I’ve always told myself that if I were to come into a large sum of money that I wanted to immediately lose, that I’d open an arcade. Occasionally this dream morphs into the running of a record store, since the expression of constant disgust I typically carry seems like it would lend itself well to standing behind a counter and judging someone for buying Abba on vinyl, but it always goes back to the arcade idea.
It’s easy to see why Arcadecraft sets itself in the 80s, a time when quarter-munching machines were still a viable source of revenue. If set in the current day, you’d probably be limited to an cramped storefront in the middle of a mall, just enough space for Big Buck Hunter and a Dance Dance Revolution machine. Here, you’re given a full palette of ersatz classics from the era to adorn what it still a relatively modest-sized building. It’s really an encapsulation of Arcadecraft as a whole; a big idea that never expands or leads to much.
The primary draw of a sim like this is the constant feedback loop of earning and then spending just enough to earn a little bit faster. While that’s present to an extent, most of your time with the game is spent shaking machines for money and then waiting…. a lot. You can set the difficulty or price of each individual game, but the trade off is never worth it. Within a year, I was rolling in money, charging 25 cents for every machine, not even bothering to mark up sodas. Sometimes troublemakers will come into your arcade and you need to kick them out or a machine will need repairs, but that’s really all there is to do. You can add more machines but can’t expand your floor space or even change the layout. While there is a constant feed of new machines that become available over time, by 1982, I felt like I’d seen everything, not really feeling a particular emptiness because I’d never last long enough to see the copyright-free Tapper equivalent.
If the Steam feedback is anything to go by, the game just flat out stops progressing at 1987, which is odd considering just how big of a year that was for gaming as a whole. Arcadecraft fills a niche, but even being the only game of its type can’t hide the fact that it suffers from lack of any hook or grander scope. I wanted things to get dark. I wanted my character to hit rock bottom and resort to back-alley dealings to keep the lights on just one more month, hoping that Paperboy was going to bring him out of the red. I wanted a look into the dark neon corners of the arcade business, culminating in a fist-fight with Nolan Bushnell on a rooftop.
Actually, I may have just come up with a great idea for a screenplay. Don’t steal that.