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Arcade1Up Pinball Cabinet Review: A Great Start

Rating: 8/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $599
Two pinball machines side by side
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

As a child of the ’80s and ’90s, owning a pinball machine wasn’t something I could fathom when I was young. But if it had occurred to me, I would have loved it. With Arcade1Up’s pinball cabinets, the company tries to thread the needle between accessibility and realism. And it gets pretty darn close.

The first thing you need to know about Arcade1Up’s pinball machines is that they are digital and not true recreations. You won’t find moving parts or an actual ball beneath the plexiglass. Instead, you’ll stare at a display and play pinball games created by Zen Studios. That’s probably for the best, though, as actual pinball machines are notoriously difficult to maintain. Arcade1Up was kind enough to send two review units, the Marvel variant and the Star Wars version. We didn’t get to test the Attack from Mars machine, but functionally all of them are identical when it comes to hardware. Only the games and artwork change.

Here's What We Like

  • More affordable than traditional pinball
  • A working plunger
  • Super loud speakers
  • Mod potential for days

And What We Don't

  • The display could be better
  • The fans are loud
  • DMD only uses half the screen

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Some Assembly Required

It’s not an Arcade1Up cabinet unless you need to do some assembly. The bad news here is the box is super incredibly heavy. Get yourself a dolly and maybe a second person on hand. The good news is, putting the cabinet together is a mostly easy (if not tedious) affair. We’ve continually praised Arcade1Up for designing cabinets that are easy to put together, and that remains the case here.

You won’t even have to build the whole thing. The main “box” housing the glass, display, and computer arrives already assembled. Your job is to build the upper box that holds the speakers and DMD (Dot Matrix Display), connect the wiring between the two boxes, and attach the legs. You will need to turn the main box glass-side down to connect the legs, so I suggest getting a blanket to lay it on so you don’t scratch the system up. And though you’ll see me flip the entire unit on my own, don’t be like me: get some help. It’s quite heavy, very awkward, and I nearly dropped it.

One nice addition is that, while the main box arrives assembled, you can still take it apart. That matters because you may need to get to the computer to apply firmware updates or replace parts if they fail (more on that later).

The External Hardware Is Great

Two pinball machines, side by side
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

Arcade1Up did a great job putting together a cabinet that feels like a real pinball machine when it comes to the artwork and materials. It’s a tough call on whether the Marvel or Star Wars artwork is better, both are excellent and I suspect you’ll lean towards the setting you like better. I can’t speak directly to the Attack from Mars system, but the pictures suggest something a bit more bland and unremarkable.

The “flipper” buttons aren’t anything special, but they get the job done. To give the feel of “real flippers,” Arcade1Up placed a bunch of solenoids inside the box to give some feedback when you hit the flippers or the ball hits some other object in the game. I wish Arcade1Up went with something a little stronger, and I’m not alone there. You can find some pretty easy mods (which I’ll get into more later) for changing the positioning of the solenoids to solve that problem.

The faux coin door is a nice touch and a good place to put the buttons you’ll need to interact with menus, along with the volume and power controls. The volume rocker feels a tad mushy, but you probably won’t interact with it much. The machine remembers where you left the volume last, and unless you need to mute for late-night sessions, you’ll probably set it and forget it. The faux coin door would be more convincing if it had the fake coin slots to go with the fake coin return, however.

I also love the spring-loaded plunger to launch the ball with. Arcade1Up could have gone with a simple push-button, but this feels more authentic. As you pull the plunger, the digital “other half” moves to match—but only to a point. Eventually, if you keep pulling, the digital plunger stops. I wish this could have been fine-tuned a little more, but it’s still better than a push button.

And I appreciate the concept of lowering the display into the unit to give it a more “real pinball” feel. That includes a large black insert designed to draw your eyes to the gameplay, and it does enhance the effect. Unfortunately, the downfall is the display itself.

The Electronic Hardware Isn’t So Great

A closeup of a pinball screen with washed out colors
The display isn’t the greatest. Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

When it comes to the electronics in general, I wish Arcade1Up had gone higher quality. Arcade1Up locked the 24-inch display at 720p, and it really shows at times. Menus can be somewhat hard to read, details are fuzzy, and despite going with 720p to obtain a better frame rate, the motion can occasionally be a little jerky. The colors aren’t the greatest either—you get a more washed-out look, especially on the Star Wars cabinet, since its tables tend to use more muted colors.

The problems continue on to the DMD at the top of the unit. Arcade1Up boasts that it’s a 7.5-inch screen but neglects to mention that only half of the display actually gets used. It’s a really odd choice, and you’ll essentially get a letterboxing effect with blank areas at the top and bottom. To top that odd choice off, the images aren’t even centered on the display. I just don’t understand why Arcade1Up did this.

