Whatever Happened to Arcades?

I’ve lived in seaside towns almost my entire life. Although I was actually born in Canterbury, my parents moved to Hastings before I’d turned one. I grew up there and, when I was old enough, moved on to Brighton. As if that wasn’t enough, my grandparents live in Portsmouth, so even visiting family meant going to a slightly different seaside town.

What all of this experience means is one thing – arcades. I don’t know what it’s like for you people who don’t live with seagulls trying to steal your chips if you foolishly decide to eat outside, but my entire life I’ve been exposed to arcades.

[drop]I used to love them, to treat them as a shrine to video games. It wasn’t just game cabinets of course, there were always the 2p machines and, more recently, their 10p variant. A good arcade should probably have at least one pinball machine and an air hockey table to boot and given that the arcades I grew up with had a focus on drawing money out of tourists, you need some weird ticket machines that, from an economic or entertainment based standpoint, aren’t really worth playing.

The focus though, for me, should be games; lots and lots of games. That’s the way it used to be, even when the place was packed out with tourists. I remember fondly the money I basically poured into a sit-down Star Wars machine, the joystick somehow meant to control both an X-Wing and a lightsabre. I also have especially fond memories of anything with a light gun in it, Time Crisis being vastly superior to The House of the Dead, of course.

Sadly, in recent years the dynamic has shifted and games are more of a side attraction than the main feature (at least here in the UK). Although they’re not completely gone, they’ve been tucked away in many of the arcades of my youth, hidden behind machines that offer big prizes. Even the Thomas the Tank Engine ride for toddlers (or whatever’s in fashion at present, there’s always something) is given a far more prominent position than my beloved games.

I will admit that there’s one exception to this that I’ve found, and that’s Brighton Pier. The choice on offer there has, generally, been very good but even that’s started to slip in recent years. Games are slowly becoming less prominent there as they seem to have everywhere, and it disappoints me. I used to enjoy heading down there every now and then to just have a play and see if they’d got anything new in.

Of course, the decline of the arcade in the West (they still seem to be doing great business over in Japan) is nothing new, it’s been a slow slide pretty much since machines like the NES first hit. I mean why go pump all those coins into an arcade machine when I can just sit here at home?

[drop2]For me the reason is simple: playing in an arcade is just more fun. Yes, it probably costs me more in the long run, but there’s something about playing those games in that setting that’s just more fun. I’ve played Time Crisis in an arcade and Time Crisis at home and the arcade version is simply a better experience; the guns feel more solid, the pedal has a better response, and the bigger display is a real help.

Another example was when Hastings had a dedicated Tekken arcade for a short while. You’d go along, pay an amount for a set period of time, and get free play on any of the machines there.

This was so much better than playing Tekken at home that is may as well have been a different game. The sticks on the machines were fantastic, far better than anything I’d ever tried at home, and the ability to make friends with the dude kicking your ass far trumps almost anything I’ve ever experienced in online play.

It’s memories like this that make me long for the resurgence of games in arcades, but I suspect with home machines becoming ever more powerful we’ll see them continue to decline. For me though, no amount of graphical flash or improvement in online play will ever trump the fun you can have at a good arcade.

Oh, and always remember this; Dance Dance Revolution in an arcade will forever be far superior to Just Dance or Dance Central.

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30 Comments

  1. Ah the arcade! Used to be a great one in Swindon, I know, nowhere near the coast. They always used to get the new cabinets in, sit down Ridge & Rage Racers, Daytona, Space Harrier etc. now all they do is fruit machines sadly.

    • Yep, when I was in Gt Yarmouth it was all fruit machine, bingo etc

    • Space Harrier… Shame on me for forgetting. Epic.

  2. I love the arcades. I live in cleethorpes and since having a child it has become socially accepted that I venture in again. Point blank, sniper and various others, I’ll be right back just popping out for some………bread.

  3. Golden Axe was my game of choice

  4. Ghosts & Goblins used 2 get a hammering from me, and I remember spending hours in 1 arcade in Devon trying 2 get the top score on Pole Position. When I finally got it, went home until next morning then got back 2 c some bugger had knocked me down to 2nd. ARSE!

    • G&G was a damn good h/computer port too, many hours spent.

