Want to replicate the feel of real pinball on your iPad? It’ll cost you. We’ve talked on this blog before about the iCade wooden iPad holder, and the Arcade Duo by Atari, both of which add sturdy joysticks and solid button arrays to your retro video game experience on the iPad. But the Duo Pinball by Discovery Bay Games does the same thing for pinball games on the device. The drawback is that it only works with one pinball game.
From Elite Systems Ltd., the guys who made the classic space exploration and trade game Elite in 1984, comes World of RETRO Computer GAMES, an iOS app featuring a collection of near-100% accurate replicas of classic computer games.
Bruce Lee climbs the tapestry
And classic is the operative word here. In the free version of the app, Datasoft’s action platformer Bruce Lee (1984)is provided free of charge, with three packs of three games each available as in-app purchases for 99 cents a pop. Paying 99 cents up front for the app gets you all the game packs included, along with Bruce Lee. Any self-respecting computer gamer from the 80’s will remember Bruce Lee, running and jumping through multiple screens collecting lanterns in order to open up secret doors in order to progress, all the while chased by a stick-wielding ninja and the green Sumo menace Yamo. The game packs contain such gems as Freefall’s chess-by-way-of-Tolkien Archon (1983), Epyx’s one-on-one fighting game Barbarian a.k.a. Death Sword (1988), and the original The Bard’s Tale: Tales of the Unknown (1985) by EA.
My usual landing in Infiltrator
As almost always with these things when gaming on iOS devices, the app falters slightly with the control scheme, although this is mitigated somewhat through what Elite calls their iDaptive controls. What this amounts to are contextual buttons that pop up in-game and are completely customizable by the user. You can increase their size and position, adjust transparency to see behind them, and switch from keyboard directional keys to a simulated joystick. The stick is definitely a necessity for most of the games here, in particular for action games like Bruce Lee. The ability to move controls to a more comfortable position is key to keeping things from getting too frustrating, although the low-resolution response of the joystick takes some getting used to. Even with this stilted response, I’d have to say that the controls aren’t a dealbreaker with this one. The ultimate workaround for the virtual joystick, of course, is to use ION’s iCade, a nifty mini-arcade cabinet that connects with your iPad via bluetooth and provides eight physical buttons and a solid joystick. Retro Games supports the iCade, and using this feature makes all the difference in the world when it comes to controls in the game.
iPad controls done right
There’s so much to love here. The games feel spot-on, and give one a visceral thrill to be able to play these classics on a modern mobile device. There are separate apps for both iPhone and iPad, but the latter is the best way to go, as buttons get crazily cramped on some of the games on the small screen. A much appreciated ability to save and load games at any time is another big plus.
It’s promised that 100 more games will be made available through in-app purchase, touting such pleasures as Ozark Softscape’s seminal M.U.L.E. and Archon’s sequel, Archon II: Adept. With a lineup like that, Retro Games should have the mobile classic gaming scene in its pocket.
Atari and Vancouver developer Code Mystics have dropped a metric tonne of retro joy onto the Apple App Store with Atari’s Greatest Hits, for iOS devices. The app allows you to play up to 100 classic Atari games; a few of their most famous arcade entries, but the majority of games come from the catalog of games released for the VCS/2600 home console. Only a small sampling of games are available for free, with 4-pack game downloads available for .99 cents, or you can get the whole 100 game enchilada for 15 bucks.
The app is universal, and I’d recommend playing it on the iPad, as the arcade games feature a representation of the original screen bezel, which shrinks down the playfield a bit too much on the iPhone. The games offer both landscape and profile mode, but not every one has that option to switch. The control methods on offer vary as well, and some work decidedly better than others. On the whole, however, I find the sliding controls that invariably represent dials or trackballs to be too sluggish, and their speed is not configurable. This definitely needs to be addressed by a patch to make these games workable. As for joysticks, the small virtual button that stands in for the stick is small, and I find my thumb constantly sliding off of it, or worse: pressing a different direction or multiple directions as once, deadly for games like Asteroids that put different, drastic actions like thrust or hyperspace on the up and down joystick positions. Classic video game emulation is often slagged for missing that intrinsic satisfaction that comes from holding a joystick in your hand while playing. Since precise control is sometimes the only thing going for these games, in particular those for the VCS/2600, the sluggishness on offer here is pretty close to a deal-breaker.
