Remember when playing a video game meant going out, not staying in? No? Well, for the gamers of the 70s and early 80s, the gaming arcade was pretty much the only place to find pixels, bleeps and joysticks. It meant feeding Pac-man with 10p pieces then trying to cajole some extra cash out of your parents to get in line for Space Invaders or Galaxian – gaming was fraught with difficulties and the games were over all too quickly.
In modern times, retro gaming has never been easier. Gaming arcades stuffed with retro games from the 70s to the 90s can be found in all parts of the world. The best ones even serve beer. No wonder that some are tourist attractions in their own right.
Japan – where it all began
The original home of video games remains the spiritual home of retro gaming and there are plenty of gaming arcades in Japan to pick from. Sega has some of the best, unsurprisingly. Club Sega in the Akihabara district of Tokyo is six floors of retro gaming madness, with Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Border Break rubbing shoulders with traditional end-of-the-pier crane games where you try to pick the prize with a claw – and no, the prizes are better than a Buzz Lightyear.
Akihabara has dozens of game centres, and there’s no lack of competition in some of the arcades, particularly Hey, the Hirose Entertainment Yard. Game Taito Station is the headquarters of Space Invaders as well as Bubble Bobble, Qix, and Elevator Action.
Joypolis has several of its retro gaming theme parks across Japan and China and they go beyond the arcade to include bumper cars, a roller coaster based on Sega’s Rail Chase and the extraordinary Virtua Formula, an eight-player version of Virtua Racing inside full-sized Formula One cockpits and screens that stretch 80 inches across.
United States – where bigger is always better
The east coast has two of the best places to find retro games. Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire has been named the largest gaming arcade in the world, and the rows and rows of Daytona USA booths and Pac-man cabinets sit next to Skee-Ball machines and even an indoor mini-golf course.
Barcade was originally in Brooklyn, but has spread out into other parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well. The classic video games such as Asteroids, Frogger, Missile Command, Mortal Kombat II and Q*Bert have the high scores published online, posted by people who haven’t had too many of the broad array of craft beers on the ever-changing menu.
Closer to home – the United Kingdom
London has several superb gaming arcades: the Heart of Gaming (or The Hog to regulars) in Croydon can host more than 100 people at a time and has a minimalist approach to its décor. The gaming is maximal however – Street Fighter II, Donkey Kong, Pac-man and several other original refurbished machines provide the main attraction but there are also console games both old and new.
Arcade Club in Bury in Greater Manchester has a similar offering – you pay a £10 entry fee then all the games inside are free to play. As well as Out Run, the original 1942 and Street Fighter IV there are some less mainstream games including Joust, Quartet and Jungle Lord.
Don’t miss… Russia
The Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines in St Petersburg is a bit different from the average state-of-the-art gaming arcade but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. The museum has a stack of rare retro games created in the 70s, and many of them work and are playable. Morskoi Boi is a Periscope-like game which involves trying to sink enemy ships – and no, they aren’t carrying Royal Navy flags.
Retro gaming is back and here to stay. If you’re not lucky enough to live near one of the very best in the world, then head over to Dice for some 1UP retro action.