Of course there’s retro-inspired ‘Stranger Things’ mobile game

Netflix has flirted with simple games starring its most popular original series, but its latest stab at interactive promo goes a little deeper. The streaming juggernaut tapped developer BonusXP to make a full-on mobile game for Stranger Things. And as you might expect, it's is about as retro as possible, aping classics of yore like River City Ransom and the NES' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for inspiration. All that to say, it's a bit more complicated than Netflix Infinite Runner from January. You can do sweet jumps on your bicycle as one of the kids and explore the Upside Down as Hawkins police chief Jim Hopper, for example.

Source: iTunes, Google Play

Slayin’ is a hack-and-slash trip down memory lane

slayin screenshot

Do you remember the old 8-bit hack-and-slash games? You know, the ones where your little knight or wizard was composed of a total of about a dozen pixels, and they walked in one direction and essentially demolished everything in sight? Slayin' is all of those games, condensed and crammed into a single, frantic all-out brawl.

You never actually go anywhere, but rather navigate a screen-sized chunk of land while enemies pour in from all angles. They crawl up from below, drop in from above and pop up in every corner of the screen. Your job is to dispatch them -- surprise! -- and thanks to several content-filled updates, there are now a total of six playable character classes, each with their own specialty and weakness. The knight attacks with his sword, but is vulnerable from behind; the wizard can become temporarily invincible, but lacks a jump; and so on.

slaying screenshot

The enemies start out mild, but ramp up to be quite formidable. There are also some seriously epic boss fights tossed in to punctuate the action. These battles are nothing to sneeze at, and you might even be reminded of the mind-numbingly difficult battles from the 8-bit generation.

As you progress through the waves of bad guys, your character will gain experience, levels and coins. Your cash can be used at merchants to purchase newer, more powerful weapons and to replenish your health. There's also a type of in-game currency called Fame Points, which are used to unlock things like interface tweaks and additional characters.

Slayin' oozes nostalgic charm and it's a bargain at US$0.99. You simply won't find a better way to relive the joys -- and frustrations -- from the yesteryear of gaming than this.

Slayin' is a hack-and-slash trip down memory lane originally appeared on Breaking Apple News, Tips and Reviews from The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Thu, 13 Feb 2014 21:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

Breaking Apple News, Tips and Reviews from The Unofficial Apple WeblogSlayin' is a hack-and-slash trip down memory lane originally appeared on Breaking Apple News, Tips and Reviews from The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Thu, 13 Feb 2014 21:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Kid Tripp has more charm than it has pixels

As someone who grew up in the 8-bit days, I have a weakness for retro-styled platformers regardless of the platform. So, when I saw Kid Tripp, I snapped it up without hesitation. What I found was a game that not only looks like the vintage titles of yesteryear, but it's also just as difficult as those games ever were.

Platformers on the iPhone or iPad -- with virtual touch buttons -- usually suffer from a lack of tactile control. Kid Tripp gets around this by having your character auto-run to the right at all times. Tapping on the left side of the screen lets you jump, while tapping on the right makes you throw a rock.

The levels are filled with gaps, pits, spikes and a ton of different enemies that either sit in your path or attack you with projectiles of their own. In short, there are more ways to die in Kid Tripp than you might think. The game gives you 10 lives to start, and you'll burn through those pretty quickly your first time through.

A timer is constantly running in the upper-left corner, which means you'll always have a time to beat once you complete a level, and perfecting a run is really where the game turns into an addiction. If you're into speedrunning games -- or the idea of finding the optimal route through a level sounds interesting to you -- you're going to have a lot of fun here.

Thanks to the ultra-basic graphical style, the game runs as smooth as can be, which is important when perfectly timed jumps are crucial. Everything is bright and vibrant, and each of the four worlds has a unique flair. The experience is polished further by a retro soundtrack that fits the game perfectly.

Oh, and the game has no in-app purchases at all. It's US$0.99, and that's all you have to spend to get the whole experience. That's a rare treat these days, so if you have any interest in old-school platformers, this is the one to buy.

