Remember the good ol' days when you'd go into the local pizza joint for a slice and disappear from civilization, only to leave the place some hours later with a worn palm, less change in your pockets and a three-letter alias at the top of a Centipede high-score list? The Atari Arcade iPad dock looks to recapture some of that nostalgia by pairing its retro titles with a console, complete with joystick. But is it worth the $60 to take a trip down 8-bit memory lane?
The Arcade has a plastic, oval-shaped dock with the red Atari logo painted over a clean white plastic finish. Measuring 11.2 x 7.4 x 2.3 inches and weighing one pound, this accessory is light but feels somewhat cheap. Your iPad or iPad 2 is secured in place with adjustable grips, but the 30-pin connector will take some wiggling for your tablet to slide in properly. All the action takes place on four black buttons and a protruding spherical joystick whose bright red color would give Ronald McDonald's nose a run for its money.
For such a small duplication of the giant arcade booths, Atari does a good job of replicating the feel of standing at the gaming center. The dock's ergonomics are satisfying, and the buttons and joystick--although a little loose1felt nice in our hands. Just keep in mind that the dock won't accommodate most cases.
It's a pretty quick two-step process to get started playing the classics on the Atari Arcade. After downloading Atari's Greatest Hits app from the store, plug the iPad into the device and the app will recognize your new control scheme. Downloading the free app will give you Missile Command, but any other games come at a price. Buying one of the 25 four-game packs costs $1, and getting the whole package of 100 games will set you back $10.
The main menu and the interface of the app looks good and is easily navigable. You can either search through the games alphabetically or scroll through 3D representations of the original arcade booths for each game.
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Unfortunately, the four-game packs mostly consist of one well-known game, such as Centipede, with three other spin-offs (i.e., Centipede 2600 and Millipede). What that boils down to is about 20 or 25 games that you'll recognize or want to give a spin. Of those, 10 or 12--titles such as Asteroids, Gravitar, Lunar Lander, Missile Command, and Tempest--will provide some replay value. Ultimately, most of the 100 games--many of which come from Atari's 2600 console--are disposable.
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For the old-time gamer, many of the titles will bring back memories. Much to the chagrin of LAPTOP's more veteran writers, though, classic titles such as Dig Dug weren't available.
Younger gamers may find themselves wondering why they spent $60 on a console and $10 to play Asteroid and Pong when they can get them online or download from a third party for cheaper or free. Some will also be disappointed to find that games such as Frogger and Pac-Man, often associated with arcade booths, aren't part of the Atari-only package.
Getting down to action in games such as Asteroids and Lunar Lander was a blast, but we noticed that the joystick was a little jumpy. Just nudging the knob in one direction will jerk your cursor pretty far, making titles such as Pong--where precision is the name of the game--extremely frustrating.
Atari made a good choice by only including four buttons and preserving the dock's real estate, as most games only require one or two buttons. Don't expect to play the Arcade discretely, though; it's extremely loud, and the clicking and clacking of springs will surely annoy anyone within earshot.
Outside of gameplay mode for Atari's app, the arcade has no function. You can't navigate the iPad or even the app's menus using the joystick or buttons, and right now there are no other compatible games. You can still play on the move, though, as all the games are touchscreen-enabled. In fact, some titles--such as Breakout and Pong--work better without the dock at all.
Though the dock doesn't function as a charger, the app didn't drain the iPad's battery unusually fast, and it provided plenty of game time.
For veteran gamers who once ruled the arcade halls, Atari's gamepad will likely be a fun blast from the past. However, with only a handful of titles with high replay value and an overly sensitive joystick, the joy from this $60 dock is fleeting.