If you’re of a certain generation, chances are you have imagined (or, at this point in your adulthood, built) your own home arcade that resembles something out of the golden ’80s era. One useful path to making this a reality, especially in tighter quarters, is the “multicade,” an invention that squishes multiple games into a single cabinet.
But what if your old-school gaming dreams revolve around something bigger and bulkier, particularly pinball? Until recently, your options were either buying a bunch of original pinball cabinets or building your own ground-up emulation solution. And the latter is complicated by the realities of how pinball plays and feels.
I’ve wondered how long it would take for that to change in the gaming-nostalgia market, especially as companies like Arcade1Up produce and sell more multicade cabinets for home use. The time for change is now, evidently, thanks to a handful of manufacturers producing pinball multicades. Arcade1Up in particular launched three distinct pinball emulation cabinets this year, each revolving around a different license.
Thanks to Arcade1Up, I’ve gone hands-on with arguably the most interesting product in its 2021 pinball line: a collection of 10 classic tables, all created by Williams during its arcade heyday but emulated for more convenient home play. What exactly does $600 get you in terms of emulation and build quality?
Time to get Mad and Medieval
Arcade1Up Digital Pinball (Attack from Mars)
The Arcade1Up pinball system is largely the same across all three models released this year. Most of the physical cabinet is preassembled inside its box, and finishing the construction—which resembles a classic pinball machine, complete with buttons and a plunger—is simple enough with a standard screwdriver. The biggest catch will be getting the cabinet’s biggest, heaviest piece through doors or over stairs. This portion measures 34 inches long, 17 inches wide, and 16.5 inches tall. (Luckily, you can unscrew this base chunk in a pinch.)
Once fully built, this cabinet’s tallest backplate gets up to 60 inches in height, while the default legs bring the flippers up 35 inches from the floor. These include twistable feet that you can adjust to even out the set’s balance. At roughly 65 percent the size of a standard pinball cabinet, the Arcade1Up version will more likely fit in your favorite playroom, though it looks better in isolation rather than sitting next to an official table of the era.
Peek over the fake coin doors, and you’ll quickly see where Arcade1Up’s system differs hugely from the real thing: a 24-inch LCD panel, offset by a significant bezel all around (wood on top and bottom, aluminum on the left and right). Beneath the screen, Arcade1Up relies on an Android-fueled SoC, which pumps a 720p video signal to the screen, along with an analog receiver for the plunger, an accelerometer to sense your real-life “tilts,” and four solenoids that thump along with your gameplay. Two of them are positioned near the flipper buttons to replicate the sense of striking a pinball, while two fit deeper inside the chassis to replicate midgame bumps.
With the backplate attached and a single AC adapter plugged into a wall outlet, the machine is ready to rock. Part of the kit offers two crucial pieces to the pinball-emulation puzzle: a smaller LCD screen, which provides score information and midgame animations, and a pair of surprisingly robust speakers.
My virtual choice: The real classics
The backplate, by the way, is a printed poster that doesn’t change regardless of which virtual game you’re playing. My cabinet highlights the original Williams table Attack From Mars, while Arcade1Up’s two other 2021 models are decorated with Star Wars and Marvel characters, respectively. Sadly, for the Attack From Mars cabinet, Arcade1Up didn’t get a great source for the side cabinet art (especially on the backplate’s sides). Those images are a bit warped and low-res. Should your default home arcade have dim lighting, you may not even notice.
Power the system on, and after an admittedly overlong loading screen, Arcade1Up’s interface pops up, revealing a selection of 10 games as powered by Zen Studios’ digital-pinball ecosystem. The Williams machine I tested includes the following:
- Attack from Mars
- Fish Tales
- The Getaway: High Speed II
- Junk Yard
- Medieval Madness
- No Good Gofers
- White Water
- Red & Ted’s Road Show
- Tales of the Arabian Nights
Should you purchase either of the other two 2021 models, you’ll get 10 virtual tables created by Zen Studios for previously released console and PC game collections, as opposed to recreations of real-life classics. That’s why I requested this model in particular. I was more interested in recreating familiar classics than playing Zen Studios’ digital-only inventions.