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The iCade 8-Bitty gives iPhone games NES-like controls

A prototype of Think Geek's latest iCADE accessory for the iPhone.

Debuting at Toy Fair 2012 this week is the iCade 8-Bitty, the latest in ThinkGeek's line of iOS device peripherals which offer physical buttons to gamers who have a hard time dealing with virtual ones.

The 8-Bitty is a retro-style d-pad, one that is designed to closely resemble the look and feel of the iconic NES controller. Ty Liotta, director of Geek Labs, the internal group within ThinkGeek that designs the custom products the online retailer sells, said the 8-Bitty is also a "mini version" of the iCade and operates in the same manner: Titles that contain the iCade-compatible code can interface with the controller via Bluetooth connection, using the keyboard protocol. The code is something ThinkGeek freely distributes for game developers to insert in their titles.

One of the primary goals is to offer a significantly less expensive, entry-level price point. The original iCade for the iPad (which allows games to be played with arcade-quality joystick and buttons, in a housing that resembles a mini arcade cabinet) retails for $100. This latest version will cost $25, which, as Liotta says, "is less than the cost of a case for the iPhone."

But none of the functionality has been lost, and it has the same number of buttons that its bigger buttons contains. Which is why there are four face buttons, as opposed to the two that is normally found on a NES controller, along with the addition of shoulder buttons. So it has the same amount of buttons as all the other iCases that have come before it.

The reason for so many inputs is for those who have the iOS version of MAME, which emulates original arcade games, and which often utilized more than just two buttons, the max with most original iPhone and iPad games. Liotta noted: "We thought about making it look and feel more like an SNESE controller, but we felt that it just wasn't as classic a look."

The iCade 8-Bitty will be available via ThinkGeek.com later this year, and perhaps from other outlets.

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Matthew Hawkins is an NYC-based game journalist who has also written for EGM, GameSetWatch, Gamasutra, Giant Robot, and numerous others. He also self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of Attract Mode, and co-hosts The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on him via Twitter, or his personal home-base, FORT90.com.