I'll admit it. I'm old enough to not only remember arcades, but I actually played games in them, back in the day. Well, my day, anyway, which seems to creep ever forward into the twilight of my....well, never mind. I digress.
The ThinkGeek/Ion collaboration iCade iPad arcade cabinet is a thing of beauty. Assembly is a breeze, especially if you've struggled for years learning how to use an Ikea-inspired hex bolt wrench and can follow instructional pictograms fairly well. Once set up, the iCade breathes a retro cool like no other. Case in point: the muted 70s style rainbow stripe down the sides, the faux-retro font with the wide "wow" shading behind it, the cleverly styled cut of the cabinet panels, and - goes-without-saying-obviously - a sweetly sized red ball perched mightily atop the joystick (no 'q' here, boys).
The hardware. It is hawt. It makes my inner child and outer children squee in delight. There is something primal, almost sexual, about the industrial design of this $99.00 iPad gaming accessory.
And yet, and yet. Like all other infatuations of youth, the beauty can pale after first blush. Sure, it's GORGEOUS, but what can it do for me? Truth is, through no fault of its own (the API is FREE, developers!), the iCade only has one trick up its sleeve. While that trick is a fairly substantive one, bringing a HUGE amount of the Atari arcade ouvre to an iCade-enabled gaming room, the initial excitement does indeed wane after some exposure.
The problem, as with any gaming platform, lies with third-party developer support. Atari's Greatest Hits is the only "game" in town here, with a mind-numbing 100 titles to choose from, in 25 different "packs." Seriously, though, while Tempest is obviously the best arcade game ever made, how many games of Tic Tac Toe, Hangman, or Casino do we need? And, while it can be argued that Breakout does indeed deserve its own 4 game pack, I'm fairly certain that Quadrun was no one's favorite.
Pointing fingers at the third party developers is one thing, but remember that pointing one finger at someone else implies pointing four of them back at yourself. Right? The iCade has an impressive eight buttons, only three of which seem to do much of anything at any time. Just not the same three. The joystick is a memory-inducing talisman worthy of Proust's madeleine cake, no doubt, but it is limited to eight directions - this is no analog stick for fine adjustments.
While $100 will be defined by potential purchasers within their own concept of disposable income, it seems a worthy amount for such a well-designed piece of hardware. It makes an instant conversation piece in any room. Hopefully, the presence of a free API will bring developers of more modern arcade "hits" to the table, and perhaps encourage Atari to fine tune it's massive library of classic games.
Until then, this is a purchase best made when money is not an issue, and playing older Atari arcade games is worth the expense. Of course, a buy can be justified on purely nostalgic and decorative grounds, which of course is why many of my friends of a certain age pre-ordered this baby as soon as it became a reality. It is available at ThinkGeek right now, with no back-order foolishness.
UPDATE: The following games also have iCade support baked right in!