Kid Tripp has more charm than it has pixels originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Fri, 17 Jan 2014 13:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

TUAW - The Unofficial Apple WeblogKid Tripp has more charm than it has pixels originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Fri, 17 Jan 2014 13:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Origin Stories: Vectrex offers nostalgic gameplay

If you were a kid in the 1980's you may remember the oddball consumer gaming console called the Vectrex. Notable for it's use of vectors instead of bitmapped graphics (like every other console), the Vectrex never quite took hold but before it was discontinued a number of fun retro games were made available. Enter Rantmedia Games, which took the aging catalog and ported it to iOS.

In this Origin Stories learn about the nostalgia-driven passion behind the creation of Vectrex Regeneration. In addition to the catalog of old Vectrex games, there are actually new games made for the app, available as in-app purchases. Read our review here.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Wf3DZz9xi4]

Origin Stories: Vectrex offers nostalgic gameplay originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Thu, 02 May 2013 20:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

TUAW - The Unofficial Apple WeblogOrigin Stories: Vectrex offers nostalgic gameplay originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Thu, 02 May 2013 20:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Sega’s After Burner Climax flying over to iOS

After Burner Climax is a 2006 update of the popular old-school arcade game. It arrived in arcades upon first release and was later ported over to Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network.

Now, Sega has announced it's bringing the game to iOS. There's no release date yet, as Sega has simply said that the game is "on the way." When it does arrive, iOS users will be able to pull off all of the high-flying action and bombing runs that After Burner Climax has to offer.

It's exciting to see a game like this get ported -- retro games are one thing, but as Apple's devices get more and more powerful, we can see games that were traditionally meant for high-end consoles (or even dedicated arcade game units) show up on our iPhones and iPads.

[via Joystiq]

Sega's After Burner Climax flying over to iOS originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Tue, 05 Feb 2013 17:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

TUAW - The Unofficial Apple WeblogSega's After Burner Climax flying over to iOS originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Tue, 05 Feb 2013 17:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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ThinkGeek’s 8-bitty controller isn’t bad, if you already want one

ThinkGeek's iCade started out as an April Fool's joke. In conjunction with the folks at Ion Audio, that product actually came to be, and it's been so successful that it's launched a whole line of different controller products, most of them from Ion. But ThinkGeek isn't done with this brand yet. It recently released the "8-bitty" controller, which combines a Bluetooth-enabled iCade-protocol controller with a very retro NES-style design. The price is appealing as well: For just US$29.99, you can get a very cool-looking retro controller, designed to work with all of the various iCade-enabled titles.

Unfortunately, the same issues that apply to all of the iCade services apply to this controller, and there are a few extra to boot. I'll talk about the 8-bitty-specific problems first, the biggest of which is that as cool as the boxy retro look is, it's just not very comfortable in my hands. Call me a wimp, but though I did spend a majority of my childhood clutching the old NES controllers until the paint fell off, I've definitely gotten used to the much more ergonomic console controllers of today. After just a few minutes with the 8-bitty, I could feel my hands cramping up in strange ways.

The d-pad on the controller is strangely wrong, as well -- the thought I kept having while playing was that it felt way too "analog." This is really an issue with the iCade protocol rather than the controller, I think, given that because it's simply sending keypresses over Bluetooth, developers can't do much more than the standard eight directions for d-pad movement. But even so, I also played around with the iCade mobile from Ion, and found that it worked better than the 8-bitty in general. The shoulder buttons on the 8-bitty also seemed strange to me -- I don't know if they should have been completely placed on the back of the controller, but they just felt awkward to hit up on top somehow.

And the last problem with a controller like this is something that always comes up when we talk about iCade: It's all about compatibility. There's no question that the iCade is the most supported iOS-controller protocol out there, but when you look at the list of games, iOS' biggest titles still aren't supported at all. That's mostly because the strength of the iOS platform is its touchscreen, so most of the platform's most popular titles take full advantage of touch in a way that a controller just won't be able to match. Too bad, because I actually prefer playing games with a controller most of the time, but obviously until Apple releases its own solution, developers won't have an "official" rule on how controllers should work with iPhones and iPads.