An even closer look at a pinball screen showing washed out colors.
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

And then there’s the computer. Inside the main box, you’ll find a single-board Android-fueled SoC running the whole show. It’s not a Raspberry Pi, but you’re on the right track with that comparison. Android is a sensible choice, as that probably made bringing the Zen Studios pinball games over an easier process.

It’s not very powerful (as evidenced by the 720p lock), yet the fan that keeps the board cool is surprisingly loud. I thought I might have an issue with my review unit, but after Arcade1Up sent me a new computer and I swapped them out, it still didn’t help.

The second pinball machine is just as loud. It’s not an eardrum-shattering noise, but it’s loud enough I turn the machines off when I’m not using them to avoid the distracting fan noise. The weak computer takes a lot longer to load games than I’d like, though, with each new screen taking at least a minute to show up. On a somewhat related note, I wish I didn’t have to choose a language every time I turned on the machine. Arcade1Up, make that a persistent menu in the machine’s settings somewhere.

Arcade1Up also packed an accelerometer into the cabinet to emulate “tilting” the pinball. In theory, you can whack it, and the game will respond accordingly. Go too far, and you get a “tilt” which forces your ball to drop, and you lose a turn. In practice, I had to really shove the machine hard to get anything to register at all. Other digital pinball machines just use a second button for tilt, and that’s probably the better way to go.

One highlight of the electronics is the speakers. They sound really good (though they could use a bit more bass). And they get incredibly loud. I never go above a “two” on the machine’s volume scale of about 10 (it doesn’t display numbers), because it just isn’t necessary. If you turn the speakers all the way up, your neighbors will know which game you’re playing.

Oh, But You Can Mod This Thing

The inside of a digital pinball machine
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

Shortly after the first pinball machine arrived, one of the solenoids stopped working. Between that and how loud the fans were, I contacted Arcade1Up, and they sent replacement parts out along with guides. I swapped both the solenoid (which fixed the issue) and the computer (which didn’t fix the fan issue). Along the way, it became really obvious how easily you could mod these pinball machines if you wanted.

Those mods can be very easy, like moving the solenoids or replacing the glass for something higher quality (though I think the plexiglass is fine), or more difficult, like upgrading the display to something nicer. You can already find dozens of videos on YouTube covering potential mods, and the vast majority of them are probably easy enough for the average person, thanks to Arcade1Up’s design.

Even better, it’s possible to mod the computer that came with the machines now. Arcade1Up released firmware to fix a few issues that were present when the machines were first released—it used to be that holding a flipper button and then using the other would cause the solenoids to not fire. Some enterprising users have customized the software Arcade1Up released to make additional changes to the computer, like loading more games (but you should own those) or increasing the screen’s resolution to 1080p.

If you’re feeling really enterprising, you could throw in a more powerful computer, but you’ll need to add a controller box. However, the fact that you can mod the machine doesn’t mean you should—I’ve seen reports that unlocking 1080p led to overheating and dead computers. Failure is always an option if you don’t know what you’re doing, but having the potential is nice.

Buy a Pinball Machine if the Price Is Right

Two pinball machines back to back
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

If you’re wondering if you should buy one of Arcade1Up’s pinball machines, the answer is yes—if you can find it at the right price. When they first came out, these pinball machines they launched in the $600 territory. But not long after, the price increased to $800. Since then, we’ve seen it almost always on sale for $600. I can’t recommend the pinball machines at $800, but $600 is definitely reasonable. It’s a lot of hardware and includes a mixture of metal, MDF, and electronics, along with some great artwork. If you find one for less than $600, get that thing in your cart as fast as you can.

As to which one you should get, you probably instinctively know the answer. If you prefer either Star Wars or Marvel over the other, that’s probably the direction you should go. I like both franchises equally, but I’ll admit to liking the Marvel pinball games a little better. I prefer the way the tables play, and I think the colors look better on the washed-out screen. But that’s subjective.

However, if you want a pinball machine that feels the most like the real thing, spring for the Attack from Mars cabinet instead. The Marvel and Star Wars games show their “made for an iPad” colors and frequently break the illusions by having characters walk around or zooming to a particular section of the table. Attack from Mars tables play closer to the real thing.

And personally, I really hope Arcade1Up continues on with more pinball options. If the company releases a “second generation” version with better electronics (especially that display) and quieter fans, Arcade1Up might just have a perfect hit.

Rating: 8/10
Price: $599

Here’s What We Like

  • More affordable than traditional pinball
  • A working plunger
  • Super loud speakers
  • Mod potential for days

And What We Don't

  • The display could be better
  • The fans are loud
  • DMD only uses half the screen

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson is the Editor in Chief of Review Geek and is responsible for the site's content direction. He has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smart home enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »