Five iPhone app game blasts from the ‘80s arcades past

Jan 4, 2010

The PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii all have a lot of nostalgia going for them. Even Microsoft’s Xbox has lots of classic titles available for download from its online store. Over time, the iPhone has proven itself to be no slouch in the technical powerhouse department, and it’s perfectly suited to easily recreate some of the most cutting edge and fondly remembered arcade hits from the ’80s.

The recently released Dragon’s Lair ($4.99) faithfully reproduces the 1983 hit that caused a big splash in its heyday. A bargain when you consider that it cost 50 cents to play in the arcades, Dragon’s Lair is just as frustrating today as it was then. You control Dirk the Daring, a reluctant and easily-rattled knight trying to rescue Princess Daphne from the evil dragon, Singe. Only, you control him in the loosest terms imaginable: The beautifully animated action onscreen merely prompts you react in the clutch, dodging tons of booby traps and enemies that unexpectedly emerge out of no where. It isn’t a matter of hitting the direction when prompted, either—it’s the timing. Fortunately, the biggest irritation here is the load screen to try again, not sinking another 50 cents to try again.

Just as frustrating and addictive is 1984’s Paperboy ($4.99). Once again, you must chuck newspapers at your customers’ houses while dodging such common suburban obstacles such as radio-controlled cars, tombstones on the front yard, and eternally break-dancing neighbors. You can opt for three different control styles and a gussied up (but actually uglier) 3-D mode, though loyalists will stick to the classic look and controls.

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Pac-Man Championship Edition ($2.99) is the latest in a long line of tributes to the 1980 pill-popping franchise that spawned a novelty song and a prominent mention in the The King Of Kong documentary, only this one was done under the supervision of Toru Iwatani for an Xbox 360 re-imagining in 2007. Nearly 30 years later, a ton of new life has been injected into the old girl: The game has been made considerably more challenging by making the game speed up when your score climbs higher, Pac-Man now spawns where he died, and there’s a wide variety of missions rather than the standard eat-all-the-pills mode.

Also out of 1980 and making its way to the iPhone is Centipede ($4.99). Unlike Pac-Man’s update, Centipede remains faithful almost to a fault—that means if it never appealed to you in the first place, it certainly won’t now. Scads of insects and other creepy crawlies advance from above while your puny ship must make mincemeat of them with your laser. There are tons of power-ups to collect to aid in you quest, which are touted as the game’s biggest revisions, but are hardly game-changing tweaks.

Star*Burst ($1.99), the spiritual sequel to 1989’s Klax, was one of the most underrated Tetris also-rans that actually could stand up to scrutiny. Substitute Tetris’ blocky pieces for individually colored blocks that must be lined up vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, and that is Klax and Star*Burst at its very core. Only, the blocks must be flipped to the bottom of the screen in Klax; the opposite holds true in Star*Burst, probably to better suit the iPhone. While it isn’t ideal for the touch screen—your cursor can accidentally slide just to the left or right of where you want it to be—the game’s difficulty hasn’t been sacrificed in the noticeably shorter levels. It’s just another reason to still be paying attention to all these games 30 years later.

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David Wolinsky

David Wolinsky is the Chicago city editor for The Onion's A.V. Club and is also the  undisputed 1994 Blockbuster store champion at collecting bananas in Donkey Kong Country.

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