Once upon a time, the best thing about malls were the arcade centers. All you needed was a roll of quarters (or ugh, tokens) to spend an afternoon with friends and family rescuing April O’Neil, blasting the alien invaders, and gobbling up every last Pac-dot. Now you can bring that nostalgia home with any number of home arcades.
What to Look For in a Home Arcade Machine
Until a year or two ago, the two easiest ways to get an arcade machine in your home was to either build one yourself or buy a used machine for thousands of dollars. The first option required specialized tools and knowledge, the latter a great deal of money and space. But now affordable arcades are flooding the market, led by the company Arcade1Up.
You might think that all the arcade machines are the same, but there are some distinct differences you’ll want to keep in mind when buying—-especially if you’re hoping to mod your case down the road.
- Size: Home Arcades typically come in one of four sizes: handheld, countertop, classic arcade, and cocktail table. We’ll bypass the handheld suggestions, as most of these are overpriced (often $35 or more) for materials that feel ready to break on the first play. For the rest, in general, the larger the machine, the more you’ll spend. We recommend picking the largest size you can comfortably afford and fit into your home. Larger machines are just more impressive, and more comfortable for multiple players.
- Game Selection: When you buy an arcade machine, you’re stuck with the games it comes with (short of replacing the system’s computer). So while it might be tempting to pick your favorite arcade game, you may get value out of choosing one that comes with multiple games. Often those will be sequels, like Mortal Kombat 1, 2, and 3.
- Joystick type: Not all joysticks are created equal. Some are higher quality than others, and the shape and feel can change from machine to machine. A fighting game typically calls for for a baseball bat-shaped joystick, while platformers use ball-shaped joysticks. The range of motion differs from each game, and some games don’t use joysticks at all. Some arcades have one joystick; some have more. Joystick type matters even more if you decide to mod your arcade and add more games.
- Cost: While size is usually the most significant determination behind cost, sometimes the popularity of particular games or extra features increase the price. Some machines have lit marquees or risers to lift a classic arcade to an adult height; others have upgraded joysticks or more games. But generally look to spend $200 or less on a countertop arcade, $350 or less on a classic arcade, and $600 or less on a cocktail table arcade.
We’ve gathered together a selection of arcades that are affordable, generally, feature multiple games, and come in various size options. You’ll find these most machines at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and occasionally Amazon. Sales are frequent, so it’s a good idea to shop around. So let’s get to our favorite arcade machines.
As the name implies, countertop arcades will fit right on your counter or table. They generally look like someone took an arcade machine and lopped off the body just beneath the joystick. You’ll save money at this size and still usually get a decent set of joysticks and screens.
Waka Waka Waka: Arcade1Up Pac-Man CounterCade
Pac-Mac is a classic game anyone can learn to play in a matter of minutes. This faithful recreation includes a ball joystick, power switch, and volume control.
The main Pac-Man plays just as you remember, and Arcade1Up even included the infamous level 256 game-breaking bug for maximum authenticity. Additionally, you can also play Pac & Pal, which is basically Pac-Man but with a ghost sidekick. No really! The unit comes pre-assembled, so all you have to do is take it out of the box, plug it in, and start playing.
Old School: Centipede & Missile Command Counter Arcade Machine
For a machine that really takes you back (to before some of us were born), look no further than this Centipede & Missile Command combo.
This machine features a unique control layout, with five buttons and a rollerball for control. No joystick here. The artwork is a near-perfect replica of the original. It’s pre-assembled, so you’ll be playing in no time.
Space Shooter: Arcade1Up Galaga Galaxian CounterCade
Galaga is one of Namco’s most successful games from the ’80s. Take control of a space fighter and blast the Galaga forces to protect humanity. You may not know it, but Galaga is a sequel to Galaxian, and that’s on here too.
Like other countertop arcades, it comes pre-assembled and features power and volume controls. This arcade supports two-player games, but you’ll have to take turns at the controls.
If you play any arcade games in the mall or at a Dave & Buster’s, you’re probably familiar with the classic arcade look. Now you can get one for your home. Most actual arcade machines are huge, though, and take up a great deal of room, so these “replicas” are 3/4ths scale.
