iiRcade: Classic Arcade Gaming with an app store!

Like many people in Gen-X, I've always wanted a real life video arcade cabinet of my very own. Something to play the classics like Ms. Pac Man, Commando, Double Dragon, Contra, Dig Dug, Q-Bert, Frogger, and of course, the ever popular Dragon's Lair. Certainly over the past 20 years or so this has become possible with MAME cabinets available on eBay and these days, even on Amazon, but here's the problem, and it's several fold: 

  1. Most of these cabinets cost upwards of a grand or more (before shipping) to get them the way you want them, unless you've got the technical know-how to build one yourself. 
  2. Quite frankly, half the ROMs you get on these things are illegal. Others exist in the gray area of, "They probably won't come after us for it, so screw it," and I am, generally speaking, against piracy. 
  3. See #1. With a MAME cabinet, even (and especially) one built with a Raspberry Pi, you need a degree of technical aptitude to upload and add new ROMs to your machine. 
Certainly for me parts 1 and 3 can be overcome. I know enough about electronics to be dangerous, and could very likely (and quickly) get to the point where with the help of some expert friends, put together a machine. That would cost far less than $1,000...until one considers the literal HOURS and HOURS of labor it would take to put the thing together. 

More recently, Arcade 1UP cabinets have arrived on the scene. I won't lie; these have been very attractive to my eye and one or more of them still might make their way into my collection. 

Enter, however, the iiRcade, which bills itself as "Immersive Arcade Gaming Reinvented for Your Home." This puppy Kickstarted last year, raising a whopping $660,413 of a $50,000 goal. With something as highly technical as this, I'd almost never go in on it because there was way too much that could go wrong. But honestly, the promise of the product won me over, and I took the plunge. 

Boy, I'm glad I did. 

There were some major headaches at the tail end of the Kickstarter, to be sure, and I'll get to them in a minute, but in the end they pale next to the final product. Let's dive in and take a look, but first, here's my shiny new iiRcade cabinet: 

Yes, this is the actual cabinet in my home


What Is the iiRcade?

The iiRcade is, as it advertises, an attempt to revolutionize the experience of classic gaming. It's a full-on classic arcade console which comes with 11 games pre-loaded. These include Dragon's Lair, Double Dragon, Beach Buggy Racing, Bomb Squad, Diver Boy, Maniac Square, Gunbird, Twin Brats, Dragon Master, Fancy World: Earth of Crisis, and Snowboard Championship. 

The company has nearly 300 other games officially licensed for the cabinet, which you can buy via their app store at prices ranging from $2.99 to $14.99, depending on the game. They have licensed to provide games from the classic ColecoVision console as well as arrived at a license to bring a bunch of classic Sega games to market (I'm holding my breath for Shinobi, personally). Right now, the selection of "legendary" classic games is slim, but there are a TON of great and fun arcade games from adventure games to platformers, shooters, fighting games, sports games, and more all available. 

How this all works is, your arcade cabinet actually connects to your home wifi network. You then create an account via the company's app, or just through their web store, and you log into the same account through the cabinet. It's a fairly clean process, but could do with a few improvements. We'll dig into the specifics later. 

Unlike most MAME cabinets, the iiRcade store allows you to buy a lot of new games with high-end modern graphics and play, many of which have never seen release on a stand-up arcade cabinet form factor before. 

So basically, the iiRcade combines the form and playability of a traditional arcade cabinet with the fun and flexibility of a modern console all in one. 

Appearance

As you can see in the photo above, my cabinet has Dragon's Lair graphics all over it, but that's not your only option. A "Black Edition" with Double Dragon graphics that you apply yourself is also available, and the company has mentioned the idea of custom graphics for that one. There are already third party vendors offering these. Finally, the standard 64 GB edition (both of the others are 128 GB) comes with standard generic iiR-branded graphics, but man, it looks really sharp on its own. 


