In the past, Xbox Live Indie Games has been hit or miss. On the one hand, there are fantastic titles such as, I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1, and then there are various “games” you can buy that just serve to make your controller vibrate on command or the game whose purpose is solely that to turn your television into a fireplace. Considering how Microsoft has just killed XNA, it might seem like a waste of time to play and review an XBLIG title. The problem here is that Arcadecraft has been generating a lot of positive buzz, and it is certainly well deserved.
I had first heard of the title from Dave Voyles in 2012 at PAX Prime, when he told me of a simulation game that puts the player in the shoes of an 80s arcade. I was sold at “simulation game” and “arcade”. I recall quite clearly that my first reaction was that I was angry at myself for not coming up with the idea – being that simulation games and arcades are both things that I do indeed love dearly. In fact, the memory of the day that I learned that my childhood arcade had gone out of business was one of my sadder ones, even though it happened in adulthood.
The first thing that the player will notice about the game is that it exudes a level of polish. The game looks incredibly sharp, and if you’ve played any number of XBLIG games in the past, it is immediately obvious just how much time was spent polishing the title. It looks better than a good number of Xbox Live Arcade titles, to boot, and the level of production put into the sound was astonishing. The player feels like they are being catapulted into a dark arcade. A quick press of the start button at the title screen which prompts the player to insert a coin, and they are introduced to their assistant who guides them into the gameplay mechanics of Arcadecraft and gives them regular status updates. From here, the player must choose the name of their arcade, and it’s off to the races.
The start of the game will be familiar to those that are fans of simulation games. The player is given a small amount of seed money, and a limited number of arcade machines to purchase. The twist here is that the seed money was loaned to the player, and the goal is to have $13,500 in cash at the end of 1981 to repay it. Gameplay is straightforward enough. How much money each arcade machine makes is correlated to its popularity, which for all intents and purposes, is in the shape of a parabola. When a new machine is purchased, it’s not very popular, but as more people play it, it becomes more popular, until the machine gets old and no one plays it anymore. It becomes a delicate balancing act, as the number of people that enter the arcade is determined by an arcade’s popularity, and one of the ways to keep the player’s arcade popular in the beginning is to purchase new arcade cabinets every single month. This becomes incredibly tricky with a limited amount of funds.
This does bring us to a few things that are annoying about the game. The smaller issue is that there’s not much of an endgame – there are no supplementary goals past repaying the loan except to rack up a high score on the leaderboard. This can be forgivable considering the fact that this is an indie title, and developed by two full time people. The main issue is that of pacing. The arcade becomes unwieldy to play in later stages. When the player’s arcade consists of 30 video game cabinets, it will become well nigh impossible to collect money from each machine, even with the aid of a hired employee, eject players who are beating up on the video games, keep the soda machine restocked, and repair damaged machines. Add in the random events that the game throws at the player, such as power outages, there is just too much micromanagement for this simulation. At this point, many of the nuances that made the game so great in the early stages of the game, are lost. No longer does it matter if an arcade game sits alone. No longer will the player care that the Protectian 1 arcade game is getting a popularity boost because the player set it next to its sequel, Protectian 2. The game just becomes an exercise of collecting money and making sure the video games are operating.
Arcadecraft is one of the one or two best games ever published on XBLIG. Though there are some nits to pick with the game play, the game did have me playing for at least three solid hours at a time. It was a ton of fun seeing what new arcade cabinets I could purchase with the passing of each month, and trying to come up with an optimized layout. The toughest part about this review is in deciding to which bar Arcadecraft should be held. Should it be compared with its peers in XBLIG or with full on XBLA titles? Perhaps neither. The production values and gameplay place Arcadecraft above and beyond almost anything else on XBLIG. It compares with and does better than many titles found on XBLA. Arcadecraft is the best 240 Microsoft Points an XBox 360 owner can spend today, and can be wholeheartedly recommended to both fans of simulation games and arcades.
Arcadecraft is currently available on the XBox 360, and will be coming to PCs.