Picture the scene: at 1:15pm yesterday I’m standing outside Geo’s eating fish and chips in the rain. I don’t honestly think I could have come up with something more emblematic of the British summer if I tried, but doing it in Clacton has a particular resonance for me. This town, alongside Southend-on-Sea, was one of the key components of summer as I was growing up. The beach, the pier, the dinky donuts and of course the seafront arcades all made for memorable trips out with the family. These days I live close enough for an easy day trip on the bus, so I thought I’d pop along and see just how the arcades are holding up after all these years.
I’ll admit to some surprise. While the seaside arcades usually fare pretty well, I hadn’t expected to find the place quite so well-equipped. Every location boasts the standard redemption machines as well as the classic 2p pushers, but each has also made some effort to maintain a list of relatively recent video games, with most of the major releases of the last few years present. Certain popular games are almost ubiquitous, particularly Terminator Salvation, Time Crisis 4, Guitar Hero and Dancing Stage Euromix 2, all of which can be found at most of the locations mentioned. Additionally, the town boasts some machines which are reasonably hard to find these days. Let’s run down the venues:
I started the day off here and almost immediately ran into one of the more interesting finds of the day, Fruit Ninja FX. I hadn’t previously seen one of the touch-screen games out in the wild (admittedly using central London as my sample). In addition to some of the above-mentioned staples, the downstairs area has Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 (without the card slot), The Fast and the Furious Superbikes, Big Buck Hunter Pro and Rambo. After dropping some coinage into Rambo and failing rather miserably, I went upstairs and found the real treasures. Pinball enthusiasts will be pleased to know that there are two tables up there (Street Fighter II and South Park), while those into classic video games of the 1990s will be pleased to find The Simpsons, Star Wars Trilogy Arcade, Scud Race, Manx TT, Puzzle Bobble, Title Fight, and The House of the Dead 2. Some more recent games were upstairs too, including Dancing Stage Euromix and its sequel, Battle Gear 3 (not working at the time of the visit) and Warzaid, as well as a small bowling alley. The machines I played all worked well, though some of the older ones are showing some definite wear and tear – in particular, the monitor on The Simpsons seemed to be in need of some real attention. Magic City is a well-rounded arcade, with plenty to do for the family. For arcade hunters, it particularly shines for those looking for pinball and the classics.
Gaiety had possibly the most surprising game I saw all day – Initial D v3 running on a Cycraft cabinet! I jumped at the rare opportunity to the exclusion of all else around me, but thankfully when the game was over took some time to notice what else was going on. The rather excellent line-up included Sega Rally 3, The House of the Dead 4, Battle Gear 4, H2Overdrive, Let’s Go Jungle, Ghost Squad (with card slots!), Need for Speed Carbon and The Fast and the Furious Superbikes, in addition the the usual suspects mentioned above (save for Euromix 2). I used to consider myself pretty good at Sega Rally 3 and House of the Dead 4 but it seems re-evaluation is needed, given that my time out on the Alpine course of Rally was the less embarassing of my two performances. If you’re looking for harder to find modern games or simply a really good selection, this is a venue that you really need to check out.
Gameshow had the fewest video games of the arcades I visited, with only Dancing Stage Euromix 2 from the staple games mentioned in the introduction to this report. The arcade also had Big Buck Hunter Pro, Need For Speed Carbon and Razing Storm. While this is a small selection it does happen to be the only location that I could find with Razing Storm, so if you’re looking for that specific game you’ll want to pop in.
Clacton Pavilion sports a range of family attractions including rides and dodgems, but I was most interested in visiting the Pavilion Bowl centre during its opening weekend. The venue has had millions poured into it and it shows – the place is bright and well decorated, with a ten lane bowling alley, an Armstrongs restaurant and bar, dodgems, pool and of course an arcade. As you’d expect they machines are all in top condition, what with the recent opening. The game selection bears a striking resemblance to the Namco Brent EAG stand, which doesn’t do it any harm – alongside the staples, you can find Dead Heat, Nirin, Hopping Road, The Fast and the Furious Super Cars, Super Bikes 2, Deadstorm Pirates, and a couple of outliers in Hopping Road and Silent Scope Fortune Hunter. Best of all, however, was the deluxe Pac-Man Battle Royale in pride of place, alongside all manner of other Pac-Man items. I even managed to be less rubbish at games in here, with a Dead Heat session culminating in first place. The bar is nice but relatively pricey – a pint of Beck’s Vier will run you £3.60. This is the venue with the most to do for the family, and boasts a great selection of games too. This seems to be the location with the most to do overall, a great place for family outings and gaming sessions alike.
Are pleasure piers actually a thing outside of the UK? They’re such an integral part of my seaside experience that I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t have them. Clacton Pier has various non-arcade attractions, including various fairground rides, a large simulator machine and the SeaQuarium. The arcade is paired with the six lane bowling alley, lounge and bar. Machines you can find here include the usual suspects from above, as well as Mario Kart Arcade GP 2, Need For Speed Underground, Big Buck Safari, Hopping Road, Sega Rally 3, Fruit Ninja FX, Deadstorm Pirates, Dead Heat and Super Bikes 2. There’s also a deluxe Pac-Man Battle Royale here, but the exclusive which extended my grin just that bit further was Go Go Grand Prix. This venue gave me the most machine trouble, but it should be noted that this was later on in the day once the weather had turned nice again – it’s very possible that the machines that weren’t accepting coins were just full. However, my Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 run was marred by a non-functioning item button and the total loss of the accelerator pedal for at least 30 seconds mid-race. Lord knows what AI that game has, because even with those handicaps I managed to finish the race in first place. Hopefully this isn’t indicative of the overall maintenance standards. The big screens at the rear of the bowling alley were great though, showing Andy Murray as he stormed towards Olympic gold. On repeat trips I’ll be looking at machine condition here, in order to get an idea of how isolated the problems I had were.
As I sat outside the pier with an ice cream, it seemed to me that I’ve rather neglected the town given how close it is. If you’re close to Clacton, give it a go for a day out – I was pleasantly surprised and you could be too. As I said at the top, if you’re looking for recent games you’ll find many of them here, though this largely extends to releases from the Sega and Namco Brent distribution stables and more heavily favours the latter. While I’ve recommended various arcades for different things, they’re all right next to each other so if you’re doing a serious gaming day it’s worth just doing them all together. I’ll be making repeat visits over the coming weeks, such was the positive experience I had. Maybe I’ll see you there?