Arcade1Up – Rampage Review

Arcade1Up’s line of diminutive arcade cabinets turned a lot of heads online when they were first announced. After all, the chance to own officially-licensed arcade machines for a fraction of the price of a real cabinet, complete with authentic controls and games? It’s a no-brainer! So there was a lot of waiting to see which of these machines (if any) would reach our shores in Australia, and if so, what were they like?

So it was with great trepidation that I scoured the local ALDI stores to find one on the day of their release. I had heard that they were selling out fast, and it didn’t help that ALDI didn’t offer any convenient way to find out which stores had stock in, so I was eager to get out and about to my nearby stores.

The question I was asking myself on the trip was, which one of the two available would I choose? On the ALDI site they were advertising two versions of the Arcade1Up cabinet. One was advertised as containing Williams / Atari classics Rampage, Gauntlet, Joust and the greatest shmup of all time, Defender. The other had a placard boasting it had a roster of Capcom favourites: Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition, Final Fight, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and Strider.

The good news is that a local store had plenty of both machines on hand to purchase. The not good news? The Capcom cabinet was purely for Street Fighter 2 games. To make things even more confusing, the American version of the Street Fighter 2 machine had all five variants of the legendary fighting game, but the Australian one had only three. That’s….oddly frustrating. My personal favourite Street Fighter 2 Turbo, was completely missing and for the life of me I can’t understand why.

Plenty of machines ready to play!

So, in the interests of game variation, I picked up the Williams / Atari (aka: Midway Classic Arcade) one. As much as I personally love Street Fighter 2, I knew the people who would be using the cabinet would get tired of it a lot quicker than I would, and the chance to introduce Defender to a new generation was too much to pass up. $500 later and I was driving out of the car park a happy man.

Ready to assemble!

Assembling the machine was surprisingly easy and straightforward. If you’ve ever assembled an IKEA book shelf you’ll be in familiar territory here. Frankly, I have to commend the designers here for making it such a painless process, as parts were clearly labelled and the included instructions made sense at every step. You’ll need a good Phillips-head screwdriver and about an hour or two of spare time to go from opening the box to having a small but perfectly formed arcade cabinet in your own home. It’s a good excuse to invite some friends around to help and share in the multiplayer fun afterwards.

Starting to take shape…

It’s when you start putting the machine together that you really get a sense of how small this thing is. Basically, everything is ​3⁄4 of regular size. The controllers are small, not too small, but small enough to be noticeable. The 17” monitor is small, but not enough to be a problem. The cabinet stands 1.2 metres tall, which…yeah, is an issue. Basically the cabinet is too tall to comfortably play while sitting on the ground, and too low to play at all while standing unless you’re under the age of ten. The raisers that Arcade1Up offer aren’t available at retail stores here in Australia, so you’ll need to figure out your own solution. The small size also means that it’s difficult to have more than two people comfortably crowd around the screen, especially if you’re sitting on chairs because of the height issue. It’s workable, but it’s an issue you need to keep in mind.

Almost there….

There are three microswitched sticks for three players, and two buttons (labelled Jump and Attack) that feel suitably responsive if not a teensy bit spongy. I have a hunch that the sticks won’t take the kind of pounding you can dish out in a real arcade, but I don’t really want to test it. On the controller deck is a big power switch and a switch for volume that goes between no sound, “loud enough to be clear for everyone who is playing” and “loud enough to let everyone else in the house know you’re playing”. It just feels nice to play with.

The back of the monitor houses the little box that runs the emulation software.

Anyway, enough about the hardware, let’s talk about the games! Arcade purists might scoff about how these systems use emulation, but honestly, for the price point this thing was never going to be 100% arcade accurate anyway (LCD screens can never replicate the feel of an old-fashioned CRT after all) and the emulation quality itself is legitimately good. However, the way the games play varies wildly.

No coins needed and always ready to play!

So, the cabinet is dedicated to Rampage, with all the original marquee and controller art to suit. That means that it’s a great Rampage machine and offers many hours of fun especially in multiplayer. It’s always a laugh when players end up hitting each other more than they’re hitting the buildings. So, Rampage is good.

Joust surprised me. I have always had a soft spot for the game since playing the Atari 2600 version back in the day, and for some reason I’m even more besotted with the arcade version. It looks the least interesting to play of the four games on offer but I have a hunch that it will be the one I return the most to. It’s a game that rewards skill and has a control system that will take a long time to master. So, thumbs up for Joust here.

Gauntlet is where things start to fall apart. The original was known for its four player action, but since the cabinet was designed with Rampage in mind it only has three controllers. So, at least you can play a three player session, right? Nope! For some unfathomable reason the version of Gauntlet on offer here is the two-player one. Frankly, that’s just absolutely stupid. Also, the game itself has not aged well at all and, since you can just give yourself infinite health with continued pressing of the start buttons, there’s absolutely no challenge on offer. I found myself just wandering aimlessly through the mazes not even bothering to fight any of the dungeon’s monsters. After fifteen minutes I gave this one a hard pass.

Finally we get to Defender. I love Defender. I mean I really, really love Defender. Eugene Jarvis and friends made what I think is one of the few “perfect” games. Legend tells of people who can survive more than five minutes of playing this exquisite classic, but I have yet to meet them. Yes, I am terrible at Defender but I still love it.

Defender plays like absolute garbage on this machine. I hate every second of it. The controls are so offensively broken that I feel like it wants me to grow a third or possible fourth hand to have access to all the buttons that are spread haphazardly across the entire surface of the control panel. You move up and down with the first stick, Thrust and Reverse with the player one buttons, smart bomb and hyperspace with the player two buttons, and fire with one of the third player buttons. It plays worse than it sounds. Your hands spend so much time moving across the panel there’s no way you can make the instinctive, split-second decisions needed to play Defender properly. This is one of the cases where I actually wouldn’t have minded if they used the control method found in some of the home console ports that eschewed the Thrust and Reverse buttons for left and right on the joystick. Even just thinking about playing Defender on this system makes me mad.

Uh…no thank you?

Also, and this one completely infuriates me for some reason, high scores don’t save at all! That’s a particularly egregious oversight that for me completely diminishes the arcade experience. Arcade games are all about high scores! What, I have to get a chalkboard to put next to the machine for people to write their scores down? Are we cavemen?

For $500 there were always going to be some compromises, but some of them just make my blood boil. I get the size. I get the build quality. But I really can’t get over how two of the games are basically broken and there were weird software shortcuts. If you’re a super fan of Rampage, or if you want to use this as a starting point for a modification project then absolutely you should get one. Otherwise…keep looking.

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Cameron Davis
Writer and artist of Rose: a comic about the world’s hungriest redhead and her love of food, friends, food, family, food and FOOD!

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