The iiRcade originally came across my radar back in December, 2021 (courtesy of JohnRiggs on YouTube). Intrigued by the concept of an arcade machine where you can legally add games through a digital storefront, I did some due diligence.
After watching some reviews and checking the website, I decided to buy one. Luckily for me, there was actually a sale going on for the holiday and I was able get the 64gb model cabinet with the stand for just $299.
Everything that l’d seen in my research left me pretty excited about the machine overall and it seemed like the PERFECT product for someone like me.
When I say someone like me, I mean the following:
- I’m of an age to have a good amount of nostalgia for the arcade era of gaming
- I’m fortunate enough to have disposable income for things like video games
- I’m only interesting in playing video games through legit, legal avenues
- I’m interested in supporting platforms that are trying to support the retro gaming scene in a way that lets larger publishers and companies know that there’s an audience for retro games that’s worth paying attention to.
So, what could possibly go wrong, right? Well, turns out there’s quite a few things to like about the machine, and quite a few things that could stand some improvement.
The Eye of the Beholder
Now, I’m not one to care deeply about spec sheets and hardware details, so I’m presenting my thoughts from a more practical user experience of the machine than anything.
Quite frankly, I don’t care what kind of processor is driving the machine. I care about how well the games run. I don’t care about what kind of controls it comes with, I care about whether they feel cheap and get in the way of enjoying the games.
If you’re looking for the details on all the machine’s specs, you can check out the iiRcade website. I’m just looking to give you a no-hype, honest opinion on my experience.
The Short Answer
I’m gonna break this review up into 2 main sections:
- Hardware and the platform in general
If you’re interested in the details of what iiRcade has to offer, feel free to read each section for specific thoughts on A LOT of things.
If you’re simply here to find out if you should pay FULL PRICE for an iiRcade, the answer is NO, I don’t think it’s worth MSRP.
However, if you’re interested in playing a lot of games you’ve possibly never heard of and you don’t mind being an early adopter of technology in general, then I’d recommend picking one up IF you find a DEAL.
Either way, I’ll continue to check back in on this review and try to keep it updated as the platform evolves and grows into the future, so feel free to check back periodically if you’re waiting to see how things unfold.
What’s an iiRcade?
If you don’t know what the iiRcade is, it’s essentially a different company’s version of what Arcade1up makes.
The thing that makes it interesting and unique however, is that there’s a game store attached to it which allows you to expand the game collection on your arcade machine in a fashion that’s not only VERY affordable (and legal), but also ensures quality control is done for the games that are available on the platform.
The machine itself comes with internal storage that allows users to download games off the store. Currently, they offer 64gb and 128gb models, which, according to iiRcade, is plenty of storage for the games that are currently available on the store.
Part of the reason users might need several gigs of storage is because iiRcade not only supports old arcade games, but it also supports NEW games on the platform as well. We’ll dig into this a bit more in the software section of the review, but it was another one of the features that drew me to the platform and helped in my decision to purchase the machine.
What the Hardware & Platform Does Well
Some Assembly Required
The bartop unit and the base come in separate boxes. Setup was pretty easy overall and the instructions were fairly clear. Essentially, if you’ve ever set up a piece of IKEA furniture or an Arcade1up machine, you’re looking at a very similar process here.
The quality of the components definitely feels on-par with my TMNT Arcade1up machine. One of the things that stands out above my Arcade1up is that it has an HDMI out and a headphone jack, which are really nice features for the users who need them (I love having the HDMI out for capturing gameplay footage). The unit feels solid overall (literally).
The controls are an interesting point that ultimately land in what the hardware does well. Some units come with “Sanwa” controls at an extra cost. To further my earlier point about caring about the user experience over a spec sheet, I had no idea what this even meant before purchasing my iiRcade. My machine simply came with their “premium” controls.
At the end of the day, the buttons and the joysticks are perfectly fine in my book. They generally don’t feel bad or unresponsive. The only gripe I have with the controls is that certain games only support 4 directions, which can cause your character to stop moving if you push the stick from say, left, to a slightly diagonal left.
It’s not a major issue, but it’s caused me a bit of frustration when I’m chasing a high score and I lose a life as a result of the game not responding correctly.
Classics in HD
The 19” screen is nice. Overall, it displays the games beautifully in HD and it definitely meets the expectations I’d have for a modern piece of hardware like this.
