I travel a ton, both for many of the conventions and events we cover on TouchArcade, as well as because staying in one place for too long is boring. Traveling a lot is liberating for many reasons, but mainly because you realize just how little of the stuff you own you actually need. Specifically, from a computing standpoint, I've got my entire infrastructure down to a single laptop bag which houses absolutely everything I need for TouchArcade and all other things I use my computer for.

When bag space is at a premium, you rarely have room for any "unitasker" as Alton Brown puts it, which sadly leaves many traditional gaming accessories without a place in my mobile arsenal. I've made a special exception for the Fling iPad joysticks, but I haven't had an actual USB gamepad for ages. Normally this isn't much of an issue, but since 2011 is the 25th anniversary of both the Metroid and Zelda series, I've taken it upon myself to replay both series in emulators as carting my originals (and associated consoles) around just isn't realistic.

This is where Joypad [$2.99 / Lite] comes in. Utilizing a small iOS app combined with a companion program running on your Mac or Windows PC, you can use your iPhone as a game controller. Setup is simple, and basically just amounts to having both your computer and iPhone on the same wireless network while having both the iOS app and the companion program running. In the Joypad Connect computer program you'll then select one of the pre-sets for mapping buttons to keys, then select your iOS device from the list of devices and you'll be good to go. If you're playing an emulator or game that uses different keys, you can create a new profile for that, and go to town mapping the controls it uses to the virtual buttons of Joypad. It all works really well.

This will be somewhat obvious if you've played the various emulated games that Sega has released on the App Store, and other classic titles released by other developers... but often times these classic games simply require the precision and tactile feedback of a real controller. So, how well Joypad works is largely dependent on two factors: 1. How good you are at handling virtual controls. 2. The control demands of the game you're emulating and whether or not those will even jive with Joypad. Specifically, games that require super-precise D-pad dancing aren't so great. Also, games that require you to hold down more than two buttons can be hit or miss depending on what buttons they actually use and how often you need to use that button combination.

Another issue I've randomly run in to is that Joypad is highly dependent on a low-latency WiFi network. It has worked great in most locations, but this week I've been staying in an area of Barcelona with so many WiFi networks that my menu to select them on my Mac scrolls for ages. With the local WiFi signal spectrum this jam packed, I've had issues just browsing the Internet, so it's not much of a surprise that Joypad also suffers. I don't expect this to impact most people, but if you live in a super-crowded urban environment just be aware that your game controls will only perform as well as your local WiFi climate will allow.

That being said, Joypad is without a doubt one of my favorite non-game apps that I've tried lately. Sure, it was released almost a year ago now, so it's very existence will likely be old news for some. However, if you're like me and never really had reason to look for something like Joypad before, now you know about it. $3 for the app is also considerably cheaper than any worthwhile USB gamepad, and while it is by no means a substitution for real physical controls, it sure is a great travel companion.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Adams Immersive

    Hmmm... I’d be tempted to use this as an “extra keypad” next to my mouse, for non-vital things like quick taunts or macros in first-person shooters.

    I’m a madman for customizing desktop game controls, with sprawling ControllerMate customizations and bizarre combinations of mouse and gamepad!

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      You might also want to look in to Hippo Remote-

      http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/hipporemote-pro-wireless-keyboard/id320157370?mt=8

      It's a little more expensive, but much more configurable. I've found myself preferring Joypad as it does everything I want it to do out of the box without a bazillion features I don't need and probably will never use.

      • Adams Immersive

        Thanks! I’ve bookmarked both in AppShopper. I love simplicity, but this might be a case where I’d appreciate maximum flexibility.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for the link - loving this one!

  • FreeGames

    cool, another article condoning piracy via emulation.

    • Anonymous

      He did say "I've taken it upon myself to replay both series in emulators as carting my originals (and associated consoles) around just isn't realistic."

      I see nothing wrong with that, cool article indeed.

  • JazzFlight

    It's a great app. One minor nitpick is that the GBA controller setting has the buttons labeled "A, B" instead of the proper "B, A" of the hardware. It doesn't really matter since you can just reassign the function of the button (but it'll still be labeled incorrectly onscreen).

    Great app otherwise, it's very responsive and solves the big problem that most emulator controllers have: hitting two buttons at the same time on one thumb. This controller lets you set the sensitivity of the buttons so that you can do a sliding move from the run button to the jump button without taking your finger off the run button. For example, this is important in a game like Mario when you're holding a shell and you don't want to let go of it when you jump.

  • Anonymous

    I really have a thing about developers relying on Wi-Fi as a connection medium. Wi-Fi is not always around or it can get spotty.

    What's wrong with Bluetooth enabled pairing? Does Apple forbid developers from using it?

