‘Arcade Paradise’ review: A neon-dripped nostalgia trip

Dad, can I have a quid?

I spent the best summers of my formative youth in and out of beachside arcades. But as I explored their many treasures, it was always some forgotten cabinet stuffed into a backroom that caught my attention. It would be missing lights, its buttons unresponsive, and the plastic detailing faded through use. I’d wonder how long it had sat in that very spot until it fell into disrepair. Arcade Paradise, a new retro arcade management sim from Nosebleed Interactive, explores this concept of humble beginnings.

19-year-old Ashley is fresh out of college equipped with half a degree in Business Management. Gerald, Ashley’s abrasive father (voiced by Geralt of Rivia’s Doug Cockle — we see what they did there), is keen for Ashley to start taking on some responsibility, and so hands him the keys to his old laundromat — the deceptively titled King Wash. It’s nestled in a rough backstreet with an old sofa dumped out the front. Inside, the walls are yellowed, and it’s filled with old washing machines covered in chewing gum, surrounded by rubbish and a questionable number of odd socks. And so, with little more than an answerphone message from pops telling you to start unblocking the toilet, you begin the long, arduous life of post-academia servitude.

With no other distractions available to you, your journey at King Wash sets off as intended. You’ll spend time picking up rubbish and pulling gum off the side of the washers. You’ll clean clothes. And yes, you will unblock that toilet. Each of these mundane tasks presents a very simple minigame, and washing and drying clothes is a two-step process, with each taking a couple of minutes. Your watch will always go off at the right time, reminding you when you need to take clothes out, which soon becomes pretty annoying.

Arcade Paradise. Nosebleed Interactive.
Arcade Paradise. Nosebleed Interactive.

But a visit to the back office will indicate that there’s more to King Wash than meets the eye, as you find three old arcade cabinets sitting unused in the centre of a small utility room. Upon checking the coin hoppers, you discover a healthy sum of money, and it dawns on you that there’s far greater potential in King Wash as an arcade than as a laundromat. Unfortunately, the ever-charming Gerald doesn’t agree and dismisses your request to invest in this side of the business. So you must begin working in secret, managing the laundromat whilst developing King Wash arcade. And this is where the core loop of the game lies.

Arcade Paradise is formatted in an accelerated daily cycle. You arrive on the bus at 9am in the morning and the business remains open until 11pm at night. During this time, customers will drop off their laundry, and you can deal with that in any way you see fit. You can just focus on maintaining a successful laundromat business, if you want. However, as you build up your bank balance, you’ll be able to order new arcade cabinets on your delightfully ‘90s-style computer — once the 56k modem boots up, of course. Each has a popularity rating based on various factors, such as where they’re positioned, how much they cost to play, and how difficult they are, all of which can be managed using your old-school PDA and floor planner. Every arcade cabinet is fully playable, and the real stroke of genius is ensuring that there are in-game rewards for spending your time on them, as unlocking achievements on each one will significantly boost its popularity and overall income.

Arcade Paradise. Nosebleed Interactive.
Arcade Paradise. Nosebleed Interactive.

Remarkably, even with over 35 arcade games available, they rarely feel like afterthoughts. Each is a robust title, often with a miniature campaign or progression system. Woodgal’s Adventure is a Candy Crush-style puzzle game where you have to collect stars to unlock new areas. Strike Gold is essentially Mr. Driller with progression upgrades to aid digging further underground. Racer Chaser is a tongue-in-cheek Pac-Man/GTA crossover that adds new mechanics that allow you to run on foot to a new car to keep the game going. Blockchain is a Matrix-inspired block-dropper that utilises a clever numbering mechanic that could easily be released as its own video game. They all have online leaderboards and many have local multiplayer options. Frankly, it’s an incredibly impressive library, and though Arcade Paradise is focused on ‘90s vibes, the games range from early vector titles to the 32-bit era, which means freshness and variety from start to finish.

As you invest more money into making King Wash the place all the kids are talking about, you’ll need to start thinking about expansion. With the appropriate funds, your simple store room can be turned into something much more glamorous, and you’ll soon be able to walk around your own stylish arcade haven, filled with choice design features. The airwaves are consistently flooded with ‘90s-style bangers which, although not licensed tracks, do a fine job of emulating the most popular sounds of the decade.

Arcade Paradise. Nosebleed Interactive.
Arcade Paradise. Nosebleed Interactive.

With all this in play, the laundromat soon becomes little more than an irritation, but this is by design. There’s no way you can lose in Arcade Paradise. Don’t want to wash clothes? Then don’t bother; the arcade’s passive income soon dwarfs the necessity and there aren’t consequences. Furthermore, you’ll unlock plenty of upgrades that provide management assistance. New sneakers will allow you to walk faster, an engineer’s handbook will prevent machines from breaking down as often, and a manager’s assistant will empty coin hoppers and take out the trash for you — all welcome additions to free up your valuable time for, let’s face it, playing more video games.

Sim games of this ilk can have a tendency to forego graphical attention to detail, but Arcade Paradise is clean and crisp, though it’s a shame that there aren’t more customisation options for the aesthetics of the arcade, as it’s always nice to add a little of your own personality to your build. There are other areas for improvement, too. A calendar year cycle with seasonal changes to the environment consisting of random and scheduled events would have been nice. Furthermore, customers are visible but they don’t move, and walking up to them causes them to pixelate and disappear, so the arcade never feels truly occupied.

But despite the omission of these nice-to-haves, Arcade Paradise is still an excellent casual arcade management sim with visceral ‘90s energy. The quality of its playable titles is surprisingly robust, and there’s tremendous pride and satisfaction in seeing your business venture succeed. Now, have you got change for a fiver? Someone just beat my high score.

Arcade Paradise launches on August 11 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch. NME reviewed it on PC.

The Verdict

Arcade Paradise is a casual but satisfying management sim soaked in good feeling and ‘90s vibes, but it’s also a story about finding success in what you love in life. Though there are some missed opportunities and the customisation options are limited, the quality of the roster of playable arcade cabinets, the attention to detail, and the striking audiovisual presentation all go to make this one game worth cleaning up your act for.

Pros

  • Crisp and detailed visual presentation
  • Fantastic selection of playable arcade games
  • Excellent soundtrack
  • Strong authentic ‘90s vibes

Cons

  • No visual arcade customisation options
  • Customers don’t feel real
  • No random events or encounters to mix things up
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