9 iPhone Apps for the Retro Enthusiast

mossy_11 on Thursday, 22 April 2010. Posted in Opinion

The iPhone and iPod Touch App Store is brimming with content for just about every niché (except those that will never meet Apple’s stringent requirements). But so many apps are terrible that it can sometimes be a dice roll whether you’ll find what you want. This is doubly so for fans of retro games and technology, with countless attempts made to trick you out of your money in an orgasmic blast of nostalgia. Some apps actually are what they say, however, so I’ve put together this list of nine iPhone apps worth a look for fans of retro gaming and technology.

2600 Magic / DragstrMagic

From the creator of Pitfall, David Crane’s Technical Wizardry Series has so far spawned just two apps. But both provide phenomenal insight into the work that went into making games for the Atari 2600. Each app describes the internal workings of the hardware, and reveals the tricks used to make various graphics appear on the screen. The language used is very accessible, seldom requiring any technical knowledge whatsoever, and there are numerous interactive diagrams used to illustrate the descriptions. You'll likely finish wondering how anything was made at all, given how difficult every little task must have been.

Cost: 2600 Magic -- $1.99 (a free ‘Lite’ version is available); DragstrMagic -- $3.99.




Ever wanted an NES synthesizer in your pocket? Well now you can, thanks to NESynth, which promises “real” 8-bit sounds, 13 stock sampling effects, pitch bending, and more. You can play with either a keyboard or NES controller interface. But perhaps most interesting is the option to play with a friend.

Cost: $1.99. 


I’ve had the desktop version of this app installed for a long time now, and it regularly proves useful in checking some minor fact about (almost) any Apple product released since the original Macintosh. The iPhone version offers much of the same detailed information in a streamlined interface, losing the death chime sounds, history, photos, and the ability to keep track of your currently owned machines and warranty expirations.

Cost: free.


The Commodore 64 emulator made headlines when it was initially approved for -- and subsequently removed from -- the App Store. After some modifications to the code-base it was allowed to return, and has been steadily updated since then. You get the app and eight (not-so-great) games free with the option to buy many more via in-app purchase. C64 is great value for anyone looking to get their C64 fix on the go, but the touch screen joystick may turn off some people (myself included).

Cost: free.

space-invadersSpace Invaders Infinity Gene

Nostalgia has a tendency to make things seem better than they actually are, but with Space Invaders Infinity Gene you can get both the trip down memory lane -- to a time when games were simpler -- and an experience that holds up to your memories. It streamlines the controls so that you control ship movement but firing is automatic, and offers a new unlock every level. When you get free movement the game really comes into its own. You can also play with your own music in automatically generated stages. The design is the perfect meshing of retro and modern, and breeds new life into the vertical shooter.

Cost: $4.99 (a free 'Lite' version is also available).


This Mac classic from the late 80s was ported to iPhone last year by nerdgames. Despite the loss of a few minor visual features, the new version stays true to the original. And its simple mechanics are perfect for playing a few minutes here and there. Check out our Mac Classics Reborn article on StuntCopter for a more in-depth look at the game and why it rocks.

Cost: $0.99.

sidplayerSid Player

The SID chip that came on the Commodore 64 is much beloved for its unique sound aesthetics, spawning its very own genre of music. Using Sid Player in any of its three flavours gives iPhone users access to over 35,000 tunes. It does unfortunately lag when browsing and listening, but is otherwise snappy and responsive. The Pro version offers the ability to remix the tracks using a three channel mixer. I’d recommend trying the free Lite version first, then upgrading to either standard or Pro. Also be sure to check out Module Player from the same developer.

Cost: free / $0.99 / $1.99.


Fans of the old Infocom text adventures (aka interactive fiction) should download this free app immediately. It comes bundled with around 250 titles that are available from the Interactive Fiction archive (including the original MIT version of Zork). And it supports anything written in the Z-Machine format, which means you can add (via file transfer) commercial classics such as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyA Mind Forever Voyaging, and Trinity. The text is nicely rendered and screen size constraints aren’t an issue, since there are no graphics.

Cost: free.

Retro Gamer Magazine

Reading a magazine on a 3-inch screen is not exactly ideal, but the folks at Pixel Mags have managed to make the process as painless as possible. You can quickly zoom in and out, the text is clear and easy to read, and turning a page is as simple as swiping your finger across the screen. If you like the idea of carrying all your favourite issues of Retro Gamer around in your pocket, this app is definitely worth a look. You get the current issue on purchase, with the option to buy back issues (at $4.99 a piece) or subscriptions (6 or 12 months) from inside the app.

Cost: $1.99.

What are your favourite retro apps and games on the iPhone? Let us know in the comments.

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