Now, all of that said, the 8-bitty is still a well-made controller, and it'll still do what you want it to do when it's paired up with your iPhone or iPad. At $29.99, it's relatively cheap, and it's mostly simple to set up and use. There are two exceptions to that: The battery cover inexplicably requires a tiny screwdriver to get into, and the controller doesn't come with two required AAA batteries either, so you'll have to obtain those yourself. Weird that ThinkGeek didn't consider those problems, but other than that, setup is simple and fast.

If you want an iPhone or iPad controller and you don't want to pay for the more expensive, but better, $80 iCade mobile, there's definitely good reasons to pick up an 8-bitty. But if you want a premium controller for playing iCade-compatible games and are willing to pay a bit more, I'd pass on the 8-bitty in favor of the mobile or even the original iCade cabinet. The 8-bitty is cute and all, but not quite necessary.

ThinkGeek's 8-bitty controller isn't bad, if you already want one originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 31 Oct 2012 20:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

TUAW - The Unofficial Apple WeblogThinkGeek's 8-bitty controller isn't bad, if you already want one originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 31 Oct 2012 20:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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iCade’s 8-bitty controller now out

That "8-bitty" wireless controller announced by ThinkGeek a while ago is now available in the company's online store. For US$29.99, you can grab hold of an NES-style retro controller, with not two but four buttons designed to work with iOS games across the iCade protocol. This is not an Ion Audio product like the rest of the iCade line so far -- this is specifically a ThinkGeek product only. But it does work with the iCade standard, which plenty of developers have taken advantage of (and which is pretty easy to implement, if you happen to be a game developer who wants to let your customers use it).

Yes, the controller may not look all that ergonomical, and it's probably not. But if, like me, your hands used that old boxy NES controller for hours and hours as a child, this new version will probably make you feel right at home.

[via Touch Arcade]

iCade's 8-bitty controller now out originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 10 Oct 2012 14:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

TUAW - The Unofficial Apple WeblogiCade's 8-bitty controller now out originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Wed, 10 Oct 2012 14:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Daily iPhone App: Wizorb turns Breakout into an RPG

Wizorb is a title that originally came out on Steam, but it just recently arrived on iOS, and it's a nice one to have in our gigantic library. The game is a mix of breakout and the old 8/16-bit RPGs, and the combat is essentially the old Breakout game. You use a paddle at the bottom of the screen to knock a ball up into bricks and enemies above.

Wizorb wisely never backs down from its 16-bit RPG style, so the graphics, the spells, and even the music are delightfully retro, and should be familiar to anyone who played similar RPGs during that era.

The Breakout side of the game is solid as well. It can be a little unclear just what you're earning as you collect potions, coins or gems after breaking blocks, and the addition of spells like fireballs and an "alter" spell (which will push your ball in a different direction) can make things even more confusing. But as long as you keep the ball from falling offscreen, you'll be good.

The controls on PC were probably a little better for this kind of gameplay. Swiping your finger across the screen constantly isn't the most fun thing to do. It's strange that the game doesn't have tilt controls, but that's probably a consequence of its PC heritage.

All in all, Wizorb is a well-made retro game, and it combines these two seemingly disparate game genres in very interesting and fun ways. If you missed it on Steam, it's worth picking up on iOS, and there's plenty of content to bounce your way through. It's US$2.99 in a universal version, available right now.

Continue reading Daily iPhone App: Wizorb turns Breakout into an RPG

Daily iPhone App: Wizorb turns Breakout into an RPG originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Thu, 09 Aug 2012 08:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

TUAW - The Unofficial Apple WeblogDaily iPhone App: Wizorb turns Breakout into an RPG originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Thu, 09 Aug 2012 08:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Insert Coin: GameDock lets your iPhone interface with a TV and controllers, game it old school

In Insert Coin, we look at an exciting new tech project that requires funding before it can hit production. If you'd like to pitch a project, please send us a tip with "Insert Coin" as the subject line.

insert-coin-gamedock-iphone-tv-controller

With its GameDock, Cascadia Games has a new twist on iOS arcade play -- it lets you use your TV and two classic controllers. While retro games are popular on iPhones right now, an intense session can go haywire if your digits start slippping around on the screen, and head-to-head play is literally that if you're sharing a small device with a foe. That aforementioned situation inspired the GameDock, which turns into a full-blown console when you plug in and pair your iPhone, iPad or iPod using Bluetooth, then connect your TV, along with a couple of USB game controllers. Just like that, you and a buddy are playing big-screen Asteroids, Centipede and 100 or so other iOS games that work with iCade. With 43 days remaining, just shy of 10 grand has been offered toward the $50K goal, so check the source if you want to revel in the gaming days of yore -- eye or thumb strain-free.

