Easily fits in your home • Good selection of games • Excellent controls
Price is steep for four games • Smaller size can be a bit awkward for three people
At $299 and 63 pounds, you won’t find a cheaper or lighter way to give your home a taste of an authentic ’80s arcade.
When I was a kid, I always thought that owning an arcade cabinet was a sign that you’ve made it. Having a large appliance solely dedicated to playing games meant you had enough disposable income to afford such an unnecessary (but fun!) toy, and enough space to house such a cumbersome object.
Arcade1Up is looking to change that equation. Instead of a massive, expensive cabinet, it sells a smaller, but faithfully reproduced, arcade cabinet with your favorite games pre-installed — for cheap. It looks nice and, at $299, could be the gaming centerpiece you never realized you wanted.
An arcade at home
Arcade1Up has several arcade cabinets to choose from, and each one comes with different cabinet art and a unique set of games and artwork that’s meant to evoke an ’80s-arcade feel. I chose the Rampage-themed cabinet for its variety of multiplayer games, even though the art on the side of the unit was just OK. Rampage comes pre-loaded (of course), along with three other classics: Gauntlet, Defender, and Joust.
If that list of games doesn’t do much for you, there are plenty of other options to choose from. There’s even a 12-in-1 Atari cabinet available at select retailers for even more variety.
Yes, of course you can find a playable version of these games at a much lower price. If you’re inclined, you can have all of these games and more using a Raspberry Pi ($35) and system emulators for minimal cost. That option is a little more involved technically, since you’d also need a monitor and joysticks, but it’s a popular one for a casual trip down memory lane.
What you get with Arcade1Up is accessibility at an “affordable” price. Each cabinet comes in a flat package, not unlike a piece of IKEA furniture. While the review unit I received was already assembled, the company provides videos and guides to help if yours isn’t. Each step is clear, and there are no confusing components or similar parts that can lead to frustration.
It’s intuitive with just two side panels, one floor panel, four interior panels, a marquee, 17-inch LCD monitor, control deck, logo panel, and back panel.
If you wanted to forego all instructional help, which is never a smart idea, you’d probably get by with minimal frustration. For additional guidance, the panels have notches where some items slide into. In addition to the main assembly video, Arcade1Up also has more specific assembly videos if you get stuck.
Once assembled, you now have a cabinet that measures 45.8 x 23 x 19 inches and weighs around 63 pounds. It’s smaller than I envisioned, but it’s definitely not small. Once assembled, I can totally picture it fitting comfortably in many living rooms or bedrooms without dominating the space.
Adults will need to take a seat while playing games on the device. It’s just too short for most people to stand in front of like most real arcade cabinets, but Arcade 1Up does sell a riser that adds an extra 12 inches to the cabinet if you’re tall and determined to stand in front of this thing. You could DIY it with a simple wooden box if you don’t want to spend $49.99. They also sell a stool, but I found a normal chair works fine.
Arcade quality and frustration
I chose the Rampage cabinet because it offered several fun multiplayer options. I mean, what’s the point of having an arcade cabinet if if you can’t share the experience with friends? There are three joysticks to control George, otherwise known as totally not King Kong, Lizzie, or definitely-not Godzilla, and Ralph the giant wolf. You smash buildings, grab humans, and avoid taking damage. Someone should really make a movie about this.
The console provides a fun experience with friends, but it can get cramped hovering shoulder-to-shoulder with your pals. I recommend the two friends on the side standing a bit further away from the cabinet so the middle friend isn’t squished.
Gauntlet is a fantasy hack-and-slash dungeon crawler. You choose between playing an elf, warrior, valkyrie, or wizard to defeat enemies and progress through a series of mazes. Each character has its own strength — the elf is fast while the warrior has high attack, for example — so your choice can affect your ability to clear each level.
Joust is a great way to waste hours. You’re a knight on a flying ostrich tasked with taking down enemies riding flying vultures with a lance. You guide the knight using the joystick while tapping the button lets you fly, hover, or glide down to the ground. The goal is to defeat the enemies by having your joust land above theirs.
