Most years, my Halloween costume falls under at least one of two categories:
- Cheap (thrift-store Professor Plum)
- Easy (Painting rainbows on 2 shirts and going as Double Rainbow (all the way (across the sky)))
It tends to be something I throw together from things I already own or buy at the thrift store for $2. This year, however, I decided to be a little ambitious and become a playable Nintendo. As detailed in a previous post, I’m the proud owner of a 7″ Galaxy Tab 2, which has access to a vast array of emulators for everything from NES to Dreamcast. From there, all I needed to complete the look was a gray sweatshirt, a paint pen, some duct tape, and a Bluetooth game controller.
Here’s the final product – the cord is there for realism only…it’s duct-taped inside the pocket:available at Amazon on 2/1/2013. I was actually hoping I could get the non-Pro version, since it looks a lot more like an original Nintendo controller, but I think the Pro will serve me better in the long run, with its more ergonomic shape. On to the review.
Hardware – 4/5
The soft-touch coating on the Playpad Pro gives it a nice gripping surface. I have no fears of the controller flying from my hands during a sweaty, high-intensity Contra session. The button setup is basically that of the Xbox 360 controller, which as it turns out is inverted relative to the SNES controller. More on that later. Analog sticks are as expected, and each has a click-button underneath. The D-pad is a D-pad, although I’d say it’s a little mushy for my taste, as are the shoulder buttons [-0.5]. Luckily with most games you can use the left analog stick in place of the D-pad.
Probably the most confusing part of the hardware is the switch on the back. It’s a 4-way slider with app, gamepad, iCade, and mouse modes, and where this switch is will determine whether or not your device will let you use it as you want. More on this in the next section. [-0.5]
The Playpad has a USB mini port on the back for charging, and it claims a 25-hour battery life. I haven’t used it enough to test this out, but it did charge up quickly once I got it home, and never showed any sign of low battery over the 6 hours or so it was on.
Connection – 2/5
This part was super confusing. I couldn’t do it without the instructions, and even after reading them I had to mess with it for about 15 minutes before the stars aligned and I could control my little plumber/surprise-lady bounty hunter/oddly-shaped falling block. The problem is that the Playpad Pro showed up as two different Bluetooth devices, and in order to get the emulators to recognize it, it has to be set as the primary keyboard input. However, to get the Nyko Playground App to recognize it, it has to be connected as the other one (I think?). AND the switch on the back has to be set to “App”. Only one of the devices that shows up can be set as an input, but first you have to go to your “Language and Input” pane and allow it to be selected as such. You can probably tell I still don’t fully understand how it works, but once Mario started hopping around it was good enough. [partially Android’s fault, but overall -3]
Still, once it was connected, it stayed that way with no problem, and I only had to reconnect if it went unused for 10 minutes or so, since it auto-shuts off to conserve battery life.
Gameplay – 4.5/5
This was really almost perfect. No one who played me (wink) expressed any problems with the controller, except once when playing Super Mario World, we discovered the flipped button issue, which was making it much more difficult to play. As I’m sure you all remember, the SNES controller’s buttons read B-Y-X-A (clockwise from bottom), while modern controllers have switched to A-X-Y-B. After a quick re-map via the emulator’s settings, everything was fine. [-0.5]
Verdict – 4/5
This is a solid gamepad. At $40 it’s a little steep just unless you really intend to play console-type games on your tablet or phone, but it was most certainly worth it for the sake of the costume. There are some problems with it, mostly in the connectivity realm, but those could be streamlined quite a bit if Android handled Bluetooth connections and/or input devices differently. Mushy shoulder buttons and D-pad will likely be the worst offenders going forward, and they’re still streets ahead of the shitty on-screen controls the emulators provide. In the end, the most important lesson I learned from all this is that I REALLY suck at upside-down Zelda.