Saturday, 18 August 2018

A holiday, a hotel, and a broken Sega Touring Car machine


At the end of May 2018, I was on holiday on the island of Crete, Greece.

I had an amazing time overall, but there was one thing that stood out about it compared to other holidays I've been on- I saw just one arcade game.

Usually, I find some time to check out the nearby arcades whenever I'm staying in another place, but Greece was different. In 2002, all arcade games were banned entirely, after some machines were being illegally converted for gambling.

Everything fell under it- even racing, lightgun, and dance games. The arcade scene there died entirely, and even with a repealing of the law some years later after much criticism by the arcade and gaming industry, arcades in Greece never recovered.

So, I went into this holiday expecting to get away from everything- even one of my main interests in life. But to my surprise, I found one solitary arcade machine at the resort I was staying at- a broken and battered twin Sega Touring Car Championship.
Sega Touring Car, for those who don't know, is one of Sega's many arcade racers from the 90's. It ran on the Model 2 hardware, like Daytona USA and Sega Rally before it- but unlike those two games, it never received a sequel on the Model 3.
Because of this, it isn't quite as well remembered- and the people who do know of it usually associate Touring Car with it's Saturn port, which is pretty infamous for it's poor quality graphics and terrible handling compared to Sega Rally.
In fact, it could be argued that even the arcade version is a poorer game compared to Sega's other arcade racers- despite a cheesy Eurobeat soundtrack that predates Initial D Arcade Stage's use of one, there just isn't much character in it, and the gameplay feels nowhere near as tight as Daytona.

But, anyway- the machine was located in a very small games room next to the bar, with it being the only reminder of anything resembling a video game there, sandwiched between claw machines and a whack-a-mole game.
It was clear from when I first saw it, that the machine had been subject to a lot of use. The marquee lights had blown, the screens were converted to LCD, seat decals were torn, no sound seemed to be coming out, and the right side didn't appear to be working at all.
This wasn't a good indication that the game would even be playable at all- but still, I paid the 50 cent price a few times to have a few shots at it. Of course. I didn't get far.
Once playing the game, I soon realised something was clearly wrong with the gas pedal. Even with putting my foot down on it hard, it wouldn't go as fast as it could. The force feedback was either ridiculously strong, or not even working. The gear shifter wasn't even safe, as it turned out to be a game of chance finding out if you'd changed gears or not after moving it.

The furthest I ended up getting was the second course, and while I'm not the best at this game, I have done much better on it than that on a machine in Skegness. With the cab in terrible condition, I didn't play it much afterwards, but I would always pass it on my way to the bar, or to the restaurant.

Every time I saw Touring Car afterwards, I couldn't believe how just sad the machine looked. No-one was playing it, only kids climbing on the seats and pretending to drive. Only one attempt was made to fix the right side- and nothing appeared to have changed afterwards.
The machine will likely never even be bought and restored by someone back to it's former glory, with very little interest in arcades in Greece, and of course the overall opinion on Touring Car too. I couldn't help but feel kind of sorry for it- yes, really, feeling sorry for an arcade machine!

To me, this twin racing machine embodies the complete decline arcade games had during the 2000's. They may as well have been banned here too- more arcades than ever have no games to speak of, just redemption and claw machines. 
I'm going off on a depressing tangent here to be honest, but that's what it did actually feel like in a few arcades I visited in Skegness, where there weren't even any racing or shooting games.

The final day of the holiday soon came, and I decided to have one last play on the game. It was still broken as ever, but I tried to enjoy it a bit more by listening to the game's Eurobeat soundtrack on my phone- because as I mentioned before, the sound wasn't working.
Leaving the island, I was half expecting to find a similarly broken arcade machine at the Crete airport- but there wasn't even one there. 

Why I cared so much about this old, broken arcade game in a hotel, I don't know- but as one of the last of an already very dead breed in the country of Greece, I thought I should give it some service it deserved- even if the game wasn't a particularly good one.

My opinion hasn't changed on Sega Touring Car- I still think it's inferior to Sega's other arcade racers, but this game means a little more to me after this holiday, which I definitely wasn't expecting to happen going into it. 
So, that brings me to the end of this blog post. I wasn't planning to do this originally, but I just wanted to let out everything about this machine- I had already spoke about it on my Twitter, but I felt it deserved a whole write-up of it's own. Anyway, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it.

Ted

Friday, 22 June 2018

Arcade round up- Tamworth, Matlock, and more

Hi all, it's Ted, back again with another arcade write up. Over the past year, I've visited places with arcades that aren't significant enough to warrant an a write up all to themselves. Well, I've decided I'm going to put all of those into one blog post, and if any more come up that aren't quite big enough for one blog post, I will talk about them on my Twitter and wait until I have a few more to put in a second round up of arcades. Anyway, on with the write up...


Anglesey +  Llandudno, Wales


Towards the end of August 2017 I went on holiday to the northern region of Wales, the Isle of Anglesey specifically. I looked up to see if there was any arcades on the isle but I was shocked to find there was only 1- and it was a very small space, tacked onto a restaurant.


