The Best Classic Arcade Games on the iPad

Remember when you were a kid sliding quarters into a game cabinet and looking forward to the day that you could own an arcade? That day has come. Between the individual ports of arcade classics and the compilations from major arcade developers, you can own almost any game you became addicted to at the arcade in the 80s and early 90s.

And if you buy the iCade accessory, you can turn your iPad into a game cabinet. The iCade is a dock/arcade cabinet for the iPad that comes with a joystick and buttons. Many games on this list are compatible with it.

The Best Free iPad Games

Dragon's Lair

Dragon's Lair
A poster for the 1983 laserdisc video game 'Dragon's Lair', produced by Cinematronics, with animation by Don Bluth. Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Dragon's Lair was another huge hit at the arcade. For its time, it had stunning graphics, and the embedded humor in the game made it a blast to play. But what really kept kids like me pouring quarters into it was the addicting difficulty of the game. Like most games of that era, it was built around seeing how far you could get and how long you could play, but unlike games that racked up a score, Dragon's Lair pushed you along because you wanted to see what would happen next. The only downside of this HD version is the $4.99 price tag, which is a little steep for any classic arcade game ported to the iPad. More »

Street Fighter II Collection

Street Fighter Characters
wallpaper_street_fighter_series_04_1600" (CC BY 2.0) by shanewarne_60000

When I was a kid, people lined up to play Karate Champ. It was the first fighting game to feature martial arts, and it was always a popular game. But it was Street Fighter that really set the mold for all fighting games to come and paved the way for classics like Mortal Kombat. This collection includes the original Street Fighter II, the Champion Edition and Hyper Fighting, which is Champion Edition on steroids. More »

Double Dragon Trilogy

Double Dragon arcade game cabinet
Classic arcade games at YESTERcades in Red Bank, NJ. CC BY 2.0) by goodrob13

Talk about a blast from the past! Double Dragon did a double whammy on arcades in the 80s. Not only did it take the side-scroller to the next level, it revolutionized the idea of co-op game play. Mostly, you had a choice between playing a fighting game or similar player-vs-player game or taking turns trying to hit the high score in Donkey Kong, but with Double Dragon, you got to team up with your best friend and beat the crap out of people. More »

Marvel vs Capcom 2


Who doesn't want to be Wolverine or Spiderman? OK. Let's get real. Who doesn't want to be Magneto? Marvel vs Capcom 2 was a big hit at the arcades, giving fans the ability to pick from 28 Marvel superheroes or 28 Capcom characters. The fighting game features 3-on-3 matchups, with half the characters being unlocked from the start and the others needing you to work towards unlocking them. The controls can be a little awkward at times for a game that needs a bit of precision, but if you loved this one at the arcade (or are just a big Marvel or Capcom fan), this is a good buy. More »


'Applied Design' Press Preview
Janelle Grace plays 'Pac-Man' which is one of the 14 video games that are part of the exhibiton 'Applied Designs' during the 'Applied Design' press preview at The Museum of Modern Art on March 1, 2013 in New York City. Jemal Countess / Getty Images

The idea of game addiction can probably be traced back to PAC-MAN. It was the first game to really engross people, taunting them into spending quarter after quarter to see how far they could get in the game. A relatively simple concept: a big yellow circle eats dots in a maze while dodging ghosts, occasionally turning the tables on them by eating a power-up. In many ways, it was like playing a game of rat in a maze, except you got to be the cheese. (That is my theory on why PAC-MAN is yellow.) I'd like this one to cost a little less ($2.99), or at least, provide all of the bonus mazes with the base game. But there's no stopping in-app purchases these days. (Unless, of course, you want to disable them.) More »

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was the released in 1995 as an update to Mortal Kombat 3. ultimate_mortal_kombat" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Peter-Ashley

Mortal Kombat is a game that needs no introduction. There are few games that have become so popular and are so recognizable. But despite its popularity in the arcades, the original port of this game to the iPad wouldn't make it on this list. It was a tad overpriced and had too many glitches, especially with unwieldy controls. In some games, you can work around bad controls, but in a game like Mortal Kombat, that's impossible. Luckily, EA has patched it since its release, with the latest patches fixing a lot of the initial problems. They've also reduced the price, making this one a good download for any fan of the series. More »

Golden Axe 3

Golden Axe was always one of my favorites at the arcade, but the transition to the tablet has been a little iffy at best. You can download the original Golden Axe, but the port of it leaves it with poor controls and glitchy game play. The $.99 price tag on these make them worthy of consideration for anyone who wants to walk down memory lane, but it's the third installment that will provide you with the best walking paths. More »

Midway Arcade

Spy Hunter arcade game
Classic Spy Hunter cabinet. Spy Hunter" (CC BY 2.0) by zombieite

The Midway Arcade is the only arcade developer collection with a price tag, but you do get a nice selection of games for the $1.99. The price tag includes Spy Hunter, Rampage, Joust and Defender among several others. You can also download some game packs, including a fantasy game pack that includes Gauntlet, Gauntlet II and Wizard of Wor. These were all favorites at the arcade, and with the game packs only costing $.99, they are a good deal. More »

Atari's Greatest Hits

Atari logo
By English: Atari, Inc.Tagalog: Atari, Inc.العربية: شعار أتاري، إنك. (Atari) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

While Atari's "Greatest Hits" are far from the greatest arcade games on the iPad, it would be remiss not to list the anthology. Like most of the developer compilations, the app is free and you also get Missile Command for free to check out how games will play in the app. If you don't think the controls are too bad, you can unlock either four-packs of game sets for $.99 or the entire collection of 100 games for $9.99. For true nostalgics, unlocking the entire collection is the way to go, but if you just want to get your classic Asteroids fix, getting the 4 pack might be the best way to go.

Atari's Greatest Hits is compatible with the iCade. More »

Namco Arcade

Galaga arcade game
Galaga Arcade Game by Jim & Rachel McArthur, on Flickr
"Galaga Arcade Game" (CC BY 2.0) by Jim & Rachel McArthur

The Namco Arcade contains classics like PAC-MAN, Galaga and Xevious. The game features two ways to play: buy the game machine to play all you like or buy coins. Unfortunately, you only get 10 coins for a dollar, so that quickly becomes too expensive. And the game machines are usually $2.99 , so of all the game collections, this one is the most expensive. Still, with the full-fledged Galaga game no longer working with iOS 7, this is the only way to play this particular classic.

Most of the games on this list support the iCade. More »

Activision Anthology

Pitfall game
Pitfall Harry in action. Pitfall at the Game On Exhibit by Merelymel13, on Flickr
"Pitfall at the Game On Exhibit" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Merelymel13

I've listed Activision Anthology last not because it is the worse app on this list, but because it really doesn't meet the 'arcade' criteria. The Activision compilation is of games for the Atari 2600, which is close enough that I include it here. Certainly, anyone interested in reliving their arcade past will get a kick out of getting some 2600 games as well. The anthology includes Kaboom! for free and has other activision classics like Decathlon, River Raid and (of course) Pitfall. You can buy game packs for $2.99 or the entire collection for $6.99.

Activision Anthology is compatible with iCade.

More »

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