Continue reading Insert Coin: GameDock lets your iPhone interface with a TV and controllers, game it old school

Insert Coin: GameDock lets your iPhone interface with a TV and controllers, game it old school originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 04 Jul 2012 16:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Musubo’s stylish iPhone cases bring fun and flair to a crowded market

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In my daily work for TUAW I see a lot of iPhone cases. For the most part, it's hard to distinguish one from the other, so when Musubo offered to send me a set of their new iPhone 4/4S cases I took a quick look at them first. It's a good thing I did, because what I found was a set of fun and stylish cases that really stand out from the crowd. Read along as I review this set of cases, and then enter our giveaway for a chance to win one of these five cool iPhone cases.

MatchBook Pro

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The first of the cases, and the one that originally caught my eye, is the MatchBook Pro (US$34.99). It's cleverly designed to look like an open book of matches, and the matches actually fold out into a built-in video stand for your iPhone. The hard case is made of polycarbonate for protection, while the "matches" are made of a silicone rubber.

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The MatchBook Pro comes in five different color combinations, with the cases available in black, red, white, a golden yellow, and a grassy green. The "matches" vary in color depending on the case color. It's hard not to like a case with a name that's also a play on "MacBook Pro".

Rubber Band

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The next unique case from Musubo is the Rubber Band ($29.99). As the name implies, the Rubber Band makes your protected iPhone look as if it has been wrapped with a box of rubber bands. The Rubber Band is nice and grippable, and comes in a variety of colors -- yellow, light blue, blue, black, green, orange, red, pink, and magenta.

If you're a fan of the Rubber Band but would like a video stand, don't worry -- Musubo includes one in the box. It's quite clever (see below), and included with every one of these cases with the exception of the MatchBook Pro.

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Ripple

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This case gets its name from the gentle ripple pattern that extends out from the camera cutout. The Ripple ($29.99) is made of TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) for protection, and the pattern provides a nice surface for gripping.

The Ripple comes in black, light green, dark green, red, yellow, purple, magenta and midnight blue.

Retro

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The Retro ($34.99) uses a glossy polycarbonate exterior designed to look like an old microphone, with a soft silicone interior to cradle the iPhone. Perhaps the most effective case color for the Retro is silver, since it really accentuates the mic-like design.

The other colors include black, red, blue, white and yellow.

Sneaker

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The innovative Sneaker ($34.99) uses a soft TPU bumper in one color, then includes two different colored "soles" that snap into the back of the case. The soles are patterned like the bottom of a sneaker, hence the name. With the black bumper you get the choice of black and white soles, red and yellow soles, or lime and purple soles; with the white bumper, Musubo provides the choice of either rose pink and baby blue or brown and olive soles.

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Note that there are three more case designs -- the Sexy ($24.99), the Eden ($34.99), and the Double-X ($29.99) -- that aren't covered in this review or giveaway, but can be viewed on the Musubo website.

Giveaway

So now here's your chance to win one of these five innovative and fun iPhone 4/4S cases. All you need to do to enter is fill out the entry form completely and press submit. We'll pick five random winners, and you'll each get one of the Musubo cases. We can't guarantee that you'll get the one you want, but we'll try to match up the winners with the cases if we can.

Here are the rules for the giveaway:
  • Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
  • To enter, fill out the form below completely and click or tap the Submit button.
  • The entry must be made before May 11, 2012 11:59PM Eastern Standard Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Five winners will be selected and each will receive a Musubo iPhone 4/4S case valued at either $29.99 or $34.99. We cannot guarantee that the winners will receive their choice of a case.
  • Click Here for complete Official Rules.
Good luck!

