I picked up Arcade Paradise on a whim after skimming over a short review that said it delivered on the premise of a carefully recreated nostalgia trip. I’m not often in the mood for tycoon style games as I find they can be a grind but this one piqued my interest enough that for £16 I thought it was worth a try.
The game begins with you playing the part of the main character, Ashley. Dialogue, in the form of voice messages from your business magnate father, informs that he’s placed you in charge of a laundromat he owns. All you have to do is keep the business afloat – he’s clearly not expecting much.
Running the laundromat consists of picking up a basket with the X button, loading it into a machine by holding the X button, unloading it again in the same fashion and transferring it to a dryer. Aside from that, you also pick up litter and unblock the toilet. These tasks are as mundane as they sound but somehow fun because they’re game-ified. For example, throwing a bag of rubbish into the trash can is a mini-game in itself, as are all the other chores.
The game could happily work as a laundromat tycoon game, although probably not for long. However, in the corner of a back room there are a couple of arcade cabinets and, as if it wasn’t obvious from the title, the story tugs you along on the journey of gradually transforming the laundrette into an arcade.
Playing the games and achieving goals raises their popularity. The more popular they are, the more money they make so it’s worth persevering with games that don’t float your boat just to help the cash roll in. Some I kept going back to for one more go and some had me rolling my eyes when I saw they were part of the daily to-do list tasks, which I’ll describe below.
The game has a two currency system, which I baulked at because that signalled “grind” to me. It’s a transparently awkward game mechanic that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. The laundrette & arcade can be raking it in and yet upgrades that will benefit the business, or at least the efficiency of you running it, are kept at arm’s length by the painstaking process of completing items on a to-do list for scant reward.
Somehow, you’ll have several grand in the safe but regardless you can’t afford a book that’ll slow down time so you can get more done because the money for that comes out of a separate account. I was disappointed by this approach but the whole thing is so captivating that I mostly didn’t mind performing the daily tasks to earn money. Sometimes they’re as simple of completing a number of loads of laundry, setting an easily obtainable score in a given game, or even just going for a walk up the street to clear your head.
Other times you’re tasked with attaining a ridiculously high score in multiple games and it’s just too time consuming to complete the tasks in a day with all the interruptions from running the laundromat. And that’s where the grind rears its head, sadly. Some days the tasks set were so improbable that I found myself just ignoring them, doing the laundry and getting to late enough in the evening where I could cross the street for the bus and skip to the following morning.
As the profits roll in, you can order new arcade machines and expand the area of the arcade into unused space in the building. The interface for ordering new machines is essentially like using the internet in the mid-90s, complete with modem handshaking sounds when you connect to the website to make a purchase. Upgrades for efficiency are done similarly, in the style of ebay in the late 90s and it’s a time the developers obviously remember as fondly as I do.
The roster of arcade cabinets is an asynchronous collection of everything that made mid-80s to mid-90s arcades so cool. There’s a game that’s like a cross between WipEout and Roadblaster, a couple that are like the early vector games, and then there’s mid-80s style vertical scrolling space shooters too. Eventually, you can order more 90s style cabinets that are bigger and have more elaborate graphics.
These are all lovingly created and pay homage to many of the classic titles I can picture in my mind’s eye from my childhood. The ambience and tone of the arcade setting is just so on-point that it made me just stop and feel wistful at times. It captures a bygone era in such vivid detail that it was hard not to feel a sense of loss that these places just don’t exist any more.
Despite the grind for upgrades, the story itself unfolds at quite a pace and I completed it in a little over a week. As it goes, some of the story telling was a little heavy-handed with voice messages from Ashley’s father being occasionally sneering and bitter. It got to the point where it just seemed implausible to me that you’d even take his calls.
In contrast, the relationship with Ashley’s sister, conducted via a chat app on the computer where you trigger canned replies, seems really natural and believable. I looked forward to her messages until I realised they signalled waypoints in a storyline that was marching toward a conclusion. Albeit an obvious one.
The game itself has been short and sweet but it’s a journey that’ll stick with me. And, now that I’ve completed the story, what remains is to focus on the collection of arcade machines themselves and there are so many that even the frustrating ones I won’t go back to don’t feel like a waste. That’s what arcades were like – I used to play all the sci-fi or racing game cabinets but barely touched the twee adventure games.
In conclusion, I can’t help but applaud the concept and the execution from Nosebleed Interactive. There’s a hint at future content to come and I’ll snap it up without question. Arcade Paradise is an almost perfectly written love-letter to arcades and the history of video games. Playing it through has conjured some wonderful memories and I can’t help but want more.