Monday, July 22, 2013


The New Arcade

All right.  I've got the classics.  I've got pinball.  But my home arcade is about more than just living in the past -- this is a continuum, not a fossil record.  Why disclude the new classics just because they're new?  So here's The New Arcade.  The games that feel right at home next to the classics.

How do I decide which games make the cut?  I don't want to nail down the definition too tightly, but these are just games that I wouldn't be surprised to see in an arcade.  They're designed to give the player brief sessions, usually around 5-10 minutes or so, depending on skill level.  They're games that you pick up, play with a little, and then put down again.

So, what's going to go into my new arcade?

Activision Anthology

Maybe it's weird to start the "new" arcade with ports of 30-year-old Atari games, but hey.  These are games that were never in an arcade, though they wear the cabinet well.  Many games in this collection fit the bill, but I'm pointing to Enduro and Pressure Cooker in particular.  The first is a racing game, the second is about making sandwiches.  Beautiful.

Temple Run

This one's so much more fun with a joystick.  Nab coins, jump and duck.  Poetry.

Fix-It Felix Jr.

I never downloaded the update, so I'm still the proud owner of a Fix-It Felix Jr. desktop arcade cabinet. All these months later, the game still gives me a smile.

Fruit Ninja

I was reluctant to include touchscreen games in this list just because it kind of breaks the arcade feel, doesn't it?  Robot Unicorn Attack and Jetpack Joyride are very addictive and very arcadey, but if you're not playing them with buttons, do they really feel like arcade games?  Still, considering the fact that I've see an actual Fruit Ninja game set up in an actual arcade, I feel compelled to concede the point on this one.


Until I can determine whether or not the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game coming out for Wii is a viable substitute for the classic arcade game, Beatdown is a reasonable sidescrolling beat-em-up.

Unicorn Dash

It's basically Robot Unicorn Attack, minus the robot part, but plus iCade controls and the option to play your own music, such as "Can't Keep Johnny Down".

Wii Sports and Sports Resort

In the mid to late 90s, arcade games started coming out with all sorts of wacky gimmicks to try and compete with our home supercomputers, and I remember weird controllers being one of them.  You know the kind -- you'd pay $2 or something insane like that, take up a giant fake gun or something, and the game ends five minutes later.  The Wii Sports games feel perfect for capturing that spirit.  Go Vacation may go under this heading at some point, but for now, I'd still rather relate to it as an open world exploration game than as a minigame pack.

Link's Crossbow Training

Oh hell yes.  I can just see it, every pack of 3 levels at $1 apiece.  And it's so much fun.

Donkey Konga

Music game, stupid controller.  That's an arcade game all right.

Super Smash Brothers

Smash Brothers was born on the Nintendo 64.  It was designed for analog controls, which makes playing it with a digital joystick kind of awkward.  But hey, that's just part of the charm, isn't it?  Like trying to play one of the old Super Mario Brothers arcade cabinets and discovering just how much more awkward a joystick was compared to the D-pad?  Sure, I love the novelty of playing all three of these games arcade style.

Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix

It's the only DDR I've got, and the only one I've ever been good at.  Judge me all you want, see if I care.  :D

Game & Watch Gallery

I love the sheer perversion of hooking up a supercomputer to an industrial strength joystick and a giant monitor to play LCD games.  I've always thought of a Game & Watch Gallery as a pocket arcade without the quarters, so sure, let's give them their time to shine on the big screen.

Wario Ware Inc.

Supercomputer.  Industrial strength joystick.  Giant monitor.  5-second games.  SHEER.  PERVERSION.

Muscle March

Also known as "The Greatest Thing on WiiWare".  Maybe this was an arcade game in Japan?  It sure looks like one.  And it is SO AWESOME.

Samba de Amigo

Fudging it, I know, because this absolutely was an arcade game at some point, but what the heck.  I never played it until it came out on Dreamcast.  The Wii version is kind of hit and miss -- some days it seems to work fine, other days I can't seem to catch a single beat -- but what else am I going to do?  My Dreamcast and maracas are dead.

Rock Band

Yeah.  Rock Band.  Another one of those games that, years ago, it would have been completely impractical to see outside of an arcade.  Now it's become so commonplace that we've become culturally bored with the idea.

