Rushing towards Black Friday and the holidays, and we see a perfusion of retro-mini arcade cabinets hitting the shelves. Friend-of-the-site, and trend specialist Kevin Williams looks at a selection of the releases hoping to feed off their arcade legacy and find a place at home.
Being old enough to remember the first flush of excitement of video gaming in the arcades back in the 70’s and 80’s. At the height of this trend and the consumer sector fought for their piece of the pie – looking at branding everything related to the popular titles. Be it ‘Space Invaders’ board games or ‘PAC-MAN’ breakfast cereal. But one refrain from the consumer electronics industry, was the ability to “bring the arcade classics home!” Scaling down arcade tech, to be able to play in the living room.
The interest to have video arcade pieces at home has not diminished over the years, and while full-size arcade machine collectors have carved out a niche – the reality is that most consumers do not have the space or deep pockets to own a personalized arcade machine. But feeding off the nostalgia and latent popularity of arcade gaming, a growing trend has gained momentum, building off the cachet of retro-gaming.
One of the leaders in profiting from this cachet is Arcade1Up – known for their officially licensed arcade cabinets. The operation has released a large range comprising mini (uprights), countercade (counter-top), and head-to-head (cocktail) cabinets. Most recently launching a ‘Outrun’ seated arcade cabinet, working in partnership with SEGA to reprieves the classic racer in a at-home arcade form factor. Adding compact deluxe sit-down designs alongside their upright cabinets.
OutRun seated cabinet / Star Wars Digital pinball
Arcade1Up has even expanded into home miniature digital pinball tables. The company licensing a range of at-home systems including the ‘Star Wars’ digital pinball machine in 3/4 scale. Developed in partnership with Zen Studios and Walt Disney, the machine comprises 10 games. While STERN Pinball has created their ‘Pin’ home range of mechanical consumer tables, interest in a smaller digital offering has grown, as seen with the recent release of SHARPIN ‘Digital Pinball Bartop’.
Digital Pinball Bartop
The Japanese amusement trade have not been slow to build off their extensive IP over the years and have jumped onto this latest flurry for home gaming arcade releases. SEGA announced the release of their interpretation of the popular retro counter-top with the ‘SEGA Astro City Mini’. This re-creation of the popular Astro City six-button arcade cabinet that grazed many a game center. The retro-dream comprising over 20 games and marking the 60th anniversary of the company (official release in December).
SEGA Astro City Mini with mini accessories to recreate the game center configuration
Another Japanese factory with a strong retro past is CAPCOM, the company just releasing their take on the counter-top with the ‘CAPCOM Retro Station’. Comprising some 10 classic arcade game titles, including the Street Fighter series, the striking blue and yellow retro aesthetic design, with USB and headphone sockets, (officially released in December).
We saw in 2018 one of the first entrants into this genre, with the ‘Neo Geo Mini’. The legendary Multi Video System (MVS) Japanese cabinet lovingly re-created as a mini version of the 1990 platform that dominated the game centers in its day. The palm-sized creation was pre-installed with 40 titles but was built to support some 148. The game platform released for the 40th anniversary of SNK.
Interest in the SNK platform has been such that a new deluxe interpretation of the Neo Geo arcade cabinet, released as the ‘MVSX Home Arcade’ – incorporating a larger screen, two-player controls and 50 classic titles. The system even available with a stand to turn it into an upright cabinet configuration, throwing its hat into the crowded ring of mini arcades, (official release November).
MVSX Home Arcade – including its pedestal
The American amusement industry has been slightly slower to benefit from this emerging opportunity. Arcade1Up has worked with Play Mechanix (Raw Thrills) to release a ‘Big Buck World’ at-home mid-size form arcade cabinet. While US start-up Polycade, known for their social wall-mounted game systems has released their ‘Polycade 2600’ – a home-gaming rig to play their library of titles on the couch.
The development of these miniature gaming systems has gained momentum form all corners, with numerous unofficial off-market releases. There are some official releases however, such as the My Arcade brand, that boasts a library of official licensed iconic retro-classics, such as their ‘PAC-MAN’, ‘Space Invaders’, and Bubble Bobble’ Micro Player brand of palm-sized cabinets.
PAC-MAN Micro Player / Bubble Bobble Micro Player
The toy industry has jumped into this sector, with several manufacturers releasing palm-sized LED arcade cabs. Numerous examples of licensed arcade IP were seen during covering Toy Fair 2020. Such as from Basic Fun! who released their range of ‘Mini Arcade Games’ – scaled down versions of the classic ranging from a 40th anniversary ‘PAC-MAN’ to ‘Tetris’ and ‘Defender’, and many more.
