I Went Back To A Seaside Arcade From My Childhood - Does It Hold Up?
To me, a British seaside is one of the best places to be, and it's not because of the beach.
The sunburn, deflected only by a layer of factor 50 so thick it makes me look like a ghost? The sand getting everywhere? It’s never as good as your parents big it up to be.
There’s only so many sandcastles you can make, so many donkeys you can ride, and so many inflatable food items you can float on in the sea before it all starts to get a bit dull.
After a few hours, that beautiful beach, that slice of quaint British life by the sea, just turns into a dull area of sand with some water splashing up against it occasionally.
But all it took was that familiar sound of my Mum searching her purse for coins and the following eight words to turn all of that around: “do you want to go to the arcade?”
A bastion of amazing gaming experiences, set to a soundtrack of clattering pennies from the 2p slots and a faint scent of candy floss - the Electric Palace in Weymouth was the first real arcade I went to, at the age of six years old. I will always remember picking up that first Time Crisis gun...and being promptly terrible at it. But from that point, I was hooked.
Fast forward 23 years and I’m back in Weymouth on a family holiday, and I’m not that same young kid anymore. In fact I went along with the new generation, my sister’s total dude of a kid - Oliver. I look forward to showing him some of these games when he’s old enough to experience them, but this was a good time to make sure it still holds up.
So, the question is a simple one - is the seaside arcade just as good as I remember it, for future generations to enjoy?
Let’s review some of the top titles here and sum everything up for you in this, a different kind of blog for me. It’s the summer holiday, and I deserve a break!
Space Invaders Frenzy
Ever watch that episode of The Simpsons where they go to Japan, and they all (but Homer) fall victim to seizures because of the rapid strobes of a Transformers rip off show? Well imagine that, but in arcade game form, as I welcome you to Space Invaders Frenzy.
The goal is simple and the experience is short - take a seat and use your mounted machine gun to stop the invaders from reaching the bottom of the screen. But let’s be honest, this was never going to be about the gameplay, as a wall of LED panels assault the senses with a flash flood of primary colours and flashing imagery.
While I’d love for each session to be a little longer, it truly is a one-of-a-kind show stopping experience on the arcade floor. You think you’ve played stationary shooters before? Nothing matches the relentless visual and audio feast of Frenzy.
Well worth a couple quid, but one that you need to be sure of no epilepsy symptoms of before playing!
The gameplay is a standard light-gun shooter affair - dispatching enemies, shooting pick-ups in the background and progressing through the rather pretty surroundings. But there are certainly some elements that should be removed/changed to make it enjoyable beyond paying that first pound coin.
First off, you’ve got the act of reloading a gun. Common sense dictates that it should be as simple and unobtrusive as possible - lifting your foot off the pedal in Time Crisis, shooting off the screen in the original House of The Dead, cocking the gun to fire if it’s two handed (the third House of The Dead is the first example that came to my head), or even something as simple as a reload button.
This is gameplay 101, but for Tomb Raider, the team decided to have you stop playing for a second to cock the top of your pistol to load. I’m not interested in the slightest for some realism, I just want the game to be good, and this was a big problem for me.
And there is no body part-based hit detection, meaning headshots are just as strong as those to the hands or feet, which paired with the comically reduced damage of your pistol shots means that. It just feels unnecessarily difficult with the mechanics turned way up against you.
I’d avoid this game if you spot it in your local arcade. Big brand names don’t make up for a subpar experience.
This one is just a simple money-making exercise of a game, taking a near-perfect arcade experience in Mario Kart and literally sticking it in an arcade.
Controls are just as nice and responsive as you’d imagine, mapped to a steering wheel and pedals for that extra level of interactivity. AI is kept relatively easy in order to stay out of the way of the real competitors - all four of you playing multiplayer. It’s a wonderfully competitive few minutes that brings friends and family together, and the pinnacle of a key trend in arcades - taking a living room experience and making more money off of it.
To finish, I want to talk about one of the simplest, but most fun games in the entire arcade. Piano Keys is universally recognised as one of the easiest ways to win arcade tickets, provided you have some pro hand-eye coordination.
Enter me, a gaming geek with nearly two decades of professional piano training under his belt… It’s a relentlessly addictive experience and one that I can’t say much about - except for that I spent £4 on the machine and have a really naff fidget spinner to prove my skills.
Does it hold up?
To the arcade purists, before you say it. Yes I know these aren’t the best gaming cabinet experiences out there. For you, plenty of arcade bars across the country serve this purpose well, and there are many that I love - shoutout to The Four Quarters in London.
But one thing you cannot disagree with me on, is that there is nothing quite like a seaside arcade. From the throwback cabinets and 2p slots, to the throwback cabinets that get better with age and a faint smell of chips & ketchup infecting the air around you, they were the highlight of any childhood family holiday to the beach for me.
And in 2019, I can safely say they still hold up - dishing out as much fun as they did back in 1999 for me.