REVIEW: The Joystick-It – Arcade-Style Controls for Your Mobile Device

It’s no secret that I’m a video-game nerd. One of the things that I nerd-out most over are arcades and arcade machines. I’ve even gone so far as to build one in my house. So when I saw that ThinkGeek was selling joysticks that attached to touch screen devices I just had to give them a shot.

The Joystick-It is really a pretty simple device. It consists of a metal thumbstick that has a layer of conductive mesh and foam at its base. In the center is a suction cup used to attach it to the screen. There have of course been other devices that aim to do something similar to this, i.e. give the user a physical control rather than strictly an on-screen one but so far I would say that this is the most successful device I’ve tried. I should note that the Joystick-it comes in two sizes as well; a mini version for phones and games that require two sticks, and a larger size for arcade style gameplay.

I tested the Joystick-It out with quite a few different games including Age of Zombies, Pew Pew 2, Dungeon Defenders, N.O.V.A HD, a few classic console/arcade emulators, and Samurai II: Vengeance. Of course all of these games require some sort of stick control; in some cases they may require two. I really enjoyed using the Joystick-It with N.O.V.A. due to the fact that you can reposition the controls as needed. The stock layout was too close to the edge of the screen on both my phone and on my tablet; I would often lose control altogether if I pushed too far over. This was not a failing of the device however and more just poor positioning of controls by the dev. After repositioning the thumbstick a bit everything was much smoother and I did feel like I had a higher degree of control than playing strictly with on-screen controls. Playing console emulators with this was also considerably better. I have always had trouble throwing fireballs in Super Street Fighter II for SNES when playing it on mobile devices but this made it much easier, and a much less frustrating prospect. Of course, playing emulated arcade games like Pac-Man and Galaga almost feel sacrilegious without a stick to control with.

Playing arcade games on my tablet was a lot of fun using the larger Joystick-It, but where these little guys really shine is with twin-stick shooters like Pew Pew 2. The controls on most of these games are pretty adequate, but playing them with two of the minis attached to my phone gave everything a bit more of a portable console feel. I had a lot of fun finishing the last few levels of Age of Zombies with these. But all praise aside, I would like to talk about build quality for a moment. Overall the sticks that I received for review were of decent quality. They didn’t look cheap at all, even though they are quite inexpensive, but I did have two sticks that gave me a bit of grief. I was sent two of each stick; the mini and the regular. One of the regular sticks had a bit of a crease in the metal mesh that is used to contact the capacitive screen that it sits on. This spot would on occasion become problematic during gameplay as I would lose contact with the screen. I am fairly certain that this was a simple production mistake and that I could have returned it for a new one were I a customer. The other stick that I had an issue with was one of the minis, while playing a particularly stressful round of Pew Pew I tweaked the stick a bit too hard but not hard enough to pull the suction cup off of the screen. This partially separated the suction cup from the stick, which made the stick pull away from the screen when pressure was applied in the wrong direction. Given that these are meant to be removed and placed on your screen frequently, I think that a stronger adhesive may be in order for the suction cup.

All in all though, I thought these were really great little devices. They were really responsive and they made my gaming experience much more enjoyable. I would highly recommend these as a stocking stuffer for any mobile gaming addict or kid with a cell phone/tablet. The only thing that I think we’re missing here are suction cupped buttons for capacitive screens. Hopefully someday I will be able to buy a pack that contains the stick and a few buttons. Something like that could really help to bring mobile devices into the core gaming space even further.

The tablet size is available for $17.99 for one, or $29.99 for two, and the phone size is $12.99 each.