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Home » iPhone, Retrogaming, Technology

Retrogaming on the iPhone?

By: 5 January 2011 One Comment

Believe it or not, there are plenty of apps out there for the iPhone for those of us who were around when video games were the latest thing.

Yes, there was a time when we were perfectly happy with games that seem ridiculously crude by today’s standards — Mattel handhelds in which we simulated football games by moving a LED blip around a screen and those Atari 2600 games that were as small as two kilobytes in length.

Technology has progressed considerably over the years, but those old games still have their fans. As odd as it may seem to use an iPhone (or any snazzy smartphone) for retrogaming, there are plenty of applications out there that allow for just that.

Yes, there are some of those odd “remixes” that take classic video game characters and drop them in a confusing (yet often oddly boring) 3D environment. We’re not talking about those games, however. We’re talking about games that either look a heck of a lot like the originals or play so similarly that the refreshed graphics are a nice addition rather than a gaudy distraction.

A lot of those games are available for free, too, so check out a few of the following worthy titles — they’re some of the best iPhone apps out there for classic gaming fans.

AirFox Lite

Just have a look at the screen shot at the top of this post. Look familiar? If you grew up with Activision’s River Raid for the Atari 2600, Air Fox Lite should look very familiar, indeed.

The game is, in fact, a complete knock off of the beloved Atari game and it’s every bit as fun. You’ve got the same annoying obstacles that are far too difficult to miss, a jet that burns fuel like it’s got a hole in the tank and must be refilled constantly through cleverly placed “fuel dumps” and pretty much everything else that River Raid did.

While AirFox Lite looks a lot like the original and the game play is the same, the control scheme is more intuitive on the iPhone. Rather than trying to emulate a joystick, the programmers wisely put in a system through which the player tilts the iPhone to move the jet around and taps the screen to fire at those rascally enemies. This game, in short, is a great vertical shooter that’s great to pick up and play for a few minutes or cuss at for an hour or two.

There’s a full version of the game available for 99 cents, but the free version ought to be more than good enough for people. Download AirFox Lite here.

Whatever happened to Pong?

Pong is universally recognized as the granddaddy of arcade machines, meaning you can thank — or blame — that title for convincing people the video game industry might be a viable one after all. Pong has been with us in one form or another for years and — to partially answer Frank Black’s musical question — there’s a great, updated version of it available for the iPhone called Touch Tennis: FS5 (free).

The graphics are a bit better and it’s possible to play over a network against other iPhone users, but Pong is still Pong no matter what updates the game receives. You’re still batting a blip back and forth in a very simplified version of tennis — games that expand on that concept even a bit become something other than Pong (such as a full-fledged tennis game).

The free version of the game annoys the player with ads that stay on the screen for too long, but the full one removes the ads. That, really, is the difference between the two versions. Grab the free version of Touch Tennis: FS5 here.

Whacksy Taxi

Go ahead and take a look at that screen shot. Just look at it. Whacksy Taxi looks great, but its lineage is unmistakable. It plays a lot like an updated version of Mattel’s Auto Race, which was a handheld game released way on back in 1977 and stands as the first fully digital game.

Auto Race put the player in control of a blip that was supposed to be a race car (we had to use our imagination back then). The player could control two things — which of the three lanes the car was traveling in at any given time and the speed of the vehicle. The goal, of course, was to go as fast as possible while avoiding other blips streaking toward the race car.

Whacksy Taxi expands on that concept with some great graphics in that you actually control something that looks like a car and avoid other vehicles. There’s even a nice skyline in the background, a great illusion of speed and other touches that help disguise the fact that this game is, at it’s core, Auto Race.

Auto Race.

Granted, Whacksy Taxi adds some features that were technically impossible in Auto Race. Those bells and whistles are very good at doing something that a lot of people updating classic games can’t do — expanding on a great title rather than obscuring what made the game so much fun in the first place. For example, the player can jump over cars rather than just steer around them, grab power-ups that allow for things such as a faster speed and drive a vehicle that takes damage rather than exploding as soon as a collision occurs.

Yes, the user is required to put up with banner ads, but that’s a small price to play for a game that puts a new spin or two on a classic title without ruining the game. I played the heck out of Auto Race back when I received the game for my eighth birthday and have logged quite a bit of time on Wacksy Taxi, too. It plays like the game I grew up with but it considerably better.

Want a copy? Sure you do. Click here for your own copy of Whacksy Taxi and go nuts.

That does it for this week’s rundown of iPhone apps. Stop by next week to read about some more.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =

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