The home arcade scene is enjoying a lockdown-driven surge

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At least that came out of the year of hell.

This past year has been rubbish – the blockages, restrictions, and general challenges of adjusting to a very different status quo have been tough for many of us. Likewise, it’s been an opportunity to explore different things you can do at home – and for many, that has meant a lot of video games.

I’ve seen this throughout the industry, with casual gamer friends, and even in my own ways. I’ve probably been through more lag games in a year and quite a bit since the UK’s first lockdown in March 2020 than in the previous two or three years. This work does not usually allow antics from the backlog; it’s always on to the next thing. I even went back and played a few old favorites, refreshing myself on Final Fantasies 7 and 8, with a plan to pull off 9, the best, in the weeks to come.

But there is another exciting trend that I have seen on the rise throughout the pandemic: people are kissing home arcade action.


It shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. Over the past year or so, I have seen numerous reports in the local press about industrious (and, obviously, wealthy) families who have erected full bars in their gardens to avoid the boredom of confinement and create a little the atmosphere of pubs. The excellent Philips PerfectDraft machine, a draft beer dispenser that can help give a bit of that pub feeling at home, has been trapped in a hell of a low stock waiting list that makes looking for a look. PS5 tamed from the start of restrictions. This is the drinkers version. For video games, what could be more sumptuous, and equivalent, than an arcade machine?

Now admittedly I was on that train for a while before the lockdown – so maybe I’m biased. But that interest has also put me in an interesting position to already be part of some arcade collector, builder, and modding communities – and I’ve seen them all swell with activity as bored people search for something new to use at home.

The options have never been better. The old way was to simply browse auctions and tight-knit communities to find an original cabinet to sell; and to some extent, that’s still where most of the best stock is. But those who don’t wish to shoulder the burden of an old cabinet with all the classic car styling maintenance involved now have a plethora of new options, with booming companies eagerly responding to market demand.

If you are a little more confident, a popular method now is to take a cabinet flat and then fill it up and decorate it yourself. A few years ago, if you wanted to ‘build yourself’ a custom cabinet, you had to be proficient at carpentry and do everything yourself – that’s how I built my first machine. Now, however, a series of companies are producing IKEA-style flatbed arcade cabinets in any size you can imagine. Cocktail, bartop, freestanding, wall mounted, three-quarter scale – if you are looking around, it’s all here. If you don’t have room for a machine at home, there are even control panels you can control – build it, drop the tech inside, then plug it into your TV for an experience. arcade style. It’s a smart idea.

With these, you can paint and finish the machine as you like. You can also choose what to put in it – a Raspberry Pi, an old console, a Windows PC, whatever. For many platforms, shiny front-ends like Attract Mode and LaunchBox ensure that when playing, the arcade feel is never interrupted by the sight of windows or the like – the front-end can take care of it. of all. Consoles can work just as well and can be a budget option. If you’re into fighting games and just upgraded to a PS5, for example, you can pretty easily set one up and put your old PS4 in there to play all the fighters from the previous generation in a cabinet.

The other option is more immediately intriguing; licensed machines that come with all the tech and artwork, plus a bunch of preloaded games. Two companies stand out here as a leader: AtGames and Arcade1Up. Both of these companies are having great success with replica arcade machines, but they are also both moving around replicas of pinball machines. Since covid has returned home, demand appears to have skyrocketed, with both brands frequently sold out.

AtGames is positioned as the more upscale of the two and offers full-size and smaller cabinets as well as plug-and-play micro consoles with arcade controls. AtGames sets itself apart by offering a machine that offers hundreds of licensed games. Wi-Fi connectivity even allows for downloading new games and updates, as well as leaderboards, and more.

These are all-in-one machines, with the traditional smaller cabinet costing $ 400 and the larger more than double. It is a bigger investment and more designed feel if you want a jaw-dropping machine to show up when you have guests. The games list is good, with a few names – Asteroids, Tetris, Star Wars, and the like – but it doesn’t have arcade names like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat.

This is where Arcade1Up comes in. Its specialty is dedicated machines – so it sells separate machines for different companies or franchises. For example, a Mortal Kombat cabinet contains the classic 2D MK trilogy, while the NBA Jam machine contains three of Midway’s basketball classics. It stretches far and wide – Street Fighter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pac-Man, Marvel and many more are all depicted in machines that attempt to evoke the arcade originals on a more user-friendly three-quarter scale and delivered flat.

Perhaps most exciting is that Arcade1Up seems interested in marketing different types of cabinets beyond all-in-ones. A licensed Golden Tee replica features the iconic trackball-based control of this game. Its Big Buck Hunter machine uses excellent Sinden Light Gun technology to integrate shooting (which certainly gives some thought to the potential of Point Blank, Time Crisis cabinets). , Virtua Cop or House of the Dead). The most exciting, in my opinion, are the new OutRun cabinets in sit and stand form with steering wheels, gear levers and pedals.

Price-wise, these machines range from just over $ 300 to around $ 600, which puts them a bit cheaper than the AtGames options. Where AtGames wants to give you an all-in-one solution, Arcade1Up seems keen to sell you multiple machines that look and feel different in a smaller package – so you can really build an arcade room in your garage though. you want.

Arcade1Up also appears to be more widely available, at least in the US, with Best Buy and WalMart both reselling it. In the UK and Canada the situation is a bit more sparse – places like Smyths Toys and Amazon sell them, but the range of cabinetry and stock seem limited – hopefully this will be corrected in time.

Naturally, dedicated modding communities have sprung up around the two brands – with websites and YouTube channels now dedicated to modifying these machines. People have become extremely good at trading games, punching new buttonholes, trading custom artwork, or whatever.

I dream of an NFL Blitz cabinet, but the originals are uncompromisingly huge and Arcade1Up is unlikely to be able to get the NFL license, as a modern anti-violence NFL would rather distance themselves from this over-the-top arcade classic. But the modding community has me covered – if I ever buy an Arcade1Up, I could easily convert it to a Blitz Taxi. Basically your dream arcade machine seems closer than ever.

These cabinets are obviously not a substitute for the “real” thing. Or even build your own. But both of these things are costly endeavors that are definitely not for everyone. Some members of the community laugh at these cheap, cheerful and accessible wardrobes. They rightly say that they are not a fix on a legitimate machine. But that’s not necessarily the point – these things allow people to evoke the arcade feeling, and it opens the door to the hobby for a lot more people. They are smaller, lighter and easier to move. More importantly, they are cheaper and hit impulse buying territory. By swapping in the true arcade story or heavier materials for chipboard and less luxurious trim, the price is reduced to affordable levels.

As such, they certainly have their place. If even a person ends up switching from one of them to the traditional arcade collection, it will be a victory for the larger scene that revere and preserve the original cabinetry.

Either way, it’s exciting to see the home arcade gaming community get such a boost, even if it’s under terrible circumstances. Modern arcades are, honestly, often a bit of rubbish. They are now dominated by giant touchscreens playing oversized versions of mobile games like Flappy Bird or Temple Run. Perhaps the only way more traditional arcade games will survive soon is thanks to curators keeping old machines running in their homes and nostalgic fans buying modern replicas. But it’s definitely better than nothing. Like retro analog consoles, it feels like this is another area of ​​retro gaming that is finally finding its way into the mainstream.

Be careful, if you are getting ready to make your first foray into this world, it is addicting. Just writing this triggered me – now I’m ready to jack up the price of an OutRun cabinet …

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