Hi readers and welcome back. This weeks post is a little different, as I had the opportunity to visit a truly tremendous place this weekend.
It is a place that I have been to quite a few times now, but still holds onto the magic and makes me smile from ear to ear, from the minute I enter, to long after I leave. So I thought I would share this wondrous location with you; whether you have been before, planning to go soon, hoping to go one day, or never heard of until now; whether you are young, old, or like me, somewhere in between; male, female; gamer, or not; there really is something for everyone and an atmosphere, once common place, that you would do well to find anywhere else.
I talk, of course, about Arcade Club, situated in Bury in the mid-north of England, just above Manchester. You can find their official site HERE.
Bury is about a two hour drive for me, but it’s motorway all the way, so no dramas. It is also a place I have never been to before Arcade Club and a place I know nothing more about. Well, apart from a rather tasty Indian restaurant just around the corner…
On arrival, once located down a wee lane, you are greeted with an old mill building, “Ela Mill”, which I can find little about pre-Arcade Club, but it’s past is not why we are here today, as behind this rather unassuming green door awaits arcade nirvana for all who enter.
Arcade Club is situated on the 3rd floor of the complex, although it has very recently opened a completely new floor in addition to this on the 2nd level. And for me, the experience starts even before then, as you are guided into an elevator which reminds me of an American loft apartment, or if it helps those of a certain age, it’s like the one from Fatal Attraction (you know the one), but minus Glenn Close.
Once upstairs you are presented with the reception desk where the incredibly fair sum of ten English pounds is easily persuaded from my wallet in exchange for a run of the mill (quite literally), wristband and access to the most amazing collection of arcade cabinets, console and PC gaming, both old and new, VR stuff, pinballs, the list goes on and on. Plus there is a bar serving drinks, soft and alcoholic, hot and cold snacks and a decent cup of coffee too.
Even in the entrance lounge, there is a nice collection of original arcade cabinets, including a beautiful Pacman cabaret cab, which I think is the actual cabinet that UK gamer Jon Stoodley used in August 2015 to finally achieve a perfect game of Pacman at Play Margate. There is also a personal favourite of mine, Burger Time, nestled between Q-Bert and Arkanoid. There are also a trio of pinballs here, including a Revenge From Mars 3D table which I really like how it projects a 3D screen image onto the playing field. There are a couple of cocktail table cabinets too, one of which being an original Atari Warlords 4 player game which is great fun. There is also a VR setup here which I fully admit to avoiding as they make me feel really queasy. I have a Samsung Gear set-up at home, but just haven’t found my virtual legs yet.
But if this has got you excited already, then hold onto your joysticks as what awaits through the double doors, is going to blow your mind! As before you enter the main room, in fact, even before you pull open the grilled doors of the elevator, you are met with a cacophony of sounds, that for anyone who grew up in the 80’s like myself, are like a time machine, instantly transporting you back to the heydays of the arcades and bristling the hairs on the back of your neck. It is time to enter…
One thing that should be made clear, as once you get over the sheer number of machines at the Club, which is staggering in itself, it is the fact that there is no emulation what so ever, that really impresses me. By this I mean that the cabinets, whether they are dedicated cabs, originally built to house a single game, or the jamma cabs, designed to allow the operators to swap game boards as new games were released, all contain the original pcbs and remain as close to the mark as possible with only the necessary alterations of more reliable power supplys, etc, having been made. This is amazing, considering some of the titles held here, with some of the rarer Japanese boards currently fetching very high prices, if you are even able to track them down.
You are met with a long row of upright cabinets, 15 Goliath cabs flanking the right, opposed by a line Xenon cabs to your left. Preceded by a deluxe Ridge Racer sit down cabinet and a Sega Astro City candy cabinet, dedicated to the crazy Japanese game of Bishi Bashi. The upright cabinets hosting a wide variety of absolute classic games, mixing in vertical shooters; Star Force, Alcon, Raiden II; with classic action/platform games such as Ghosts and Goblins, Robocop, Wonderboy and the scrolling beat em ups of Double Dragon and Final Fight firmly in the mix too.
