I’m a huge fan of classical games, mostly due to the fact that they allow me to game on my own time and schedule. I don’t have to wait for new content and updates, there are no timers, no ads and EA can’t kill the servers at any given moment and leave me with a broken game. Which is why I wanted to repurpose my iPad Air 4 from a content consumption device and turn it into a great retro gaming hub. So let’s answer the question: Is the iPad a great device for playing retro games? How can you play classic retro games on the iPad?
Your Answer Upfront:
The iPad is an amazing acquisition for retro gamers and has an extensive collection of retro games ported or remastered/remade and re-designed specifically for it. The only thing keeping the iPad back from being the ultimate retro gaming device is Apple’s insistence on not allowing emulators on the App Store. Additionally, if you are an Apple developer, you can compile from source both iDOS (dosbox) and Basilisk II in order to play your favorite classic retro games on it.
In this article, we’re going to look at the various ways in which we can play retro games on the iPad Air. For this article, I’ll be using the iPad Air 4 as that’s the iPad Air that I own, but this should apply to most past and future iPads. We’ll start by explaining and showcasing the various means through which you can play old games from Mac and PC’s from yesteryear, and move onto modern games with a retro feel and then talk a bit about ports.
There’s a big list of classic games ported and remastered for the iPad at the end of the article.
How can you play retro games on the iPad?
First things first – how exactly can you play retro games on the iPad Air? Let’s say you’re looking to take Duke Nukem 3D for a spin. How could you achieve that? Well, first step is by using emulators. Note that due to Apple’s policies, installing the emulators is going to be tricky – you won’t be able to download them from the App Store.
Emulating old Dos games using iDOS
Well – it used to be that you could download iDOS from the App Store, an emulator based on DosBox, and use that to run your games. However, Apple removed the app from the store at the end of 2021. It’s a huge controversy within the community since the app was available since 2010 and Apple removed it because… it suddenly allowed you to launch executables? You can read more about what happened in this article from 9to5Mac if you’re interested.
There is a workaround for this. You can install iDOS on your iPad but you’ll have to build it yourself, since the source is publicly available. This requires you have a Apple Developer Account ($100/year). Let us know if you need a tutorial on how to do this in a comment bellow.
Another option is to become an iDOS supporter on Patreon. Litchie can create private builds for you that can run for up to 1 year on your device if you give him the UDID!
Emulating old Mac games using Basilisk II
Basilisk II is an emulator for classic Mac OS, the OS for the original compact Macintoshes and a great emulator if you’re looking to play games like Star Wars: Dark Forces, Duke Nukem 3D, Doom and other classic Mac games. The problem is that, just like with iDOS, you cannot download Basilisk II from the App Store directly. You’ll need a developer account to build it from source. Once again, if you want a in-depth tutorial on how to set things up, let us know in a comment below.
Basilisk II works extremely well with the iPad, especially paired with a mouse. Actually, let me rephrase that, you need a mouse (either wireless or wired) plugged into the iPad in order to properly enjoy it.
I tried MacOS 8.1 on the iPad Air using the Apple Pencil, Magic Touchpad and Magic Mouse and for the most part, it’s a more faster version of my SE/30. If you have a Magic Keyboard (for the iPad) and a Developer Account, there are literary hundreds of games you can run under Basilisk II. Here are some of the games that I tried on my iPad Air 4:
- Doom I and II
- Warlords 2
- SimCity Classic (B&W version)
- Star Wars: Dark Forces
- Duke Nukem 3D
- F/A 18 series of flight simulators
- Warcraft: Orcs and Humans
- Heretic (works much much better than on an 040 Macintosh)
- Spaceward Ho!
- Shanghai – a mahjong game published by Activision back in the day.
- The Might and Magic series of first person Dungeon Crawlers.
All of these games run perfectly under Basilisk II on my iPad Air 4 and I find myself jumping on the iPad for quick gameplay sessions, as opposed to playing on my retro Macintosh computer (an amazingly cool and ultra upgraded SE/30).
If at any point in the future Apple will become more lenient on the release of emulators then the iPad will reign as one of the best retro gaming hardware out there. However, there’s still hope. Because some developers choose to release their classic retro games on the iPad making them available, for a fixed price, directly on the App Store.
