I turned 46 years old in July and I’m now officially middle-aged. Still, being 46 means that I grew up in the golden era of arcade gaming. Family holidays around the English coast and I was never too far away from an arcade. But, even when not on holiday, I still had relatively easy access to arcades as we had one in the city centre of Birmingham, England and another one near a park called Lickey Hills. Anyway, the point is that I grew up in arcades of the 80s and 90s. Plus, I have a bit of a soft spot for business sim games. You know the kind where you’re given some property/land and a bit of cash, to then have to grow and expand your business.
From developer Nosebleed Interactive and publisher Wired Productions comes Arcade Paradise. A game that melds together classic arcade gaming with the business sim genre that I love so much. But is it any good? Let’s find out. Oh and before I get into this, do you know how long I have been looking forward to this game? Well, let me just say that I actually wrote a first draft of this introduction over a year ago…
Roughly around about the 3rd of May 2021 at 12:36 PM, in fact… according to my drafts.
“Welcome to Arcade Paradise, the 90’s-fuelled retro arcade adventure. Rather than washing rags for a living, you decide to turn the family laundromat into the ultimate arcade. Play, profit, and purchase new arcade machines, with over 35 to choose from, to build your very own Arcade Paradise!”
So, the story of Arcade Paradise is that you play Ashley and have to manage your father’s small laundrette. Bored of the drudgery of running an establishment where people congregate to wash their undercrackers, you eventually find a backroom with a few arcade machines in it. Realising that the arcade machines are making more money than the laundrette, you come up with a plan to build and expand that small backroom into a full-blown arcade. Only your father, Gerald, who is sunning himself in the Riviera… Gerald of Riviera? Sounds oddly familiar in more ways than one. Anyway, dad is not on board with the idea of adding more arcade machines and just wants you to run the laundrette. Still, he’s miles away, what he doesn’t know and all that.
So then, after over a year of my looking forward to Arcade Paradise and pestering both the dev and publisher for a review code over the last 14 months, was it worth it? No, no it wasn’t and Arcade Paradise is a massive disappointment…
… Bollocks is it! Arcade Paradise is amazing. An indie game that is crammed with so many things to do and gameplay that puts a lot of AAA games to shame. But before I get into all of that, I do have to get the rather boring opening couple of hours of the game out of the way. Seriously, my first impressions of Arcade Paradise were not great at all and I do think that if you play this and judge it on those first few hours, you will be disappointed too. I’m just putting this in as a warning and offering my advice to stick with it because, after the boring start, this game really does begin to kick some serious bum-cheeks.
The game begins with a very 90s, very MTV-inspired opening of you reluctantly making your way to the laundrette for your first day as manager. From there, you are thrown into the basics of how to run and maintain the laundrette. It is all kept simple and basic too. Press a button to pick up some dirty laundry and put it in one of the washing machines. After a few minutes, the washing is clean, pick it up and put it in a dryer. A couple of minutes later and it is finished, take it out of the dryer and set it aside for the customer to pick up. The faster you get the washing done, the more money you’ll make. As you wait for the washing and drying to finish, you can pick up rubbish. Sorry, trash, this is set in the US. You pick up trash and throw it in the dumpster at the side of the laundrette. This starts a little timing mini-game and the higher the bar when you press the button, the more money you’ll make for taking out the trash.
The toilet can become blocked and yes, you have to unblock it. Again, another mini-game and you can earn some cash. As you walk around the laundrette, you might find chewing gum stuck to various surfaces… yup you guessed it, mini-game, earn money. That is pretty much what you will be doing for most of the opening few hours or so of Arcade Paradise. Wash clothes, clean up trash, unblock the toilet and pick up chewing gum. The grind is very real and very annoying. All of these jobs are punctuated with a very typical and very 90s bit of vernacular… radical! To be honest, it’s not massively inspired gameplay and it soon becomes very tedious. You do find the key to the backroom and office of the laundrette very early on and the beginning of managing the arcade begins.
At first, you don’t make a huge amount of money and have to keep running the laundrette, doing the same jobs over and over and being stuck in the drudgery-purgatory of washing people’s clothes and keeping the place clean, just to bring in some coin. This is the bit of the game I mentioned earlier of it being a bit boring. Even though you have a handful of arcade machines out back, you really can’t spend much time with them because you need to keep the laundrette ticking over to bring in a constant and meagre flow of cash.
Then there is the safe in the office, one of the most annoying things in the game. See, to spend any of the money you have earned, it has to be placed in the safe first. Every time you do use the safe, you have to input the combination manually via a dial. You know, the old left 32, right 56, etc. It is fucking tedious, drawn out and gets annoying very, very quickly.
Honestly, the opening handful of hours of Arcade Paradise really pissed me off because you just can’t enjoy the arcade games, because you have to run the laundrette to make money to extend the arcade. The annoyances of using the safe, the watch alarm going off to remind me of jobs that need doing and more, it all really begin the grate and everything became very monotonous… until I unlocked the upgrade system. Arcade Paradise then began to really open up as a game and those annoyances disappeared pretty quickly, making way for some very engrossing gameplay.
