Missing the days of Pac-Man and Frogger? Retro gaming is making its return

iiRcade is a full-size gaming cabinet with nearly a dozen games pre-installed – some are classics, like the Dragon’s Lair laser disc game, while others are newer titles. (Photo: JERRY DIGBY)

Today’s video games may boast photorealistic graphics, surround sound and worldwide multiplayer support, but many still long for the days when games were simple.

You know, when a game didn’t require more than a joystick and a button or two? (Or, with Pac-Man and Frogger, no buttons at all.)

Perhaps it’s no surprise, many are buying cabinets for the home, including replicas of classic coin-operated (“coin-op”) games and pinball machines.

“Simple games that are ‘quick to learn but difficult to master’ have a special addictive quality that we tried for when designing them with our limited graphic palette,” recalls Nolan Bushnell, who established Atari and Pong in the ‘70s, and shortly thereafter, founded Chuck E. Cheese (smartly, as a distribution channel for Atari games). “Often games are for turning off your mind and entering kind of a Zen state.”

“The fun of the retro games come from their simplicity and tight integration into the controllers,” adds Bushnell, who is currently on the board of Lernip, an educational gaming platform designed for Chromebooks and all modern browsers.

Along with simplicity, pure nostalgia is another reason for the popularity of retro games today, says Leonard Herman, gaming historian and author of “Phoenix IV: The History of the Videogame Industry.” “Since older games are available on many different platforms and in different forms, owning an original cabinet with a CRT (cathode ray tube) offers the nostalgic player the truest form of the game.”

Sales of these at-home units seem to be on the rise. Arcade1Up, for example, says its has doubled its sales over the last 18 months. “This is driven by increased demand for at-home entertainment and interest from younger audiences brought by our collaborations with brands like Supreme, Champion, Bait, The NTWRK, and others,” says Bachir Zeroual, Chief Marketing Officer at Tastemakers LLC, creators Arcade1Up.

If you’re itching to put something in your “man cave” or “she shed,” here’s a brief look at what’s new and noteworthy when it comes to retro games.

Arcade1Up

Arcade1Up’s Bandai Namco Legacy Edition and Midway Legacy Edition cabinets ($399) each house several games from the respective arcade publisher. While they’re 3/4-size replicas of authentic ‘80s stand-up cabinets, the included risers bring them to full height. (Photo: Arcade1Up)

Available for $399, Arcade1Up’s Bandai Namco Legacy Edition is a 12-in-1 cabinet, featuring Pac-Man, Galaga, Galaxian, Dig Dug and eight other Bandai classics. The original graphics, sounds and controls will be immediately familiar to seasoned gamers.

With the iconic yellow Pac-Man branding on the outside, this cabinet is a 3/4-size replica of the original coin-operated machine, but a riser is included to bring it to full height.

Similarly, the Midway Legacy Edition ($399) arcade cabinet, which also includes a matching riser, houses Mortal Kombat II, Defender, Joust, Gauntlet, Paperboy, Rootbeer Tapper and other classic arcade games from the ‘80s. Naturally, two-player controls are included for head-to-head fun.

New this year is Arcade1Up virtual pinball machines, for about $599 apiece, and featuring 10 games in one. Examples include Marvel Pinball, Star Wars Pinball and Attack from Mars Pinball, each with a 24-inch LCD playfield, 8-inch LCD score screen, authentic flipper feedback and real plunger and buttons. Similar to its arcade machines, these tables are a 3/4 scale compared to the originals.

Note: For both the Arcade1Up arcade and pinball products, you cannot add more games to the machines.

iiRcade

One of the newest players is iiRcade, a full-size $499 cabinet with nearly a dozen pre-installed – some are classics, like the Dragon’s Lair laser disc game, while others are newer titles. (Photo: iiRcade)

One of the newest players, iiRcade ($499) is a more comprehensive system that lets you download new games to it, if desired, whether its retro titles or more modern games. Eleven games are preloaded, however – including the laser disc classic, Dragon’s Lair, and the beat ‘em up classic Double Dragon – and additional games can be purchased for between $2.99 and $24.99.