So there we go.  My home arcade.  One tiny corner of the basement, one enormous embarrassment of electronic entertainment.  Switching games is perhaps inelegant, and with only two stations available -- you have to move the iPad between the iCade and the Duo Pinball -- it wouldn't satisfy a real mob of gamers the way a real arcade would.  But as a hideaway for a middle-aged man on the cusp of a midlife crisis, looking for a door back to his childhood?  It'll do.



Duo Pinball

In an arcade filled with giant machines that gave you a window into colorful worlds filled with bouncing plumbers and ravenous yellow circles, pinball seemed like kind of an antiquated notion.  It's just this little ball that bounces around -- so what?  But even in a world where my quarter could just as easily buy a round of Pac-Mania, pinball tables still held a certain kind of fascination for me.  They are machines, and so they tickle the part of your brain that wants to understand complicated devices and figure out how they work.  I love the way you can feel the weight of the ball, the sound it makes as it rolls down.  I love the snap of a flipper, the chunky clang of a bumper.  I love the complicated network of ramps and chutes that send your ball whizzing this way and that.

But it was an experience that you couldn't recreate at home.  If there was an arcade game that you particularly liked, you could usually find a reasonable facsimile on your home console, particularly if that home console was an NES.  But pinball?  Yes, there were desktop pinball toys, but when you shrink the experience down, you lose the physics.  A friend of mine had a particularly good one, and I was quite jealous of him for it, but even that one was a fairly simple table, just the flippers and a few bumpers.  There were video pinball games, but that wasn't the same either.

When I set out to create my home arcade, I knew that I would need amusements.  Of course, I don't exactly want to drop the hundreds of dollars for a bulky piece of equipment that I'll probably only use a couple times a month.  Luckily, the Apple App Store is a great place to find tiny amusements.

I've tried a few pinball apps since buying my iPad, and Pinball HD is the one that stuck.  A lot of pinball video games try to sexy the experience up with dynamic cameras, particularly when the tables are so complicated that you need a zoomed-in view to understand what's happening.  I like Pinball HD for keeping all of its tables on a single screen.  That's the pinball experience that I want.  It's just like having this single, fixed pinball table, just the right size to go in my hands.  At first, I was inclined to be a little sour about the idea of paying for this app and then to be expected to buy additional tables for it, but then one day I reached an epiphany.  This is The One.  This is the pinball app I want to spend the rest of my life with.  I love the look and feel of it, so why not buy new tables as they're developed which share that look and feel?

Considering that I have an iCade to give my iPad games that authentic look and control, I actually considered building a little wooden stand to sit my iPad in and make it look like a real table, maybe work out some sort of mechanical controls.  But luckily I didn't have to.  Luckily, there's the Duo Pinball.

The Duo Pinball isn't much.  It's a stand that you can clip your iPad into.  It connects wirelessly.  There are flipper buttons on the side and a plunger stick that you can pull back and snap.  It doesn't complete the look of the machine in the same way the iCade does, but it does a good job of creating the feel.  The plunger seems a bit laggy -- from time to time, the plunger in the game will hesitate briefly during the snap-back, resulting in a different shot than the one intended -- but the flipper buttons are spot on.  As an additional bonus, it's the perfect angle to use as a stand for my Skeeball HD app, though, of course, the controls aren't compatible.

It's hard to make a very high recommendation for the product.  It only works with one app, and that app works just fine without it.  But it fills a need I had, and I'm grateful for that, and I bought it at liquidation prices besides.  It's a cool toy.

Next time, I'll be taking a look at The New Arcade -- all the games that make a good arcade experience, though most of them were never found in an arcade.


Saturday, July 20, 2013


Like the Scent of Fresh Lemons

So, Gabe is turning his garage into an arcade, eh?  Well, two can play at that game!

The last time I tried to build a home arcade, my options were kind of limited.  I had an X-Arcade cabinet kit, but the systems I owned were either incompatible (NES, SNES, N64) or had a weak selection of the classics (Gamecube, Dreamcast).  Add to that the fact that the X-Arcade Gamecube adapter hadn't been perfected yet.  Sure, I could have just put together a MAME box, but... I don't go for piracy, you know?

