Top positive review
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Fun for arcade enthusiasts! A bit expensive for casual gamers
on May 26, 2011
Update: I got one of the very first iCades when it was released and back then, the Atari app was the only compatible one. There are a lot more now. Also, since the third generation iPad isn't shaped all that differently from the iPad 2, it's most likely compatible.
First I should mention that the iCade cabinet design may look like the picture on this page, or one with a more rainbow look to it. Don't worry though, it looks great. Very 80s.
The hardware itself is excellent. The joystick and buttons are super-responsive, just like a real arcade machine. Assembly was a little annoying; the screws and holes didn't always line up too well. Once you get it together, though, the construction is solid.
It uses two AA batteries for power, and comes with them, which is nice. There's a port for an AC adapter, too, but it doesn't come with that and the manual doesn't give its specifications. It says you can buy one on ION Audio's website, but even now (March 2012) it doesn't appear that you can. I asked ION about this and they said that batteries provide 70 hours of use, so the lack of an official AC adapter isn't a big deal. They also told me the AC adapter you need is 5V DC, 110V AC, 500 mA pin negative, so if you want one you may be able to find one on the internet somewhere.
There's no power switch, you turn the iCade on by pressing one of the buttons or moving the stick. There's a lighted coin slot on the front that acts as a power light. When you don't use the iCade for a few minutes, it turns off automatically, which is nice for conserving battery life.
The iCade connects to the iPad over Bluetooth. It works fine, though you'll want to turn the Bluetooth on the iPad off when you're not using a related app, since the iPad thinks it's a keyboard and won't display the on-screen keyboard in other apps, like Safari, while it's connected.
The only software that supported the iCade on launch was the Atari's Greatest Hits app, which comes with one free game. At first it was Pong, but now it's Missile Command. It may change to a different game later. The app has 18 arcade games and 82 Atari 2600 games. You can buy a 4-pack of related games, like Centipede and Millipede for both arcade and 2600, for $0.99, or you can buy all 100 games for $14.99.
I bought all the games for simplicity's sake, though they're not all gems. Most of the arcade games are good or at least OK, but frankly, most of the 2600 games suck. Backgammon? Circus Atari? Concentration? Really? Some surprised me, like Battlezone, which is almost better than the arcade version. Some classics like Adventure are here too, plus unreleased prototypes like Combat 2. A lot of the arcade games are vector games, like Asteroids, Battlezone, and Tempest to name a few.
The iCade supports portrait and landscape mode, though the iPad is a lot more secure in portrait. In portrait, you place the iPad between two ridges that make up a stand, the front of which is notched so you can access the home button. In landscape, you place it in a little groove in front of the portrait stand, and unlike in portrait, it can slide around in there. For either position, if you have an iPad case, you'll probably have to take it off in order to get it to fit.
Whichever orientation you choose, you can fiddle with the settings in Atari's Greatest Hits to have it display the way you want. For most games you just have to change the "Orientation" option, but for other games you have to change the "Control type" to Arcade. It would be nice if there was an option that changed it globally, but it does save your options for each game, so you only have to change it for each one once. I tend to like portrait mode better; the iCade was obviously designed for this mode, and the arcade games look more authentic.
Unfortunately, you can't adjust the joystick sensitivity in the app, so it's much more difficult to control games with paddles, like Pong, Warlords, and Breakout. I actually prefer to use the touch controls for those games. For most of the other games, though, the iCade controls are far superior.
There are plenty of third-party games now. The most recent, updated list is at [...]. For some reason, iCade-compatible games can't be listed as such on the App Store. I haven't tried too many of them, but if your iPad is jailbroken you can get iMAME4All, which supports pretty much every classic arcade game imaginable. If you know what MAME is, that may be enough to push you to get this.
Overall, I don't think it's worth buying an iPad specifically for this, since you could put together your own full-size arcade machine from various parts (cabinet, screen, PC with MAME, speakers, etc) for not much more. Still, if you have an iPad already, it's great fun and very worth the price of the iCade. I got it for $100 right at launch and that was probably too much, but I couldn't resist. Even when I'm not using it, it makes a great conversation piece. If this were $50, I'd give it five stars.