Musubo's stylish iPhone cases bring fun and flair to a crowded market originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Tue, 08 May 2012 16:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

TUAW - The Unofficial Apple WeblogMusubo's stylish iPhone cases bring fun and flair to a crowded market originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Tue, 08 May 2012 16:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Five Great-Looking Retro iPhone Games Coming Soon

Retro games remain very popular, especially on iOS, and there are plenty of great games in production at the moment that fans of the genre should know about.

We’ve gathered together five retro games that are coming soon for iOS,…


iMAME app gets pulled from iTunes

In barely enough time to get out of the app store and into the hearts of retro gamers everywhere, the iMAME emulator on iOS has already been erased from iTunes -- just days since its release. Alas, that lack of any official endorsement may have reared its ugly head. Well, it was good while it lasted. Guess we'll carry on saving up for that Vita purchase...

[Thanks Zac]

iMAME app gets pulled from iTunes originally appeared on Engadget on Sat, 24 Dec 2011 08:17:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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iMAME emulation app hits the App Store, humanity cheers in unison

No interest in snapping up an iCade? No sweat. Jim VanDeventer has just pushed today's app-to-end-all-apps into Apple's App Store, and while it's only been live for a few hours, iMAME is already on a mission to change the world. Built-in titles include Circus, Crash, Hard Hat, Fire One, Robot Bowl, Side Track, Spectar, Star Fire and Targ, and while it's not officially endorsed by Nicola Salmoria or the MAME Team, you can certainly pretend. It's available now in the source link for precisely nothing, and yes, both the iPhone and iPad (and iPod touch!) are supported. Get it while the gettin' is good.

[Thanks, Gary]

iMAME emulation app hits the App Store, humanity cheers in unison originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 21 Dec 2011 21:10:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Chrono Trigger screenshots out, with touch controls and redone menus

Square Enix's Members site has posted a few screenshots of the long-awaited release of Chrono Trigger on iOS, and truth be told, they're a little disappointing. Don't worry -- the game is still there, and as one of the best console RPGs of all time, I'm still excited to play through it again on iOS. But those touch controls, like a lot of Square's games remade for this platform, look pretty tacked on. The original menus for the game were so gorgeous, I'm sorry to see they didn't make the jump to the touch-based version.

I guess that's all right for this title -- better to just have it out, at this point, and maybe these touch-based menus, ugly as they are, make the game play that much better. But hopefully we're seeing the end of ports like this, where classic games just get an overlaid virtual joystick and big clear buttons for their menu options. It'd be nice to have a really great old RPG remade into a port where someone has actually thought about how to do the interface justice. Chrono Trigger is due out sometime "before the end of December," with price yet unknown.

[via Joystiq]

Chrono Trigger screenshots out, with touch controls and redone menus originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Mon, 21 Nov 2011 16:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

TUAW - The Unofficial Apple WeblogChrono Trigger screenshots out, with touch controls and redone menus originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Mon, 21 Nov 2011 16:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Atari Arcade is the $60 answer to iCade (review)

Yearning to relive the classics (Lunar Lander, anyone?) on your iPad, replete with that authentic arcade feel? It wasn't long ago that we reviewed ThinkGeek and Ion's formidable iCade, but at $100, it was -- and still is -- a pricey portion to stomach for an occasional retro gaming fix. Fast forward to the present, and Atari's paired with Discovery Bay Games to create their own official spin on an iPad arcade adapter, fittingly dubbed the Arcade Duo-Powered Joystick. Unlike the iCade, it doesn't use Bluetooth and requires no batteries -- you simply dock your iPad into its 30-pin connector. The joypad is specifically made to work with Atari's Greatest Hits app, and it's set to land in early October for a slightly more wallet-friendly price of $60. We were able to slam its controls a bit while playing through various levels of Major Havoc and the like, and you'll find our impressions after the break.

Continue reading Atari Arcade is the $60 answer to iCade (review)

Atari Arcade is the $60 answer to iCade (review) originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 07 Sep 2011 16:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Make your iPad 2 look like a Gameboy with this retro gaming case

Lootiful has a line of snap-on iPWN cases that protect your iPhone in style by making it look like a Nintendo Gameboy. The business, run by a single graphics designer, has now extended its retro gaming cases to the iPad 2.