Dimensions

It should be mentioned that it also comes in two varieties: the basic machine is a bartop console. On the cabinet in the photo above, this consists of everything from the joysticks to the top. It measures about 20" (w) X 21.5" (d) X 24" (h), and weighs approx. 40lbs. I hesitate to call it "portable," but it's a good option if you don't have room for a full riser in your home. The other option, seen above, is to add a riser to it which turns the bartop into a full stand-up cabinet. The stand measures about 20" (w) x 17.6" (d) x  37" (h), and weighs approx. 42lbs. The final measurements with the full cabinet reach 20" (w) X 21.5" (d) X 61" (h). 

You can see all the varieties available for pre-order here.

What's nice about this is that it's not an either-or affair. You can pop the bartop off of the stand any tie you like to change the form factor, and it's literally as easy as lifting it off (there are hand-bolts that you can optionally stick in there to secure it better, which I recommend, but even then it's a simple few twists to remove them, then pop it right off). 

Bartop only form factor with standard graphics. Source: https://www.iircade.com/products/iircade-bartop-64gb


Specs

The specs of the cabinet, as listed by iiRcade, are as follows. These were taken straight from the iiRcade website. 

Display: 19" - 1280x1024 LCD
Audio: l00W, power amplifier, dual stereo speakers
CPU: 1.8GHz Hexa-Core
GPU: 800MHz Max Quad-Core
RAM: 4GB Dual-Channel LPDDR4X
Storage: 64GB or 128 GB
Controllers:  Two 8-way Premium OFFICIAL Sanwa joysticks/19 Premium Sanwa-style buttons
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi 5
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.2, Wireless Headset Support
Headset: 3.5mm Wired, Bluetooth Wireless
TV Connect: HDMI Out
OS: iiRcadeOS based on Android, Optimized for Gaming
Optional Cabinet: Premium MDF

While I'm sure there's someone out there, somewhere, who will scoff, to my mind they didn't skimp on anything here. The specs are nice and can handle almost any classic or modern Android gaming you want. 

Cost

During the Kickstarter, the full Dragon's Lair 128 GB cabinet seen above was $550 plus shipping, a great deal. The full price for general market release will be $799 for the same setup (plus shipping). I thought I saw somewhere that GameStop was going to be carrying these, but I could be very well wrong about that. The 64 GB bartop only version is $599, with the separate stand priced at $149. So you could feasibly get a 64 GB full sized cabinet for less than $750. 

Construction

One thing to know about these: much like the Arcade 1Up cabinets, you will need to construct this cabinet. It comes flat-packed in one (bartop only) or two (bartop and stand) boxes. The materials are exceptional quality, and the construction itself is not unlike putting together a piece of furniture from IKEA. All you need is a screwdriver and some patience. It took me about 2 hours to build the machine and stand.

Nominally, you don't need any technical knowledge to put this together--it's designed to be plug-and-play and even for the things you need to plug in, the wires quite literally connect only one way. That being said, I did encounter a complication or two, which we'll get to below. By and large, however, putting it together is a snap. 

Build Quality

The build quality of these is nothing short of outstanding. The components are high end, and the panels are not cheap particle board. They are MDF fiber board, not solid wood, but they're heavy, solid and substantial. The graphics are clean, bright, and clear, and when this thing is together, it looks just like the arcade cabinets you remember. My heart skips a beat every time I walk into my living room and see a real Dragon's Lair cabinet just sitting there. 

Granted, I've only had this thing for a few days, but on initial build and after a few days of heavy use, I feel confident in saying it's built to last. 

Setup

After you've got the whole thing setup, you'll fire it up. First it will ask you to download the app to your smartphone--this is where you'll create your account. If you can't use the app for whatever reason, no worries--there's a web interface from their website. From there you go back to the machine and it will connect to your wi-fi network, have you log into your account, and will probably cycle through a couple OS updates (security and performance patches and whatnot). When that's done you're ready to install games and start playing. 

