Anyone familiar with touchscreen gaming knows that the controls can range from great and unique, to downright horrid. The good stuff usually deals with direct touch input that is only really possible (or at least vastly ideal) on a touchscreen. The bad stuff tends to have a virtual directional pad or analog stick along with virtual buttons. There have been decent workarounds and implementations, like d-pads that automatically center upon your initial touch, or the (quite decent) “auto correct” d-pad in Mushi Bug Panic.

There’s also physical workarounds, like the controller case add on projects (that will likely never gain much traction), or somewhat ghetto ones like the recent Fling analog stick.

As for me, I’m too cheap for all that stuff so I got the Tactile+Plus for $91 off a goon.

goon mail

This is expected packaging from a goon

…It’s pretty damn ghetto, Fling seems like an engineering masterpiece in comparison. It’s basically a bunch of cutouts that you stick on the screen to give you tactile markers to feel the controls. There are two sets of these “controls” included in the package, each consisting of a d-pad and four buttons. If you have a dual stick game you’ll be good to go with one package.

The cutouts feel like static screen protector products, somewhat hard and durable enough, with little raised sections (or “screen nipples”) acting as the “tactile” portions. They stick pretty securely to any flat slick surface (including these screen protectors) without any adhesive. This includes the iPad bezel or the back of an iPhone 4, so they’re pretty easy to deal with when it comes to carrying them around.

creative solutions

Yes my photo studio is still a Magic Trackpad with Xbox 360 camera

Now the secure hold is nice for keeping them with you, but it’s also the biggest issue once you actually want to play something. It’s just a pain in the ass to pull them off once they’re stuck to something2. The little lift tabs help but not that much, and if anything I’m paranoid about bending them out of shape when trying to pull them off.

The other part of the process is putting the controls in place of course. The d-pad isn’t so bad, but the buttons are a bit annoying because they’re so small. Because they stick well, once you drop them on you can’t really nudge them into place, you have to lift them up a bit first to break the adhesion. And you usually have to do this while the game is running, trigging everything unintentionally, which may be an issue if you’re continuing at some crucial spot in a game. A ghetto workaround is to take a screenshot and set the controls in the Photos app.

Based on all the crap I wrote so far you’re probably thinking “this thing is a disaster!” Well yeah, kinda. I’d say that the whole application and removal process is annoying enough that I can’t recommend it…but for its main purpose (gamin!), it’s surprisingly decent.

Actually I’m not sold on the buttons. I think they might work, but only in particular games/control setups. The main issue is that you either know where the virtual buttons are or you don’t, you either tap them instinctively or you look then tap. With real buttons you might be able to feel around for them first before pushing, whereas with these overlays you’ll “push” the buttons just feeling around for them. That said, I think with an ideal setup they may be useful, like if you have a space to rest your thumb and can slide over to the button.

While the buttons are questionable the d-pad is a small success, albeit with a major caveat or two. To really work well it needs a fixed d-pad and that d-pad needs to be big and far enough from the edge of the screen…I haven’t actually run into a problem with that myself, but I mention it cause some of the games I’ve tried have cut it pretty close.

Anyways if a game meets those criteria the overlay actually feels pretty good. I’m someone that really sucks with fixed d-pads, but with the overlay in place it becomes a viable control scheme. The nipples give you a center reference point and eight directional points, which also collectively work as an edge marker. All those in conjunction with the action on the screen make it pretty easy to immediately recognize where you are on the pad at any time.

One game I couldn’t play at all was Madden because I just couldn’t control where I was going. Now I can! Unfortunately I forgot the rest of the controls so passing and defense is an issue, but at least I can run the ball (just like my favorite team!). I tried it with a few other sports games (such as FIFA, NHL2K3) and the result was similar…albeit not as necessary because those games have a floating d-pad option. Still I think I prefer the feel of the fixed+overlay combo.

I also tried out Pac-Man Championship Edition, which is demanding enough with real physical controls, and quite a bitch on a touchscreen. It has multiple control modes which are playable to varying degrees, but one I could never stand was the virtual d-pad. Well the overlay made it work, to an extent.

pacnips

Surprisingly not horrible

The thing is, other than the (well documented) lack of tactile controls, there’s one really annoying issue I have with touchscreens — friction. The overlays have a similar slick surface as glass, and unfortunately are just as susceptible. In the hot rigorous action of Pac-Man CE it became a noticeable problem down the stretch. I would’ve preferred a matte finish of some sort. Sure it wouldn’t have been as clear, but your thumbs are meant to cover them up most of the time and the nipples already distort the image slightly to begin with.

I also noticed one other issue — I was trying to use it as a real d-pad, meaning that instead of sliding my thumb around I was keeping it centered and rocking it around to push the directions. Part of it was the necessary speed in Pac-Man CE, the other was that it was actually working for a while. That sounds fine (good even), but pushing your thumb against a relatively immovable object for five minutes isn’t too comfortable. I imagine it’s how those old Turbo Touch 360s felt.

So this ghetto piece of crap isn’t completely crap! While testing it out I did notice one more big caveat, which ties into the annoying application and removal process. Whether you use the d-pad, buttons, or both, the main issue is that it seems like no two games have the same controls. Switching between games means moving everything around, which again, sucks.

BERGE
The functionality of the d-pad is really Hippo, but the inconvenience of everything just knocks it down to Berge.
Rating system guide

  1. Other things you can buy for $9: DoDonPachi Resurrection and Espgaluda II.
  2. Well there is one workaround, but it’s even more ghetto — use a piece of tape to lift stuff off the screen. It’s also multipurpose! Clean lint off the overlays to make them stick better, clean the section of the screen you’re applying to, etc.
  3. Actually I have the older versions of these games, for all I know the new ones don’t even have fixed controls!