There’s not a lot to say here. It’s a no-frills LCD screen with a nice plastic cover to keep it safe (a tempered glass upgrade is currently available for pre-order on iiRcade’s website). The unit allows players to add scan lines to their games if they’d like and even goes as far as letting them choose a bunch of different scan line options as well.
While I personally don’t play with scan lines on, I’m glad the option is here as it allows for a more retro look/feel for games for players who prefer it.
Take a Picture
Another nice aspect of the machine is that you can press the P1 & P2 “Start” buttons simultaneously to take a screenshot which will be emailed to your account. It’s a bit strange that you can’t access your screenshots on the device itself, but it’s still another welcome feature that I’m glad to have (as I used it for this review).
Visions of Grandeur
One last thing that I’m growing to like more and more about the machine is that it has online leaderboards. While not every game supports the feature, competing for a global TOP 30 spot in various games has been a fun pursuit for me that’s made playing certain games on iiRcade a bit more interesting.
Overall, as I’ve spent more and more time with my iiRcade and grown to understand exactly what the product is, I have to say that I’m pretty content with the unit from a hardware/platform perspective.
- The hardware components of the iiRcade are perfectly fine and don’t leave a lot to be desired for me (save for maybe the speakers in Jukebox mode).
- The HDMI out and screenshot features are icing on the cake for those who have a reason to use them.
- Some of the games have global online leaderboards, which adds a little something extra to enjoy for those who might be interested.
What the Hardware & Platform Doesn’t Do Well
The Devil is in the Details
When it comes to playing games on iiRcade, the machine is just fine. However, iiRcade hasn’t been around for very long, so ultimately, I feel like I’m an early adopter and that iiRcade is currently closer to an MVP (minimum viable product) rather than a fully-baked experience.
A lot of my complaints mainly stem from the fact that, iiRcade is actually more like a console dressed in “arcade clothes” than anything. For me, this brings certain quality of life expectations with it.
I’ll try to run through them quickly:
• No store on the machine itself
Purchasing games for iiRcade is done through methods that exist outside of the machine itself. This struck me as strange, but I’d have to imagine that they’ll be looking to add this feature in the future.
• No Wishlist on the Store
I’ve come across several games that I’d like to pick up AT SOME POINT on the iiRcade store. However, I can’t tell you the names of them because the iiRcade store doesn’t give me the option to add things to a wishlist. I feel like they’re leaving money on the table here.
Again, I have to imagine this is coming at some point, but it’s not here yet.
• Can’t Buy Games on iOS
iiRcade’s FAQ says that to get new games, you can simply use their app on your phone (you can also use a regular computer). Unfortunately, if you’re an iPhone user, you’re up a creek when you’re not by your computer.
Not only is there not a native iOS app (which wasn’t clear to me as a new customer), but the web browser on my phone gives me nothing but errors when I go to the game store.
I’m not sure if an iOS app is coming at some point. Either way, the game store should work on mobile, but it never has for me.
• Game Installation is Unclear for New Owners
Library management is mostly done off the machine.
When you buy a game from the iiRcade store, if your machine is on, the game will just download and install automatically. However, if your iiRcade is off, the only way to install new games is to turn your machine on and go back to your account on the store and install the games from there.
You can uninstall games both on the machine itself and from your account on the store, but installation is only available through the store.
• Refund Process is Unclear for New Owners
When you buy a game on iiRcade, you’re greeted with a message that lets you know that you have 30 minutes to request a refund for your purchase. This is a really nice feature for owners which allows them the freedom to not waste their money on games that weren’t quite what they expected.
However, actually getting a refund is a different story (at least for new owners). When you’re browsing through the store game pages have 2 buttons: “ADD TO CART” and “BUY NOW”. All of my initial game purchases were done by adding games to my cart, clicking on the cart when I was done browsing through the store, and then completing my purchases.
When you buy games this way, you’re given the “30 minute refund” message which doesn’t actually tell you how to request a refund.
This wasn’t an issue for me until I bought ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove and I noticed the game didn’t run particularly well. It had spots where the game would lag for a brief moment, and then continue. I own the PS4 version of the game and something just felt off, so I decided I wanted to request my first refund.
I went looking through my account everywhere I could think of and didn’t see the option to request a refund anywhere. I went through my purchase history, my library, etc. I was starting to feel a bit crazy, so I decided to email their customer support and request a refund that way (this was all within my 30 minute refund window).