You can hire an assistant manager to help with the emptying of the machine’s hoppers. Have less trash to clean up, move faster, extend the length of the working day and so much more. You can even upgrade to a new safe that you don’t have to keep manually opening it (though I suggest saving up for an assistant manager first… trust me). The upgrades mean that you can then spend a lot more time managing the arcade side of the business and this is when the game really comes alive. In fact, after a while, you can completely forget all about the laundrette and focus solely on the arcade.
I think that that was the point of the slow and monotonous opening though. It puts you in the frame of mind that what you are doing is fucking boring. It was designed to annoy, to piss you off. Then, when you get the arcade up and running, get some more machines in place and when you can afford to forget about the laundrette and enjoy all of those arcade games, that feeling of annoyance and being pissed off becomes a distant memory as the joy of having your own arcade takes over.
There are loads of arcade games in Arcade Paradise too, all original titles that are inspired by real-world games. For instance, one of the first cabinets you will have is called Racer Chaser and it is basically Pac-Man crossed with GTA (which I love because the original GTA was inspired by Pac-Man). Instead of controlling a hungry yellow dot, you control a yellow sports car. No being chased by ghosts here, it is coloured police cars instead. When you grab this game’s equivalent of a power pill, you turn into a tank and can run over the police cars. If you get stopped by the police, you will end up on foot and have to try to make it back to your car before being arrested. As I said, it is Pac-Man mushed with GTA. Pretty much all of the arcade games in Arcade Paradise can be likened to a real-world game or games. F-Zero meets OutRun = Space Race Simulator is another example.
Some of these games are massively addictive too. Blockchain is a Tetris-type game mixed with maths. At first, this one really confused me with how it works, mainly because I was overthinking it. But it is actually devilishly simple to understand and once it clicked, I couldn’t stop playing it. Blockchain is one of those games that you put on for 5 minutes and end up playing for an hour or so.
There’s even a connecting universe going on. Vostok Inc. was Nosebleed Interactive’s previous title, it was a twin-stick shooter about making money. There’s a sequel to that game in Arcade Paradise. Also, in Vostok Inc. was a mini-game called Woodguy Jr. and that game has a sequel here called Woodgal Jr. Then, the Woodguy character is the star of a new game called Strike Gold! There are several more connections to find as you play. The world in which Arcade Paradise takes place really is wonderfully realised and I got a serious Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong/Donkey Kong Jr. vibes with the connecting games. All these connections make the arcade games seem as if they could’ve existed in our world.
Managing the arcade is a tad more in-depth than running the laundrette. Each of the machines has a popularity rating. The more popular, the more money it will bring in. You can affect that popularity in various ways too. Change the game’s difficulty, how much a game costs to play and where you place the machine has an effect. Put a lower popular game next to a higher popular to give a little boost. Even you playing the games can make them more popular. The more popular the game is, the more money it will make.
Oh yeah, you can play all of the games here. Now, don’t go expecting pixel-perfect recreations of some of the real world’s biggest arcade hits. What Arcade Paradise offers you are more like a collection of mini-games, but really bloody good ones. Pretty much every genre is catered for. Racers, beat ’em ups, puzzle games, shoot ’em ups and more. Some of these games are ridiculously addictive. There’s a puzzle game called Stack Overflow where you just have to move and stack coloured boxes, that I can’t stop playing. All the arcade games here are simple and basic, but still very playable and there are over 35 of them to enjoy.
You know what? Calling the arcade games here ‘mini-games’ is a bit of a misdemeanour. Yeah, some of them most definitely are mini-games, the likes of a digital air hockey game really is the definition of a mini-game. But then you have titles like Woodgal’s Adventure. This is one of those match-three-styled puzzle games… only set in an RPG world. A world that you can explore, talk to characters, find/collect items and so on. To play through Woodgal’s Adventure from start to end, you are probably looking at the best part of around 4 hours. That’s pretty far from being a mini-game, I have played some indie games recently with a shorter game length. And this is just one title of 30-odd in Arcade Paradise.
Then there is the massively addictive Zombat 2. This one is a top-down, twin-stick shooter that has an upgrade system where you can buy new weapons with in-game currency, with a bit of a Rogue-lite emphasis. Honestly, it’ll take you a good while to obtain all of the available weapons equating to several hours of gameplay. Again, these are games within a game. With these longer games, your progress is saved, so you don’t have to try to finish the whole thing in one sitting. Not that the laundrette side of the business would let you anyway as you will pass out if you stay at work for too long.
Yes, the working day is timed, and so is how much you can get done. Start work at 9AM and the launderette closes at 11PM (in-game hours, not real hours). Though you can stay on after closing for a few more in-game hours to play some arcade games. But don’t stay too long as you will pass out and lose time the next working day. The games here have online leaderboards, so you can see how you fare against other players around the world. Several of them also offer local multiplayer. Team up with friends and kill some zombies or go head to head with some classic Pong action and more.
