ION iCade review

Retro Bluetooth games accessory for the iPad
Photo of ION iCade
£79.99

Bored of touchcreen tablets and yearn for the arcade games of your youth? If so, the iCade could be your ticket to the 1980s. With a deliciously authentic layout of joystick and eight buttons, the iCade looks every bit the classic video arcade machine, albeit in miniature – and even with a coin slot. 

Construction & Set-up

Instead of inserting 25¢ (the iCade was obviously designed for the US), the 408 x 256 x 265mm unit takes two AA batteries in its hull – where a DC input is also present (though there’s no cable provided in the box). 

As such, the iCade does away with physical connections completely, and thus behaves much like any Bluetooth keyboard or wireless accessory. After an initial DIY session involving an Allen key and a few greasy fingers, we’d constructed the iCade. This arrives complete with flip-up top to allow the inserting and positioning of the iPad itself. As it’s Bluetooth-powered, the iCade can be physically connected to any Android tablet too, just not fitting as well and there’s no games support either. 

Once ‘docked’ on the shelf, the iPad sits perfectly stable and snug within the iCade making it a smart-looking, if rather geeky iPad stand for a desktop. Pairing via Bluetooth is easy enough, where simply holding down a combination of the iCade’s buttons makes it discoverable before punching-in the usual four-digit code, on to the iCade’s buttons. 

Atari app

Despite a decent build quality and easy set-up, the whole iCade experience hinges on the content – namely, the Atari Greatest Hits app for the iPad. Unfortunately, only one game is provided for free – the rather basic Missile Command. This, ironically is a trackerball game, so not ideal for use with arcade controls, though there are 98 others available. These comprise of 18 original Atari arcade titles such as Pong, Tempest, Asteroids, Battlezone and Centipede. Once again, a lot of these are trackerball-based and are 80s Atari 2600 versions. These are all bundled in random packs of four for 69p, though all the 99 games cost just £6.99.

The iCade isn’t just an Atari app-add-on, though – as a Bluetooth accessory it works with other games. We tried this successfully with Frogger Deluxe (69p), Space Inversion (£1.49) and Veloci Spider Zero (free), all of which were made easier by using the iCade’s hard-button controls, and not harder, which is crucial. 

Not all commands are performed via the iCade’s controls, as it’s largely an in-game accessory, with the touchscreen needing to be used for actually selecting the games. 

Aside from not being lap-friendly, the main problem with the iCade is its small size, or rather, the screen real estate of an iPad, which initially makes the whole experience somewhat of a novelty. The device still manages to amplify an iPad’s speakers well, with good audio quality, authentic buttons and an impressive joystick.

Company: ION

Website: http://www.firebox.com/

Contact: 0800 044 5010

Positives
  • Build quality; design; authentic joystick and buttons; set-up.
Negative
  • Small size; trackerball games can be tricky.

Verdict

Great retro design, where ex-Eighties arcade rats will love this throwback iPad accessory – which works with both the original iPad, as well as the iPad 2, and with a solid build and high quality joystick that makes it more than a novelty act. Although, we’re not sure for how long these simple retro games can keep impressing.