How to turn your iPad into Intellivision

You get six games for $3. Unfortunately, you don't get to choose the games.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
3 min read
What, no Tron Deadly Discs? Matt Elliott

After my best friend in Minneapolis, Alan Polk, got an Atari 2600 in 1979, my 7-year-old self spent most of his energy coming up with reasons why he needed to go over to Alan's house. Roles then reversed when I got Intellivision a year later and my basement became the place to be. We spent hours playing Intellivision hockey and skiing (we were in snowy Minnesota after all), Major League Baseball, BurgerTime, Night Stalker, and Tron Deadly Discs. These 16-bit games, along with Intellivision's cool controllers with their telephone-like keypad and each game's keypad overlay, were clearly superior to Atari's 8-bit offerings and clumsy joystick in our collective estimation.

When I hear people talk about old Atari games, I always think of Intellivision. While they were playing Breakout and Yars' Revenge, I was wearing out Intellivision controller overlays. So, when I saw Scott Stein's video about the Atari Arcade for iPad, I wondered if such a thing existed for Intellivision. My search didn't reveal any hardware peripherals, but it did turn up an app that gives you six Intellivision games. From MTV Networks, the app is titled VH1 Classic Presents: Intellivision for iPad. The iPad app costs $2.99 and features Astrosmash, Chip Shot Super Pro Golf, Night Stalker, Skiing, Thin Ice, and Thunder Castle. There is an iPhone app, too. It's free but only includes Astrosmash, with the other five games each available for 99 cents.

Whether you think the app offers a wise selection of games entirely depends on which games you played as a kid. Personally, I could care less about the golf game, Thin Ice, or Thunder Castle since I didn't own those cartridges, but I was happy to reacquaint myself with Astrosmash, Skiing, and especially Night Stalker. I think all Intellivision fans can agree, however, that the absence of Tron Deadly Discs is inexcusable.

Night Stalker on the iPad. Matt Elliott

The games are shown inside a frame that resembles the huge, wood-paneled TV that anchored my childhood basement in Minneapolis (it's even turned to channel 3). By tapping the Menu button in the upper-left corner, you can access the Options screen, which lets you play games in full screen without the TV framing the action. You can also disable the audio, though hearing the old sounds of these games might be more fun than actually playing them. The third option in Settings lets you turn on the Accelerometer control; a slider below it lets you adjust the tilt sensitivity. With it enabled, you can tilt the iPad to control the games.

Intellivision Skiing on the iPad was so hard to control, I never thought I'd see this screen. Matt Elliott

I don't suggest using the accelerometer. I found it next to impossible to control the games with it. Even without it, the games are still hard to control. The games provide buttons in the lower-right corner needed for the game (Fire and Hyperspace in Astrosmash, for example), and an onscreen control disc appears wherever you touch your left thumb or a finger to the screen. It's hard to use the circular disc on the screen since there is no physical edges to keep you from wandering outside its border. With more practice, I did find that my Night Stalker score improved.

The app's latest update introduced multiplayer support, though it does so in an odd way, at least with Astrosmash, the game I tried using my iPad and iPhone. Instead of simply taking turns, with both scores visible on the same screen, it introduces a picture-in-picture arrangement, with a small screen of your opponent's game squeezed in below your game.

Multiplayer = PIP Matt Elliott

What this app really needs is the ability to use an iPhone as a controller, as you can with games such as PadRacer and Scrabble. How great would it be if you could control each game on the iPad by using your iPhone, with each game providing a digital replica of the old controller overlay? Well, that and Tron Deadly Discs. As of now, VH1 Classic Presents: Intellivision for iPad makes for a fun trip down memory lane but little more.