Midway arcade midway between nostalgia and fun

Spoiler alert! If you’re going to get Midway Arcade, get it while it’s still on sale for a dollar. If you really like Arcade games, and don’t mind the small touchscreen play, it has potential. When they improve game controls it could be fun. But for now it will be an investment in potential. Three stars.


I was never a fan of arcades, so I admit that colors my perception of arcade gaming. By the time Pac Man and Donkey Kong appeared I was working for a living and I couldn’t afford more than two or three plays at a time. Not if I wanted my cigarettes and beer. Oh, yes, and to pay my rent.

I knew from watching the children of privilege pumping dozens of quarters into the machines that it would take a significant investment to get good. The most excitement I could muster was bitter resentment that my own dad would have coughed up a couple of quarters only if….Well, he wouldn’t. He would, however, remind me how hard he worked and how little he appreciated it.

The arcades of my childhood didn’t have video games with explosions, flashing lights and little Mario brothers dodging certain doom. We had wackamole and pinball. And my dad still wouldn’t cough up quarters for me to pay.

I took a job as a carhop at Sonic, scrubbing down the walls of the trash house for fifty cents an hour. It was character building work. Unfortunately, I had no character to build so the experience was wasted on me. Everyone said the real money was in tips, but I worked in a college town where the tips tended to be “don’t expect a tip from a guy like me.”

By comparison, I loved my first Pong and Atari home units. I could play Space Invaders for hours and spin around race tracks until four in the morning. But that was because I didn’t have to pay every time I played. Only now do I realize how much like my father I’d become. (Except he wouldn’t have bought the game console; he would have simply expounded on the values of thrift).

Still, I thought it might be fun to download Midway Arcade to see if the arcade experience could transfer to the iPad. To their credit, the developers try. They do a pretty good job of recreating the arcade ambiance on the iPad’s small screen. Players wander through the arcade stopping at games, playing until their interest wanes and moving onto others.

Midway Arcade does a great job of recreating the arcade atmosphere. If they weren’t flat on a digital display, you might think they were the real item.

The arcade graphics are exceptional. The models and rendering give the items a sense of reality that comes as close as you could expect on an iPad. I don’t know how well this will translate to the Retina displays of the upcoming iPad 3, but it looks damned good on the earlier models.

The developers include a handful of classic games as well as electronic games, including pool, air hockey and hoops. The graphics on the video consoles look just like the graphics I remember from classic games such as Joust, Rampage and Spy Hunter. You can even redeem tickets earned for stuffed animals and skate boards (digital of course). If you find yourself getting into the arcade experience you can add additional game consoles for a dollar.

The traditional games, such as air hockey and roll ball, actually play better than the send ups of the electronic games. I spent far more time playing them.

Game play itself is far from realistic. The virtual touch controls don’t seem nearly as responsive as the console joysticks and buttons. I found it far too easy to slide my finger off the joystick icon and into the field of play. The air hockey, basketball and roll ball booths are far easier to play and the interface for pool is odd but workable.

The games recreate the arcade versions down to the pixelation so common on early arcade games. Controls are less responsive than the console joysticks.

The game also crashes frequently during the initial load, at least on the older models like mine. But once I got the game up and running it seemed relatively stable.

Playing vintage games, however, was a let down and not just because of the funky controls. There are simply too many better games available for the iPad. Better games with better challenges and far better graphics. Many of these games are thirty years old and they play like it. Midway Arcade is far better than the Atari vintage app released last year, but nostalgia has its limits.

Jenny Manytoes rates Midway Arcade

Jenny Manytoes would take a nap next to Midway Arcade. The interface is gorgeous but game play merely average. If you really love those old games, this is well worth the price of download. But most players will spend more time with newer games.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.
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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 3 Stars - nap, Arcade Games, Entertainment, Games, In-App Purchases and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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