Defender is a particularly fun side-scrolling space shooter. You control a ship against an increasingly large swarm of alien ships, but you’re not stuck moving straight ahead. You can turn your ship around and fly to the left of the screen. There are a lot of buttons, which requires some good hand-eye coordination.
Each of these games feels true enough to its arcade counterpart. There’s a satisfying mechanical click and clack as you move the joystick or repeatedly tap a button. The control panel feels sturdy and capable of withstanding intense sessions with several moments of frustration.
You need to be incredibly precise with Rampage or Joust. There were times when I was wondering why George wasn’t climbing a building before I realized I was moving my joystick up and to the left, not straight up. Additionally, I could have sworn that I was out of the way from a thrown dynamite stick. The same goes with Joust where my ostrich was definitely above the other bird, but I lost that round. My imagination? Maybe, but things like this happened often enough that they stuck out.
Modern games are a bit more forgiving, but it’s that razor-thin margin of error that makes the games so thrilling. You’ll want to return to Rampage, Defender, Joust, or Gauntlet because you were this close to advancing to the next level. Or you finally figured out the pattern.
It’s that temptation that victory is just around the corner that compels you to put another quarter into the machine. Luckily, you don’t need quarters to keep playing at home. Out of all the games, I found myself playing Joust the least. It’s a fun distraction and acts as a palate cleanser before jumping back into the other games. It does offer multiplayer, however, which boosts its playability.
I was a bit disappointed with Gauntlet. It’s a fun game and there’s nothing inherently wrong with the port. But, the original supported up to four players. The Arcade1Up port supports just two players, which is still fun but not as brilliantly chaotic as having four people huddled around one cabinet. Also, there are three joysticks on the console — why can’t the game at least support three players? A two-player game also limits your in-game firepower.
Defender is a difficult game as its laid out and requires both hands to be extremely active. To take away some of that frustration, I had a friend control the buttons on the right while I focused on steering the ship. All told, it was fun trip down memory lane.
The cost of nostalgia
What you’re paying for with Arcade1Up is the craftsmanship of the cabinet, the satisfying mechanical click of the joystick and buttons, and an accessible, nostalgic experience.
It’s a similar logic behind the NES Classic, Super NES Classic, and the upcoming PlayStation Classic. You’re paying a premium for games you’ve probably purchased multiple times across several console generations.
But, there’s just something that clicks. The games you grew up with can now be easily reproduced, usually on better, smaller, or more efficient hardware. Throw in a roster of decent games and some modern updates, and it’s easy to see why nostalgia has been such a smash hit for Nintendo. There’s a reason why Sony jumped into the retro console business and why Atari is trying to mount another comeback.
Are retro consoles a fad? Probably, but it’s a harmless one that’s not diluting the quality of Nintendo’s and Sony’s main consoles. No one is pining for a retro CD-i or Atari Lynx, but there will be many buyers for the rumored N64 Classic, a hypothetical PS2 Classic or Dreamcast Classic.
However, those are all tiny in size compared to the Arcade1Up cabinet. You can usually find a place for a console in your home pretty easily, but the same can’t be said for an arcade cabinet. Some may have scoffed at the $79.99 Super NES Classic as being too pricey for nostalgia. Add an additional $200 and it becomes just a bit harder to justify.
Game selection is another obstacle. Emulation and ROMs have led to unlimited choice. With a little technical know-how, you can put together something that runs far more games than the Arcade1Up, and for about the same amount of money or less (copyright concerns aside).
With the Arcade1Up cabinet, you can get as many as 12 games, with the 12-in-1 Atari bundle, or as few as two games, with the Galaga/Galaxian cabinet. The other cabinets feature four games. For the Street Fighter cabinet, you get three iterations of the genre-defining Street Fighter II. It’s really for folks who have a strong relationship with specific games.
But, even considering its limitations, there’s something satisfying about Arcade1Up. At a pretty reasonable $299, it’s one of the easiest and cheapest ways to put an arcade cabinet in your home. If you’re a casual gamer looking to have fun or a parent who wants to show their children the glory days of games past, you’ll find a lot to like with Arcade1Up.