I tried to get my hopes up by thinking they would have some forgotten about JAMMA cab or a uncommon racing game from the 90's like Scud Race or Rave Racer, covered in fag stains but still working, but it was not to be.


The Coast Diner Arcade, Benllech

This arcade was part of a fish and chip shop + restaurant, and surprisingly the only one to be found on the whole of Anglesey. When I first set foot in it, the signs were good. It was dark, dingy, and outdated.
A long line of old gambling machines against the wall, a absolutely battered 'Bowlingo' mini bowling alley, and 2p pushers that were barely operational. Pretty bad, considering the restaurant looked fairly modern! This looked like the right environment for a old, forgotten SCUD Race cab or maybe a JAMMA with Tekken.

And, right at the back of the arcade, I found the only game to be had to be had- Maximum Tune 2.

Now, I like the Maximum Tune series. I like the gameplay, I like the car tuning, I like the music by Yuzo Koshiro, and I don't like the fact most UK arcades don't have it. So I should be happy I found one in this arcade. But this was just depressing to see.
The right side was switched off, presumably not working. The sound was barely audible. The CRT's had pretty bad burn in. The card reader wasn't working. The 'DO NOT SIT ON SEAT IF NOT PLAYING' sign was placed halfheartedly on the marquee. All of this made for one of the worst condition arcade games I have ever seen!

I had one credit, still priced at £1, and didn't have another go. While I was hopeful at first for finding some hidden treasure, I left the arcade with a pretty bad taste. Just how on earth have they let the place fall into such disrepair, when the restaurant actually looked pretty decent? 

Soon enough, this will most likely be converted into more seating for the restaurant. The arcade might've been popular once, but it's had it's day- as while there were people in the diner above, the arcade was deserted and no-one else came in while I was there.

It didn't help that there was little info I could find about it on the internet, and the entrance was the other side of the building, with only one sign pointing towards it. Most people probably don't even realize it exists, to be honest!

There also was this 2nd arcade elsewhere in Benllech attached to the 'Wendon's' cafe, but it only had pushers and fruit machines. 
There was a little graveyard of machines in the corner, and I tried to see if there was a neglected old cab, but there was nothing. And I was shouted at by an employee for looking!


Llandudno

Disappointed with Anglesey's arcade, I looked around online to see if there was any other arcades just outside of Anglesey. Unfortunately, the next town along the coast was 45 minutes away, and the other towns, like Rhyl, were even further, which is a shame as I've heard they have some nice stuff, like this 8 player Daytona:

I would've normally made the journey but I had other stuff planned already, like a zipline experience and Snowdonia so I only had time to do one. So, I chose Llandudno, as it looked like a really nice town overall, and it had a few arcades.


Leisure Island Amusements


A nice little arcade, with old looking decor but new, shiny machines.

It was really nice to see Luigi's Mansion Arcade. I absolutely love the plastic replicas of the original's Poltergust 3000  vacuum's!
Not a massive fan of the new Daytona, but from looking at older pictures of this arcade, it replaced the pretty dire NASCAR Arcade by Raw Thrills- anything other than that is good by comparison!
The attract mode said something about a 'open tournament'- there wasn't anything mentioned about it in game when I played it, so I don't know what this meant. Maybe it was something to do with the Championship Mode, which I haven't tried yet.

It may be redemption and nothing like the original, but I think Space Invaders Frenzy is a pretty fun spin-off, especially with 2 players.
Also, not sure why they need not one but two Terminator Salvation machines. Variety is so much better than having several cabs of one game!

The Deck Arcade

The second of 2 arcades on Llandudno pier. I'd heard this one had a few older Sega cabs, like a sit-down House Of The Dead 2 and the hard to come by Initial D 3, but alas things had changed.
Most of the games here are made by Raw Thrills, and although I feel their output has improved a little recently, their games are still primarily aimed at casual arcade-goers, and pretty boring with little depth as a result.

Namco's 2009 tank sim, Tank! Tank! Tank!, was my only game of interest here.
It's a spiritual successor of sorts to Tokyo Wars, which I have enjoyed playing in the past at Gray's Amusements in Mundesley, Norwich. Like Tokyo Wars before it, Tank! is a fiarly uncommon arcade game, and I enjoyed a few credits.

There were a few other arcades in Llandudno but there was little of note- though I did spot some familiar faces in one of the grabber machines...
If only there was an actual Street Fighter machine there!

Later on that day we went on the Llandudno cable cars up to the 'Summit Complex'. The cable car track is one of the longest in Britain and there was amazing views.
But why am I mentioning this? At the entrance the sign mentioned this arcade. When we got up there though, it didn't seem to exist...
Anyway, despite the somewhat lackluster arcades as a whole, I had an amazing time in Wales and did so many things I haven't told you about. May be visiting again soon with a better mindset of what to expect!


