Since 2018, Arcade1Up has been pumping out almost full-sized recreations of classic arcade games for the home game room. Standing at three quarters of the size of a real arcade cabinet, each Arcade1Up machine is adorned with the distinctive art of a long-time favorite game, and typically features anywhere from two to a dozen games from the heyday of the arcade era. They’re a more affordable way to build your own home arcade with something that looks and feels like the real deal, while taking up slightly less space and presenting less potential engineering or electrical issues. Paste used to have one of Arcade1Up’s Street Fighter II machines in our studio green room, and so we know from first-hand experience that they more than fit the bill, even if they aren’t exactly like the machines we remember from our youth.
Arcade1Up initially launched with collections focused on specific publishers or series. Early machines were devoted to games published by Atari, Namco and Capcom, and to the ever-popular fighting game franchises Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. Eventually they branched out to different formats, experimenting with the kind of tabletop cocktail cabinets you’d find at pizza places and other restaurants back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and adapting popular bar games like Golden Tee and Big Buck Hunter. They launched a seated home version of the racing classic Outrun, and have even gotten into digital pinball with three different machines (including one that recreates some of the best Williams pinball games from the ‘90s). All along they’ve continued to grow their lineup of arcade classics, most recently releasing a home version of the beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brawler, and putting out a series of new machines that gather together some of the earliest games they released in new editions with more games per machine. My own home arcade now includes that Street Fighter II machine that used to be in Paste’s studio, as well as a Ms. Pac-Man machine that includes three other Namco games from the ‘80s; both have seen a lot of action during the pandemic, when heading out to a real arcade has been out of the question.
From a purely per-game standpoint, Arcade1Up machines aren’t the most economical way to scratch your retro gaming itch. A solid MAME cabinet will cost you a good bit more than any single Arcade1Up unit, but will also come with exponentially more games. Of course, you can’t just walk into a Walmart or Best Buy and buy a MAME cabinet, like you can with Arcade1Up machines. MAME cabs will take up more space in your house. They also won’t be as visually pleasing—recreating the original artwork is a big plus in Arcade1Up’s favor—and the emulation in MAME cabinets isn’t always up to par. Finally, Arcade1Up’s are fully licensed, official, and legal, which definitely counts for something. If you’re familiar with MAME cabinets, or know where to source one, you probably already know enough about home game rooms to not be Arcade1Up’s target market.
Arcade1Up fills an important niche in the retro gaming world. And with four years under its belt, the company has released a number of machines that would be a welcome addition to anybody’s living room. Still, some stand above the rest, and that’s what we’re looking at today. I’m factoring in not just the quality of the games themselves, but how attractive the overall package is—from both the design of the cabinet, to the number of games included. (As much as I enjoy my Ms. Pac-Man and Street Fighter II units, they have only four and three games, respectively, and thus don’t make the cut.) This list is heavy on second-generation versions of those earliest machines, often combining games that Arcade1Up originally released in two different machines into a single package. A machine with 12 games on it will cost more than one of those older ones with four games cost when they were released, but the higher price tag is generally worth it. If I had the budget and the space, I’d probably have all of these in my basement right now.
Here’s our list of the best Arcade1Up game machines, in no particular order.
Games: Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II, Ultimate Mortal Kombat III, Joust, Defender, Gauntlet, Paperboy Rampage, Rootbeer Tapper, Bubbles, Toobin, Wizard of Wor
Few companies defined the arcade more in the ‘80s than Midway, whose lineup of classic games includes Joust, Defender, Gauntlet, and more. It kept up with the times, introducing a new level of violence to the fighting game genre with the Mortal Kombat series in the ‘90s. Arcade1Up’s Midway Legacy Edition hits most of the company’s high notes, including the games mentioned above and the first three Mortal Kombat titles, along with Rampage, Paperboy, Rootbeer Tapper, Bubbles, Toobin, and Wizard of Wor. Sadly you won’t find classics like Spy Hunter, Sinistar, or Robotron: 2084 (perhaps the finest arcade game of all time) on here, but its 12 games include some of the biggest arcade hits of all time. It all comes inside a cabinet styled after Mortal Kombat II, with Raiden the Thunder God calling upon a bolt as his eyes glow with rage. This is a good one.