The iPad 2 version is identical to the iPhone 4 and 3G/3GS version. All cases snap onto the back of the smartphone or tablet and provide protection from bumps and scratches. On the front, you have full access to your touchscreen and buttons, while on the back, you have a Gameboy replica that gives your iOS device a look like no other case on the market.

No word on availability for the iPad 2 case, but Lootiful's website promises that pre-orders will be starting soon. Pricing is also an unknown, but the iPhone 4 version retails for a very reasonable US$18.

[Via Akihabara News]

Make your iPad 2 look like a Gameboy with this retro gaming case originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Tue, 02 Aug 2011 10:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

TUAW - The Unofficial Apple WeblogMake your iPad 2 look like a Gameboy with this retro gaming case originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Tue, 02 Aug 2011 10:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Jailbreak app iMAME4All adds iCade support

The latest version of iMAME4All, a jailbreak app that lets you play retro arcade games on your iOS device, added support for the iCade desktop arcade cabinet for the iPad. It lets you play any MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) compatible ROM on your iCade and opens it up to a variety of previously unsupported games.

If you don't want to go the jailbreak route, iCade recently released a SDK so any iOS game developer can officially support the gaming cabinet. When it launched earlier this year, the iCade only supported the Atari's Greatest Hits app which has a collection of retro Atari 2600 games. With an SDK and iMAME4All support, the iCade is now a lot more interesting to hard-core gamers with an iPad.

[Via Engadget]

Jailbreak app iMAME4All adds iCade support originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Mon, 11 Jul 2011 10:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

TUAW - The Unofficial Apple WeblogJailbreak app iMAME4All adds iCade support originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Mon, 11 Jul 2011 10:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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iCade, the almost-ultimate gaming accessory for your iPad (updated)

I've been playtesting the iCade for a few weeks now to see how it holds up under "real world" use. The iCade began as a joke product on ThinkGeek's website but was then produced by ION Audio as a real, working arcade cabinet for the iPad. Using Bluetooth to connect to your iPad, the iCade provides a very realistic arcade feel. There are, unfortunately, some major drawbacks. Read on for a full rundown of the hardware and software used to simulate those days of yore, when buttons were meant to withstand hours of abuse and time playing was measured in quarters, not $0.99 increments.

Hardware assembly and quality

First, you'll have to assemble the iCade. While not complex, I found the little plastic grommets used to hold the back panel in place could split if overtightened, so watch out for that. The materials used in the iCade are all quite good, really. It's plywood and plastic, yes, but so were arcade cabinets in the 80s. The joystick and buttons feel like they came from a professional supply that you'd find on a decent MAME cabinet. One thing that bothered me was that in every review I'm seeing different art on the cabinet. Personally I'd like to choose a specific pattern, but it doesn't appear to be possible. The picture at ThinkGeek has the coolest artwork, but that's not on the demo unit we received. Go figure.

Power for the iCade is provided by a couple of AA batteries, but if you purchase a power supply, you'll be able to plug the thing in. I found the batteries lasted through several hours of gaming, so unless you use this daily, I doubt you'll need to plug yet another device into the wall.

Speaking of power, while there is a place to "dock" the iPad, it is not a dock with pins. It's simply a plastic molded bracket that holds your iPad in place. While this works OK, I wound up adding a couple of pieces of sponge packing material to the sides of the iPad, effectively wedging the iPad securely into the iCade. As we wound up moving the iCade around among players, this was helpful in securing it. The iCade features rubber feet (self-adhesive, included in the box), keeping the unit pretty stable. But if your kids get aggressive with it, the iPad can move around a bit in the plastic dock.

There's a top panel that rotates out of the way, covering the iPad and finishing the look. The top panel also includes a handy reference for the button mapping (sort of -- more in a moment on this) and how to get started. The information is really just about getting started, so I guess the only use is if you sell this in a garage sale. The buttons are actually numbers (and the joystick can input numbers), used to pair your iPad with the iCade. Honestly, this is clunky at best, and most of those buttons aren't really used in the games for the iCade. But as I said, the buttons and joystick are excellent quality, and I'm not sure what else ION could have done here other than adding another costly component like a numeric keypad.