Typically they are relatively short at just under four feet tall, and adults will need to sit on a stool to comfortably reach them. Smaller children (in the seven-year-old range) will find them a perfect height. Some machines come with a custom riser that puts the arcade at adult height. But if you’re willing to settle for something more generic, it can be less expensive to buy the riser separately.
These machines do require assembly, but if you can put together IKEA furniture, you can build one of these. All the parts are pre-shaped, and screws provided. And the controls are pre-wired for you, which would have been the hardest part of the process.
Truly Retro: Asteroids Arcade Machine
Is there anything more classic than Asteroids? Maybe, but it’s still one of the most well-known Atari games to hit the market. And again, Arcade1Up reproduced the original arcade faithfully, but you get more than just Asteroids! You also get Major Havoc, Lunar Lander, and Tempest.
That last game calls for a unique control, a spinner, making this one of the more interesting arcade cabinets on the market. This machine does not come with a riser, so you’ll want to consider buying one if you’d prefer taller height.
Invasion!: Space Invaders Arcade Machine
Are you a Space Invaders purist? Does it only count as the real game if it’s devoid of all color? Or do you prefer a splash of red, blue, and green as you ward off aliens? Well, either way, this machine is for you. You can either play the game in its original format or with color. You could buy this machine in a countertop format, but we think it’s worth stepping up for the bigger screen and better controls. Especially since they often cost the same either way.
Get Over Here: Mortal Kombat Arcade
MORTAL KOMBAT! Blood! Guts! Finishing moves! Mortal Kombat had it all, and you can bring that gloriousness home with this arcade machine. It includes the Mortal Kombat 1, 2, and 3, so you’ll have hours and hours of fun. There’s room for two players, and this machine features bat-style joysticks and restrictor gates to make executing special moves easier.
So go ahead, buy this for your home and pull off a Friendship by inviting your neighbors over for a good time. If you want to save a little money, you can buy this set without the custom riser and go for the generic riser instead. But the custom riser is gorgeous and worth the money if you can spare it.
Arcade1UP Classic Cabinet Riser (Mortal Kombat)
If your idea of a good time is a climactic battle that ends in the beheading of your feeble opponent, this Mortal Kombat arcade is for you. You get the first three games, and a custom riser to bring the controls up to a comfortable height.
Flight Stick: Star Wars Arcade Machine
If you’re looking for something truly unique, check out the Stars Wars Arcade Machine. True to the original machine, this doesn’t even have a joystick. Instead, you have a flight stick for piloting an X-Wing. And the color vector graphics look gorgeous on the 17-inch screen.
You’ll get games for Star Wars: A New Hope, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi for hours of play, but in addition to the flight stick, what sets this machine apart is the custom riser and the lit marquee. You can’t get much closer to owning the original arcade without spending thousands of dollars.
Cowabunga: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Machine
If you didn’t grow up playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the Arcade, you have our deepest sympathies. But fortunately, you can rectify that vast emptiness in your life. This arcade machine supports four players making it one of the wider control zones on these replica machines.
You get both TMNT and Turtles in Time, complete with songs, sounds, and special moves. As crowing four adults around a four-foot arcade would be uncomfortable at best, this machine includes a custom riser.
Cocktail Table Arcade Machines
Cocktail Table arcades are what they sound like: table shaped game machines you sit at to play. These machines are more expensive and take up more room, but they’ll let you sit, which can be more comfortable for longterm playing. They typically support at least two simultaneous players, sometimes with a split-screen for orientation purposes.
You’ll need to assemble these units, and although the process is more complicated than classic arcade-style games, it’s still something you can probably do if you can follow IKEA instructions.
All the Games: Street Fighter Head 2 Head Table
Although Arcade1Up labels this as a Street Fighter arcade, that’s underrepresenting the awesomeness of this table. Altogether, you get 12 games, which is far more than any classic arcade machines include. They range from multiple Street Fighter games to Final Fight to Commando. When appropriate, the display flips to a split-screen view so two people can play together.
Better in Black: Pac-Man Head-To-Head Gaming Table
If it comes in black, buy it in black. This Pac-Man cocktail table looks gorgeous in black, and that’s almost enough reason to but it alone. But you also get eight total games, including six Pac-Man games, Galaga, and Dig Dug. I bet you didn’t even know there were six Pac-Man games.
The game supports head-to-head play, of course, and has a nice protective cover to keep it safe from spills for all you who would actually put a drink on this table (you monsters).