For many modern gamers, the very idea of having to leave your home in order to play the latest titles is a thing of ancient history. Hell, you don’t even have to get off the sofa to buy games these days – just to make a cup of tea or grab an energy drink from the fridge while it’s downloading. However, back in the bygone years of my youth, the latest and greatest gaming experiences only existed in the arcade. It is no coincidence that nostalgic depictions of the 80s such as Stranger Things generally feature at least one scene in a busy arcade setting filled with the flashing lights and characteristic chiptunes. While my own experience was more often a single arcade machine in the local chippy, seaside holidays would feature excited trips to check out the likes of Gauntlet and Mortal Kombat. Arcade Paradise revives these halcyon days with a fantastic mix of management sim and playable machines.
Playing as a college dropout with an overbearing and successful father, you are entrusted with the running of a drab inner city launderette as a last chance. With your dad checking up on you and insisting that you finally live up to the family’s record of success ,things are set up for a dreary routine of loading clothes into washing machines and picking up rubbish. Indeed, the first few days of your new business endeavour do revolve around these basic menial tasks, although throwing the filled binbags and picking off chewing gum stuck to the walls do involve timing-based minigames. Most tantalising of all, though, is that you can see a back room with several arcade machines behind a locked door in the back.
After a few cycles of washing, the key for the gaming room is found and the game proper gets underway. At first you have only a few machines to entice customers in, but as your takings increase you can buy more from the ArcadeMania website and eventually even undergo building works to extend the floorspace available to you. In the early days running the laundry is more profitable, if deliberately boring, but you’ll soon be reaping the rewards from the arcade machines and seeing the washing as a necessary evil. With new machines always being available there is a clear sense of progression and there are 35 different arcade games to purchase and unlock.
Your time at the laundrette is limited to a working day that finishes at 11pm. You can stay behind until 2am, but after that you’ll collapse from exhaustion and get a stern talking to from your dad via answering machine message. Failing to finish all the laundry tasks will also see the takings plummet from $30 for a perfect service to only $5 each time. While you’ll no doubt soon switch to leaving the laundry tasks undone, doing so will result in the cleanliness of your premises going down and customers being driven away. While this isn’t the most realistic of simulations – arcades rivalled trashy nightclubs in terms of sticky floors and funky smells – it does ensure that you need to juggle the various tasks.
So, after a while you’ll fall into a routine of tidying the laundrette, emptying the coin hoppers, putting the takings into the safe and upgrading the arcade. This management side is smooth and well designed, with the physical space of the arcade working as the user interface. While the game isn’t in VR, the immersiveness of exploring the arcade in first person does add to the experience immensely.
The main part of the game eventually revolves around playing the arcade machines themselves. Rather than just a distraction from the humdrum grind of daily life, every machine has a number of goals to meet that will increase their popularity and profit potential. Tying this progression to actually playing the games rather than more vague management requirements takes Arcade Paradise from a good game to a great nostalgia experience.
The first games you have access to include an Air Hockey table, a strange Match 3 adventure which feels pretty out of place both in mechanics and gameplay, and a completely inspired Grand Theft Auto take on Pac-Man where you drive a car around a maze collecting money. Colliding with the cop cars that play the part of the ghosts will see you left on foot looking for a new car to continue your rampage.
This is a neat enough idea to justify a budget retro release in it’s own right, and the rest of the 35 arcade games are equally enjoyable. Some are formulaic racers and shooters, but all are fully featured arcade games that have challenges and high scores to chase. It’s easy to forget the management aspects altogether when you are chasing down the required goals – mastering every machine will take many hours of play.