I Really Missed Arcades, So Now I’m Going To Waste All My Time And Money At Round 1

A new arcade opening up anywhere in the States is a surprise and an event. The institution as gamers imagine it is long dead; if you’re lucky your big city might have a bar that doubles as an arcade, or a community passion project like Next Level.

Most people don’t have a place but their own homes to enjoy games with other people, and I think this is a small tragedy. A huge collection that only serves one person is lonely, isn’t it? Mine is.

So when the Japanese chain Round 1 announced that they were opening up on the East Coast, it was Christmas for an arcade lover like me. Bar arcades and fighting game lounges were great, but they don’t scratch the whole itch.

2015 Tokyo vacation photo of Shinjuku Sports Land’s section for Gundam Versus alone. NOT the place we’re talking about here.

Having hung out in a number of Japanese arcades, they’re larger on an order of magnitude than anything an independent can possibly supply. (Never mind the cost of rent in New York City.) Go to a chain arcade like Club Sega or Taito Station, and then come back and try going to a Dave and Buster’s. You’ll be spoiled forever.

Another 2015 vacation photo from Sega GIGO in Akihabara. A setup for Gundam: Senjou no Kizuna, a team shooter played in immersive dome cabinets. STILL NOT the place I’m talking about

Arcades are about video games with play and controls you can’t replicate at home, games with real meat that you can come back to over and over again. Surprises and novelties are just as important as hardcore standards. That’s an arcade.

A big Japanese company dropping into the American space was the only way I was ever getting the kind of arcade I dreamed of. Luckily, that is exactly what happened and I’ve been showing up to this place every week since it opened.

Opening day at Round 1 in Hicksville. The only part of the place that’s visible from outside is the music game corner.

R1 has a large chunk of the new Broadway Mall in Hicksville. It’s likely to be a day trip for most NYC people, especially if you don’t drive, but it is a mall and meal options are plenty.

The floor as you walk in. Redemption machines stretch as far as the eye can see.

The way they’ve organized this place is pretty simple: the main floor when you get in is loaded with ticket redemption games, which as everybody knows is the real moneymaker for any arcade. They’re short, they’re expensive, and you play them over and over again in hopes of a jackpot. It’s not exactly gambling, just dumping in money fruitlessly in search of a payoff that usually amounts to much less than you spent in cash. If you get a lot of tickets, you might win a Gundam model!

Sonic the Plinko

The majority of the floor space is taken up by these games. Though most of them are dressed-up slot machines, we found a few that are legitimately fun to play, like a Kung Fu Panda machine modeled after the old Punchmania. Just don’t get yourself hooked: the aura of despair coming from the Wizard of Oz coin pusher is intense.

This rigged ticket version of Monkey Ball was extremely depressing. The ball is too heavy to move around with any finesse, and the courses are designed for the finesse moves that the game knows you cannot make.

Space Invaders Frenzy, with its impressive LED screen, was actually pretty fun for the 15 seconds that it lasted. The general trend of these “normal” videogames turned redemption is to either make the game extremely brief, rig the difficulty, or crank it through the roof. Space Invaders was the latter, throwing an unmanageable amount of invaders onto the screen and speeding up to maximum almost immediately.

I had more fun with the physical ticket stuff, whether Sonic basketball or beer pong… but the games remain expensive and brief. The ticket payoff is terrible: there’s a relationship between how much fun a ticket game is and how bad its payoff is.

I know what you’re thinking, though. Where is the stuff that you and I actually give a damn about, Dave? Listen, we gamers can’t keep the place open ourselves. It’s just not feasible. Do you know how much that person on the Wizard of Oz machine is paying?! As such… here’s what I took to calling “The Hardcore Gamer Corner”. It’s hidden behind the elevator to the bathroom, because if you came here to play Gunslinger Stratos you probably won’t mind looking for it.

Speaking of which, the most tantalizing rarities in this arcade are Gunslinger Stratos and Magician’s Dead, online team deathmatch shooters with really unique control schemes. Gunslinger uses a pair of light guns that double as dual-stick arcade controllers, and Magician uses a Wii-style motion sensor bar to actually deliver the game that Wii and Kinect owners thought they would one day get to play.

