ion iCade iPad arcade cabinet hands-on

Already available in the US via ThinkGeek, the iCade arcade cabinet for iPad that started out as an April Fools' joke a couple of years back is on its way to the UK shortly. And Pocket-lint got to play with one on this side of the pond for the very first time at the Currys and PC World Christmas in July event in London.

The first impression of the ion iCade is that it's actually a lot bigger than you imagine from the press shots. Remember, it needs to solidly hold an iPad or iPad 2, so if you take the size of one of Apple's tablet devices into account you can see from the pics that the cabinet is a good foot and a bit high. It's also a lot more robust than we expected, made of solid wood and extremely sturdy. This is no cheap tat.

And that also applies to the joystick and arcade style buttons, they're exactly as you'd expect on a full-size retro machine, and they respond very well with the action on screen.

In fact, too well at times.

The test game on show at the event was the Atari classic Pong which, to be honest, was extremely difficult to play. The joystick was perhaps too responsive, and the on-screen graphical paddles a little too small. At least it's a challenge though, and one that we're sure will leave you feeling very smug if you manage to rise to it. For us, for now, we were just happy to return the block-like ball the once.

The iCade also currently works with a stack more Atari games - available through the Atari's Greatest Hits emulator app downloadable from the App Store. It offers Missile Command for free and 100 games in total, which can be bought through in-app purchases, and should keep you going until more games are launched or modified by the original developers.

Unfortunately, it can't just work with any game as there needs to be code implemented in the app to recognise the joystick and button configurations. Also, the screen of the housed iPad can only be ranged vertically (portrait) so that rules out certain games, such as Super Street Fighter II as it requires you to hold the device horizontally.

However, for those of the right orientation, ion offers a developers resource for download and Stuart Carnie of Manomio Software (the developer of the official Commodore 64 emulator for iPhone) has posted an open source iCade SDK for free to anyone who wants to add support to their games, retro or otherwise.

Certainly, from our hands-on with the £80 iCade, we hope that there's mass adoption. It is the first thing we've seen at a Christmas in July that we truly covet, and, even from short play time, it's a stunning way for those of us of a certain age to feel like we're in a kebab shop again, armed with a stack of 10p pieces and bedecked in our finest Tacchini Dallas tracksuits.

Actually, come to think of it, that's what we were doing last Thursday night.

What do you think? What game would you like to see work with the iCade? Let us know in the comments below...