Arcade1Up Cabinet Hands-on: Galaga / Galaxian

October 21, 2019

Bringing the arcade home with you was a huge selling point of consoles in the 80s, but what if you could actually bring it home with you? That’s essentially the sales pitch of Arcade1Up — classic arcade games, presented in replica cabinets complete with all of the beautiful artwork, that won’t take up an entire room. 

Playing the Arcade1Up Galaga / Galaxian cabinet felt like an event. Much in the same way people profess their love of playing vinyl, there was a process to it that felt really good. Galaga and Galaxian often feel outshone by other games with more visible legacies (I’m talking about you, Pac Man!), but there's still a huge amount of fun to be had here.

To say that these games hold up well would be an understatement. Often discussed as one of the best games ever created, 1981’s Galaga is a game that most people reading this will have played before. An easily distinguishable shoot ‘em up, it’s a game about clearing the screen of alien ships by shooting them down as quickly as possible. The more ships you beat, the more you progress through the game’s 255 levels. More dynamic than other similar games it poses more of an immediate challenge than the the more recognisable Space Invaders and its predecessor Galaxian. The ships that manage to flank as you’re focused on the top of the screen are my nemesis!

Whilst its sequel may be the game in the spotlight here — one look at the gloriously 80s artwork adorning the cabinet will tell you that Galaga is the favourite — Galaxian remains an important game in its own right. Although similar in many ways, Galaxian is much slower-paced and is easily the simpler of the two. For me, this it the most immediately satisfying game. However, Galaga outshines its older sibling in almost every way — from the much improved gameplay and overall challenge, right through to presentation. Unfortunately, that does mean Galaxian plays second fiddle in this machine. However, its presence as a seminal title in shoot ‘em up makes it a fantastic inclusion here, both from a historical standpoint and for the fact that it’s still fun forty-odd years later.

Of course, it’s been given a modern twist: The 17” LCD monitor inside the cabinet isn’t quite as nostalgia-inducing as an old CRT screen, but the colours pop perfectly. On the audio front, the bold 8-bit music and sound effects boom out of the inbuilt speakers (I was thankful for a volume toggle) to bring you back to a time before consoles. Everything looks and sounds as it should. Outside of a quick branded boot screen and a custom menu to choose the games, it feels like the legitimate throwback that it professes to be. Of course there’s no money changing hands outside of the initial £300 (RRP) either.

It’s a faithful recreation in so many ways. It looks the part, sounds the part but, unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hold up in the gameplay department. At least, not for hardcore players. Anyone expecting everything in these machines to be arcade accurate was dreaming far too big. After all, they’re made to a modern standard with modern components. There’s some artistic license that can be applied there. When it comes to how the game plays though, that kind of leniency cannot be afforded.

As a casual arcade player the issue wasn’t immediately noticeable but, after a few days revisiting the machine, it was clear that the buttons and stick on this machine could have been vastly improved. The controls feel soft and mushy in a way that won’t really affect anyone playing intermittently, but anyone who is really into Galaga or Galaxian is going to notice immediately. Holding back in this area is the worst thing Arcade1Up could have possibly done as it alienates a core section of their audience — hardcore arcade players. The Marvel Super Heroes unit incorporates Sanwa buttons and joysticks but appears to be alone in that respect. At the price of this unit, these really should be rolled out to all cabinets.

That brings me to my biggest question. Who exactly is an Arcade1Up machine for? Specifically in the case of games like Galaga and Galaxian; if it’s for hardcore players looking to play their favourite shooter in the way it was intended, then this doesn’t quite cut it. If it’s for more casual players that makes more sense, but will casual players invest their money and, almost more importantly, living space into a replica arcade cabinet? That Venn diagram might have the smallest fraction of crossover. 

Every Arcade1Up cabinet, even at their scaled-down size, is an absolute statement piece in any room. Reviewing this, at times, felt more like analysing the pros and cons of a coffee table than a gaming device. Whether in a living room or even a space dedicated to games, these machines become a piece of furniture. That’s something that has to be taken into account. Galaga may be one of the greatest games of all time and being able to experience that alongside the historic Galaxian in this way, as a casual fan, is wonderful. Justifying its four-foot-plus existence in your house is something else entirely though.

Not faithful enough for the hardcore, not justifiable enough for those wanting to play on the odd occasion — that’s how this particular machine feels. Conceptually however, I do feel like Arcade1Up is onto something. Given the right games — and they certainly have the license for those — they could be pretty desirable for a lot of gamers: Street Fighter, Pac-Man and licensed machines like the Star Wars collection and the forthcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time might hold more weight than Galaga and Galaxian, despite their undeniable status as a classics amongst arcade purists.

The difficult question remains: should you buy this machine? All I can say is that whilst Arcade1Up has made a valiant effort in bringing Galaga and Galaxian back in all their glory, this replica doesn’t quite meet the standards hardcore fans are likely to expect. However, if you’re not as particular and want that arcade feel without giving up an entire room of your house, then this is by far your best option.

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Ant Barlow

Started with the PlayStation, now I'm here... with a PlayStation. Once skipped school to play the Metal Gear Solid demo repeatedly. I love stories big and small. Trophy hunter. Recent VR convert. Probably a hipster.