The iCade Makes Retro Gaming Portable

Photo: ThinkGeek

ThinkGeek is well-known for their awesome but often unfeasible or ridiculous April Fool’s Day ad products. They have gotten so much positive feedback on some of them, however, that a few of them are actually in production for real. Case in point, the Tauntaun Sleeping Bag, My First Bacon, and Canned Unicorn Meat.

Significantly cheaper than the $149.99 price in 2010’s April Fool’s Day ad, the iCade is also now real. I recently obtained one for review. Verdict: Pretty darn awesome.

Photo: ThinkGeek

When I was a kid, I didn’t have the money to hit the arcade like other geeks out there. But we did have an Atari 5200, and I had friends who had the 2600 (early adopters!). I got plenty of video game time on those, but I don’t have the same arcade memories as a lot of you out there. But the few times when I did get to play video games on an actual arcade machine, in an actual arcade, it was a fantastic experience. The iCade duplicates that feeling pretty well, on a slightly smaller scale.

My initial impressions when I unboxed the iCade were these: “Wow, these pieces are really nice! And I get to assemble it myself! Win-win: Not only do I get to put something together, but I don’t have to feel like I have to keep the box around to store it in, since it won’t fit once assembled!” Yes, those are my unedited unboxing notes. The iCade is also very well packaged for shipping. When I received it, it was double boxed with plenty of custom styrofoam, and plastic and foamy sheathing. It also came with the required two AA batteries, and all the hardware required for assembly, including an Allen wrench, ala IKEA. (And if you’re like me, you already have a dazzlingly huge collection of Allen wrenches.) You can also purchase an AC adapter from www.ionaudio.com, if you find yourself running through batteries too quickly.

The iCade cabinet is made of material with real heft. Knowing IKEA furniture as I do, I’m guessing it is laminated particle board. And when you assemble the pieces (which takes about 10 minutes, tops), it is pretty solid. The assembly was fun and simple, and you get to keep the Allen wrench!

The buttons and joystick feel like those from an actual arcade. They’re a little squeaky, but will loosen up as you play. There is plenty of room in the back of the cabinet behind where you set your iPad to store the key mapping diagrams for the various Atari games, along with the instruction manual. You could technically store your Allen wrench in there as well.

Once you have the iCade assembled, you will want to make sure you have the Atari’s Greatest Hits app installed on your iPad. If not, it’s a free download from the iTunes store. One game will be free, the others can be purchased in-app, either in packs of four, or the whole set of 99 games for $14.99. I’m seriously contemplating that one.

Make sure to have your iPad’s Bluetooth turned on (information on how to link your iPad to the iCade via Bluetooth are included in the printed instructions). If you take too long while you are linking them up, like I did, it may take a couple of tries. Then insert your iPad into the iCade, and begin! If you have a cover on your iPad, be it leather and bulky, or even the thin iPad 2 cover, you’ll need to remove it before setting the iPad in the iCade.

I got everything up and running quickly, and started playing my one included free game, Missile Command. I’m just as bad at it now as I was 30 years ago. My 10 year old daughter tried it, and was similarly frustrated. But her frustration turned to addiction as she tried and tried to improve. Her scores increased each time, especially once we adjusted the joystick sensitivity.

One thing I noticed is that your experience will be affected by where you put the iCade. Make sure it is at a good height for sitting, if you want to sit, or a good height for standing, if you want to stand. The cabinet is pretty heavy and likely won’t shift around with even the most vigorous joystick action, though.

In short, for a decently authentic arcade experience, try iCade. The cabinet is smaller than those in an arcade, but how else can you bring up to 99 vintage Atari games, playable with a joystick and plastic buttons, with you somewhere? The iCade is completely portable. And a lot of the games have two player modes.

I’ll likely be purchasing Super Breakout and Asteroids, at the very least, which I spent hours playing in my youth. If this was my sister’s device, however, she’d get Centipede. That was always her favorite.

Note: Purchasing the iCade gets you the arcade cabinet, complete with walls, a roof, buttons, a joystick, directions, screws, hinge hardware, and that all-important Allen wrench. You will also need an iPad along with the Atari app to make it work. I haven’t tried it with an iPod Touch, but since it also has Bluetooth, it might work as well.

The iCade is available from ThinkGeek for $99.99. It would make an excellent holiday gift for any retro game lover on your list.

Note: I received an iCade for the purposes of this review.

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Jenny Bristol is an Editor at GeekDad and a founding Director at GeekMom. She is a lifelong geek who spends her time learning, writing, homeschooling her two wickedly smart kids, losing herself in history, and mastering the art of traveling on a shoestring.