Return of the Arcade
For many gamers, Sega’s Dreamcast is remembered fondly because it epitomized the play-at-home arcade experience. In his book, 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die, Duncan Harris explained,”One of the reasons that older gamers mourned the loss of the Dreamcast was that it signaled the demise of arcade gaming culture.” But if Dreamcast signaled the death of arcade gaming culture, then perhaps Nintendo’s Switch marks the beginnings of a tiny resurrection.
In many ways, Switch is the modern equivalent of a two-player arcade machine that you can take on-the-go. A large part of Switch’s identity, right down to its logo, is snapping off two controllers and playing with someone else. If you strip away the Joy-Cons from the design, then you’re basically stripping away it’s identity as a portable arcade cabinet.
When you observe old photos of arcades from the 1980’s-90’s, you typically see a group of young happy people, huddled around an arcade cabinet, and staring at a small screen. Fast forward to 2017: we see a group of young happy people, huddled around a small screen, each holding Joy-Cons in their hands.
The most recent evidence of Nintendo embracing their company’s arcade roots was this past week’s Nintendo Direct. The company announced that they had partnered with Hamster to bring their arcade games to Switch. This includes Mario Bros, Vs. Super Mario Bros., Vs. Balloon Fight, Vs. Ice Climber, Vs. Pinball, Vs. Clu Clu Land, and Punch-Out!!
At the peak of their popularity, arcades were the ultimate hangout spot for America’s youth to congregate. Unfortunately, arcades had received a negative reputation from parents, teachers, and even politicians, who viewed them as unhealthy environments where teenagers formed gangs, sold drugs, and participated in various illegal activities. Many teenagers skipped school to hang out at the arcade as an act of anti-authoritarian rebellion. Sometimes kids stole money from their parents to spend on machines.
Arcades were important because they made video games feel like social experiences that you shared with your friends. And even if you weren’t playing with your friends, there was something special about trying to beat a random stranger’s high score.
Here’s the philosophical difference between Nintendo versus companies like Microsoft. Nintendo will always value local multiplayer and social gaming because they have deep roots in the 1980s coin-operated arcade business.
When people discuss Wii’s legacy, it’s always the same brain-dead “casual gaming vs hardcore gaming” arguments. But Nintendo’s real intention behind Wii was simply to bring arcade-style social gaming back to the masses.
In photos of arcades, players didn’t sit down like a lump looking depressed — they stood up while they played and smiled. Players got active and more involved with arcade games like House of the Dead and Virtua Fighter. That’s what the Wii was all about. That’s what Switch is all about. Getting people more actively and socially involved with games (just like the arcades).
Rewind back to January’s Nintendo Direct when Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers was first announced. That was the first time when Switch embraced Nintendo’s arcade roots. Fans and journalists were seen scratching their heads, struggling to comprehend why Capcom thought it was a good idea to re-release a 20-year-old classic arcade fighting game for $39.99.
But this wasn’t just Capcom’s idea.
It was Nintendo who pursued (and possibly paid) Capcom to release this old arcade game exclusively on the Switch. It was Nintendo who aggressively promoted the game during Nintendo Treehouse Live segments and Nintendo Minute videos. It was Nintendo who assisted with most of the marketing and promotion behind the game.
Fortunately for both Capcom and Nintendo, sales for Ultra Street Fighter II exceeded beyond their expectations.
Street Fighter 2 isn’t the only classic arcade fighting game available on Switch. Hamster has released Neo Geo games on a weekly basis as part of the Arcade Archives series. I always joke with people that Switch is beginning to feel like the true successor to the Neo Geo Pocket. (I mean that as a positive thing.)
In a span of eight months, Hamster transformed Switch into a respectable fighting console. Switch has become home to some of the greatest classic arcade fighting games ever made including: Garou Mark of the Wolves, The King of Fighters ’98, Fatal Fury Special, Samurai Shodown, Waku Waku 7, Art of Fighting, and more.
In addition, many smaller indie developers have stepped up to the plate to bring more fighting games to the Switch. Nicalis is releasing a crossover fighting game called Blade Strangers, while we’re still waiting on Chucklefish’s Pocket Rumble.
Then there’s Pokken Tournament DX. Pokken was originally developed as an arcade title before Bandai Namco ported it over to Wii U and Switch.
Switch is also slowly transforming into a great SHMUP console thanks to re-releases of classics like Blazing Star, Aero Fighters 2, Last Resort, Zed Blade and Psikyo’s Strikers 1945. There are also modern SHMUP games available on the system like Graceful Explosion Machine and Grasshopper’s Sine More.
Namco Museum is another example of Nintendo seeking out arcade titles as Switch exclusives. It was treated like a big deal during its announcement in a pre-recorded Nintendo Direct. The collection features arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Pac-Man Vs, Dig-Dug, Galaga, Sky Kid, Splatterhouse, Tank Force, Rolling Thunder 2, and others.
Finally, the greatest example is ARMS.
Although it was never released in arcades, ARMS perfectly encapsulates the arcade gameplay of yester-year. Neogaf member LumpofCole said it best, “ARMS feels like a direct arcade port of an arcade game that doesn’t exist.”
I honestly couldn’t have said it better myself. ARMS feels like the type of arcade game that Sega would have made in the early 2000’s.