Simulators seem to be rising in popularity, with the likes of PowerWash Simulator, Microsoft Flight Sim, plus various farming and trucking sims, becoming money makers almost overnight. Publisher Wired Productions could have easily asked developer Nosebleed to cram the word ‘simulator’ into Arcade Paradise’s title to form Arcade Management Simulator (or similar), which may have helped turn more heads. Play it for just a few minutes, though, and you’ll realise that ‘Arcade Management Simulator’ would have been a touch misleading.
Technically, it is an arcade management sim. But also, it isn’t. Not quite. What we have here is a story-driven affair – with Doug Cockle (The Witcher’s Gerald) providing vocal talent – in which silent lead Ashley inherits a rundown laundromat. It pans out on a day-to-day basis, featuring such busy work as loading and emptying the washers and dryers, picking up litter, and unblocking the toilet – all of which entail either a single button press or a timing-based mini-game adorned with purposely jarring pixel art. Not so much an arcade simulator but rather a laundromat simulator, then.
There is, of course, a point to all this handiwork. The laundromat’s murky back room houses a few arcade machines Ashley’s father bought cheaply, hoping punters would chuck some change into them while washing their grundies. It turns out they’re far more lucrative than anticipated, bringing in a tidy profit. And so begins a burning desire to turn King Wash into King Arcade. There’s just one thing standing in the way – convincing Ashley’s father. This is, more or less, the game – a slow process of earning money from washing ‘n drying and putting those profits into more arcade games.
After every milestone, Ashley’s dad gets in touch, unlocking more expansion options as profits increase. The books don’t lie – but to achieve the dream, some serious grafting is required.
It’s the presentation here that impresses the most, full of flourishes. Foremost, and easily the biggest selling point, is that all the arcade games are playable. Many are inspired by the classics of yesteryear, but even so, most showcase excellent design choices that reward prolonged play.
There’s a good variety of genres, and visual styles vary from each game – this definitely isn’t another Action 52. Controls feel refined, and difficulty levels are balanced. You’re bound to find a favourite amongst the 20-odd games available.
The backroom initially houses a pixel-art video air hockey table, an enjoyable and fully featured match-three puzzler with boss battles and an overhead map, and a low poly Pac-Man clone with a GTA-inspired cops ‘n robbers theme. They’re designed for quick play sessions, lasting around five minutes, meaning it’s possible to play while undertaking washing duties or after closing. Some feature permanent upgrades, so when you return, there’s a better chance of getting further.
Then comes a rather brazen Mr. Driller clone, a classic early ‘80s single button UFO game – comparable to something like Missile Command – a futuristic, if a little flat, Outrun style racer and a couple of clever puzzle games. One of these features Matrix-style falling random green text and has a hacking motive. Quite ahead of itself, considering Arcade Paradise takes place in 1992.
New games are purchasable via the office computer running a primitive internet explorer true to the year. Hello, dial-up modem tone. They can be purchased in any order, and are ranked by popularity, but all must be purchased within a set before the next assortment unlocks, which then triggers the next milestone in the story. It takes around an hour to earn enough for a new cabinet, meaning it’s a pretty big event when the lorry drops off the next game.
It’s possible to set difficulty levels and the price of each credit, which greatly impacts potential earnings. Adding to this, cabinets can be moved around, with some benefitting from the popularity of others. Playing a game, too, will see it temporarily increase in popularity during that day.
The arcade needs to be kept clean and hoppers emptied, with cash then deposited into a safe – accessible by a brief safe cracking mini-game. Thankfully, upgrades unlock around the 3-hour mark that either reduce or entirely remove some of the more mundane day-to-day tasks.
Arcade Paradise is repetitive, but it’s of the good kind – you’re constantly being rewarded for your toil, there are clear goals to achieve, and always something new to work towards. Seeing the upgrade list for the first time is genuinely exciting, full of time-saving gizmos. Having a PDA – again, true to the era – to hand puts the majority of options at your fingertips too. But achieving those goals, and working towards purchasing something new, can be a slow process. Not necessarily unrewarding, but certainly time-consuming. Jumping off the bus and starting the day anew starting, only to find the laundromat once again covered in litter and discarded chewing gum, can be draining.
Another minor issue is that for an Xbox Series X game, there are a lot of fuzzy textures – we expected more intricate detail within the environments. The arcade cabinets themselves are at least authentic looking and varied, ranging from sit-down machines to four-player behemoths, often with neat side art.
So, welcome to paradise. There are more burger boxes and old newspapers littering the place than we expected, but at least we get to earn a living wage while occasionally slacking off to play retro arcade games. Perhaps for some, in this modern age, that is indeed the very definition of paradise.
Arcade Paradise is out digitally August 11th on all formats. A retail release is due August 26th.