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Wanted: A game controller as diverse as the iPad (the Atari Arcade, reviewed)

The iPad could use a physical controller. The answer's simple: make one. And make it work for everything, unlike the recently released Atari Arcade or the Ion iCade.

The Atari Arcade vs. the iCade: a lot smaller, but still not the perfect solution.
The Atari Arcade vs. the iCade: a lot smaller, but still not the perfect solution. Sarah Tew/CNET

We said it before. We'll say it again. Louder, this time.

It's time for an iPad game controller.

Related stories
• Hands-on with iCade: Does the iPad need a controller?
• OnLive on the iPad: hands-on
• Review of the Atari Arcade joystick for iPad
• Review of the Ion Audio iCade

And not just a joystick novelty like the Ion iCade or the Atari Arcade, both of them intriguing but incredibly limited ways of going retro. The Atari Arcade Powered by Duo, a joystick accessory made by Discovery Bay Games, has a joystick, four buttons, and a 30-pin connector. However, it only works with the Atari Greatest Hits collection of 100 Atari 2600 and old, old-school arcade games. The iCade, a far larger assemble-yourself cabinet, is compatible with a handful of other motley games plus Atari's app, and that's it.

It's clear something else is needed.

EA and 2K Sports are already experimenting with iPhone-as-controller: both FIFA 12 and NBA 2K12 have downloadable apps that turn a local iPhone or iPod Touch into a multibutton controller. That's hardly a solution: the touch controls are no easier to find and use than the iPad's onscreen virtual buttons--in fact, they're even harder to locate when the iPhone in question is being held in your lap. The solution is simple.

Step 1: Make a wireless controller.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The streaming game service OnLive, which is developing an iPad app, has got it right. Their kit will include a console-like controller that pairs with the iPad wirelessly. It's simple, really: stand your iPad up and use it like a small screen, then sit back and play. Or, put the iPad in your lap and hold the controller. The answer isn't a dockable joystick: it's a regular multibutton controller that can work with any type of game.

Step 2: Have it work with all games.

This is up to individual developers to take care of, but if OpenFeint could take off as an online network of choice for hundreds of iOS games, then surely apps could quickly be updated to support a wireless controller.

I can't imagine how much fun NBA Jam, Street Fighter, FIFA, and countless other games would be with a simple controller enabled. The iPad would finally be a true mini-console...and, if multiple controllers were enabled, it could change the way two-player gaming is defined on the tablet.

Read our review of the Atari Arcade Duo-powered joystick for the iPad.