One nice touch: when the iCade is powered up and ready to go, the place where you would normally insert a quarter lights up. You can see this in the gallery.

Gallery: iCade

Hardware playability

If you're worried about lag from Bluetooth, rest assured you'll never notice with the iCade. Given the only compatible games are from decades ago, you won't be too worried about any lag. In all of my testing it was never an issue.

The buttons and joystick are very high quality. The entire panel comes as one piece, professionally assembled elsewhere, and I feel like the unit will stand up to years of button mashing abuse. The joystick has a metal stick and red plastic ball, just like a real joystick. It's an 8-way stick, like a traditional arcade joystick, and it performs admirably.

The only problem with the buttons? There are too many. Given the fact that the games supported by the iCade thus far are limited to a bunch of Atari 2600 games and a few of the arcade games (much more on this in a moment), once you enter the Bluetooth pairing code, they wind up getting in the way. Sure, you can do a few things, like switch to black and white and whatnot, but that's not really helpful. There are no instructions on how each set of buttons matches up to games, either, so it often becomes a trial and error process to find out what works. Typically the rightmost, lower white button is your main action button. But even the joystick can have a slight learning curve, as I discovered with Asteroids.

Software compatibility

As other reviews have pointed out, the faux-wood and black plastic elephant in the room would have to be that the iCade only supports one app. Atari's Greatest Hits is certainly a serviceable retro gaming app, complete with a number of 2600 and arcade games, but the iCade seems like overkill for such an outing.

Compounding the problem is that the iCade really only fully supports the 2600 games. Which begs the question, why not just make a real Bluetooth 2600 joystick? It'd be cheaper, more accurate and unquestionably perfect for the job. Some Atari arcade games are supported, whereas others are comically impossible to play -- mostly the ones that rely upon landscape view!

Don't get me wrong, my kids had a great time playing Centipede, Millipede, even Adventure, but we have Adventure on one of those cheapo "plug into your TV" controllers that is almost exactly like an old Atari controller (except for the weight, thanks to a 9-volt battery inside). That thing does a great job, whereas the iCade can be a little confusing with all the extra buttons.

If the iCade supports more games in the future, it'll be one of the best accessories out there and possibly the coolest accessory for gaming. For right now, you'd have to be a pretty huge Atari fan to justify the US$99.99 price at ThinkGeek, not to mention the constant cycle of backorders.

That said, the fact that this thing keeps going into backorder means some people are really digging it. I will agree that some games, like Centipede, Crystal Castles, Battle Zone, Tempest and a handful of others are really fun on the iCade. Since you can buy all the games for the Atari app for less than $20, once you break down the cost, you're looking at about $6 per "great" game you can play. The rest are just sorta OK. I mean, do you need an arcade interface to play Basic Math? Considering that price is still cheaper than trying to maintain a real Atari 2600 (I have known people who do this) and find thrift store cartridges, it's a question of how much you're into retro gaming.

Final thoughts

If you are looking for a great gift for a retro gamer, or just nostalgic nerds in their 30s (like me), the iCade will wow someone. If you're looking for a MAME cabinet or something similar, you'll be disappointed. I can't say enough good things about the hardware on the iCade -- it is built well and it's clear it'll stand up to heavy use. Even at just a penny under a hundred bucks it's not a bad price for the quality. But you'll have to determine whether or not you can suffer the limited software catalog to justify owning one. In my case, there are probably other ways to burn my cash, be it on the App Store or on a more versatile accessory like the Fling.

Update: My one gripe with the iCade was the singular app available from Atari. Well, today ION announced on Twitter that an SDK is available for developers. Here's looking forward to more games for the iCade! By the holiday season this will be a must-have gift, I think.

iCade, the almost-ultimate gaming accessory for your iPad (updated) originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Fri, 24 Jun 2011 00:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

TUAW - The Unofficial Apple WeblogiCade, the almost-ultimate gaming accessory for your iPad (updated) originally appeared on TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Fri, 24 Jun 2011 00:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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