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ION iCade Arcade Cabinet for iPad/iPhone

I’ve always wanted to have a full-sized arcade cabinet in my house.  I had dreams of building a MAME cabinet with thousands of games but that never happened.  The iCade is small enough to easily put away and also make a nice iPad dock.  This device might seem a bit on the gimmicky side at first like the Joystick-IT Arcade iPad Stick.  Who can blame, when the iCade started off as an April Fool’s joke on ThinkGeek.  Then ION said, “Hey, this isn’t such a bad idea at all!”

I saw it on sale at my local Best Buy for $79.99 and figured it was the right price to buy it at.  I heard you can get them for $49.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond (of all places) when they were liquidating it.

The iCade is essentially a few pieces of MDF board with some arcade controls and a bluetooth board.  Fortunately, I am old enough to remember putting quarters into arcade machines.  I’ve also had the opportunity to build my own arcade sticks so I can assess the quality of components.  To the untrained eye, the sticks and buttons look like arcade quality.  But in reality, they’re not.  But let me just say that they aren’t that bad.  For someone who has never played on a real arcade machine these will do.  They look and sound like arcade controls.  But they just don’t feel right.  If you’re an arcade stick snob, then these will sub-par in your books.  They’ll never compare to the Madcatz/Hori tournament/Pro sticks.

The iCade is a simple contraption and uses 2 included AA batteries.  It measures in at about 16″ (H) x 10″ (W) x 10.5″ (D).  After putting it together you place your iPad onto the cradle.  The mount has a hole so you can snake through a dock connector to charge it will it’s on the cradle.  On the cradle the iPad can only sit vertically.  However, some games will require the iPad to be horizontal.  In those cases, the iPad just sits on the ledge just in front of the buttons.  It feels very solid and doesn’t move around when you’re mashing away at the buttons.

You pair it to your iPad/iPhone like any bluetooth device.  The instructions are quite simple.  The joystick and buttons each represent a numeric value so you can use it to punch in the passcode.

Most of the arcade sticks I’ve built use Sanwa or Seimitsu parts.  These are neither.  They appear to be 24mm Yenox buttons with Zippy microswitches.  Putting some Cherry microswitches in will be an improvement on the stock ones.  I find I have to push very hard on the buttons and the stick seems to have a lot of dead zone.  The springs in the buttons seem very stiff, which is a good or bad thing.  Depends if you’re heavy handed or like to just feather the buttons.  If you’re really hung up on it, you can mod them of course.  Probably have to resize the holes to fit some Sanwa buttons.

I replaced all the black Zippy switches with some white Cherry ones I had kicking around and they made a world of a difference.  There wasn’t a whole lot of effort since the Cherry switches are the same size except better quality.  Just unplug the old wiring plug them into the new switches.  I didn’t bother to replace the joystick yet but I heard it uses the same mounting holes as the Sanwa JLF-TP-8Y.  Maybe next time.

The stock buttons (white) are slight shorter then the Happ buttons (yellow) so you wouldn’t be able to close the case if you swapped them.  But the shorter Sanwa’s should work but will require some resizing of the holes and desoldering.  I like to go the path of least resistance.  Like I mentioned, the springs inside the buttons are stiff…. I might get some of the springs from the HAPP buttons and stick them in the stock ones so they aren’t so hard to press.


If you’re an experting at putting together Ikea furniture, this should be a breeze.  I was able to put it together in about 15 mins.  The included allen key and instructions were very helpful.

The iCade officially works with some games from the App store.  As long as the game supports some sort of bluetooth device, you should be golden.  Where it shines is with emulators like iMame4All, SNES EX, NES.EMU, and PCE.EMU.  You have to jailbreak your iPad to get them.  Some of my favourite modern day games from the App store with native iCade support are Super Crossfire HD, AirAttack HD, Frogger Decades, Phoenix HD, EnbornX, Shogun, Ice Rage and Sideways Racing.  There are many more and iCade support is added everyday.  For games that use touch controls like SF4, NBA Jam, you have to install Blutrol from Cydia.  It lets you remap the onscreen controls to work with the iCade.  Although it’s a viable option, I’m not a fan of using Blutrol.  I just hope official support gets added to these games.

The iCade is dying for some mods.  Custom paint job or decals, button and stick replacements are all within reach to the average modder.  You can even make the cabinet out of your favourite wood if you so desire if the MDF isn’t lathering you up.   One thing to note when disassembling the iCade, there are 2 annoying security torx screws that they throw in there to make it harder for you to open up.  Be sure to google “How to remove security torx screws”. 🙂

I love my iCade.  I have to say it’s the single best accessory I ever bought for my iPad next to a case.  At first I thought it was like some useless wiimote accessory.  This one actually makes playing some games on the iPad enjoyable.  It’s a hit with the little ones and my friends when they come over.  Even with it’s lower quality arcade parts, it’s still a keeper.  They have to keep the unit at an affordable price so I can live with it.  They aren’t that bad and if you’re that hardcore to notice the difference between the included buttons and higher quality Sanwa’s, you probably have the skills to replace them.  And frankly, some of the arcade machines I use to play with had crap buttons too.  Gummy joysticks and buttons and covered in guck.  I doubt the arcades would waste money on the higher quality parts anyways.  So some of them also used Yenox or Happ controls.  So you can sort of say the iCade is authentic 🙂

For the un-nostalgic folks or kids born after Y2K, the $99 price tag is outrageous, but for those that grew up in an era where arcades ruled the earth it’s a deal.


Coming soon…

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