Back in my college days, I used to have a two-hour break between classes in the afternoon, which I typically spent at the Student Union. Much to my chagrin, there almost always would be at least one student hogging the TV to watch soap operas. Lord knows how many times I've made the mistake of taking a nap within earshot of the TV and end up having weird dreams about freaking Erica and Dimitri calling each other's names over and over ... and over.
To save my sanity, I used to hit the arcades to pass the time. Unlike the big-budget arcades in town, the Student Union arcade had more frugal means so it featured a bigger selection of older games like Spy Hunter and Joust. This makes the Midway Arcade app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod a veritable blast from the past for yours truly. In addition to the aforementioned games, the Midway Arcade app also includes Arch Rivals, Rampage, Defender and RootBeer Tapper. Purchasing extra game packs also get you games such as NARC and Gauntlet. The ports themselves are recreated faithfully, which should be a plus for old-school gamers. The main interface for the game also eschews the old generic menu one typically sees in collection games, opting instead to simulate an arcade complete with arcade cabinets that you can cycle through. In addition to the arcade ports, there are areas for billiards, arcade hoops, air hockey and Skee Ball — and they all actually work. In fact, these extra games actually work better than the ports from a touchscreen standpoint, which I'll get into more a bit later. To complete the "arcade experience," every game also spits out tickets, which can be redeemed at the virtual prize counter. Personally, I think the virtual arcade approach works well and provides a sense of quality to the game, although it does slow down users a bit when they have to cycle through stuff to get to the sections they want. Overall, however, the arcade concept is implemented quite nicely.
There is one issue I do have with the app and while it isn't necessarily the developer's fault, it's a pretty big one. That would be the controls for the arcade ports, which are primarily done via a virtual joystick. Like many other arcade ports that go this route (e.g. WWE WrestleFest), the feel from the virtual joystick really doesn't come close to that of a physical joystick and this really affects the fun factor for the ports. When playing Arch Rivals, for example, stealing the ball and blocking shots is much harder compared to the actual arcade experience because accurately positioning your character with the virtual joystick is tough, especially on a smaller screen such as the iPhone's. This is a universal issue pretty much for any port that requires quick positioning for you to do well.
Controls are not as big of an issue for the bonus games or non-ports, which have been designed as touch games from the ground up. The touch and swipe mechanics for arcade hoops and air hockey will feel familiar to anyone who has played variations of these games on a touchscreen smartphone or tablet. Billiards use a rubberband-like snap back and release mechanic. The Skee Ball game uses simple swipes, though I was pleasantly surprised that my old trick in real life of rebounding a ball off the side to get it in the slot with the highest point actually still works.
Overall, the Midway Arcade app is a well-done and nicely polished effort that provides great value for its 99-cent price tag. The virtual joystick issue will likely be the biggest sticking point for folks who want precise controls, so it would be nice if they at least patch the app with iCade support so people who own the iPad compatible mini-arcade cabinet can at least use it to improve their gaming experience. On the whole, however, it's an outstanding example of an arcade port done right.
UPDATE: The app was updated on April 19, 2012 to support the iCade peripheral.
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