Along the journey of my early gaming life, I owned an Atari 2600, an Atari 5600 and the “we-barely-knew-you” Atari 7800. I miss those game systems, but I can get a retro gaming hit with the US$59.99 Atari Arcade from Atari Discovery Bay Games (http://www.discoverybaygames.com/). Compatible with the iPad and iPad 2, it’s available at Target, Apple retail stores and Apple’s online store (http://www.apple.com) and Toys R Us.
If the Atari Arcade sounds akin to the iCade (http://www.ionaudio.com/products/details/icade), well, it is. Both are designed to bring the retro gaming experience to an Apple tablet. However, whereas the $99.99 iCade uses Bluetooth, the Arcade simply docks with your iPad via a 30-pin connector. The joypad is specifically made to work with Atari’s Greatest Hits app, which will set you back about 10 bucks at the Apple App Store. Or 99 cents for any of several four-packs of related games. Go with the big package; c’mon, it’s $10 for 100 games. That’s a deal.
Once you have the apps downloaded, you connect your iPad to the Arcade (more on that in a moment), and you’re almost good to go. No batteries required.
Did I say almost? After plugging in the iPad and opening up the app, you’ll discover that each game needs to be updated so that the Atari Arcade base is added to the short list of controllers. You can update each game individually as you select them to play, which takes about fix seconds for the patch to download; you don’t have to restart the app. Or you can choose an option to download all the game updates at once, which I recommend.
The Arcade is lighter than I had expected, but seems sturdy. Four rubber feet grip just about any surface to keep it in place during intense gameplay. On the top is an eight-directional joystick, four buttons and the 30-pin connector. The connector has sliding tabs to keep the iPad safely in place, which is a nice touch.
On the other hand, it was a bit difficult to click the Apple tablet into place. You’ll need to remove a Smart Cover and any sort of protective case you have on your iPad to get it to connect. Also note that you can’t use your iPad in landscape mode.
That said, the joystick and buttons were very responsive (though a bit more resistance from the former would be nice) and did a good job of emulating the Atari 2600 experience. This is despite the fact that, for unknown reasons (unknown to me at any rate), the buttons lack the concave shape of true arcade buttons.
Most of the games — such as BattleZone, Yar’s Revenge, Video Pinball and Submarine Commander — play very well with the joystick and buttons. However, with games such as Centipede, Crystal Castles and Asteroids, I missed the use of a trackball. Perhaps an Atari Arcade Trackball is in the works?
Finally, I wish that some games available for the iPad — namely Pac-Man and Space Invaders — worked with the Atari Arcade. A few game developers have started making games compatible with the iCade. Let’s hope they do so the same for the Atari Arcade.
If you’re into violent computer games or strategy games that take hours to play, the Atari Arcade/Atari Greatest Hits combo may not be for you. But if you want some fast-paced, quick-to-play, retro fun, check it out.
Rating: 7 out of 10