some great game support and is backed up by excellent hardware quality. Gamers with iPhones should consider this essential.

The device has a nice weight to it, and the plastic feels solid. Buttons are ergonomically placed around the device - and it has a lot of them - two shoulder buttons on each side, four face buttons and a d-pad. As a consequence the games that the device supports all play well.

It's worth noting that the development environment that this device exists within means that there are no standards when it comes to control structure. So for instance, on the PlayStation Dual Shock controller almost all games use the "X" button for menu input, and with action games the "Square" button tends to be the basic attack. With the iCade there is no such predictability. At times a shoulder button will be the menu input control. Other games use the face buttons for random menu interactions. There's no consistency there, and it's initally confusing with any game to figure through the controls (remembering that no games include the standard tutorials, either).

Once that's figured through the actual operation of the device is pain-free. It connects to the iPhone through Bluetooth, and I didn't encounter a single control issue with any of the games I played.

With regards to the range of games currently compatible with the device it's quite extensive and there's some great titles in the mix. It's heavily weighted towards platformers and retro games - the games that benefit best from physical controls in other words - and supports high-profile games like Activision Anthology and Midway Arcade Classics.

The controller uses two AA batteries - that itself is a bit of a throwback, using batteries for a game console - but it offers reasonable playtime for those batteries.

In short, this little device is a great boost for turning the iPhone into a dedicated gaming console. With the lineup of games it has, it also has the best opportunity to grow into a must-have piece of hardware yet. Fingers crossed it continues to see support from the development community.

Note: It's worth noting that this device is not compatible with the larger iPhone 5. This could be an inhibitor to the device's future success. 

- Matt S
Find me on Twitter: @DigitallyDownld
And Game Center: WaltzIT
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