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Arcades: The Joy of Game Hopping

In the first of our guest bloggers, Luke Chant shares his experience traveling back in time via one of Manchester's best "barcades".

My index fingers hurt. It’s Saturday morning, and I have a handful of coins which have no cash value.

Manchester’s Northern quarter is the hipster capital of the north, and it is here I ended up on a Friday night in a place called NQ64, a self-described “retro arcade bar”.

As a youngster, I have fond memories of arcades, particularly at Butlins where my brother and I would cadge change from our parents to play various games where you shoot or hit things, or drive badly. Later the great light gun games appeared in our local bowling alley and the likes of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter.

I am not a great gamer. I was ok in my youth, but tend to stick to games that require no reaction times these days such as Civilisation. I also have a low tolerance for my own crapness and am inclined to give up when stuck and move on to something else. As such, arcades are ideal for me.

The old school arcade game and its early console brethren are designed to be fun in short bursts. There’s an instant hit of action with no faffing about with cut scenes or long tutorials and very finite play time. Extra lives are cash dependent, and with loads of other things to play, you might decide to save those coins for a crack at something else.

The pure arcade is fairly rare these days. You see a few machines in the corners of bowling alleys, perhaps inside ‘amusements’ at the seaside next to rows of fruit machines and the glorious 2p machines, but the traditional arcade was killed off by consoles in the 90s, and even Sega World is no longer with us.

This decade has seen a minor revival, with places like NQ64 appearing in bigger cities and places like Bury’s Arcade Club and the Nation Videogame Museum showcasing a larger chunk of gaming history. I’m fairly sure this is meant to tap into the nostalgia of the over 30s, and it’s definitely working. Also, you know, beer.

So in the space of a few hours and several beers, I revisited some classics. Highlights included Star Wars Trilogy, House Of The Dead and the original Street Fighter 2, which is a lot slower than I remembered! My fingers suffered at the cruel mistress that is Track N Field, the button bashing classic, and I was very bad at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles machine. There was also a selection of consoles set up with the likes of Mario Kat 64, Goldeneye and Tony Hawk all displayed in unflattering HD. A 20-something lad struggled to comprehend as blocky polygons skated around a badly rendered environment which we thought was awesome back in the mid-90s.

So with a stack of leftover tokens, I’m sure I’ll be finding my way back to NQ64 to spend them getting mullered on Street Fighter 2 or Time Crisis. Might give Track N Field a miss next time though, as typing this was more painful than it should be.

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