The iCade is on its way, and these games are ready

by David Lister

Ion's iCade — a game controller that turns you iPad into a retro-style arcade — might not single-handily turn the potentially productive tablet into a glorified game system, but it certainly helps. The long-rumored device now has a release date (May 31), price ($99.99) and even the option to pre-order through GameStop.

The tabletop controller docks your iPad and gives gamers eight buttons and a joystick to play with, so there's both substance and style here. And while the iCade's actual release is still some time away, it's never too early to start thinking about what apps will fit perfect with it.

Atari's Greatest Hits

It's virtually impossible to talk about classic arcade gaming without bringing up Atari, so it's no surprise that Atari's Greatest Hits is something like the official app of the iCade, even making its way into the instruction manual. This initially free app includes Pong, but also makes great use of in-app purchases, offering 99-cent four-packs of games such as Asteroid, Centipede, Missile Command and much more. Retro gaming fans can also buy all 99 additional games for $14.99, though they should know there are some fatal flaws with the current version. Greatest Hits has been destroyed by reviewers for unresponsive controls and a too-small game screen, problems that hopefully can be remedied by playing the app on the iCade. Until then, though, Atari's Greatest Hits is more of a pleasant reminder that these games existed than a playable port of them, a sad statement for an app with so much potential.

Frogger Pad

While it's not a straight port of the original, Frogger Pad ($4.99) definitely keeps the feel of the legendary Konami arcade release. Even the game's display isn't exactly improved, but just given some color contrast. The familiar straight-overhead camera view returns, as does the familiar gameplay that requires you to dodge cars and trucks before turning your attention to turtles and logs. There are some newer features, including Facebook connectivity that allows you to boast about high scores and achievements. Though the price might be a little on the high side, this is about as close to classic Frogger as it gets, so this game probably will find a home on many iCades.

Pac-Man for iPad

Virtual joysticks are fine, but an actual one is definitely missed in a game like Pac-Man. Despite that undisputable fact, Pac-Man for iPad ($4.99) has developed a nice little niche for itself. The app offers three game modes (original, easy and normal) and multiple control modes, as well as an in-game chat feature, achievements and leaderboards. Like Frogger, despite the additions, this still very much feels like the original, and like Atari's Greatest Hits there are more than a few complaints about controls — though not nearly as many. As already mentioned, five bucks might be a bit much, but it's hard to imagine owning a retro-style arcade controller and not playing Pac-Man on it.

Tetris for iPad

Word has it an interface will be released that will allow developers to make an app iCade-compatible, but it remains to be seen how (or if) this will work for some games. Take Tetris for iPad ($7.99) for instance: While the classic game seems like a natural fit, it's not clear if the newfangled Magic Mode would mesh. The D-pad controls are exclusive to the iPad and aim to enhance controls, and while the visuals have been overhauled, the familiar music returns. Alluded to earlier, the Magic Mode boasts five new power-ups and give this game an entirely new feel. Whether it works on the iCade, gamers will have to wait to find out, though even a stripped-down version of the original Tetris would be a welcome sight.

Not yet available . . .

Sure The Simpsons Arcade ($0.99) and NBA Jam by EA Sports haven't been released for the iPad, but it's nearly impossible to talk arcade games without mentioning them. The Simpsons Arcade stands as one of the EA's most successful iOS games, in no small part because of button-mashing controls and injections of humor. Users control Homer, though the entire family makes an appearance, while 20-plus levels and six different environments help with replay value. NBA Jam brings the classic two-on-two game to your iPhone with updated rosters and a classic campaign that allows you to unlock past players and cheats. Impatient gamers can also access these with in-app purchases. Both games make perfect sense for the iCade. All that's missing is EA making them available for the iPad.