The Magician’s Dead cabinet and control panel. The one-handed control is a clone of the Wii Nunchuck and handles player movement and targeting. You hold your right hand over the sensor bar and make hand gestures (thumb squeeze, fist, and finger point, mostly) to do cool wizard stuff. The single button is for melee attacks, obligating you to literally drop your magic arsenal to throw a punch.

The Gunslinger setup, with magnum and 9mm. Huge Equilibrium fan Gen Urobuchi actually came up with the game concept, and presumably chose the guns. Note the thumbsticks on either gun to handle movement and targeting. The guns are light guns, so you aim to fire. You activate your secondary weapons by docking the guns together, similar to the poses in Equilibrium.

Unfortunately, these are games designed for online play and the only Stateside machines are at the few Round 1 locations that exist. This is a big problem for Gunslinger Stratos, where the games are on their own unpopulated USA server. Magician’s Dead is on the Japanese server, but even here the issue is the time difference between US and Japan. Prime US hours (particularly on the east coast) are in the dead of night in Japan, when the Japanese systems are down for maintenance.

This means that most often you will be playing solo deathmatch against the computer, which is a waste for these fascinating, weird games.

The rest of the traditional arcade selection is decent: slightly outdated versions of many major fighting games alongside a couple of Metal Slugs and Tetris Grand Master. They’re backed up by NesicaxLive multi-game cabs with a lot of old SNK and Arc stuff. Good games on the cheap, but good luck finding a second person to play, for example, Blazblue Chronophantasma anymore.

Genpei Toumaden. I have only seen the flyer on display at the arcade’s opening. I hope nobody stole it.

The thing that most delighted me in this section was that some wonderful manager had opted to place the weirdo Namco classic Genpei Toumaden in the very back of this arcade. This is the sole true “retro” title in the arcade and the cheapest thing you can play. I love this choice because Toumaden is not exactly a classic for its gameplay, but because of its ambitious format (three action games in one!) and surreal presentation. It’s something you can take someone over to and say “you gotta see this.”

At two credits a play I have decided that I’m going to practice and beat Genpei Toumaden one of these weekends.

I dragged a lot of friends of mine to a lot of machines saying “you gotta play this!”, particularly with Sega’s Hummer racing game. This is equal parts racing game and amusement park ride, as players go faster by crashing into as many of the course’s obstacles as they possibly can.

The gameplay is backed up and perhaps elevated by an amazing motion cabinet that all but picks you up and shakes you. The gameplay and the motion feed into each other, as the better you do, the rougher the ride is. Also, consider the gigantic BOOST button, likely the most satisfying button I have yet pressed on an arcade game.

And make sure to fasten your seatbelt, because the game won’t move if you don’t!

The second “Hardcore Gamer Corner” is the music game section. (Apologies, as my photos of this section kind of suck due to how packed it was at all times.)

This selection is a holy grail for music gamers, with everything short of DDR. They have Pump It Up instead, the game you get when you want a dancing game but you don’t necessarily want the kids who set up camp on the floor between DDR machines. More than any other spot in the arcade, this section is consistently packed with players who are grinding it out hard on these challenging, content-packed games.

Project Diva is on now, with online features enabled and all.

A good friend of mine who’s a hardcore IIDX player says he recognized every face there. It’s a small scene, but dedicated.

Control layout for Museca, with spinning buttons and foot pedal.

In music games, unless you actually build your own custom controller and killer audio rig, it’s impossible (or just pointless) to compete with the setups you can find at the arcade. In fact, a lot of recent Bemani games feel like they’re made on elaborate dares to beat anybody who might try to play them at home. Sound Voltex features a mass of huge, irregularly-shaped buttons and a pair of dials up top, and Museca has giant spinning keys and a foot pedal.

In short, these are games for hardcore players that they must go to the arcade to play. The wide range of difficulties means it’s easy for anybody to get into them, but the huge amount of song unlocks and the soaring heights of difficulty at the top levels mean the game never really ends. (Beatmania IIDX is on my personal short list of “hardest videogames ever made.”)

They also have Rhythm Heaven, god bless ‘em.

The cabinet for Super Table Flip. It’s about middle-age frustration. The shout on the cabinet is “Bakayaro-!!” or YOU GODDAMNED IDIOT!!

The “table flipping game” you’ve seen on the internet (its real title is “Super Table Flip”) is here, but something has been up with it since the arcade opened and it is rarely, if ever, working.

