Virtual d-pads and joysticks are one of the most ballyhooed subjects on iOS, as they are often cited as one of the biggest slights against touch screen gaming. One of the first solutions to attempt to improve controls on touch screens, especially tablet devices, is the JOYSTICK-IT from ThinkGeek. The JOYSTICK-IT works by having a single suction cup on the bottom in the center that attaches to the screen, and then you tilt that around on the touch screen to simulate a real joystick. Now, the JOYSTICK-IT comes with some basic instructions printed on the box that it comes with, but there are two that it should come with. One, the joysticks will not work properly with floating controls that readjust themselves based on where you put your finger down. Due to the design, they cannot create a center point for these floating controls, and they will mess up and be inaccurate. Second, your screen needs to be as clean as possible. Using a moist microfiber cloth on both your screen and the suction cups of the joysticks should do the trick. Otherwise, the joysticks will easily come off and slide around the screen. Just a word of warning – these will technically work with the iPhone/iPod touch, but they obscure so much screen space that it’s not practical usage.

Games with fixed firing joysticks work wonderfully with the JOYSTICK-IT. Games like Gun Bros., Etolis Arena, and Infinity Field feel remarkably natural with the the joystick, and you will notice an accuracy improvement while playing the game. Games with fixed digital joysticks also work well, such as Namco’s various Pac-Man games. Sega’s Genesis games running in 2X mode work really well with the JOYSTICK-IT; the best part is that the d-pad in 2X mode is just slightly larger than the footprint of the JOYSTICK-IT, so you can see in which direction you’re specifically pushing in.

The problem with the JOYSTICK-IT is its limited utility. Because it only works well with non-analog inputs, this means that you can only use it on a particular subset of games. If you like playing dual-stick shooters with floating joysticks, this won’t work for them, because the joystick cannot define a center point. For example, Max Adventure only works if you place the joysticks down after you start playing and only if you can manage to keep an end of a joystick down all the time, otherwise you’ll lose the center point, and the next time you press down, your firing or movement will be inaccurate, as it will define a new center point based in where you touched.

There’s just too many ifs, ands, and buts to properly recommend the JOYSTICK-IT, because of its design limiting the number of games it works with. For games with simulated digital inputs or 360 degree firing controls, you will notice an accuracy increase that for serious gamers, it may be worth picking up a single JOYSTICK-IT to check it out, though casual gamers will likely not find this to be a worthwhile investment. If you have any games that you’re curious to see how they work with the JOYSTICK-IT, leave a comment or send me an email and I will let you know how it works.

The JOYSTICK-IT is available from ThinkGeek for $24.99 for one, and $39.99 for two.