I received an email the following day from customer service indicating that, as their policy states, the “refund button” disappears after 30 minutes. At that point, I started to feel a little bit crazy as I’d looked everywhere that I could think of to request a refund and didn’t see a button anywhere.
I ended up purchasing another game from the store so I could specifically see if I could find this fabled refund button.
I went through the same process as before, digging through my account and purchase history to no avail. After I tried everything I could think of, I decided it couldn’t hurt to navigate back to the store page of the game I’d purchased to see if there was anything there.
Sure enough, I’d found the refund button and the process was smooth sailing after that.
See, if you use the “Buy Now” button, the transaction processes and you stay on the store page of the game you just purchased and you’ll see the Refund button in place of the “Add to Cart” and “Buy Now” buttons. However, if you’re using their cart system, you won’t be on the game’s page any more, and you’ll have to navigate your way back to the game’s page for your refund request.
Is this a deal-breaker? Not at all. Now that I know the process, it’s just as obtuse as the rest of managing things with my iiRcade.
• The Customer is Always Right! 80% of the Time!
I mentioned that I emailed customer support about trying to get a refund. As someone who’s plenty tech-savvy, I’m not the type of person who generally has any trouble whatsoever figuring out how my account works, no matter what platform that account exists on.
So, when I requested a refund via email, I received a response that said the button disappears after 30 minutes per their policy, but if I sent them a video of the game running poorly, they could “ask” for permission to give me a refund.
So, I spent a bunch of time hooking up my capture card to my iiRcade and recording and editing footage of the hang-ups I was talking about. I sent them an email with the video and sadly I never received another response. I was trying to be patient due to the this happening around the holidays, but I think it’s safe to say that my $9 refund isn’t coming through. Womp womp.
Now, I’m not trying to say that their customer service was bad or rude, but I think it’s worth mentioning that not receiving any closure on my issue is at the very least frustrating. It doesn’t leave me feeling a sense of great confidence in the company’s ability to solve atypical customer service challenges. Obviously, your mileage might vary here though.
The Future Looks Bright
One of the final points I feel compelled to make about the current state of iiRcade is that it currently lacks the option for a 4-Player setup. Some of my favorite arcade games of all-time support 4 players and iiRcade unfortunately only supports 2 players at the moment.
For this arcade machine to be everything it could be, they need to release a 4 player setup (swapping out the controls is REALLY easy on the machine). This might bit of a moot point currently as there aren’t many 4-player games available on the store, but regardless, I’d love to see the option available. I suspect we’ll see it at some point as swappable buttons are coming in a future iteration of the machine per this recent live stream.
Overall, the platform mainly lacks some good quality of life features that you’d expect from a console.
- The current platform feels overall like it’s still in the “early adopter” phase
- There’s currently no way to buy games with iOS
- Installing/uninstalling new games can be unclear for new owners
- The refund process is unclear for new owners
- No store on the machine itself
- No wishlist on the game store currently
- Customer service left me hanging
- No 4-Player support currently
Most of this stuff will probably be resolved at some point (and I’ll update this review to reflect the updates when they happen), but as of today, here we are.
With that being said, after watching part of an iiRcade live stream after CES, they’re definitely working hard to improve things. It just seems like they’re a small team, which means things might take awhile to improve.
Software Makes the Hardware Go ‘Round
When it comes to the software on iiRcade, the cabinets that aren’t branded for a specific game come with 11 pre-installed games (the branded cabinets come with whatever game’s artwork is on the cabinet). To be honest, I don’t feel like most of the games are worth writing home about. There’s a few good ones, but most of them don’t make for a compelling reason to purchase an iiRcade.
The one’s that I’d say ARE interesting is Double Dragon, Dragon’s Lair, and Gunbird. The other 8 are fine, but I don’t necessarily see them as games that I’m pumped to own. Something like Diver Boy, for example, is an interesting little arcade game, but it’s not one that I would have dropped a bunch of quarters into if I’d ever stumbled across it in the wild.
SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!
For me, the real appeal of the machine is the game store attached to it. You can currently choose from hundreds of additional games to legally add your iiRcade, which means there’s plenty of new experiences available waiting for you if you’re ever bored with the games you currently have.
The games are pretty affordable overall with the majority of the games on the store currently ranging from around $3-$10 (with a few exceptions being more expensive). There’s discounts available on games from time to time during sales, though I can’t speak to how often these sales take place just yet (nothing is currently on sale at the time of writing this).
