The Thrill of A Giant Chunk of Game

Arcade1up: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Machine

I think, for any gamer, there's a certain thrill in the idea of owning an arcade machine. Not only do you have the game (which, you can usually track down on its own via any of its ports for classic consoles or modern collections), but you get to be one of the few that has the original machine in your home. What's better than having TMNT II: The Arcade Game? Having the actual arcade game!

Most gamers would be able to rattle off their specific list of arcade machines they'd love to own if money, and space in their houses, were no limit. Mine would be Ms. Pac-Man, Haunted Castle (because Castlevania), vs. Castlevania (same reason), both Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesOriginally dreamed up as a parody of Marvel's Daredevil comics (going so far as to basically reproduce to opening shots of that comic's hero gaining his powers), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only launched a sudden boom of anthropomorphic fighting animal comics but have, themselves, starred in multiple comics series, TV shows, and movies. games, and a table-top style (not stand up) Arkanoid. And with the Arcade1up series the promise is that, as the company says, any gamer can eventually get all the arcade games they always wanted to own.

In practice things are a little more iffy on that last front. See, while these are solid little arcade reproductions of the original games, they aren't 1-to-1 conversions. Someone looking for true fidelity to the original game will probably be disappointed just looking at the machines Arcade1up makes. "They aren't even full size!" which is true, Arcade1up machines stand about 4 feet tall (just under 5 feet if you put them on the included risers), making them feel a little small in comparison to the real machines. And there's other little things that aren't quite right, such as artwork on the outside of the machines that isn't quite right. How much these little issues bother you will mean whether an Arcade1up machine is the right purchase for you or not.

If that doesn't immediately turn you off, there is one factor that will make these machines seems much nicer than owning the "real thing": price. If you're lucky and find an Arcade1up machine out in the wild at a retailer (or can still get it direct from the company), the machines generally run you only about $600 to $900 (depending on the size and complexity of the game -- Pac-Man games, which usually have multiple titles in the unit, run at the low end, while the Terminator 2 game tops out at the high end). While that can be a decent chunk of change in the average wallet, it's a fraction of the price in comparison to trying to get the original units that actually came from arcades. For a frame of reference, just trying to buy the original TMNT arcade game will set you back over $2,400 for a "like new" unit.

As a TMNT fan that desperately wanted both the original arcade game and Turtles in Time, $700 for both games together in a solid looking unit seemed like a good compromise. I did inherit an old TMNT that was abused into disrepair years ago, but even the cost to fix that machine up to "like new" would be more than the Arcade1up unit. The math was there for me to make this an easy choice (although now I have to find a good home for the old machine, putting it in the care of someone that can actually do the work to fix it right).

Getting the machine home (after corpse-dragging the box through my local Best Buy), I did have to face actually assembling the machine. These units do not come "pre-built", instead making you put in the work of screwing together the pieces like this was a bit of IKEA kit. While the thought of a plywood monstrosity in the house might put off some, it is worth knowing that a standard Arcade1up until has the same build quality as the classic machines when they were actually new. Old arcade machines were build from plywood and prayers, made to last long enough to keep people interested and then easy to scrap once the games lost their value. Most old machines weren't build "to last" so it's impressive many of them are still working. I'd actually notch the Arcade1up machines ahead in this regard as the plywood feels sturdier and the cabling inside is much easier to work with -- plug a couple of cables into the main unit and voila, it just works.

Once assembled the units do have a lush feel. My new TMNT machine looks quite lovely sitting in my front hall (where most people would put something formal to show proper adults lived in the house, but if anyone expects proper adults in my house they came to the wrong place). There's a lustrous quality to it, that chic quality to it (at least for the nerdy set), and even though it's a repro unit (and not the real deal) the brain still looks at it and says, "hell yeah, that's an arcade machine." That's what gamers want and this unit provides.

Booting up the TMNT machine, you're greeted with your choice of either the original game or its sequel, as well as options (such as connecting the machine to wifi so, I guess, you can play on a leader board with others -- this is something I will never do). Each game loads up properly, and you can immediately get into playing just like if it were an arcade title. Coins aren't needed as you can just push a button on the control panel to give yourself "coins". Sadly, in this regard I will also note that not only do the fake coin-slots on the front of the machine not light up but you also can't press them like you used to be able to on real units. I mention this because everyone that's touched the machine so far -- myself, my wife, all my friends -- has tried to push the coin slot button. That one little bit of verisimilitude is missing, and it feels so key to the whole ambiance.

The games themselves play great. They're emulated, with roms provided by the original game licensor, and the company says they go through strict play-testing to make sure the emulated games play at "arcade quality". From experience this does seem to bear out; the controls are snappy and responsive and the games look, sound, and act like I remembered them. Aiding that are the factory-made Arcade1up controls, proper joysticks and buttons crafted for their machines that have that nice, clicky feel you expect. As far as recreating the arcade experience at the right price, this cabinet does provide.

All that being said you do have a whole list of caveats that we have to address, with the biggest being: it's "just" emulation. This is a legal way to emulate and play these two classic arcade games, and I do prefer legal play. That said, there have been releases before, Online and in console storefronts, that brought these games to home play at a fraction of the price. Sure, you don't get the big chunky cabinet, or the precise arcade controls (at least without spending more money on a pro-gamer joystick setup), but it basically means you're paying a few hundred bucks for furniture with a pre-installed pair of games. How much that interests you will determine whether you're still on board at this point.

Beyond that, we do also have to note that the arcade versions of the games aren't the "complete" versions you might be familiar with. If you played the NES edition of the original arcade game, or the SNES rendition of its sequel, you have to remember that those games had extra stages and bosses put in that aren't in the original arcade games. These are "arcade proper" titles so that's all you should expect from these machines (even if, deep down, I wish they would have put in emulated versions of the NES game, it's NES sequel The Manhattan Project, and the SNES sequel, for completeness sake).

And I should also note that the artwork on the unit I got isn't what I would have expected. Fans of the TMNT arcade games know the artwork from the original game but only some units direct to retailers got that classic look. Others, like my unit, came with art from the second game which features janky 3D renditions of the Turtles and it doesn't look as good. Everyone that sees it asks, "why did they use that off-brand art?" and while it is "official" it doesn't feel it. Buyer beware, essentially, when you're getting these units in the wild and know what you're getting when you buy.

For me, even with minor caveats, I do feel like this was a solid purchase for me. I'm actually already eying another machine -- one of the Ms. Pac-Man units -- to eventually add to my collection, assuming they still exist when I'm ready to drop another dime on one of these things. All that said, I completely understand how other gamers would balk at the price. This is a fancy bit of kit and you pay enough for it that these units simply aren't for everyone. I like it, the sound of the machine as it boots up and the TMNT music plays. I like being able to get four people around the machine so we can bang away at it for a while with the Turtles rampaging around. That arcade social experience is alive and well in this Arcade1up unit, and that's what I wanted. I was willing to pay for it, but now you have to decide if you would want to as well.