Classic arcade games for iOS

This week's collection of apps for iOS devices is made up of games that send you right back to the classic arcade era.

Back in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, one of the favorite destinations for kids after school and on weekends was the local video arcade. Many readers will probably remember changing dollars for tokens, stacking up tokens and quarters on machines to indicate you "had next," and how quickly you could blow your money by playing game after game. Sadly, arcades slowly died out as home gaming consoles improved and stand-up arcade cabinets--for the most part--became a thing of the past.

When iOS devices and the iTunes App Store came along years later, the developers of those old games (and savvy third-party outfits) realized our old favorite arcade classics could be adapted to play on the iPhone touch screen. Soon, several of the classics started turning up in the App Store and became a big hit among both young gamers and somewhat older "kids" who remembered what it was like to have a pocket full of quarters and repeatedly smash a fire button.

This week's collection of apps for iOS devices is made up of games that send you right back to the classic arcade era. The controls aren't always perfect on the touch screen, but seeing your old favorites and playing through the tough levels still offers plenty of challenge--along with a healthy dose of nostalgia.

Skee Ball

Swipe your finger to throw a ball down the alley. Swipe several times for 'rapid-fire' throws as an added challenge.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Skee-Ball (99 cents) is just like the bowling game you remember from your childhood, but you use your touch screen to throw the ball down the alley.

Using crisp 3D graphics and a realistic physics engine, this game manages to capture what it's like to play Skee-Ball in an arcade. For each game you get 10 balls that you attempt to make land in one of the seven cups of varying score values.

The controls for the game couldn't be easier. Once the game begins, you simply swipe your finger to send a ball down the alley while you try to aim for higher-scoring cups. But even once the ball leaves your hand, you can tilt your iPhone to add spin and guide the ball to the goal. Random cups will light up and if you manage to land a ball in the cup you get a score multiplier, which lasts until the end of the game. Hit another lit-up cup to increase your multiplier. At the end, you receive tickets--depending on your score--that you can use to purchase silly items in the game's store.

Overall, this simple game is a great time waster that doesn't require expert hand-eye coordination, but manages to be a lot of fun and nostalgic for those who experienced the old-school arcades.


Atari's Greatest Hits (free) lets you relive the early history of video gaming, giving you tons of old-school arcade and Atari 2600 hits on your iPhone. But it's not without flaws. Games like the original Asteroids, Tempest, Gravitar, Crystal Castles, and many more are available via in-app purchases packaged with their associated Atari 2600 games and some extras. In other words, the Atari Greatest Hits app itself is free, but if you want to play Tempest, for example, you'll need to buy the Tempest pack (99 cents), which comes with Tempest, Tempest for Atari 2600, Outlaw (2600), and Video Cube (2600). You also have the option to buy all the packs in one shot for $14.99, giving you more than 100 old-school games.

Atari Greatest Hits

It's great to see the sights and hear the sounds of Tempest, but the controls are not perfect.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Upon the first launch of an old favorite, you're bound to be excited to see the same graphics and hear the same sounds you may remember from the classic days of gaming, but once you start playing, that initial excitement will probably wear off quickly.

The problem with playing these old games on the iPhone is the small screen size and limited control schemes for each game. As an example, Tempest, which was played with a spinnable knob and a fire button in the stand-up version, is controlled using a vertical slider on the left side of the screen and a fire button on the right. Even after a few plays, we were never able to get the slider to move the way we wanted it to, forcing us to try over and over to move around the board on levels we used to be able to beat easily in the original. Unfortunately, most of these classic games share similar issues.

Overall, Atari's Greatest Hits offers somewhat stunted iPhone versions of the old classics, along with several Atari 2600 titles. Sadly, after playing these old greats the new way, you might find your rose-colored nostalgia tainted. Certainly, some of the more popular titles like Adventure, Combat, and other Atari 2600 hits will be fun to play a couple of times, but for the most part, the control schemes and dated games provide more nostalgia than actual lasting entertainment. We should note that the games are much easier to play on the iPad than on the iPhone, so if you have a choice, choose the iPad version.


Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (99 cents) for iPhone and iPad brings the legendarily gory and addictive fighting game to iOS, and it mostly hits the mark with only a couple of problems. What was formerly a smash-hit (and somewhat controversial) arcade game received a complete face-lift for the iPhone version. Gone are the stop-motion character animations from the original arcade game, replaced with beautiful 3D animations that recreate all your favorite characters' fighting moves. For the most part, this game looks and plays great, as long as you can get past the limited character set and the lack of tactile controls.

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

The graphics look great on both the iPhone 4 Retina display and the iPad.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 lets you choose from nine characters, with two you can unlock by beating the game twice in the Arcade mode on different skill levels. The characters included work well, but characters with more complex animation requirements (like Cyrax and Kabal) were not included in the iOS version of the game. Hopefully EA will add these characters in later versions of the game, but perhaps EA is waiting for a future, more powerful iOS device.

Even without the remaining characters, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is a great game. The control system provides a directional pad on the left and punch, kick, run, and block buttons on the right. What's interesting here is you can use the original six-button layout from the arcade version or you can use a modified control system that saves you from the difficult joystick motions required for some of the more complex fighting moves. (Instead of a complex set of commands, you simply hit the Special Attack button and a direction to use a character's signature moves.) While Mortal Kombat purists might initially think this makes the game too easy, we appreciated not having to remember the complex moves and just seeing the cool results.

The Mortal Kombat franchise has always been controversial for its violent "Fatality" moves, and you'll get to do them all in the iOS version. Along with the modified control system, you also can pause the game at any time to see a list of moves and special attacks for your character, as well as Fatality moves, Babalities, and Friendship. Again, some fans of the original game may think this makes the special moves too easy, but fight game novices will appreciate being able to jump right into the game and use every advantage at their disposal.

You get a few game modes to play: Arcade, Survival, and Local Multiplayer. The Arcade mode challenges you to fight your way to the top of a group of random opponents with four different difficulty levels adding extra challenge along with more opponents to fight through at harder difficulties. Survival lets you take on an endless stream of opponents to see how long you can last with one character. Local Multiplayer lets you play against a friend over a shared Wi-Fi connection. There is no online multiplayer at this time, but perhaps that is another feature that will come in later versions. There is the option to play two players head-to-head on the iPad, but an online or local network variation would be a lot better.

Overall, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is a beautiful game and plenty of fun in spite of its various issues. If you are a fan of the franchise, you will enjoy being able to bring the game with you on your iOS device, and the graphics look great on both the iPhone and iPad. It's important to note that this game is probably not for kids; it has a high level of animated violence and some pretty gruesome finishing moves.

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