You can buy a jukebox and it is crammed with original and very 90s-styled music covering a variety of genres. I was listening to one tune and I swear that it sounded like an unreleased Prodigy song, to the point where I had to check the credits of the game just in case it was a Prodigy song that I had somehow missed. The PC in the office can be used in various ways, mainly as a shop for buying new arcade cabinets and expanding your arcade. It is also used to further the story via a chatroom and emails. The PC also has a version of eBay where you can buy the upgrades. However, it uses a different currency that you can only earn by completing your ‘to-do list’. With each new day at work, you will be given three random jobs to finish. These can be something like play a certain game for so many minutes, get a high score, wash some clothes and more. Each of the arcade machines even has its own set goals that can be finished to help them become more popular.
The managing of the arcade is controlled by a very 90s PDA and even that has a game on it. There are games everywhere in Arcade Paradise even hidden within other games. There’s a beat ’em up called Knuckles and Knees which has an arcade in it with its own games. So then, you are playing Arcade Paradise, which is a game about playing arcade games. One of those arcade games in the game you are playing has an arcade in it where you can play games within a game that is in a game about playing arcade games. There’s even an achievement/trophy called ‘Arcadeception’ if you get the high score on the arcade games in Knuckles and Knees. Fuck the metaverse, this is bigger. It’s pretty clear that the devs had a lot of fun putting this together.
Everything is tied via a story that follows Ashley (you) and the strained relationship with your untrusting and overbearing father. I tell you something, the story is really damn good too, twists and turns with things not going the way you quite expect them to.
Arcade Paradise is going to cost you around £17, depending on your chosen format and it is available on everything. I don’t do review scores as I have never found one that I fully agree with. What I do when I review is, I take the game, the price and everything and question if the game is worth what it is being sold for. In this case, fuck yeah! You get an absolute ton of gameplay here. There are AAA games with asking prices of £60 that don’t offer the amount of gameplay that Arcade Paradise throws at you. That opening few hours or so is horrible, grindy, tedious, slow and really did piss me off after looking forward to this game for over a year. But once you get past that, Arcade Paradise doesn’t so much shift up a gear, it goes into ludicrous speed and becomes one of the most generous and rewarding titles that you will play this year.
I have a thing I do when I’m given a game to review for free that I really enjoy, I buy a copy to support those who made it. However, I didn’t buy a copy of Arcade Paradise, I bought three copies, that’s how much I adore this game.
That’s not to say that Arcade Paradise is a perfect game. I personally found the management side of things a bit too simplistic. I’m not sure if it is even possible to fail, you’re always going to make money from the arcade and the money will continue to roll in with no threat or danger of loss, there are just some slight variables on how much money you will make. The main gameplay loop really consists of nothing more than buying arcade machines and making the arcade bigger to fit in more arcade machines. That’s about it. Of course, the 30-odd games that you can play here offer a lot more variety though.
There are a few bugs, but after a little exchange of Tweets with the dev, I know that they are being worked on. Plus, I tend not to bitch about bugs in indie games, as they use much smaller teams than AAA titles and actually do fix them in speedy time… unlike AAA titles. Arcade Paradise was delayed for a very good reason, which I’m not going to get into here, but that most definitely had a major impact on the development cycle and really puts the bugs thing into perspective for me. That’s why I’m not making big deal out of this. Yes, there are a few bugs but they are forgivable and will be fixed.
I do really like Arcade Paradise and it does cram in a lot of game for your money. This is a big recommendation from me, especially if you have an interest in arcade gaming history, even a fictional one. It could’ve done with more depth and variables to the managing aspect though, but that is just personal preference and not a criticism. What you really have here is a collection of mini (and not so mini)-games that are presented in a rather unique and interesting way. Each of the games looks and feels period specific for the era they would’ve been released. As an example, there is a version of Pong and the cabinet is very similar to the original, while the screen you play on is full of static. It is these little details that I adore. There are loads of jokes, nods and references for old-school arcade fans to enjoy.
Arcade Paradise is a great game, but one that is flawed if you are looking for a business sim, as the focus is definitely more on the games than the managing aspect. Once I got the idea of this being a business sim (in the vein of the genre that I love) out of my mind, Arcade Paradise became far more fun to play. It is the arcade machines that are the stars here, the running of the business takes a back seat. This is not the arcade management sim that I really wanted it to be and yes, that did disappoint me… for a while. But what really made me fall in love with Arcade Paradise was its attention to detail, the wave of 90s arcade nostalgia that slaps you in the face harder than John Cleese’s trout walloped Michael Palin.
Arcade Paradise took me back to my childhood and those family holidays, walking around the seafront and wandering into the nearest arcade. It made me feel like I was a teenager again, when I would skip school and catch the bus (it used to cost 32p) into town to play in the city centre arcades. I genuinely miss the arcades of the 80s and 90s. These modern-day retro arcades just don’t have the same appeal. Short of creating a time machine, Arcade Paradise is the next best thing to a proper arcade experience and it even has the annoying chewing gum stuck to surfaces.
Thank you Nosebleed Interactive for crafting this game and thanks to Wired Productions for all the support you gave to the devs in bringing this game to us gamers. This was well worth the 14-month wait and £17 price tag. Go and buy a copy now, Arcade Paradise is available on everything.