Most of the games I’ve played run how I assume they did originally. I can’t necessarily tell you if the slow down I’ve experienced in certain titles is due to the iiRcade, but I assume by the machine’s ability to run modern titles, that older arcade games slowing down is probably an accurate experience.
The only game I’ve played that seemed like it didn’t run particularly great was ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove. It just felt like it was chugging a bit here and there, which I think was just unexpected based on my experience with the PS4 version.
Your Favorite Band’s Favorite Band
So, the game store is great, right? Well, kind of. I love the game store, but it’s severely lacking in some MAJOR heavy hitters from the arcade space.
It’s got some classics, but it’s currently lacking a lot of the big titles from major publishers. You won’t find games like Pac-Man, Bubble Bobble, Final Fight, Street Fighter II, and A LOT of other high-profile titles on the game store.
Which brings me to how I REALLY feel about my experience with the software on iiRcade. I’m someone who loves exploring a lot of different types of games, so I don’t mind a store where I haven’t heard of 80% of the games.
As sales and deals show up, I enjoy taking my time and looking at the trailers for each game and buying things like Ghox, for example. Against all odds, I’m having a great time with Snow Bros. 2: With New Elves. However, no one is out there pining for a home arcade machine just so that they can play Snow Bros. 2. I’m weird.
So, overall, I’d say the iiRcade store is currently akin to Spotify before it had bands like The Beatles. Spotify has been a great service for a really long time, but prior to getting some of the biggest bands of all-time on the platform, it felt like it was missing something.
iiRcade claims that if some of your favorite games aren’t available on the store, they will be eventually. I really want to believe this is true and it’s one of the reasons I’ve bought into the platform.
The machine plays newer titles, which I initially thought was awesome, but I realized that a lot of these are indies that are available on other platforms. It seems like they pretty much just have arcade controls instead of standard gamepads without much of change to their overall gameplay (though I can recall seeing an “arcade edition” of at least one indie game on the store, so YMMV here).
So, the promise of an ever-expanding catalog of hundreds of games sounds great, but a lot of these are games aren’t necessarily arcade classics. It’s things like Coleco games and modern indies. While this is definitely fine for some folks, it’s ultimately just not what I’m personally looking for out of a home arcade machine.
This brings me to my final point. iiRcade is more like a console with arcade controls than a home arcade machine.
This was unexpected for me. When I think of arcade games, they’re something you generally put a coin in and then just start. Some stuff on iiRcade is like that, but others have their standard menus that you’d find on any other platform that the game was released on.
The console experience on an arcade machine just feels a bit… unusual. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means. It just happened to be one of those things that jumped out to me as a bit strange.
I Can Hear the Sizzle, but I’m Still Waiting for the Steak
The copy on iiRcade’s website makes the machine sound like its absolutely incredible, which is something that I’d like to believe. Literally, their website says “iiRcade creates the most incredible arcade gaming you will ever have experienced!”
Now, maybe I’m dumb for the wanting to believe the way any company describes their own products, but this is a pretty bold claim. I think iiRcade certainly has the potential to be something great in the future, but as it stands today, I feel more like an early adopter of the arcade equivalent of the gen 1 iPhone.
If the company lives up to it’s potential, I think we could be looking at the new kings of the home arcade space. That is, of course, if Arcade1up doesn’t try their hand at releasing a similar product with their already existing, higher-profile licenses. Either way, the war for the home arcade space should be an interesting one to see unfold over the next several years.
Worth it or Worthless?
So, according to iiRcade, MSRP for the bartop unit is $599, while the base stand sits at an MSRP of $149. In my honest opinion, I’d be pretty upset if I spent around $750 on my iiRcade. There’s NO chance I’d recommend this thing in it’s current state at that price.
However, at the $300 I paid for my 64gb unit, I’d say it’s definitely WORTH IT if you’re the type of person who doesn’t mind that early adopter feeling. If you like the idea of trying out a bunch of unfamiliar arcade games along with a handful of old favorites, keep your eyes open for a deal. I don’t think you’ll regret the purchase around $300.
2022 should be a pretty interesting year for iiRcade. I LOVE the potential that exists here and I’m looking forward to seeing the platform get better and better over time and I’ll be sure to stay in touch as the platform continues to evolve.