Arcade Paradise is a love letter to 90’s management sims and arcades

British developer Nosebleed Interactive is interested in clashing juxtapositions – specifically what happens when you jam classic arcade games against the long-term and slow-building management genre for the moment. 2017 Vostok Inc. was an unholy but fruitful marriage of twin-stick shooter and exponential clicker in the name of galactic domination, and its two flavors proved more complementary than you might think.

Now gives us the studio arcade paradise – which is available now for PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch. It’s a management game about turning a seedy laundromat into a videogame paradise with a few arcade machines as a backdrop, and all the cabinets you can buy are fully playable original creations. (Well, quite original, but I’ll get to that.) This game is simultaneously more ambitious and boring than Vostok Inc.and it explores some more awkward tensions between its two halves.

The timeframe is an indefinite period between 1987 and 2002, which somehow manages to be all of those years at once. The menu resembles a monochrome PalmPilot with a stylus, there’s a clunky dial-up PC with instant messaging software on it, and games range from vintage 8-bit to early 3D. You’re a 19-year-old idler and your self-made dad has put you in charge of one of his businesses, a laundromat, hoping you’ll make some use of it. Of course, you’d rather make something out of it: namely a thriving arcade. But you have to do it behind your disapproving father’s back.

There’s a lot of work to do. The Laundromat you walk around in in the first person generates the income you need to expand the arcade and needs maintenance. Loading and unloading washers and dryers, taking out the trash, unblocking the toilet and fixing broken machines is a never-ending chore. The more you do and the more efficiently you do it, the more money you can invest in arcade machines. It’s satisfying to a point, but it’s not really fun. It’s work and it should feel like work.

Managing the arcade, which is done through your PalmPilot, is a more sophisticated affair. Each individual machine has a popularity rating that is influenced by factors such as difficulty, price, cleanliness of the room, and proximity to other popular machines. You can tweak the difficulty and price per game, as well as placement, to try and optimize each booth’s profitability. Crucially, you can increase a game’s popularity by playing it. Each cabin comes with a set of achievement objectives that, when completed, will attract more players to the game. So you have an incentive to play for both work and fun, which makes sense – after all, you know your product.

I’ve only played for a few hours and sampled a handful of the 35 or so boxes you can buy, but I can already get a sense of how Nosebleed’s deep love for classic gaming is expressed in a warm and witty way. Some of the games are fun, well-executed recreations of classics such as pong or Mr. Bohrer; some are mashups, like the game that gives Pac Man a Grand Theft Auto reskin. Some encapsulate the surreal, throwaway, half-mad, half-mad innocence of early play: there’s one game about having a job at a packing warehouse, and another – a wild, immersive match-three -Puzzle named Woodgal’s Adventures – about fighting slimes and baking cakes. They all play like the kind of well-meaning imitations of talented bedroom programmers who used to fill computer store shelves and who launched half the games industry (particularly in the home computer-obsessed UK in the 1980s).

A depressing looking Laundromat in Arcade Paradise

Image: Nosebleed Interactive/Wired Productions


Image: Nosebleed Interactive/Wired Productions

A vibrant, neon-lit arcade in Arcade Paradise

Image: Nosebleed Interactive/Wired Productions

A full screen shot of a futuristic racing game in Arcade Paradise

Image: Nosebleed Interactive/Wired Productions

arcade paradise it’s about balancing the tempting pull of another try with those machines against the beeping reminders to unload the washing machines again. Gamble too much and your income will dwindle, but gamble too little and the arcade will never take off as well as it could. You’ll need the laundromat earnings to expand the arcade, but at some point you’ll need to switch from grinding in the present to focusing on the future. What is the aim of this game anyway? Having fun or raising the money to buy games you won’t have time to play? (Sounds familiar.)

It’s not just a love letter to the arcade of the ’90s, arcade paradise is a game about work-life balance and also the balance between different types of work: the work you do to survive and the work you do for love. As with all management games, it’s inherently about capitalism, but in a way that’s both more titillating and gentler than the satirical, be-the-machine emptiness of clicker games like Vostok Inc. This is about how to live within the system and how to use it to build something beautiful.

arcade paradise was released on August 11th on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch. The game has been verified on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Nosebleed Interactive. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. You can find For more information on Polygon’s Ethics Policy, click here. Arcade Paradise is a love letter to 90’s management sims and arcades

Charles Jones

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