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Hands-on with the iCade, a vintage arcade cabinet for your iPad

It started as an April Fool's prank on, but consumer interest led the company to bring the iCade to life.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It started life as an April Fool's prank on, but overwhelming consumer interest prodded the company to bring the iCade to life (much like the Tauntaun sleeping bag, another ThinkGeek mockup that became a real product). For the uninitiated, the iCade is a pint-size arcade cabinet/stand for Apple's iPad. Slide an iPad in, and it acts as a wireless Bluetooth controller for the Atari iPad app, which offers 100 classic arcade and home console games for $15 (or individual game packs for 99 cents).

Our iCade just arrived this morning, so we quickly assembled it and ran it through a few hands-on tests. It's made of particleboard with retro graphics, including a little wood grain, and it comes with a page of Ikea-like wordless instructions, along with a handful of screws and accessories. Construction was simple, but the front and side panels took a little elbow grease to get the hex screw holes to line up. The final product felt solid and sturdy when fully assembled. The $99 iCade is being manufactured by ION Audio, a company best known for its plastic USB turntables and high-end Rock Band video game drum kits.

To slide an iPad in, the top panel tilts open, and the tablet simply sits in a docking cradle. There's no connector cable or locking mechanism, so shifting the iCade even a little bit can move the iPad--we'd definitely not suggest walking around with the iPad inserted. The interior compartment is much bigger than the iPad, meaning you've got a lot of empty space on each side of the screen; we'd have preferred a tighter fit.

The instructions are hidden under the top panel. Sarah Tew/CNET

Connecting the iCade (powered by two AA batteries) was a breeze; select the iCade from the Bluetooth devices menu on the iPad and enter a series of joystick and button-presses to make the connection. From there, you still have to manually launch the Atari app and navigate to your favorite games, but once there, the controls worked well in games such as Missile Command and Crystal Castles. Because the eight physical buttons are unlabeled, a cheat sheet is included showing the button mapping for some of the more popular Atari arcade games.

For now, the 100-game Atari app is the only available software for the iCade, but ThinkGeek says that an API is in the works that will allow any iOS game developer to make iCade-compatible games.