There isn’t a video game from the heyday of arcades you can’t play on a home console (or even your phone) now. But spending hours hunched over gaming cabinets in a seedy storefront was a wonderful childhood experience for many of us, and one that can now be easily recreated at home—minus the seedy. If you can successfully assemble an Ikea table, you can easily build Arcade1UP’s miniaturized arcade machines.
Collectors and nostalgia-seekers have long been filling their basements with classic cabinets rescued from defunct arcades killed off by game consoles. But it’s an expensive hobby as retro arcade machines become rarer each year. Do you love Pac-Man enough to drop a few thousand dollars on one?
Eventually, cheap computers became powerful enough to run classic titles, and nostalgic gamers started building their own arcade cabinets running MAME and other emulators. You don’t need to be a next-level hacker to build your own, but it’s nowhere near as easy as the replicas Arcade1UP has created. What Ikea did for furniture, Arcade1UP has done for arcade cabinets, creating flat-packed kits that include everything you need to build a fully-functional arcade machine—no soldering, sawing, or even software to deal with.
The arcade ships in a hefty, 72-pound box that’s about four feet long on its largest side. You’ll definitely need an extra person to help if you have to carry it upstairs, but otherwise it’s manageable by yourself—despite the grumblings of the UPS driver who delivered it. Arcade1UP currently sells several versions of its arcade machines based on different classic games, but I opted for one of my favorites; Golden Tee, whose unique trackball controller has often been poorly replicated.
At $500, Golden Tee is one of Arcarde1UP’s pricier cabinets (machines running Pac-Man or Mortal Kombat start at $300), but that’s partly because it comes with an optional 12-inch riser, which helps bring the screen and controls of the four-foot cabinet up to standing height. All of Arcade1UP’s machines are built at three-quarter scale, and designed to be played while perched on a stool. It’s not quite the full arcade experience—machines with multi-player games like Mortal Kombat will have competitors elbowing for room—but it means you don’t need a giant empty basement to build your own classic arcade. You could fit a handful of them in a small office.
Assembly was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be, requiring just a screwdriver and enough floor space to occasionally lay the arcade machine on its side. The instructions are clear and easy enough to follow, but not quite as polished and idiot-proof as what Ikea or Lego includes with their DIY products. What helps immensely is that unlike Ikea, Arcade1UP labels every single part with a small sticker, so it’s very easy to tell similar looking pieces apart without having to scrutinize an assembly illustration.
The 17-inch LCD screen and the box that holds all the controls, which in this case includes a large trackball and a handful of arcade buttons, are included as separate, but self-contained components that assemble as easily as the rest of the cabinet does. The same goes for the light-up Golden Tee marquee on top, which, surprisingly, does help feel the arcade machine feel more authentic. The most complicated part of the build might be wiring everything together, which requires you to plug in just four cables. But there’s no soldering involved, it’s all plug and play, so even your parents could pull it off.
It’s recommended to skip the drill and stick with screwing everything together by hand, as the various pieces of the cabinet are made from a softer fiber board and screw holes can be easily stripped. As a result, assembly took about an hour once I figured out how everything goes together. I did it all by myself, but a second person would definitely speed up the process.
The best part of these kits is that once you hit the last page of the building instructions, you’re ready to play. There’s no software to install, no firmware updates to download, and nothing to register online. You just turn on the arcade, select one of the four included versions of Golden Tee, and you’ll be hacking your way through the rough in just a few minutes.
Emulating Golden Tee without the giant trackball controller is just no fun, so I’ve never bothered. But I’m happy to report that Arcade1UP’s version feels as solid and smooth as the originals did. Given the arcade machine has been scaled down, experienced Golden Tee players might have to learn to tone down their swings as you don’t have quite as much room to fling your hands across the trackball, but it’s a minor trade-off I found. Just don’t expect the caliber of graphics that you’d find in EA’s latest golfing sim. The included versions of Golden Tee date back to the late ‘90s, and it shows. They’re pixelated and ugly, but it’s exactly the nostalgia hit I wanted from a product like this. I genuinely believe the gameplay and controls make up for it. It didn’t take long for me to get dangerously hooked on Golden Tee again.
If you don’t have a lot of free space at your disposal, most of the games included on Arcade1UP’s various arcade machines can be emulated just fine on much smaller hardware. I don’t have much of an emotional connection to Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter, and am happy to play the various ports of those games that are available for almost every console out there. (Saving myself $300+.) But there’s a soft spot in my heart for Golden Tee, and the times I played it in arcades and pubs decades ago with friends. Arcade1UP’s version does an excellent job of recreating that experience, and the machine’s smaller footprint meant my wife was only slightly upset about unexpectedly finding a miniature arcade cabinet added to our living room decor.
- If you’ve ever successfully built a piece of Ikea furniture, Arcade1UP’s cabinets are even easier to assemble.
- No software or firmware updates to ever deal with; these are standalone arcade machines that work the second you plug them in.
- At three-quarter scale you’ll either need a short chair to play these arcade machines comfortably, or buy a 12-inch riser to raise the controls to standing height.
- Controls can be a little cramped if more than one person is playing at a time.
- An excellent recreation of the classic Golden Tee experience, but you’ll need to tone down your trackball swings a bit.
- Small enough that three of these arcade machines have the same footprint as a desk.