I love this game. You’re a middle-aged person in a frustrating situation, and you bang on the table a little bit every time you see somebody do something annoying on the screen. As the tension mounts, you upend the table (not that hard, chill) and it goes flying, triggering a Burnout-style destruction scene. The goal is to charge up your energy in the first part to get a high score in destruction in the second.

I think something’s legitimately wrong with the machine, but it also might just be the fact that American mall-goers are rougher on the equipment than was ever intended: on my last trip I saw some teens pass by the machine and smash the table as hard as they could, crashing it immediately.

Between the music games and the ticket games lies a sea of Sega UFO catcher machines. I tried really hard to get one of the pictured Rilakkumas, and I could not. His soft, smooth fur evades capture and the claw is designed to try and nudge him, not pick him up. These guys were all gone after the first week.

UFO catcher machines will take your money so fast that you will not realize you spent it. Play cautiously.

Driving games are also a standard. In addition to Namco’s arcade Mario Kart (No Mario Kart 8 but pretty good!), Initial D and Wangan Midnight are both on hand as well.

ID and Maximum Tune are two distinctly different flavors of the same core game: race, upgrade your car, repeat forever. Initial D focuses on consumer-grade cars winding and drifting down tight, dangerous mountain paths. Maximum Tune is about supercars roaring down highways at 200 miles per hour, and it’s really heavily focused on the leveling up and tuning aspect. The game is always packed with players leveling.

R1 also just put in the new Daytona USA, which I will speak about more at length another time. It’s a good remake, but won’t blow your mind.

A 16-year-old kid got so excited when he saw Waluigi on the character select screen that he hopped off the machine and did the Waluigi pose before jumping back on and picking Waluigi. He is the coolest kid

Downstairs they keep more large attraction games, mostly more obscure games, as well as the bowling, ping-pong, darts, and karaoke. One of these days I’ll finally take a break from videogames and give these some time too. Did I mention you can get food and drink and beer down here? Did I mention you can drink anywhere in the arcade? Wonderful. Great. I love this place.

This place is going to need drink holders on the machines, however: I’ve already seen drunks make some terrible messes.

2SPICY

Another major rarity here in the form of 2Spicy, the answer to the question “What if Time Crisis was a versus game?” Players sneak behind cover and try and move around their opponent. Eventually the cover is destroyed and it just becomes a shootout. Play is 2/3 rounds just like a Street Fighter. Unfortunately there’s only one cabinet, so you’ll have to settle for gunfighting the computer. It kicked my ass.

Can you read the Secret Message on the karaoke screen?!

We actually took advantage of the karaoke room on opening day, and it was fantastic. Cheap, spacious, and two different machines for American and Japanese songs. If you are willing to come out this far, it beats the hell out of any Manhattan karaoke box I’ve sat in. However, they have a “no drinking in the room” rule; we were told this was to prevent any potential underage drinking. We took drink breaks at the bar.

That one with the maid isn’t an arcade card.

You should probably buy in on a membership card (the “club”, not the regular) if you intend to show up more than once: repeat visits get you perks. Fill up at the front counter, and dump in what you expect to spend in the day all at once, so you get a couple games’ worth of free credits.

This brings us to cost. Arcades are by their nature spendy things and a quarter isn’t going to get you anything here. Games cost, in credits, a buck or two. I tend to throw down $30 in a day here. However, there are also the additional costs associated with arcade games…

Though you don’t strictly need these, every arcade game has a save game function nowadays; set up an account and it’ll save your progress and stats. In turn, every maker has their own online service similar to Xbox Live or PSN. All of this is driven by RFID cards, which you have to buy separately for anywhere from 5 to 8 bucks.

There’s:

-E-Amuse (Konami)
-BanNam Passport/Aime (interchangeable)
-Nesica (Taito; very common across makers)
-Initial D (custom)

And that’s all in addition to your Round 1 card. You don’t need to buy every card for every game, of course, but I for one can’t stop myself. I even have a BanNam and an Aime, because I bought an Aime first way back when I was in Japan. Ultimately you end up badly needing a card case.

Closing time at opening night. The arcade stays open a lot longer than the mall does, 1AM on weekends.

I’m really glad this place is here. Walking through a Long Island suburb to go to a mall arcade is deeply nostalgic for me, so it’s a wonderful experience every time. I joked that I was going to be here all the time when it opened, and well, I was never really joking and I actually am. It’s great.

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