Last night I sat in front of an arcade machine in a darkened room of my house and played '80s arcade games until well past midnight.
While I haven't given up on the idea of building a little arcade in my home, Ion's iCade does a good enough job of replicating a form of the experience on an iPad or iPad 2 to at least temporarily satisfy that urge.
The $99 iCade, which starts shipping from ThinkGeek on June 9, is essentially an iPad Bluetooth arcade controller housed in a smartly designed box that looks just like an 80s arcade machine. There's even a bit of fake wood paneling and a light-up coin return slot.
The kit showed up at my house yesterday afternoon in a nondescript cardboard box. Inside was a collection of wood panels, the hard plastic box housing the joystick and buttons, and a small sack of bolts.
It took about ten minutes to screw together the iCade, and resulted in only one, plastic-breaking mistake (turned out it wasn't a big deal). Once assembled, I lifted the lid of the iCade, slid my iPad into the holder and read the instructions.
The iCade is really just a fancy dock and controller for your iPad. It doesn't power your Apple device or provide a monitor or even come with a game. But Ion so nails the aesthetic and feel of those old arcade machines that it doesn't matter. Besides you can string the Apple charger into the iCade and plug it into a wall to charge as you play.
Since the device doesn't come with any games you'll have to do some downloading to get any practical use out of the iCade. Ion suggests you download Atari's Greatest Hits, a collection of Atari arcade and console games that supports their controller.
The collection is free to download and includes one free game (Missile Command was the freebie when I downloaded it last night, but it sounds like they switch it sometimes. Pong was the previous freebie.) The collection includes more than 100 games, but you have to pay to play them. I ended up splurging and getting the entire collection for $15.
The iCade, when paired with a supported game, is a marvel to play on. I set it up on my kitchen table and sat in front of it for hours playing Crystal Castle, Red Baron, Millipede and others. My only regret was that the system doesn't have more support on iTunes. Games like Pac-Man, Dig-Dug and Space Invaders, all available through the online store, simply don't support Bluetooth controllers.
So while I think the iCade is well worth the $99, you may want to consider whether you're a fan of Atari games before picking it up. I'd like to think that down the line more developers will add support for the device, or Bluetooth controllers in general, but there's really no way to be sure.
Update: Ion pinged us to let us know that they are in the process of supplying the iCade API to developers in hopes of broadening the number of games that support the device.
"Devs that would like to add support to their iOS Apps can send a formal request for the API to email@example.com. Once we have more devs on board, we will be hosting a web page that will allow all iCade users to see which Apps contain support for iCade."
Here's my list developers out there: Dig-Dug, Joust, Space Invaders, Galaga... that is all.