App Store and Play

The interface for the app store is pretty smooth overall. After you go through the requisite OS updates that most machines have to go through these days, you simply go into your games library on your smartphone or in their web interface, and install each game to your device, one by one. The machine then downloads each automatically. This can take awhile, as the eleven games pre-installed (actually just available for free in your library) are of varying sizes, and Dragon's Lair is a monster (as you might imagine). 

Once the games are installed, you access them by cycling through menus with the joystick and the "A" button. They're available alphabetically in the "All" menu, by your most recently played in the "Recent" menu, or divided up into their game type. It's all fairly intuitive. In future OS updates I'd like to see them add a "Recently installed" menu that shows the 5 or 6 most recently installed games as well. 

The App Store, as well, is fairly straightforward, but a bit simplistic. As it is you need to scroll through various topics to find games you want. It'd be nice to see them add a search function in the future, or a way to select a specific topic and just see the games under that topic--like if I want to view only platformers, I can pick "Platformer," and they come up tiled instead of a scroll row. 

In the end, however, it's all very new, and for a new interface, it's pretty impressive. Once you get the hang of it, it's super easy to get up and running. 

Play and Feel

There's nothing bad to say here. The games quite literally play exactly like you remember them. The joysticks and buttons have a great resistance and clicky feel that will take you back to the old days, though for people who are used to a control pad, they'll take some getting used to. Welcome to the world of those of us who once had to get used to control pads FROM joysticks! 

I would add that Dragon's Lair is AMAZING. It's the Special Edition version of the game, complete with the ability to watch the Attract Mode video, a documentary on the making of the game with Don Bluth, and even a video tutorial where Bluth draws Dirk the Daring, among other features. It's very cool to have this stuff. The game also has the option to turn the guides on or off. The guides, people will be familiar with from later ports, and they tell you when to move and which buttons to push. They actually don't make the game super easy; just more navigable and less frustrating. You might actually have a chance of getting through a few scenes with them on. 

I'm a big fan of shooters, adventure games, and side-scrolling beat-em-ups and I have plenty of these to keep me going for awhile, but iiRcade guys and gals, if you're listening, please give me Commando. I'd sell my soul for Commando. So far every classic game I've tried is 100% indistinguishable from its original arcade incarnation. It plays smooth as silk. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a real live arcade cabinet with an ever-growing library of games. 

Bluetooth and HDMI

The machine supports Bluetooth, nominally for Bluetooth headphones. I think there was something there about using Bluetooth controllers as well, but I'm not 100% sure about that. Regardless, the headphone interface is a nice option. There's also a basic headphone jack for plug-in phones so you don't drive your spouse up the wall while they're trying to watch Netflix. 

Another interesting feature is the HDMI port. You can quite literally hook your machine up to a big screen TV and play games through it. I likely won't make use of this but I can see it being fun for group gaming events where everyone can watch play without crowding around the machine. 

And yes, the graphics are HD quality. 

What about the Available Games?

Right now there's over 65 games in the library, but iiRcade has almost 300 licenses. They're adding more games every Friday as they get ports in. So it's going to grow. If I had to point out any disappointments here, it's that most of the truly legendary classic games aren't here. I'm really desperately hoping that one day we can get Ms. Pac-Man, Q-Bert, Dig Dug, Frogger, Donkey Kong, Mortal Kombat, Contra, Commando (AGAIN), Defender, Galaxian, Galaga, Gauntlet, Joust, (classic) BurgerTyme, and the like in here, but who knows if they'll be able to get licenses from Midway, Nintendo, Namco, and the like.

Still, I'm excited that we're getting Double Dragon 2 and 3, as well as Dragons Lair 2 and Space Ace forthcoming. 

Since my initial purchase, I've added such classics as Mat Mania, Space Harrier, Ninja Kazan, Oddmar (which seems to have a bug on stage 1-3), Out Zone, Strikers 1945, Super Burger Time, and The Cliffhanger.  

What if I Run out of Memory?