Namco Funscape/Station, Tamworth


During my first visit to Tamworth in quite a few years, I couldn't resist a look at the Namco arcade and bowling alley now that I was always on the lookout for arcades. It's in a prime location, near to the town centre and other attractions in the Castle Grounds, so I had time to check it.
Interestingly, the venue has a noteworthy history regarding arcades- in the 90's, it was Sega
who owned it! The first floor was used for Sega World, and they supposedly had 8 player Daytona USA among other expensive titles. However, it was sold to Namco in 2001, who moved the games down with the bowling, and leased the first floor to a gym- so there's no leftover machines from when Sega owned it, sadly.

I still hoped there would be some quality games to play in whatever space there still was, but there was only a few. Mario Kart Arcade and Star Wars Battle Pod were the only highlights of a very small selection.
The games were still in good condition, but I was thinking there'd be more choice- there's not very much space, but it's quite strange to me how a dated game like Terminator Salvation is still out and taking money, when Namco could replace it with a more recent (and much better!) shooter, Time Crisis 5! I'm hoping on a future visit, there will be more newer games, but I'm not certain.

I must mention this amazing bit of street art near the building though! After the disappointment over how few games were there, this definitely was something to see.

Matlock Bath

Matlock Bath is a little town just 30 minutes away from me. It's somewhat of an oddity, as it has all the hallmarks of a seaside resort (fish and chip shops, souvenir stores) yet it's in land. Of course no matter the reason this works to my advantage as there is arcades to be had!

There are 4 arcades in Matlock- a good amount, especially for a small town. Only one of these has any actual games though, which is a little disappointing, but still, it's interesting there's a town like this near me.

Derwent Amusements

Like I mentioned, the only arcade in Matlock with any games that aren't redemption or gambling. 

I always get both this arcade and another in Matlock, Aquarium Amusements confused- I try to remember the Aquarium Amusements are part of an actual aquarium but their exteriors are very similar!
Now here's something you don't see often! While House Of The Dead 2 is pretty common as it goes, it's sit-down, theatre deluxe iteration is not- and this arcade is the only one I have seen it in to date.
It's rear projector is on it's last legs but the game is still playable, in fact, until very recently, the guns on this had some shocking calibration. But, it's fixed now, and I finally managed to get a gameplay video of it!
Bizarrely, Derwent Amusements chose to get the upright version of Transformers, over the more common (and better) sit in deluxe version. They could've easily gotten rid of HoTD 2 but chose to have both. Nothing against this though.
On my visit, I realised how painstakingly easy it is! It was only my second time playing Tranformers and I finished the game on 2 credits when I knew barely anything about it. But it's still nice shooting fun, and a fair effort by Sega Amusements.

Namco's Pac-Man revival for 4 players is always fun, and keeps the same great gameplay of the original with just a little more variety so it's different. And at 50p a credit, who wouldn't want to have a play?

Nottingham


Nottingham's arcade prime sadly came and went before I could ever enjoy it- both Cascade Amusements and Namco Station closed in the 2000's. Ironically, Nottingham's infamous National Videogame Arcade opened just a few yards away from where Cascade was, but NVA is not what I'm going to be talking about here- it now deserves it's own write-up, which is coming soon.
The only other place in Notts with arcade games in Funstation. This was a surprise addition to the Cornerhouse complex in 2015, which already had several restaurants and attractions like indoor mini golf and a casino. I never thought for a second that a new, dedicated arcade would open in the centre of Nottingham again, but here we are.
Funstation is actually a little-known chain of arcades in the UK, with only a few other locations. They seem to be very modern and clean, no cigarette stained carpets or gambling machines in these- just redemption and a select few video games, all paid for with the I-Card system. 

What's good is that the Nottingham location probably has the most diverse selection of video games out of all the Funstation arcades, after looking at others online. You've got your usual mediocre Raw Thrills games, but also some newer titles from Namco and Sega like Transformers Human Alliance, and Star Wars Battle Pod.
But the biggest surprise of all is that they've opted to have two decade old games in the form of Time Crisis 4, and a deluxe 4 player OutRun 2 SP linkup!
Both of these games were released in the mid 2000's, and I find it very odd that Funstation have got these, considering redemption dominates the arcade and that it opened in 2015. They've been fully refurbished, and have been given a good LCD conversion for once- barely any lag, and they look great. To be honest, these are the only reason I keep coming back to the place!

Funstation could do with some improvement, however. Even though I have just praised how they've bought older games, they could do with some newer stuff. Since they opened, they haven't bought anything new, which is a little worrying. I have also been told to not take photos there a few times, but other times they've been fine with it? That might be nitpicking, but stuff like that really annoys me.

But, overall, I'm glad that Funstation have got good games for their arcade, even if they are quite old now. They could do with some newer machines, and maybe a better variety (rhythm games like DDR A would be appreciated!), but it's interesting to see an arcade in a city that isn't attached to a bowling alley thriving and doing well. I thought arcades were finished in Nottingham a while back, but with this and National Videogame Arcade, they might not be!
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little round-up of arcades I've visited in the past. I may do another one of these in the future, if I've been to other smaller and less noteworthy places. Thanks for reading!

Ted