Games: Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Galaga ‘88, Galaxian, Dig Dug, Dig Dug II, Mappy, Rally-X, Rolling Thunder, Rompers, Tower of Druaga, King and Balloon
No company’s history has been more explored by Arcade1Up than Namco’s, and across the range of machines featuring the publisher’s games a distinct trend has emerged: its most popular games can be hard to get on a single machine. My Ms. Pac-Man, for instance, backs up the best Pac-Man game with Galaxian (an eminently fine shooter that has forever been outclassed by its superior sequel Galaga), the fun but awkward 3D Pac-Man experiment Pac-Mania, and the unnecessary Pac-Man remix Pac-Man Plus. No slight to those last three, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy any of them. The Ms. Pac-Man / Galaga Class of ‘81 breaks from that model, though. Not only does it feature two of Namco’s three biggest arcade games, it tosses in the similarly beloved Dig Dug and its sequel, along with Galaxian, Mappy, Rally-X, Rolling Thunder, Galaga ‘88, Rompers, Tower of Druaga, and King of Balloon. It’s still missing the original Pac-Man, which headlines its own Arcade1Up collection, but this unit features almost every other classic Namo game you could want. And if you want to sit down while playing them, you can find almost the exact same lineup in the Ms. Pac-Man Head-to-Head Arcade Table—40th Anniversary cocktail edition, although for $100 more.
Games: Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, Street Fighter II’ Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Darkstalkers, Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge, Darkstalkers 3, Saturday Night Slam Masters, Knights of the Round, Eco Fighters, Capcom Sports Club, Muscle Bomber Duo
My Street Fighter II has gotten a lot of use over the years, but it has one notable hang-up: its three games are all just different variations on the same thing. It includes Street Fighter II Championship Edition, Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, and Super Street Fighter II Turbo; outside of some speed and balancing tweaks, and give or take a Deejay or Cammy, they’re essentially the same game. The newer Street Fighter II Big Blue Arcade Machine fixes that, adding nine Capcom games that aren’t part of the Street Fighter series, and swapping out The New Challengers for Super Street Fighter II Turbo, which includes more gameplay updates than The New Challengers while also adding the popular character Akuma. So basically you get a better selection of Street Fighter II games than Arcade1Up’s original collection, and then almost 10 more games on top of that. The new additions include the first three Darkstalkers games, the medieval brawler Knights of the Round, the shoot-’em-up Eco Fighters, multiplayer sports title Capcom Sports Club, wrestling game Saturday Night Slam Masters and its follow-up Muscle Bomber Duo, and the charming puzzler Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. This is a much better and more well-rounded collection of Capcom games than Arcade1Up’s first Street Fighter II cabinet, which justifies its slightly higher price. If you’re a Street Fighter fan who’d rather have some of Capcom’s ‘80s classics on your machine, you might prefer the Capcom Legacy Edition, which includes the same Street Fighter II games (along with The New Challengers), along with the original Street Fighter, Commando, Ghosts n Goblins, Strider, Final Fight, 1944, and the original Darkstalkers.
Games: Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, Tempest, Crystal Castles, Major Havoc, Akka Arrh, Millipede, Gravitar, Liberator, Asteroids Deluxe, Space Duel
The Atari Legacy Edition combines 12 games from the arcade titan’s ‘80s heyday, most of which were previously released in two of Arcade1Up’s original machines. The new model is a one-stop introduction to the basic foundation of arcade gaming, including such iconic games as Asteroids, Centipede, Tempest, and Missile Command. And it comes with both a trackball and a dial, so you can play games like Crystal Castles and Tempest the way they’re meant to be played. Other games include Major Havoc, Akka Arrh, Millipede, Gravitar, Liberator, Space Duel, and Asteroids Deluxe, and it all comes inside a recreation of the original Tempest cabinet.
Games: Star Wars, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
A number of Arcade1Up machines could’ve taken this final spot, from the NBA Jam collection, to the Frogger / Time Pilot team-up, to any of the various Marvel / X-Men machines. Ultimately, though, I had to point to The Star Wars Arcade Home Game. This unit includes Atari’s classic vector graphics arcade game from 1983, which captured the thrill and excitement of dogfighting with TIE Fighters and storming the Death Star through simple lines on a black screen. Also in the package is the vector graphics follow-up The Empire Strikes Back, as well as the very different Return of the Jedi game, which curiously came out between the two. The Star Wars Arcade Home Game might not be the best value on this list—it’s easily the least amount of games on any of the machines I’m recommending here—but it recreates a very unique arcade classic in a format that captures the look and feel of the original. And although you can say that about pretty much every Arcade1Up machine, these specific games, and the importance that the Star Wars game especially had on the arcade scene at the time, feel somewhat overlooked today. Perhaps it’s because of the vagaries of licensing laws, perhaps it’s because the constant stream of increasingly complex Star Wars games simply made the earliest ones seem too archaic, but the vector graphics Star Wars deserves to be remembered and celebrated as the classic that it is. Fortunately Arcade1Up is here to help with that.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.