Playing Atari 2600 games and classic arcade games was something I never even dreamed of doing when I purchased my iPad, but here I am, sitting next to the iCade and running away from the ghost in that classic Atari 2600 game Haunted House. Twenty minutes ago I was playing Major Havoc, one of my favorite stand-up arcade games back in the day.
You don’t need an iCade to play these games — you can play any of the 92 Atari 2600 games found on the Atari’s Greatest Hits app or 18 arcade classics right on the iPad with on-screen controls. But the iCade brings a real joystick and pushbuttons to the, uh… game.
That said, the iCade is far from perfect.
- The joystick has too much play in it — I’d really prefer some resistance in the stick rather than the loose feel. Instead, you can feel the click of the four tiny pushbuttons that are hidden underneath the top control panel as you move the joystick.
- The pushbuttons are authentic, but when you’re playing a game that requires a button to be pressed repeatedly to fire (rather than holding it down), the click-click-click can be a bit annoying. And because the buttons are so close together, I’ve made a few mistakes in-game by accidentally tapping the wrong button.
- The case is made of solid material and doesn’t feel like it’ll slide off the table if you sneeze, but no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get one of the six allen head screws to fit into a pre-drilled hole on the front of the machine just below the joystick. (I finally managed to get it in there, but it is never coming out and I pretty much stripped the head from the brute-force tightening.)
- Some of the games display the on-screen controls on the iPad screen, shrinking the size of the viewable play area. (If someone knows how to disable this, please let me know.) Other games display in landscape mode until you tweak a setting that later must be tweaked back.
But here’s the deal — even with these annoyances, I still love this thing!
It arrived unassembled and packed very well for shipping. The assembly instructions don’t get much easier – four steps in all. You get the small Allen wrench with the six screws so no need to go hunting the right size down. I put the entire thing together in less than 10 minutes. The longest part of the process was purchasing the games ($14.99 for the entire download) and then downloading the 80MB worth of game files — it seemed to drag on and on but I’m sure that was just my eagerness to load up Centipede.
The top lid flips up, allowing you to insert the iPad into the small plastic holder. It’s not a plug in port; there’s nothing holding your iPad in the iCade other than the small holder and gravity. If it tips forward, it probably won’t fall out, but it will give you a scare, so don’t let anyone pick up the iCade and move it without first removing the iPad.
The instructions for linking up your iPad to the iCade are printed on the underside of the top lid — worked like a charm the first time I did it. You’ll enter the Bluetooth code using a combination of the joystick and buttons (that will represent numbers and the Enter key) and then the app will be able to communicate with the iCade’s controls.
Then it’s app time! Launch the app, use the touchscreen to select between Atari 2600 games and arcade games. The arcade game menu allows you to use the swipe gesture to move between high-resolution images of the original arcade cabinets or the box cover art of the Atari 2600 games… very cool.
(There’s also a text-based interface for selecting games based on categories such as Recently Played, alphabetical listing, and categories of 2600 games such as Racing, Action, and more.)
There’s some nice background music that plays while you’re in the game selection menu, but once a game starts, you get nothing but the authentic sounds coming from the iPad’s speakers. And playing the games with the joystick isn’t bad, actually — while I don’t like the looseness of the joystick, I quickly adapted. My Space Duel skills came back in a flash, but I’m still trying to get a feel for using a joystick on Tempest rather than a spinner.
The iCade is a blast. My complaints above still stand, but while I’m playing I’ve got a big grin on my face. It’s pure nostalgia and I’m loving it.
My wife and I are having some friends over tomorrow for my youngest son’s 1st birthday party. I plan on setting this up at the dining table and letting some of the dads (and moms) take a spin… I just wish I could get away with charging them a quarter per play. Alas, the coin slot on the front is totally fake.
I’m going to give the iCade a B+ mainly because I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. It would have gotten an A- but I think the joystick needs to be upgraded to a slightly better and more solid design. Also, I think the machine needs a better mechanism for holding the iPad in place as my biggest concern is with kids using it and jostling the iCade and having the iPad fall out.
Atari gets a B for the app — the 92 Atari 2600 is a great collection, but the 18 arcade games is not near enough, especially for the $14.99 price tag to purchase the entire bundle of games. You can buy games a few at a time at a lower price with in-app purchasing, but for those of us who paid the full amount for everything I’m hoping that they’ll provide free updates to the app as they add additional arcade classics to the list of games, if that’s even planned. I’m also hoping other arcade games (not just Atari’s) will become available that will work with the iCade. Time will tell. (I’ve also got a full-sized MAME arcade cabinet I’ve been working on (slowly) for years now and the iCade has inspired me to get it finished!)
All in all, though, I’m quite pleased with the look of the iCade that is sure to draw attention wherever it’s sitting. And while I doubt my 4 year old son will be drawn to Atari 2600 classics after he gets his eyes on Xbox or Playstation games, it’s nice to know I can share some fun with him over a game of Combat, Dodge ’em, and Yars’ Revenge.
Now, if you’ll excuse me… I’ve got to go find the Easter Egg again in Adventure.