Deeper in this row turns to light gun shooters, with Point Blank 1&2, House of the Dead and Time Crisis to name a few.
On the other side of the room there is a huge row of sit down racing machines ranging from the classic Sega Outrun, in full motion deluxe format, to the incredible drift mechanics found on Sega Rally, through to more modern fares such as Outrun 2 and Crazy Taxi.
There are many other groups of cabs including further uprights, including many older upright driving games, such as Speed Buggy; older gun games, including Operation Wolf and the sequels it spawned (such a big cab this – it screams of 80s exuberance with the realistic Uzi machine gun planted onto the cab); classic platform games such as Hunchback, a British game programmed by Centuri and one I hold a particular fondness towards, as well as another personal platform favourite of Bombjack.
There is also a good selection of Japanese candy cabinets, supporting all the major manufacturers from back in the day; Sega, Capcom, Taito, etc. Again all playing original PCBs, which is where I think the 29″ screens of these more modern (mid 1990’s) machines really spring to life, playing the Japanese bullet hell shooters such as DoDonPachi, etc, from the houses of Cave, Toaplan and Treasure.
But it is perhaps the area on the middle of the floor that excites me the most. For it is here that the machines from the arcade’s golden era are amassed. Nowhere before, nor anywhere in the future, am I likely to be able to side step from one absolute classic cab to another to another. The titles that make up the horseshoe of cabinets read like a who’s who of the greatest, most playable and successful games to emerge from the arcades of the 1980’s. I won’t list them all as part of the experience is to be found in discovering these greats for yourself. Whether as a long forgotten childhood favourite or your new best game you knew even knew existed. But from the photo you can make out Frogger, Gorf, Crystal Castles, Donkey Kong, Robotron, Tron, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pheonix and Tapper. Just out of shot to the left, behind the huddle is a Track n Field also.
Also popular in this era was for the deluxe models to be released in environmental cockpit form, allowing for a far more focussed experience for the gamer who would be sat down inside cabinet surrounded by amazing artwork, sounds and even extra monitors on some models. And in the middle of this area are two spectacular examples;
First up is the breath taking Atari Star Wars vector cabinet. Released in 1983, the game sees you pilot your X-Wing through 3 stages, dogfighting with TIE fighters, through terrain filled with bunkers and gun turrets, into the infamous Death Star trench with that all important exhaust port awaiting you at the end. Throughout the game you are bombarded with the stunning visuals of the glowing vector graphics, the feel of the yoke controller in your hands, with sounds and speech samples from the film filling the air around your ears. This is the ultimate Star Wars arcade experience.
End to end with this cabinet is another cockpit, this time it is Pole Position, a game which holds definitive memories for me as a child, with distinct recollections of sitting in this arcade cabinet, mesmerised by the then state of the art graphics, the wheel gripped with one hand, the other clenched around the gearstick next to my left thigh, my feet and legs stretched to their limit to reach the pedals and despite missing the helmet, I was a racing driver. Nothing else came close.
There are so many hidden gems to discover in Arcade Club, it is easy to spend too much time, just walking around, gazing at the hypnotic screens, but you must put this to one side and play, play, play. Not just the games you know or remember, but the ones you don’t too. I have discovered some games I had never played before, Space Zap is a good example, that I had never heard of, and now make sure I always play whenever I visit.
Before I finish off, I must mention that Arcade Club has recently expanded, doubling it’s floor space, by taking over the floor below on level 2. This floor will ultimately allow the Club to expand into new territory, with some distinct areas already taking shape; old school arcade, Japanese Candy, modern PC, VR, a dedicated pinball room and a huge screen to showcase multi-player competitions. On my visit, this floor was taken over by a huge Tekken 7 tournament, which had amassed a huge turnout of competitors, all vying for a qualification place in a national UK tournament, their moves watched by even more, courtesy of the huge projector screen at the rear of the room.
This floor was therefore arranged differently to how I assume it might become, so I will write about this floor another time. After all, it’s an excuse to visit again, not that I, or you, really need our arm twisting on that score……
If you are still pondering over the prospect of a road trip here a few links to help you reach that decision and start fuelling up the motor;