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      It was probably done for cross-compatibility and usability issues. Everything now days has WiFi and everyone knows how to connect their laptop (and their phones) to a wireless network. Bluetooth isn't so well known, even though the process is just as easy to pair locally. Something to consider though, I'm not sure Bluetooth would help the WiFi congestion issue I mentioned as they both use the 2.4ghz band.

  • Anonymous

    What is the game shown on the macbook screen in the article picture ? Thx

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      The Legend of Zelda - A Link To The Past for Super Nintendo. Easily one of my top 5 favorite games of all time, if not THE top. Just looking at that screenshot makes me want to play through it again.

      • Anonymous

        Me too. I have it on the virtual console and the GBA version.

        A better solution for me is the gameboy micro, however. The resolution is epic on it, I get real buttons and it is freaking cool! Played through all of ff3 (us version) on it and it was a dream.

  • gee

    cool..i hope it can be use on steam.

  • Zaraf

    Has anyone tried that JumiGamer app? How is that compared to this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sokolov22 Derek Chin

    Just downloaded this and adapted it to use as a "remote" for watching movies and anime. Now I can skip ahead, skip back, start/stop, etc. with it :D

  • Jesta106

    Talcking about controllers I made joysticks for my ipod touch using only two rubber bands and some tin foil...Just as good as fling on iPad

  • http://twitter.com/apan_bajs Paul Bergman

    coolt, but I think I prefer using my Ps3 controller when I'm gaming on my Mac.

    • E_Domina

      how'd you get urs to work? ive been trying for a while

      • Guest

        I just plugged my PS3 controller into a USB port on my Mac and it recognized it. It even recognized it through Bluetooth after that.

  • Wisedude

    Jumi Gamer has this it works quite well and functions as a remote desktop also lets you play racing type games with the accelerometer which was nice but I've never really seen the point of draining my battery to play on the PC.

    It's a good app though I use the remote desktop quite a bit

  • Vinylwreckaz

    Does no one else think that this is the most pointless app ever?
    If you need a gamepad whilst travelling can't you just take a gamepad with you?

    I bet you can buy a gamepad off ebay for $3

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I don't think you read my review, I thoroughly explained why I like it! :)

      • monster

        Actually I did, and can't find any reasons for why you like it. Let me break down the review:
        First two paragraphs - fluff, physical controllers are too big
        3rd paragraph - general brief on what you're reviewing
        4th and 5th - criticisms and flaws of the app
        6th and final - I like it anyway because.... ?????

        And no mention anywhere about why you'd prefer it over the keyboard right in front of you.
        I mean, it's cool and all, but for anyone serious about their gaming, I can't see it being anything more than a gimmick.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        Well, for me it's much more comfortable than using the keyboard which I've always found to be awkward. Even a virtual d-pad is tons better than using arrow keys in my opinion. Yeah I agree that if you're hardcore about your gaming and trying to do some kind of ridiculous world first speed run or whatever you're not going to be using an app like this... But 98% of the time it works just fine.

    • Anonymous

      If you already have your iphone or touch on you for a business trip, then you're not carrying anything extra that your normally would.... like a gamepad. Be fun to see that fall out of your overhead luggage compartment, as a gorgeous flight attendant hands it to you and says "Sir, is this yours?"..

  • monster

    I do not get this app one bit.

    What's wrong with a keyboard?
    Physical controls will always be better than touch controls for games not designed to use touch controls: so why would you want to pay to handicap yourself?

    • Spacecowgoesmoo

      I have a laptop, so i try to not use my keyboard for gaming whenever possible. Pressing Z 10000 times more than any other key can damage it, and laptop keyboards are more expensive to replace. My last laptop had the space bar half-broken because of Maple Story actually :p

  • E_Domina

    wi-fipad is also a pretty good gamepad app also

  • Ujn Hunter

    Uh... the worst part about games on the iPhone is the lack of buttons... why on earth would someone pay money to use it as a controller?!

    • E_Domina

      sometimes the keyboard's uncomfortable to use when gaming. and if you have a laptop, that can make it harder

  • CodeSafe

    JumiGamer is amazing in many ways, beyond being a mouse track pad, it has a remote view like vnc a full keyboard, customizable remotes, and for the joystick part - it actually identifies as a true joystick(!!!) that means that all joystick based games will work with it, and that the axis are sensitivity - aware. it also has throttles and POV.

  • Anonymous

    There's not really a good reason to use your iPhone as a controller, when you can pair a Wiimote or ps3 controller through Bluetooth, or plug a wired 360 controller straight in. A Wiimote with a Classic Controller is by far the best platforming controller out there right now.