You have the capability to move games back and forth to and from your library, so if you run out of memory on the cabinet you can just remove those games you never play. I've already got a few benchmarked for that when the time comes. But let's be fair: these kinds of game ROMs don't tend to take up a lot of space, unless you're loading up on a lot of modern high-end gaming stuff. Which I guess some folks will do for the gimmick of it. 

NOT the iiRcade


What's the Down Side?

So there are a few down sides to this, which are mostly things I'm hoping will be resolved by the time this hits the broad market over the next couple months. Shipping delays on this were interminable, but that was really the fault of the pandemic and overseas. These are manufactured in Korea, so if you're a "Buy American" person, that's something to be aware of. 

Some users have reported technical problems with the initial software updates and getting games to download to their machines. In general, the iiRcade people have been timely and attentive in getting these issues resolved quickly, and by and large they've almost all been easy fixes--simple factory resets, etc. 

The biggest problem I had (and a few others experienced this as well) was that after building, many of the buttons didn't function. As it turns out, this was a very easy fix--the controllers slot into boards as with many computer components these days, and some of the connections had simply come loose during shipping. The plugs just had to be pushed back into their sockets to secure them. Here's the down-side: to get to those plugs I had to open the guts of it, which also broke one of those, "Void Your Warranty" seals. Not good. 

Once again, however, iiRcade came to the rescue. They sent me an email granting permission to do it and promising that my warranty would not be voided in doing so. Fantastic. I opened it up, tightened the connections, and within a few minutes I was up and playing. 

That being said, if these are going to the general market, the audience will be people who are not tech-savvy and who will be terrified about digging into the electronic guts. These machines aren't built for DIY'ers, and they're not built for upgrades. Because of that, I would highly recommend that iiRcade have all of their connections under the hood soldered to ensure this sort of thing doesn't happen to your general consumer. 



Final Verdict

In the end, this is exactly what I've always wanted: a real arcade machine with great technology under the hood, a gorgeous, professional, and solid build, and a true old-school gaming experience. The games run smooth, look and sound great, and the app store is ever growing, meaning I'll be able to add classic and new games for years to come rather than buying some gray market MAME cabinet with 6,000 games, only 50 of which I'll ever play and which I probably won't be able to alter without extensive tinkering. 

The price point was fantastic (though the full market cost of $800 may be on the high side for some folks and the MAME option may still be attractive). 

Finally, their customer service thus far has been A+++++ outstanding, and you couldn't ask for more than that, especially as a brand new device goes through its growing pains. 

I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants the classic arcade experience combined with a STEAM-like modern app store interface to grow your library and cultivate exactly what you want. The setup issues, in the end, were very minor and it was plenty easy to get up and running. Hopefully these are issues that will be corrected by the time the machines hit the broad market. 

My hope is to see more legendary classic games get added in the near future. 

If not, I guess there's a Ms. Pac Man Arcade 1Up in my future as well. 

I regret nothing!


Comments

  1. Nice! I've been considering buying one of those MAME boards with controllers and 6000 games preinstalled that connect to your TV. But seeing this, I will have to consider it! Especially when you say they're manufactured in Korea, which is where I live! I'll have to check out their web. And then tackle the herculean task of convincing my wife to splurge on this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just understand that most of those 3,000 game MAME cabinets are pirated, illegal roms. This is legal and plays new games as well as classic.

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  2. I truly believe this will take over the arcade to home business. Once they get big licenses, (they currently have Sega), they will have an endless amount of games to put on the cabinet. I am tihnking Mortal Kombat, Smash TV, Mario Bros., Defender, etc. I am excited to have one in my home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are highly unlikely to get any Nintendo licenses. That's because Nintendo likes to keep a tight leash on their stuff. I don't even think Arcade 1Up has scored any Nintendo games. But yes, man, I personally am waiting for Midway/Namco/Bandai and games like Frogger, Commando, Dig Dug, the O.G. Shinobi (we already have Shadow Dancer), Rolling Thunder, and Elevator Action.

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