Now, of course, things are a bit different.  I've got a Wii with Virtual Console and a Gamecube with a Game Boy Player, giving me access to a wealth of games across multiple platforms, and the X-Arcade adapters have had some serious upgrades -- dual-stick mode on Gamecube, classic controller mode on Wii.  No more making do -- I can use my joysticks for everything.  I've upgraded to a giant TV monitor, now that they're going for a buck apiece at the Goodwill.  And I've got an iCade and a Duo Pinball for my iPad, just to round things out.

(Incidentally... With Apple adopting a controller standard?  I would buy a new iCade -- the full cabinet model -- just to take advantage of the greater range of compatibility I'm sure it would offer.  Just putting that out there.)

I understand that there's more to an arcade than just setting up one cabinet and putting a hundred games in it.  An arcade is space.  It's multiple machines and the space to move between them.  It's having people around to watch or play against.  It's music and lighting and decor and, as Gabe says, the smell of crappy pizza.  But hey.  Now I have fully three machines to move between.  It might not emulate a Chuck E. Cheese, but it's close to the game corner in a movie theater.

Of course, the objective of a project like this is to recreate the arcades from my childhood.  Dumping a bunch of games in a box is fine in its own way, but this is about time travel.  I like the new classics well enough, but foremost, I want to see the games I remember.

So here goes.  My favorite arcade classics.

Ms. Pac-Man

You couldn't escape Pac-Man in the early 80s.  It was the generic name for video games before words like "Nintendo" and "Playstation" were invented.  Many Pac-Man games were made, but the one I actually played was Ms. Pac-Man.  It was at Jill's Dry Cleaning.  As my mom did the laundry, I would watch its attract mode, fiddle around with the joystick, and, on rare occasions, inspire enough pity that my mom would drop one of her precious quarters in the slot.  Sometimes I would even clear the first level before I died.

I'd like to use the iPad version of this game, but without iCade support, I'm afraid I have to resort to Namco Museum on the Gamecube.  It's not my favorite version of the game because it maintains the arcade aspect ratio at the expense of screen resolution.  Hell, I'd rather take a Virtual Console version, if there was one.  But such is life.


Sat next to Ms. Pac-Man was a Centipede machine.  I played this one less often -- I've never been much for shooting games -- but often enough that it's stayed in my mind.

It's not the same without a trackball, but the iCade version in Atari Classics Collection is fair enough.

Elevator Action

This was the premium game at Jill's Dry Cleaning.  A platformer.  It had so much going on, too.  You had elevators, escalators, doors to go in and out of, bad guys to shoot it out with.  If you shot the lights, they'd fall and the floor would go dark -- that's attention to detail!  And let's not forget the most gruesome death in any video game ever -- getting trapped under a descending elevator.  As if the animation wasn't bad enough, the sound effect made me scream with real, primal terror.  This was one of those games that infected you, to the extent that you'd want to play Elevator Action at the playground, imagining that your slides and things were elevators and escalators.

The NES Virtual Console version fits the bill for this one.


There were many games at Chuck E. Cheese's.  Of course there were.  But ask me to remember any of them, and the only one you'll get is Pac-Mania.  Kee-ripes this one was awesome, wasn't it?  Pac-Man! In isometric 3D!  You could jump over ghosts!  The maze was made of Legos!  Of course I don't remember any other games, why would you even pay attention to anything else?

This is another one on Namco Museum.


Rampage is sort of the quintessential Midway game.  It's multiplayer, there's lots of senseless violence, it goes on forever and ever, and you take so much damage so quickly that no skill in the world will save you from dumping quarter after quarter into it.  But hey, it's giant monsters smashin' shit and eatin' bitches.  The fact that players can pound each other -- and devour their weakened opponents -- means that every game will eventually devolve into a simple brawl.  This game was probably one of the biggest reasons I didn't do much actual roller skating over at Skate U.

Since multiplayer is so important, of course I opt for the Gamecube version over the iPad.  The only real trouble is that, just as in the arcade, your character is hard-wired to the joystick you're using, but it's not that big a deal to plug player 2 into Ralph instead of Lizzie.


Paperboy was one of those games that stood out just because the concept was so different.  It was too difficult to really be enjoyable, and it still is today, but I still played it at Skate U now and then.  As long as it already comes on Midway Arcade Treasures for Gamecube, I'll give it a peek now and then.