PAC-MAN and Defender Mini Arcade Games
Some developers have taken the re-creation of classic arcade gaming to new heights – the retro vibe is strong with toy manufacturer New Wave Toys, behind the RepliCade Amusements brand, launching their ‘Dragon’s Lair x RepliCade’ – a meticulous re-creation of the classic laserdisc cabinet, even down to scale replicas of the shipping box, machine manual and laserdisk player. The range including 12-inch “Playscale” authentic miniatures of ‘Street Fighter II’, ‘Tempest’ and ‘Centipede’ cabinets (with a 40th anniversary ‘Asteroids’ in the works). Even creating a to scale change machine and blacklight game-floor carpets, for owners to create scaled arcade dioramas.
The ability to license popular classic arcade IP and create collectable product lines has proven popular from other sources. We have also seen the launch of another loving re-creations of playable arcade cabinets, with the Quarter Arcade range by Numskull Designs. These 1/4 scale facsimiles of original 80’s retro arcade machines boast 100% accurate emulation. With some 10 different machines to choose from, including their own limited edition ‘PAC-MAN 40th Anniversary’, and ‘Space Invaders’ machines to just name two.
The US satellite of BANDAI NAMCO, licenser of legendary arcade IP have pivoted their conventional amusement releases towards a consumer offering. Launching in 2018 their compact ‘PAC-MAN Pixel Bash’ home arcade version. Comprising some 32 officially licensed classic games, the system offered a home non-coinbox variant of the conventional amusement piece, even going as far as to create a version with built in chiller. Other amusement manufacturers have started to consider offering home arcade versions of their line, to entice quarantined customers.
In these difficult times, other amusement manufacturers in the States have looked at pivoting towards releasing home arcade products, building on their established inventory. Another example is ICE Games, who launched their online ICE Home Arcade Store – comprising a selection of ‘Super Kixx Pro’ dome-games, video and skill arcade-games and a selection of the STERN Pinbal ‘Pin’ home pinball-games. Other established amusement firms expected to being considering their own home arcade product range.
Numerous manufactures have created over the years full-size video arcade machines that they have hoped to try and sell into the home market based on the retro revolution. Most recent example includes the AtGames ‘Legends Ultimate’ – preloaded with a staggering 300 licensed arcade and console game titles. This requiring a rather unique two-player control panel with joysticks, buttons trackball.
The ATARI brand will also be revived in a new home tabletop arcade machine to be launched by UNIS Technology called the ‘ATARI Mini PONG Jr.’ This portable sized two player game system includes the 1970’s ping-pong game for two players, as well as an AI version for single player action, (official release December). UNIS having seen success with the recreation of PONG in the amusement scene, now turning to home deployment, partnering with Arcade1Up to promote, and sell the system.
This is not the first interpretation of the ATARI brand as a retro mini arcade release. In 2019 the corporation BLAZE launched their ‘ATARI Mini Arcade’ populated with five classic retro titles. And launched ‘ATARI PONG Mini Arcade’ with 11 titles preloaded. Sadly, while the amusement trade in the US has failed to promote its legacy, others have managed to find a way.
Even one of the first console machines that attempted to feed off the popularity of video gaming has received the “retro-treatment”. The ‘ATARI Video Computer System’ (VCS) has been turned into a mini classic interpretation – populated with 100 home and arcade games, in a package called by the developers as “built for today!” The concept was announced back in 2017, raised funds through IndieGoGo in 2018 and has gone through a turbulent birthing process that has missed numerous promised launch dates and two system architects along the way (the current official release looking like December).
Another blast-from-the past in console form, is the launch of the ‘Intellivision Amico’ – based on the venerable console platform, but re-imaged for the 2020’s. It sports a sleek new design for the system, while the player controllers are heavily inspired by those of the original Intellivision. Boasting a large library of specially curated titles over the ‘ATARI VCS’, the ‘Amico’ will feature several re-imagined arcade classics, including exclusive remakes of both Atari and Data East games. Originally slated to launch this past October, the pandemic has pushed things back to a Spring 2021 release.
And that seems to be the strategy behind this insurgence in retro-gaming, living off the still very-strong urge for social arcade gaming, from an audience that seems to have been trapped at home. While many will still continue to buy the latest retro interpretation of classic video games, nothing can really beat the chance to play these games for real, in their natural habitat – and we can expect a considerable hunger from a “stir crazy” public to once again get out-of-home to play!
About the Author – Kevin Williams – a leading specialist in the immersive Out-of-Home entertainment industry, through his consultancy KWP Limited, specializing in interactive entertainment. Coming from a long career in the theme park, amusement, and entertainment software industries, being an ex-Walt Disney Imagineer. Well known for his news service, The Stinger Report that has become a-must-read for those working or investing in the international market. Along with this, he is also a prolific writer with regular columns for the main trade publications in this market, along with presenting numerous conference sessions on the sector and its global impact. He is also the co-author of the only book on this aspect of the market, “The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier” – currently working on the next edition, schedule for publication soon. Kevin can be reached at email@example.com.