Downloading games from the App Store
Don’t forget, there are a ton of retro games that have been natively ported over to iOS that you can legally download straight from Apple. Games like Doom, Doom II, Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project and Riven just to name a few. So if emulation or a Developer Account doesn’t work for you, there’s a chance classic retro games can still be played on the iPad.
We’ve explained what the 3 main methods of playing retro PC and Mac games on your iPad are. There are some emulators out there for other systems but, knowing Apple’s history with such software, they might be pulled from the App Store. If you want to get your fix of retro games on the iPad, at the end of the article we have a big List of classic games that were ported to the iPad (or remastered) from all kind of systems.
Can you play old Mac games on the iPad?
If you owned a classic, retro, Macintosh back in the day, then you certainly grew up with a few classic games that bring back fond memories. With the methods mentioned above, you can actually play old mac games on the iPad, both from the classic era and post OSX era.
Retro Games from classic Mac OS
For this section, we’re going to list classic Mac OS games available on the iPad via the App Store. This is the easiest method of playing classic mac games on the iPad. Moving further, we’re also going to list games that we tested under Basilisk II that ran perfectly!
Games available on the App Store (that are mostly faithful to their classic counterparts and behave as if they would be under emulation).
- 2D Platforming/Action
Retro Games Overhauled/Remastered for the iPad
Now for the meat of the post, the reason most of you end up here. I looked far and wide for classic games that have been ported or made available on the iPad. Since 90% of my readers won’t sign up for an Apple Dev account or ever build an emulator from source for their device – this list is the next best thing. This way, you can play some great classic games (or their remasters or remakes) on your iPad.
Almost all of the games on this list are Premium Games without any Free2Play or Pay2Win shenanigans. They definitely are one of the Best Smartphone Games out there.
This category includes classic/retro games ported over and overhauled/remade for the iPad. We start off with RPGs that were initially available on classic Mac OS (like Jeff Vogel’s Exile Series) that he remastered and ported over to the iPad. The following list contains classic RPG’s from Mac, PC and Sega consoles.
Big list of Retro RPG’s ported to the iPad
- Literary (almost) all of Jeff Vogel/Spider Web Software games
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II
- Shinning Force Classics
- Chrono Trigger iOS
- Secret of Mana
- Final Fantasy Remakes
- Final Fantasy 2D Ports
- Dragon Quest Series
- The Bard’s Tale (Remake, not the original)
- Neverwinter Knights
- Baldur’s Gate (and II:EE)
- Icewind Dale
- Planescape: Torment
- Siege of Dragonspear
Mini List of Retro Strategy/Building Games ported to the iPad
Next up we have classic strategy retro games that were either re-mastered or directly ported to the iPad. I couldn’t find many strategy or building games that were ported to the ipads. I found new entries in the series, like SimCity BuildIT from EA but that’s a free 2 play game that has nothing to do with SimCity classic or 2000, being a successor only in name.
- Sid Meiers Colonization (Watch out, this is literary a straight port. Prepare to use your finger like a pointer)
- Transport Tycoon
- King of Dragon Pass
- Warlords Classic strategy game for iPad
Speaking of Warlords Classic, it seems to be a direct port of Warlords 1. I own the game for my classic Macs (and Warlords 2) and, for its time, it was an amazing release. Here’s a photo of my copy of Warlords 2. I highly recommend this entry.
Big List of Retro Adventure Games ported to the iPad
- Syberia (FULL) and Syberia 2 (FULL)
- Double Fine games:
- The 7th Quest Remastered
- Myst and Riven
- Beneath a Steel Sky
- Broken Sword 1 (they seemed to have changed a few things and cutscenes) and Broken Sword 2: Remastered
- Gabriel’s Knight: Sins of the Fathers remastered/anniversary edition
- Another World 20th anniversary edition
- The Last Express
- Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies (ish. I love it and this is why it’s on here, but it’s not exactly A CLASSIC).