There are more than 200 games available, to date, with titles like Burger Time and other licensed Data East games announced last week. The iiRcade Store can be accessed on phones, tablets, or PC or Mac via browser.

Powered by a 19-inch HD display, 100 watts of stereo sound, and authentic 2-player controllers, the Wi-Fi-enabled iiRcade offers a convertible design: it can be used tabletop or bartop and becomes a full-sized stand-up cabinet with the purchase of an optional stand ($149). (There are some special editions that include the stand, too, including Father’s Day specials.)

AtGames

If pinball is more your thing, Legends Pinball ($699) is billed as the “world’s first connected pinball” table, which allows for online multiplayer, where each player can both chat. The virtual pinball table houses 22 games, plus more can be added. (Photo: AtGames Cloud Holdings)

Another arcade cabinet that lets you add games over time is Legends Ultimate from AtGames ($599), a full-sized 66-inch-tall cabinet with more than 300 built-in and licensed arcade classics, like Centipede and Asteroids, all playable on the 24-inch Full HD screen.

You can add more games (“ROMs”) via USB for a virtually unlimited number of single and multiplayer games (please respect copyrights).

This Wi-Fi-and Bluetooth-enabled Legends Ultimate also supports the ArcadeNet cloud gaming service (free and paid options) that lets you download games and compete for the top spot on leaderboards, plus there’s regular updates delivered over the Internet, and support for local streaming from your PC, for digital services like Steam, Origin, Epic and GOG.

Integrated into Legends Ultimate is two sets of joysticks and six action buttons, two spinners/paddles, a trackball and customizable button mapping.

Unlike the ‘80s, you can even pause games.

AtGames is also selling Legends Pinball ($699), the “world’s first connected pinball” table, that allows for online multiplayer, where each player can both chat and watch others turn in real time.

Legends Pinball (64 x 42 x 19 inches) includes 22 built-in arcade pinball games, but it’s expandable, and all playable on a 32-inch HD LCD playfield.

Polycade

The son of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell is also resurrecting games of yesteryear into new hardware cabinets. Tyler Bushnell’s Polycade is available in a few different configurations, including the top-of-the-line four-player Polycade Squadcade for residential or commercial use – but it comes with a hefty $5,999 price tag. (Photo: Polycade)

Headed by Nolan Bushnell’s son, Tyler, Polycade is a company “on a mission to build community through gaming,” as it says on its website.

There’s free software to download, which opens up the possibility to purchase and play retro games – including arcade and console favorites – on a Windows 10 PC.

And then Polycade hardware is around the corner, ranging in price from $1,999 for the Polycade Lite cabinet (August) to the $5,999 four-player Polycade Squadcade for residential or commercial use (shipping in July).

Built from premium materials, Polycade says these cabinets include 30 titles and a $100 gift card to spend in the Polycade store – and will include titles commonly found on platforms like Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo – but they’re also “plug-and-play” systems that can be used in multiple hardware configurations.

Star Wars Pinball VR

Finally, pinball has gone VR. Don a headset and load up Zen Studios’ Star Wars Pinball VR ($24.99), which offers eight tables from various perspectives, minigames and other features. (Photo: Zen Studios Ltd.)

Finally, how about playing pinball in virtual reality?

Available for Oculus Quest, Steam VR and PlayStation VR (PSVR), Zen Studios’ Star Wars Pinball VR  ($24.99) is now available, offering eight virtual tables, including a pair of never-before-seen tables: The Mandalorian and Star Wars Classic Collectibles.

Along with all the tables, including remastered favorites from past (non-VR) versions of Star Wars Pinball, this game includes a fully customizable “Fan Cave” to house your virtual pinball table (and items you earn); an optional “Total Immersion” mode (experience everything at table level); 360-degree minigames (with iconic Star Wars set pieces), and a cantina jukebox (with John Williams music).

Follow Marc on Twitter for his “Tech Tips of the Day” posts: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast at marcsaltzman.com/podcasts.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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