Sometimes the controls work, however, as evidenced by the sliders that control the paddles in PONG. But if you really want to capture that arcade feeling, the iCADE, set for release in June, will scratch that itch. Originally a clever 2010 April Fool’s joke perpetrated by Think Geek, intense user demand has actually made the crazy idea reality. Greatest Hits has support for the iCADE built right in, and makers ION will be releasing an API that will allow other games to support the mini-cabinet.
Even without the iCADE, however, Greatest Hits is a wonderful app for classic video game aficionados. They will also be jazzed about the extras that come with some games, such as game artwork, scanned colour manuals, and more. Some, however, are concerned that the package is infringing on iTune rules about apps downloading and running external code, represented by the ROM code downloaded in the game packs in order to play these classic gems. A double-standard does seem to have been set with the acceptance of Atari’s Greatest Hits into the app store. So perhaps games looking for a little nostalgia had better grab this baby fast.
Tapper is a game any denizen of early 1980’s arcades will remember fondly. It was a very successful arcade game released by Bally/Midway in 1983, featuring a bartender slinging the game’s sponsor’s suds, Budweiser, to thirsty patrons in various bar settings, from old-west saloons, to far-out space-stations. The official cabinet even featured Bud labelled pull handles as controllers. Via the obligatory outrage over a videogame peddling alcohol to the poor innocents of the local arcade, Bally/Midway pulled the game and re-tooled it as Root Beer Tapper the following year.
A remake called Tapper World Tour has just been released on the Apple app store, a version for the iPad at 1.99 CDN, and one for the iPhone at .99, although these are introductory prices so you better belly up to the bar fast. The game was developed by Square One Studios, founded by animation great Don Bluth and his long-time business partner Gary Goldman. Bluth, most famously known to video game aficionados as the man behind the artwork for the classic Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace laserdisc arcade games, also provides the artwork here.
You can always recognize the work of the great Don Bluth
The iOS version plays a bit different than the game you might remember from the arcades. Here, you get multiple lives, instead of it being a sudden-death game-ender if you screw up throwing drinks or picking up empties. Instead of using any kind of virtual joystick to move your bartender between kegs, you tap on the screen to move and then tap again to serve drinks, so this extra tapping (kind of gives a new meaning to the title, eh? Heh heh heh) to position yourself takes some getting used to. There are also power-ups you are granted for playing the campaign mode, and these can be used in-game to, for instance, make a patron automatically give a tip, which if picked up will grant you another life. Another change is that you control when the entertainment starts, used to distract the customers and give you some breathing space. Also, while distracted, these customers will grab drinks thrown them, making things a bit easier than the arcade version, where you had to be careful not to whiff one right by someone watching the floor show.
There are lots of different locations and varied characters in the campaign mode, which has you travelling the world slinging drinks to all manner of barflys. What might be even more fun though is the endless mode, where you can choose one bar from among those you’ve beaten in the campaign, and just keep serving it up to a constant, never-ending crowd that moves increasingly faster up the bar as you play. It gets wonderfully chaotic after awhile.
Bluth’s artwork and animation gives Tapper World Tour a lot of character, both literally and figuratively. It’s great to see him back in action, lending his inimitable style to a great update of a classic game. For more information on Bluth and his most famous contributions to video game history, consult your local TDE article on the laser game craze of the 1980’s here. As well, here is a video clip of the ColecoVision version of the original Root Beer Tapper, just another in a long line of great coin-op conversions done for that console. Cheers!