Did you ever have the joy of having an arcade near where you live? We did and god did it expand my brain in relation to gaming. St Albans has a shopping precinct called ‘The Maltings’ which before online shopping, was thriving. Taking a short walk up the escalator bought you to the InShops, a brand of indoor market. Surrounded by small units selling everything from carpets to comic books, there were often empty units in need of filling. This is where the arcade came in.
Through the years, the InShops would fill the larger of the empty units with rented arcade cabinets. Sometimes the space allowed for 5 or 6 machines but at its best, up to 20 machines were in place. I would get my arcade legs here, spending my pocket money in its entirety. For those of you that didn’t get to enjoy an arcade pre ticket machines, I’m sorry for your loss. Older machines would see you pay 20p a credit, while newer machines could go up to 50p. However, games weren’t just cheaper but also lasted longer the better you got. During this era, I was lucky if I got £1 at the weekend – I was ever hopeful for newer machines that might give you three plays for that.
But St Albans wasn’t the only Arcade I got to enjoy, many of the sea side towns had decent arcades during the 80s and 90s. Garston also built a brand new entertainment complex with cinema, bowling, eating and most importantly, an arcade. We’ll talk about these shortly but let’s start with the Maltings offerings.
Arcade Number 1: The Maltings, St Albans
Machine 1: Alien 3 / T2
To clarify, these were not the same machine, sharing only their game style: light gun action. Why then, are they included as a single arcade machine? If there wasn’t an empty store for the arcade to set up in, the InShops would put one of these two machines in to a corner near the food court.
Neither of the games were wonderful but being the only thing available, I would pump them full of my pocket money. T2 was obnoxiously hard and honestly, I don’t think I ever saw past the first level without adding more credits. Consequently, I’ve since researched the game and can confirm that I don’t think I ever saw past level 1, the battlefield.
Alien 3: The Gun was equally as difficult and my memory of this title is a lot less. Having never seen the Alien films and just seen the action figures in the local toy shop, there was a certain thrill when seeing these characters come alive. Most importantly, the replica gun felt amazing to hold in my smaller hands; It was properly exciting for me.
Machine 2: Cruis’n USA
Towards the end of the InShops life, the arcade appeared less and consequently, had less games. Often appearing in single units and only 3 or 4 games being switched on, it didn’t stop me discovering the love for this game.
This game is not the best driving game out there. But, it was cheap and most importantly, you could get a huge way in to the game on a single credit. Think of the game as Nintendo’s attempt at OutRun – a little late but a good effort. Citation needed but apparently this ran on the original Ultra 64 hardware before moving to silicon.
Stupid as this sounds, I was highly excited by finding my first possible easter egg in a game. You could select from 4 in car games but holding one specific view button, gave you access to a further four. I often chose the Police Car or School bus, proving there wasn’t much difference between the vehicles.
Cruis’n USA remains one of few arcade games that I ever completed without spending huge sums of money. Additionally, the N64 version of the game held on to the original gameplay, a definite bonus.
Machine 3: Title Fight
if you hadn’t guessed, nostalgia is one of the main reasons Rob and I run this site and podcast. Anyone that tells you that you can’t live in the past, stuff them. Title Fight was Sega taking on the like of Super Punch Out and winning with a KO.
Have you ever seen such a marvelous looking cabinet? Twin CRT monitors, dual joysticks and great graphics drew my brother and I in. Now, my brother didn’t visit the arcade on a regular basis like me but could be persuaded for a couple of games of this. This was one of the more expensive machines, costing 50p a credit or a whole £1 for two player action.
Frantic joystick waggling would ensue and yes, he beat me every time. The ability to control both your right and left side was something we’d not seen. Just like every other arcade cabinet, you could do single player but for us, it was all about multiplayer.
Arcade Number 2: Woodside Leisure Park, Garston
I spent a large amount of my ‘revision’ time between GCSE exams here. Yes, I should have been knuckling down but the call of CRTs drew me in over and over again. Nowadays, it’s a coin eater that spits out shitty paper tickets for prizes that cost 10p. There is still some fun to be had (Nerf for example) but it isn’t the arcades we grew up with.
Machine 4: Gauntlet Legends
Released in 1998, we didn’t discover this title until 2000. On the occasion my friends and I finished exams at the same time, we would walk up to Woodside to get food and play. This machine had appeared at roughly the same time and for the next week, we played it every chance we got.
