Available: Pretty much everywhere (Xbox, Playstation, PC, Switch – Xbox version reviewed here)
Price: Bout a tenner (Switch version slightly more expensive than the rest)
Erm hello. It’s been a while hasn’t it? Sorry for my absence on a personal level this has been a bit of a trying clustertruck year so far…and we’re not even at the halfway point. Bloody hell. On a more cheery note, let’s look at one of the things that’s helped keep me sane over the last few difficult months: Arcade Paradise from Nosebleed Interactive.
The premise of Arcade Paradise is pretty unique. A rags-to-ritches sort of a tale, the player has been flagged as no-good slacker by their ludicrously rich (and entirely absent) father and set the task of proving themselves by running King Wash, a run-down launderette languishing on the bottom rung of the family business empire. Discovering a couple of old arcade machines in the laundrette’s store room, the game quickly becomes a joint arcade and launderette management sim, with the player having to carefully manage their time between carrying out service washes for launderette customers and expanding, maintaining and…err…testing the laundrette’s arcade collection.
In practice, this basically makes for a mini game bonanza. Of course, the 30-or-so arcade cabinets you can fill King Wash with are all playable games in themselves, but all of the launderette maintenance tasks are minigames as well: whether it’s depositing takings in the safe, taking out the rubbish or “fighting” with a blocked khazi. The gamification of everything mean that these mundane tasks go beyond simply not feeling like a chore and are actually all strangely fulfilling in their own way. Even the simple act of loading and unloading the washing machine is incredibly satisfying thanks to a well crafted animation and a reassuring “ker-chunk” sound. Before you even get to the vast collection of arcade games then, you have a relatively chill and relaxing experience which is much more entertaining than it really has any right to be.
Getting on to the games, well I don’t want to spoil anything but they deliver in the way you’d expect from a classic arcade collection. In terms of presentation, the transition to wandering round the arcade is completely seamless, and the reflections on the monitor make it genuinely feel like you’re standing in your laundrette arcade combo, playing on one of the cabinet. The games are all fully featured too, with titles that you’d want to play with a friend all supporting additional controllers, and everything having an online leader board so you can see how your scores stack up against the world.
I don’t want to spoil things in terms of selection, but there’s basically four categories: simple (think 00’s Nokia simplicity) original titles (that are all irritatingly addictive,) homages to classic titles throughout the ages, chunky physical games that you’d expect to find in an arcade (air hockey, pool etc) and recreations of some classic OS-bundled time wasters. All of the titles included in these categories generally work well, but the included classics deserve special attention. Naturally all of these titles have been given litigation-swerving makeovers (often based around the Woodguy character introduced in Nosebleed’s Vostok Inc) but the changes often run deeper than the skin. It’s impressive stuff. the faithful implementation of classic control physics and game mechanics demonstrates that the Nosebleed team obviously have a deep affection for the games in question, but the changes they’ve made to some of these classic titles demonstrate that they’ve really thought about why these games were so successful – and what could make them more palatable to a modern audience. This means that, though some of the more complicated games in Arcade Paradise aren’t as long or as complicated as the titles that inspired them, they have features like persistent upgrades that will keep you coming back for an extra go or two. As a collection of pseudo-classic arcade and carnival games Arcade Paradise is well worth the prise of admission.
If there’s one area Arcade Paradise isn’t quite as successful it’s as a management sim. On the launderette side things are pretty light. Your laundry machines will never breakdown, and you never have to worry about aspects like paying rent or electricity. Realistically, the laundrette mainly exists to supply a constant source of income for your arcade endeavours.
Though the relative lightness on the laundrette management side is understandable with the focus being centred around the arcade, but the arcade management side of things isn’t very complicated either. Chiefly, Arcade Paradise is a minigame and narrative-led experience, with the main dilemmas faced by real arcade operators being helpfully resolves by the story: as you acquire more cabinets, the arcade always manages to physically expand to accommodate more. You never have to trade/junk an older machine to make way for the next big thing and – though machines periodically breakdown and require a fun mini game fix-up – you never have to source increasingly rare and expensive spare parts for them. Though you can increase the popularity of a machine by playing it and completing certain goals (or by altering the price/difficulty), old machines will never drop to the point where they aren’t making money and none of the new machines are overly-expensive lemons that will breakdown constantly without pulling in much income.
Effectively Arcade Paradise is like a city management game where the player can collect taxes but doesn’t have to pay the police and fire departments, or a sports sim where the star players are eternally 21 years old and in top of their game. It just feels like the difficult questions at the centre of the experience are missing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you: The light-hearted casual approach to management matches the general chill tone of the game – as long as you go in expecting it to emulate how 10 year old FatNicK would have imagined arcade management, you won’t be disappointed.
Less forgivable is Arcade Paradise’s treatment of the setting. Given how important 1993 and 1994 were for the direction of arcades across the globe, using it as a seemingly random 90s prop drop-off point for the game feels a little clumsy – not least because the website you use to order cabinets and the instant messaging software you use to message your sister wouldn’t exist for another couple of years.
Leaving aside the unveiling of the first texture-mapped 3d arcade games, the 1993 setting means that the player would be starting their arcade conversion right in the middle of the furore surrounding videogame violence that led to headlines across the world and Congressional Hearings in the US. However, despite this the affects of your schemes on the wider community aren’t really explored in either the narrative or the mechanics of running this arcade. Indeed, your arcade never really builds a community: though one of your tasks is cleaning up your punters’ wake, the customers are nothing more than digital ghosts who vanish in a puff of distortion as you approach. You are unable to communicate with them even as they stand next to you, and you never have to worry about the types of customer your arcade machines are drawing in (was there a US equivalent of Digitiser’s PUFFY JACKETS?)
As understanding as it is to computerise all your interactions from a UI perspective – with the sole nod to community being emailed score challenges – Arcade Paradise effectively takes two shared communal spaces and creates an experience that’s surprisingly lonely in a way that (though I admit I’m no expert) I suspect a suburban arcade embedded in the community wouldn’t have been. There’s more to setting a game in a period than just wrapping a modern mobile in the ill-fitting skin of a 90s PDA. Neither the narrative nor the gameplay would have lost anything from simply moving the experience to the player creating a retro arcade in the modern day.
Sorry, that got a bit dark didn’t it? Reservations about the setting aside, there’s a lot to love about Arcade Paradise. For the price it’s pretty hard to argue with the 30+ minigames on offer, and to be honest over the last few months it’s been nice to have had a videogame experience which is fundamentally chill and relaxed. On top of that, Nosebleed have expanded Arcade Paradise with some interesting DLC cabinets including an ode to Point Blank-esque light gun games and…erm…a playable interpretation of Phillip K Dick’s Mercerism. I’m grateful to Arcade Paradise for existing, but having played it through to the end it’s definitely piqued my interested a Sid Meier-style 100% authentic arcade management simulator.