I think it is any gamer’s dream to create a video game of their own.

Unfortunately, the majority of the content on the “Indie” section of Xbox Live shows what happens when it goes horribly wrong.

That’s not to say that every game is bad. But when you scroll through the list of endless zombie games, Minecraft clones, dating sims, controller vibration tests, and cover art that looks best left to the margins of some fifth grader’s notebook paper, you have to wonder how these people got dev kits.

Fortunately, Arcadecraft was a game that was not made in five minutes. And it shows.

Actually, it’s a really neat idea: It’s a sim-style game where players are put in charge of their own arcade, circa 1980’s. So that means that you are there from the beginning of the “big deal” time of the arcade. And it treats it accordingly, including 1984’s “crash”.

Players sort out everything: Floor patterns, decorations, neon signs, vending machines and jukeboxes. All to make that “perfect” arcade. And then, of course, are the games. None of them are licensed games, but if you know the era, you can read between the lines to see which fictional company is representing the real one, and what games they have, are the games the “real” company would have put out. It’s a fun guessing game in itself.

Running an arcade isn’t easy. There are loan coasts. Electricity costs and broken machines. Obnoxious kids that need to be thrown out for kicking your machines. The console version of your “big money” game will come out, making the cabinet obsolete. People want to be high score champions and monopolize your most popular machine. Collectors want to buy your cabinets. Japanese companies may sell you some exclusive game from overseas. It’s a lot of decisions. Things I hadn’t really considered before, but contextually, it all makes perfect sense. This is owning your own arcade.

Graphics are pleasant. All of your Xbox friend’s Avatars stroll in and out to play, and people will let you know what they like and don’t like. The games and logos are very appropriately themed (I do wish that licensed cabinets could one day be utilized), and it really captures that feel of an arcade. The same goes for sound. Each game emits its own bleeps and bloops, and put it all together, you get a nice little electronic symphony going.

Even the controls are intuitive. Even if you don’t like sims or business management type decisions, everything is fast and easy, and plays like a game in itself. From emptying coin slots to rushing to get a cabinet over to a “hot spot” to increase popularity and rake in more money, you are always managing something.

There are a few changes I would like to see. I would like to see pinball games included. Same for the side games like Skee-Ball. I would also like to see the arcade cabinet screens animate, even if it’s just a few frames of movement. And it currently only goes to the year 1986, which I’ve heard that history will be expanded to include later years, because currently, this isn’t going to cover things like beat ’em ups, fighting games, or dance games.

But the issues are small, and don’t detract from the onscreen action. The game gives a very solid recreation of an arcade environment, and makes it fun. It gives you a lot of room to work with options and tweaks, but doesn’t micromanage to the point that it feels like a chore. It balances fun and simulation really well.

As I said, a lot of games on the Indie side of Xbox Live are repetitive, uninspired and unplayable, which is a tragedy as it gives the service a bad name in trying to find fun and creative ideas. But Arcadecraft is certainly one that should be tracked down and enjoyed, especially for those who grew up during that time (you can tell the developers well understood the “magic” of the era). Everyone else can get an idea of what the big fuss was about.

Recommended.

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