Smash TV

One last memory from Skate U.  This one stuck out for the concept and the attract mode that depicted a battle against the enormous and iconic Mutoid Man.  I was never especially fond of games where all you did was mow people down with a gun, but I appreciated the snide social commentary -- the idea that, in 1999, we would watch gladiators fight it out in arenas for cash and toasters.

This actually turned out to be kind of a fun game, now that I'm a bit older and more aware, and now that the X-Arcade Gamecube adapter supports multistick play.

Spy Hunter

Once when I was little, I went on a three-week family camping trip to the Wisconsin Dells.  We saw all of the water parks and quite a few of the sight-seeing activities, but the rain kept us from doing a lot of the typical camping activities, so my brother and I spent a lot of our time in the game room playing Spy Hunter.  Driving games never really interested me, nor shooters, but something about the combination of the two worked for me.  Ramming bad guys off the road, avoiding civilians, speeding into power-up vans -- this one was clearly the highlight of the game room.  It helped that each game began with a grace period, where you would respawn automatically no matter how many times you crashed, giving you the impression that you were a lot better at the game than you really were.

I've got this one for iPad and Gamecube, and honestly, I'll take either version.


I'd never played Breakout before encountering this one in the game room at the Dells, and I have to say, it got into my head.  I might have spent more time with it if Spy Hunter wasn't right next to it.  The dial controller was odd, and the concept of breaking blocks and catching powerups was fun.

I haven't been able to find a strict recreation of the original, but a new version for Wii Ware has been good enough to slake my nostalgia.

Street Fighter II

C'mon.  You knew this one had to be on the list.  This was the game that got our butts away from our Super Nintendos and back into the arcades... until the home version came out, anyway.  Street Fighter II was such a milestone in video games that I can summon genuine nostalgia for it despite never once actually playing it in an arcade.  Of course, I've seen it.  Of course I've watched other people play it.  The game was unavoidable in the 90s.  You simply cannot make a nostalgia arcade without including Street Fighter II in some shape or form.

The version I've selected is the SNES port of Street Fighter II Turbo on the Wii Virtual Console.  The Super Street Fighter II games always seemed, to me, sort of "impure", like they were stretching what could and should be done with what was essentially an "expansion pack", but I'll take the Turbo version for all of the enhancements it offers.  With my X-Arcade in Gamecube mode, it's particularly easy to recreate the original control scheme.  If my cabinet didn't wobble a bit in the middle of a match, it'd be easy to think that I had the original hardware.

Dragon's Lair

The boom and bust of laserdisc games was almost as quick as the lifespan of the malfunctioning devices themselves, so my only real-life encounter with a proper Dragon's Lair cabinet was when I was too young to really understand what it was.  But hey, close enough.  The game has come to capture my imagination, and I did eventually encounter its sequel during the arcade renaissance that Street Fighter II ushered in.

Dragon's Lair Trilogy has been available on the Wii now for some time, but it frustrated me by not offering Gamecube controller support, keeping me from enjoying a full, faithful recreation of these games with a proper joystick.  Luckily, the X-Arcade finally released a Classic Controller adapter.


I remember when my parents got into bowling and my brother and I ended up spending a lot of time in the arcade.  Tetris was just making a splash at the time, and they had the two-player cabinet set up.  I was fascinated with the game at the time because it claimed to offer something cerebral in a world where video games were starting to explore and push the boundaries of acceptable interactive violence. I remember playground debates being fiercely divided on the subject, with one camp clinging to Tetris with smug superiority, as if it was somehow morally superior, and the other camp reveling in the violence of Bad Dudes, puffing up their machismo by making one cartoon dude beat the shit out of another cartoon dude.  Oh children!

Tetris Party seems to be the order of the day for me.  Sure, I could plug one of my Game Boy Tetrises into the GB Player slot, but I'm just as happy with bright, colorful Tetris coming out of my Wii.


Across the aisle from Tetris was 720.  I remember this game caused some confusion for me and my brother because 720 is just sort of a weird name.  We actually thought it was called "Skate Or Die" because of the warning you get when you spend too long trying to select your course, which compounded our confusion when we found an NES game with exactly that name.  The game itself was kind of baffling, but it stayed in my memory because of just how cool isometric 3D was at the time.

This is another one in Midway Arcade Treasures.  Maybe someday I'll even figure out how to play it.

