Happy Father’s Day – The iCade Review

Happy Father’s Day everyone! This day has more meaning to me these days since I’ve become a parent, and for this Father’s Day, I’ll be writing about something my wife and son decided to get for me, the iCade stand for the iPad. What started out as an April fools joke has become a reality; created by IonAudio, and sold by ThinkGeek, the iCade is simply a classic retro 80’s style mini arcade cabinet for the iPad. What makes it special is the built in set of arcade controls; a joystick and 8 buttons. The iCade has proved to be quite a hit, since ThinkGeek’s been backordered on the control since they debuted it back in April, apparently mine arrived this week, just in time for this special day.

The iCade doesn’t come pre-assembled, but is easily put together with the included hex screws and hex-key, so no additional tools were required. The build quality is pretty good, the body is made out of 1/4″ melamine board, and the controller is in a plastic casing. The joystick and button quality is ok, but isn’t as good as the ones found on my X-Arcade Tank Stick (I’ll talk about this thing in the future). My only complaint with the controls is the joystick, it doesn’t have much resistance and feels a bit loose. The controller is powered by 2 AA batteries, which nicely included. Above the controller is an alcove where the iPad sits on a stand. The stand is designed to hold the iPad in portrait mode, and even has a slot that allows the iPad USB cable to run through the back of the unit so you can power it for those prolonged arcade gaming sessions. The only problem with the iCade’s design is that it doesn’t accommodate the iPad too well in Landscape mode. The iPad can sit in a groove above the controller, but in Landscape mode the iPad doesn’t sit into the iCade, so it feels a little out of place, since it sits low to the controls A better option might have been to provide some kind of mechanism to prop the landscape iPad higher, but obviously accommodating both modes inside would have made the cabinet wider, and possibly less appealing.

Once assembled the controller needs to be paired to an iPad. Mind you, this is a bluetooth device, so you really can only have it paired up with a single device effectively. Pairing with two iPad’s for example will have them fighting it out for control of the device (you can avoid this if you turn bluetooth off the other iPad). Pairing was a bit odd, it required holding the bottom 4 buttons and the top white button at the same time to have it enter pairing mode. the coin slot at the base flashes when it’s in pairing mode. Once in this mode, your iPad should detect it, and will require a code to complete the pairing, which is a sequence of joystick and button pushes. The White buttons act as the ENTER key, the directionals are each assigned a number as well as the red and black buttons. Once paired, it’s time to game.

Gaming on the device is currently limited to the Atari Classics, which I reviewed here earlier. Some games played well, but tweaking the sensitivity was necessary. Games like Centipede or Crystal Castles didn’t play all that well, since they were both trackball games in the arcade, and the joystick doesn’t translate well for these games. IonAudio has made an SDK available so developers can create games that work with the iCade. Hopefully, the SDK can be expanded to include other devices and maybe become something that other controller manufacturers can latch onto. If sales are decent, and the SDK’s not too hard to integrate, hopefully the iCade will become more than a large stand and conversation piece for my iPad. One last thing to mention, the iCade was made for the iPad1. It fits the iPad2 (in my case with my Speck case and smart cover), but not as snug as the iPad1. Although if the iPad1 has a case (like I do), it might not fit that well in the stand, i does hold, but the top lid doesn’t come down completely.

So, to recap here are my thoughts on the iCade:

Pros:

  • Nice Retro design
  • Decent controls
  • Simple to construct and to pair
  • Stand can hold iPad2 with case and Smart Cover
  • Has a slot to run USB cable to iPad
  • Must-Have for any Gadget Geek

Cons:

  • Only supported by Atari Classics (so far)
  • Landscape mode isn’t great
  • Joystick feels loose

Overall, it’s a great looking cabinet, and a fun Father’s Day gift. Definitely something for that Retro gaming enthusiast in the household, I really hope developers pick up on this and add support in for it. Now, I just need to find a good place to put it now. Thanks for reading.

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