  5. Outrun, Double Dragon, Commando & R-Type, all come to mind instantly, as some of my favs.
    For me it started however, with the humble Space Invaders at my local newsagents.
    The birth of gaming leaderboards(3 digits,:) for local bragging rights & trying to complete DDragon co-op, with 1credit each.

    I love how home gaming has evolved, yet although comfortable, convenient & engrossing at home, it lacks a certain something, found being at the arcades with your mates. Maybe that’s just nostalgia.

  6. I live near Morecambe so we still have arcades, though those ticket spewing machines take up a lot of space! Time Crisis is still definitely a favourite whatever iteration it’s up to now, and I have great memories of playing Sega Rally, Streetfighter 2, Simpsons Arcade, Aerobusters, Snow Bros and some scrolling beat’em up where you turned into a wolf/bear!

    Don’t think I ever had much pocket money left when I was a kid! It’s a shame that the interaction you got from playing in an arcade has mostly been lost – online multiplayer is similar in some ways but you can’t beat actually seeing the look on someone’s face when you win (or the genuine annoyance when you lose!).

  7. Born in the 70’s and i was there for the 80’s boom of arcade games. Favs have to be Hyper Sports, Salamander, Green Beret, Yie Ar Kung Fu, Double Dragon, Paperboy, Rolling Thunder, Chase HQ….lol i could go on and on haha!!

    Trouble was is that arcades became a throwaway experience IMO, what with the price going up to a quid each time and the games not lasting that long and not having that re-playability like the games from the 80’s and not to mention the birth of home entertainment systems like the Snes up to the Megadrive which tbh killed off the arcade halls.

    One thing i do love about the arcades and what home consoles will never have is that your out and about, your on the move and your socialising instead of been sat in your house talking to a m8 who only lives down the street.

  8. Nice article!

    Such a sad state of affairs the Arcade scene is in.

    I’m glad I hit the arcades in the 90’s. Some of the best days of my teens were down there.

    As mentioned by another commenter Great Yarmouth arcades are mainly now just Fruities and Bingo with a billion cranes everywhere. In the 90’s however that was not the case. Every arcade was crammed with games, We had everything. All the Neo Geo games, all the CPS 1 & 2 games, SEGA, SEGA Naomi, Namco, Rare, Tecmo,. Hell we even had a 4-Player sit-down V.R unit with Aeroplane / Dog-Fighting.

    Most days I’d start off with Ridge Racer, have a versus, pop over to Street Fighter Zero 1 – 3, Die Hard Arcade, off to other titles such as Hydro Thunder, Sonic Arcade, V.R, X-Men vs Street Fighter, the list goes on. My fave games had to be: GTI Club, Cyber Cycles, Wing Ward, Moto Raid, Daytona 1 / 2, Ridge Racer 2, Killer Instinct, all of the fighters, and some of the later ones like Alpine Skier (?) That mental-pedal game (Pedal a flying bike – from Namco) That 2-Player rowing game again from Namco, Hell we even got laughs playing Bishi-Bashi arcade!

    You could lose easily a day just enjoying yourself on £10 and the experience and atmosphere was second to none.

    You could just jump on to a machine back then and challenge anybody to a 4-player battle, Bouts, the lot. Such a rush!

    I feel sorry for kids and others experiencing arcades now. Because they’ll have no idea of how it used to be. They’re just full of gamblers, and most of the time, just feels like an unwelcome place to me now. :(

    Listen to me ranting. -Sigh- we’ll never get them days back again! Just stories to tell our children….

  9. Hartlepool and Bournemouth for me (home and holidays). I spent many, many hours of the summer holidays dropping cash on a great variety of machine. The sad thing for me now is the arcades not only offered a better experience but also better graphics too… My megadrive was great but couldn’t compete with the newest machine. Now even my 3DS is more powerful than most.

    Still perhaps the time has passed for ever…

  10. I also greatly missed the arcades of my younger years, So after looking around and not finding any, i got fed up and decided to open my own, take a gander let me know what you guys think

    http://www.arcadeodyssey.com or you can check out our facebook page at
    http://www.facebook.com/arcadeodyssey

    and if you want to see how i went from console and arcade collecting to a full blown arcade check out this link.

    http://www.atariage.com/forums/topic/170532-ccatalyst-gameroom-collection/.

    Enjoy.
    Rick

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