10 Great Retro Games for iPhones and iPads

October 8th, 2010

Many of the best-loved handheld, video, and arcade games are defiantly old school. Indeed, there’s something timeless about games like Pong, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong, which today have found new life on iPhones and iPads as downloadable apps. Everyone from 30-something guys with fond memories of their first Nintendo NES to kids who’ve never even heard of Nolan Bushnell (he gave Pong its start) have taken to loading these retro games of the 1970s onto a new generation of electronic devices. We look at 10 such games, from before the 8-bit era and beyond.

1. Bat & Ball Retro (Pong, 1972)

LED Football (right) is the App version of Mattel's Football I (left) from the 1970s.

LED Football (right) is the App version of Mattel’s Football I (left) from the 1970s.

Some of the most popular games for the iPhone and iPad are imitations of the first video game, Atari’s Pong. A simple one that I enjoyed is Bat & Ball Retro. It maintains the elegant design and simplicity of Pong—the idea is to hit the ball with your paddle—while also adding a few variations, from tennis to football (known as soccer to Americans) to squash. $0.99

2. Pocket Mate Baseball (Pocketmate Baseball, 1975)

One application that does a good job of mimicking its handheld predecessor is Murata Software Service Co., LTD’s Pocket Mate Baseball. The Japanese company Tomy began making Pocketmate games (named because they were small enough to fit in your pocket) in 1975—the first product in the series was its classic baseball game. In the handheld, you used a spring launcher to shoot a metal ball onto a playing field. Murata’s version of the game looks identical to the original, although it’s on a flat screen with a scrolling digital spring. $0.99

3. LED Football (Mattel’s Football I, 1978)

Made by touchGrove, LLC and based on Mattel’s 1978 Football 1 game, LED Football is an almost-identical replica, both in design and game play, of its ancient, handheld counterpart. As in Football 1, LED Football allows the player to control a tiny light on an electronic field, the object being to avoid other lights en route to the end zone. While LED Football doesn’t quite match the tactile experience of holding Football 1 in your own hands, it does capture the handheld’s football feel. $0.99

4. Radiant (Galaxian, 1979)

Radiant is a variation on Galaxian for the iPhone and iPad.

Radiant is a variation on Galaxian for the iPhone and iPad.

An iTunes game that successfully riffs on its arcade roots is Radiant, which is, in essence, Galaxian or Galaga, outer space shooter games played on a joystick. Galaxian and Galaga, themselves updates of Space Invaders from 1978, were made by the Japanese company Namco. Among its other achievements, Galaxian was the first arcade game to use full color graphics.

This time around, Namco has been selective in its updates. For example, Radiant retains the same basic user interface as Galaxian or Galaga (which was the second-gen version of Galaxian), but it adds a storyline and new graphics that make it stand apart from its forebears. Still, as someone who went through an obsessed-with-Galaga stage, I got a kick out of playing Radiant. $0.99

5. Pac-Man (1980)

Another Namco favorite, Pac-Man, the app, is nearly identical to its arcade source. While many contemporary game apps try to modernize themselves with 21st-century graphics, Pac-Man stays true to its simplistic roots. The only drawback is that it’s quite expensive compared to other game apps, but like the arcade version released in 1980, it remains equally addictive, so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. $4.99

6. Frogger (1981)

Frogger, for the iPhone.

Frogger, for the iPhone.

Frogger was first introduced by Japanese gaming company Komani in 1981 and has long been one of the classic arcade games. In 2008, Komani released Frogger for the iPhone and has since updated this popular application.

While the object of the game—get the frogs to their homes without being run over by cars or falling into other hazards—remains the same, the graphics in the app version of the game are way better than the original. That’s to be expected, I suppose, but because Frogger the app is produced by the same company that made Frogger the game, the new version retains much of its gaming integrity. $0.99

7. Monkey Kong (Donkey Kong, 1981)

Made by a developer named Mikael Petersson, Monkey Kong is a fun take on Donkey Kong, the early-80s Coleco game. Coleco caught a huge break when Donkey Kong on handhelds and console games took off after the company signed an agreement with Nintendo. Because of DK’s popularity, in about 1982 Coleco was able to release its own gaming system, the Colecovision, to feed the appetite of fans hungry for the big monkey.

In the app version of the game, you must avoid barrels thrown by the Monkey and climb ladders to stop Kong from running rampant in New York City. The game has a strong retro feel to it because Petersson gave his creation an 8-bit-style theme, so you’ll feel like you’re back in the ’80s when you play it. $0.99

8. Dig Dug Remix (Dig Dug, 1982)

The object of Dig Dug Remix is kill or be killed.

The object of Dig Dug Remix is kill or be killed.

This app version of Dig Dug Remix has something for both purists and game geeks alike. Made by Namco, which packaged the game with Galaga in 1982 and licensed its release outside of Japan to Atari, Dig Dug Remix allows you to play the original arcade version of the game as well as one with new features. The goal of the game is still to destroy two types of underground monsters. Like in Pac-Man, the protagonist, Dig Dug, must avoid the monsters, which are out to kill him. Dig Dug can fight back by dropping stones on its enemies or inflating them until they explode. $2.99

9. Duck Hunt (1984)

Another retro game that has found its way into Apple’s App Store is Duck Hunt, which was originally a Nintendo game that came packaged with Super Mario Bros. and Gyromite in the mid-1980s. The app version of the game is less awesome than the original since you don’t get to use the big gun like you did on the Nintendo, but as with most app versions of handhelds, the tinny 8-bit-era musical score captures the sounds of the good old days perfectly. $1.99

10. Street Fighter IV (Street Fighter, 1987)

Street Fighter IV is a long way from Pong.

Street Fighter IV is a long way from Pong.

This game is incredibly entertaining, though it’s far more advanced than the original 1987 arcade game released by Capcom, which is also responsible for its iPhone and iPad version. Street Fighter has gone through numerous permutations over the years, the most popular being the 1991 Street Fighter II series. The great original characters Ryu and Ken remain in the app, but also added are new fighters E. Honda and C. Viper. As you play the app, it’s clear that this is still Street Fighter, but it’s a Street Fighter on steroids (if that’s not redundant), with better graphics and more challenging and intense gameplay. $9.99

One comment so far

  1. Dave Says:

    Check out this excellent YouTube Video of a guy going nuts over one of these (Mattell Electronic Football): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkC5zfHjrlE

    I had one when they first came out, in 1977, and took it everywhere, played it everywhere. I remember long road trips where I did nothing but play this game, driving everyone around me crazy with the bleeping sounds. It was so cool. Then at some point it broke, and I didnt think about it for 30 years. Last week, I saw one on eBay, and got it. I’ve been playing it at night… my brain still remembers all the moves. Althought I think the keys on this one are a little stickier than the one I had back in the 70s! Either that or I’ve lost a step…

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