Credits seemed to last a good amount of time when playing as a foursome. More importantly, you could get a code to claim back your level the next time you played. Trust me, when you’ve levelled up and realise an exam is starting, it was important to get this.
Like Title Fight, multiplayer was the way to go. Playing alone was a) lonely and b) impossibly hard thanks to giant swarms of enemies. There was a home console release so will give it a try at some point, I bet it isn’t as fun as I remember. Finally, for the PC geeks out there. It used the 3DFX chipset to generate it’s graphics – super sexy.
Machine 5: Crazy Taxi
Come on, you just said that title in the voice didn’t you? I know you’re also singing ‘All I Want’ by the Offspring. I could leave the memory at that couldn’t I – it’s an arcade classic and we all know it.
It really didn’t matter that Woodside didn’t get the sit down cabinet of Crazy Taxi. The music drew people in and often a queue to play formed. This and Gauntlet were probably the last arcade machines I remember costing 50p a play before everything went to £1+.
On a quiet day, you could rack up two or three credits but be prepared for whinging if other people turned up. By far, this appeared to be the most popular cabinet for a long time.
Like Cruis’n USA, the home console version stayed true to the arcade original. Owning this on Dreamcast was a must and yes, it kept the original soundtrack. If you want to get the original soundtrack game on modern hardware, I highly advise you get the iOS release. You lose the brands like Pizza Hut but music is unchanged from the original.
Arcade 3: Borth Beach, Wales
Do you remember me saying I wasn’t cool at school? A total geek? Well, I’m also proud that I was a member of the Chemistry Club at Parmiters School. Wednesday lunch times saw a small group of us learning how to make flash powder, explode giant gas bubbles and make flammable soap. Being a member of this elite group of geeks got you an invite to the clubs Summer holiday. Crammed in to a minibus, the group would travel to Tal-y-bont where the school had a field centre. Each day was crammed full of activities but by the far the best, was fish and chips in Borth, a trip to the arcade and then playing on the sand dunes.
Borth was a tiny sea side village and it’s single arcade was heavily out of date, even for us. We still spent a load of cash in there and had huge amounts of fun. Don’t expect to go now, it’s scheduled for or has been demolished leaving no arcade at all.
Machine 6: Area 51
Another light gun game and thanks to the decrepit nature of the arcade, it was cheap as chips to play. Markedly easier than Alien 3 and T2 from above, Alien 51 gave a lot of bang for the buck. I remember getting pretty close to the end on a handful of credits. Don’t forget, around this time we had all been playing Time Crisis and for me, that was a credit stealing dick.
Cheesy acting, over the top guns and explosions made Area 51 a really fun game. Going up against the likes of Virtua Cop or Lethal Enforcer, Area 51 is a solid contender. Unfortunately, this would be start of a run of more impressive shooters making Area 51 look dated.
Arcade 4: Sega World, Yaohan Plaza, Colindale
Oh boy, who remembers this phenomenal place? A vast shopping centre based on everything Japanese, ranging from shops to supermarkets. Most importantly, there was a SegaDome. There were hundreds of machines in this location, ranging from old to new but all Sega (funny that).
I was under the age of 10 when I got to visit this site. Mum and Dad wanted a different Sunday out than the normal churches they visited. We all bundled in to the car and came here, little did they know it had a huge arcade that would blow my mind. There is only one big memory I have from here so it’s fitting to end this post with it..
Machine 7: The R360
Genuinely, I nearly shit myself playing this. All I had seen was a cool looking fighter pilot game (G-Loc) and I pestered Mum and Dad to let me play it. None of us understood why the game cost more than every other or why there was an attendant, they should have asked I guess.
I was told ‘start off gently’ and the attendant started the game. Promptly, I pulled straight up, spinning me a full 360. Panicking, the joystick started being thrown around to stop it. It looked more like a NASA astronaut test than a game. Somehow, I managed to get myself levelled out and feeling a little nauseous, finished the game in hand. Parents: Laughing at your kids is perfectly acceptable.
In short, the game blew my brain and introduced me to the intensity of immersive games.
What memories do you have of local arcades? Have you got one local? Comment or send us a message over on Social Medial.
The most interesting videos to watch are the ones about the R360, check them out over on YouTube.