Mad Dog McCree

This was a game that I saw exactly once, and maaaan was it cool.  Not that I actually played it.  Those laserdisc games were pretty damned expensive, weren't they?  Besides, I never really liked lightgun games, and all of the people I watched play it got smoked pretty quickly.  The first time I actually played it was on a PC CD-ROM.  And I have to say, I liked it!  Sure, the gameplay is kind of sketchy, but I adore the cheeseball atmosphere of it, like a Western created by people who'd only ever seen parodies of Westerns.  And hey, if there's any gameplay format that a laserdisc game could reliably replicate, it's a lightgun game.

Now the game is on the Wii, and it's just so much more satisfying to play it with the Zapper than it ever was with the mouse.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Oh hell yeah!  How awesome was it to walk into an arcade and see this bad boy set up?  Sure, the game was sensationally unfair, and your one key to success was how much allowance you'd brought to the fight, but wasn't it something?  At the height of the Turtles' popularity, here was a giant four-player machine where you could be your favorite Turtle and just knock hell out of wave after wave of robot henchmen.  SO.  AWESOME.

Sadly, I have no way of recreating this experience at home.  None at all.  The game cannot be found on any system that I own, nor is there an acceptable analog.  But it gets an honorable mention because hey.  It's TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES!

So there it is, my childhood superarcade.  Of course, as I've opined before, an arcade is more than just video games.  So next time I'll be offering opinions about the Duo Pinball controller for iPad.


Thursday, July 04, 2013


Walk It Out: Continuing Impressions

It's been a couple weeks since I started Walk It Out.  Of course, the question with a game/program like this is whether it will keep you going in the long run.  So yeah.  Here are my continuing impressions.

Right from the start, I've been concentrating on building bridges, opening paths, and unlocking new songs.  Taking 10,000 steps a day, I've got the whole island opened up and 95 of 120 songs.  So, is the game still interesting now that I've completed so many of my goals?  Well, so far yes!  I still spot the odd CD here and there that I've missed, but most of my steps have been going toward building landmarks around the island.  I walk around wherever it seems to be the most interesting, and whenever I see a landmark I can afford, I pop it.  Mostly these have been minor details -- trees, street signs -- so now and then I stick a few multi-hundred step projects into the queue.  And the island's starting to look more and more alive.  Instead of just wandering around blank landscapes searching for green bubbles, the landscape is starting to look more like a place that's worth exploring in its own right.  So that's fun.

It helps that there's a wide selection of music to walk to.  Some of the users on Amazon wish that there was more of one style or another, but I'm fine with it.  Even if I wouldn't normally listen to this kind of music, it's great to walk to, and some of them have become genuine earworms.  If I had one complaint, it's that I wish there were more fast songs.  Now that I've acclimated to the exercise a bit, I have to cut songs out of my playlist to keep from getting bored.  So far, I've axed everything below 120 beats a minute, and I have a feeling I'm going to need to cut even deeper soon.  And that sucks, because I want to exercise for about an hour every day, so I don't want to cut it down so far that I have to listen to repeats.

One song I won't cut is Clumsy.  What can I say?  The girl can't help it.

One thing I didn't quite understand when I first started was how the system clock affects things.  Certain event capsules -- the CDs, for instance -- only appear at certain times of the day.  I didn't realize this until I tried aiming at a CD I was passing only to see it vanish as the clock rolled over.  Kind of a pain for someone who wants to unlock everything when their schedule only allows them to play at certain times.  But hey!  There's a "magic clock" that allows you to change the time of day without changing your system settings!  All you have to do is... wander around the island and find all of the pieces.  Which, incidentally, only show up at certain times of the day.

Between these time shenanigans and the dwindling number of CDs that I still need to find, I've found myself wishing that the developers had given us some way of programming the course of our walk and then just following along it.  I doubt they intended us to play the game by opening up the map and figuring out how to get to the next CD every time we found one.  I even ended the game early one day because I realized that there were no more CDs to find at that time and it made me feel demotivated.

But then I think to myself, why do I want this experience to be over so soon?  What will be left to keep me motivated once everything's unlocked?  So I continue to meet the game on its own terms.  I've unlocked four of the 24 magic clocks, and I plan to use them.  And every day, I pick away at the number of unbuilt landmarks still floating around.

We'll see how things go.


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