Mini List of Retro Platform Games ported to the iPad
- Prince of Persia [Classic] (because releasing the original, classic Prince of Persia, would be too much. Ubisoft overhauled it using assets from modern PoP games. At least this is the overhauled category sooo… yeah)
- Sonic The Hedgehog Classic & Sonic The Hedgehog Classic 2
Big List of Retro Action/SHMUP/Shooter Games ported to the iPad
- R.TYPE & R.TYPE II
- Raiden Legacy
- Double Dragon Trilogy (not tested, users seem to have problems with is since iPadOS 13)
- Streets of Rage Classic & Streets of Rage 2
- Golden Axe Classics
- Altered Beast Classic
- Mega Man X
- Doom II
- Marathon I
- Marathon II
- Marathon Infinity
- Wolfenstein Classic
Mini List of Retro Racing and Sports Games ported to the iPad
Not much to say about the sports and racing category as we only have two classic titles available with both of them being amazing classics. Hopefully they’ll remain on the App Store for a long time to come.
Games removed from Apple’s App Store
We just can’t have too many nice things. Did you know that, over the years, a lot of classic games have disappeared from the App Store? Some due to Apple, others due to the developers/publishers not updating the games while others just pulling them out so they don’t cannibalize the sales of new releases. Games that were removed include:
- Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2
- Sid Meier’s Pirates
- The Secret of Monkey Island
- Heroes of Might and Magic 3
- Ghosts n’ Goblins
Modern Games for the iPad that might appeal to retro gamers
For this category, we have some games that usually tend to appeal to classic gamers. These games were either ported to the iPad or designed for the iPad. Hopefully, some of you will enjoy them. These are all games I played and have installed on my iPad that I can wholeheartedly recommend.
We’re starting of the list with some of Feral Interactive’s greatest ports for the iPad (trivia: did you know that 11/10 Linux users love Feral Interactive? Well, it’s time for iPad users to also delight themselves with their great ports).
- Rome Total War & Barbarian Invasion & Alexander
- XCOM: Enemy Within (Though this is from 2K, not Feral) and XCOM 2 (this is a Feral port).
- Company of Heroes
- Alien Isolation
Next up, we have Aspyr Media and their great ports:
And now, from no specific publisher here are some games we tried and love on the iPad that we thing would appear to retro games fans!
- The Banner Saga series from Stoic! I think I’ve spent more than 60 hours playing the games on Steam when they came out! I’ve recently had them installed on my iPad Air 4 so I can re-play them when on-the-go (or in boring meetings with clients more interested in KPI’s than making actually good mobile games.
- FTL: Faster than light from Subset games. We totally need Into the Breach to be ported over to iOS!
- Goblin Sword, a 2D Platforming RPG designed for the iPad!
- Penarium, published by Team17!. Thomas Noppers is the artist for the game and I had the pleasure of working with Noppy on a 2D TBS game inspired by Advanced Wars back in 2012. Sadly, we never updated or ported the game to iOS but who knows!
- Space Marshals 2 from Pixelbite!
- Kingdom: New Lands from Pixelbite. Actually, anything from Pixelbite for the iPad!
- Divinity – Original Sin 2 is a great game to experience, though I found the framerate to tank from time to time on my iPad Air 4. Those who want to play it on a regular iPad, I’m not sure how it will fare for you.
Where To Next?
That’s it for our list of classic iPad Retro Games. Hopefully we didn’t miss any but if we did, feel free to leave a comment so we can update the list. Look on the bright side – there are enough games out there to get your fix of iPad retro games. And do you know what the bright side is?
You know how they say that Macs don’t have many games? Well, you can play most of the iPad games on this list on your Mac if you have a Mac with an M1 Processor. We even have a guide on How To Play iOS Games or iPad Games on a Mac! So make sure to give that one a read.
That being said, if you want to stick around, you can check out “How Do Free Mobile Games Make money“, “Why Do Mobile Games Have Fake Ads” and “Why Do Mobile Games Have In-App Purchases“. I write extensively about the mobile gaming industry – the same industry that removes classic retro games from the store because they have an ad filled, Pay2Win, Free2Play and micro transaction infested games. Oof I’m grumpy and tired of these practices.
There’s also a monster post (about 4000 words) that answers the question: “How Hard Is It To Make A Mobile Game“. It goes in-depth with actual examples on how Experience, Resources and Financials affect the difficulty of developing and releasing new mobile games!
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