Newcastle-based developer Nosebleed Interactive has been on our radar ever since it released The Hungry Horde for PS Vita, a scrappy action strategy title with a zombie-themed collectible card game built into it. The studio, with its penchant for minigames and genre blending, followed it up with the excellent Vostok Inc, a fusion of Geometry Wars and Cookie Clicker with a frightening array of minigames to unlock. Now it’s realised its potential with Arcade Paradise, a nostalgic 90s celebration that pulls you in so many different directions it’s impossible to get bored.
At its core, this is a tycoon game where you must expand your laundromat arcade in order to extract as many quarters as possible from patrons in fluorescent windbreakers. You’ve inherited the grimy Grindstone business from your father, who thinks video games are a waste of space – and you’re on a one-man crusade to prove him wrong. You’re going to need a little elbow grease to get started, though, and so the first few hours play like a Farming Simulator-style parody, where you’re cleaning up rubbish, washing clothes, and unclogging toilets.
The developer gamifies absolutely everything, so tossing trash into a nearby skip triggers a small minigame where you need to hit a target; plunging the potty overlays RPG-style damage numbers onto the screen, as you remove any offending objects from the U-bend. It’s intentionally tedious in an amusing way, but as your bank balance begins to bloat, you can start to add new arcade cabinets to the backroom, which is where the real game begins.
All of the arcade cabinets – and there are a lot of them – introduce a new minigame. Almost all of these are inspired by real-life classics, whether it’s the Candy Crush-esque match-three battles of Woodgal’s Adventure or the OutRun-style futuristic racer Spacerace. The novelty is off the charts: each minigame has a unique visual flavour, CRT filters, and challenges to complete. As you tick off those objectives, the cabinet will increase in popularity, attracting more patrons and thus increasing its income per hour. You can then collect that money and use it to invest in more arcade cabinets.
The tycoon aspect is incredibly simplistic, but you can tinker with prices and even move machines around. For example, placing an unpopular game next to a popular one will help to boost its income per hour, thus maximising your profits and allowing you to progress at a faster rate. The title slowly relegates the importance of the laundromat simulation aspect, allowing you to spend more and more time in the backroom playing the arcade games. To add to the reward loop, many of the cabinets include their own permanent progression routes, allowing you to set increasingly high scores.
While not every minigame is enjoyable, the sheer quantity is unfathomable: there’s a rhythm game inspired by Dance Dance Revolution, complete with PS1-era 32-bit graphics; there’s a Pac-Man clone with a GTA skin, where you’re gobbling up dollar bills as opposed to power pills; there’s a Tetris-style puzzler named Blockchain which has a really inventive gameplay mechanic whereby you need to stack bricks in designated quantities in order to clear them. None of these experiences are going to hold your attention for more than five to ten minutes individually, but that’s largely the point: you play for a bit and then move to the next one.
All the while, you need to scoop out quarters from the hoppers and deposit the money into your safe. Your office also includes a computer which you can use to visit a website called Arcademania, allowing you to purchase even more machines for your arcade. As you progress, your initially dismissive Dad – played by The Witcher’s Doug Cockle – will begin to reward your efforts in pound sterling, introducing a second currency which you can invest into an eBay-style website in order to unlock upgrades. These effectively boost your income or streamline certain gameplay systems, allowing you to focus on what you do best: play arcade minigames.
The amount of content packed in is mind-boggling. For example, if you purchase the Computing for Dummies self-help book, you’ll unlock new functionality on your office PC, including the ability to play Solitaire and browse through artwork for all of the fictional arcade cabinets. Adding a jukebox to your arcade allows you to visit a website called Disc Jammers, where you can purchase new CDs to listen to, all inspired by bands like Nirvana et al. There are a ton of 90s references here, including to channels like MTV and the technology of the time, such as the PDA you manage all of your finances on.
The laundromat is constantly changing, too. As you begin to expand your arcade empire, you slowly get access to more space, and the location evolves over time. Visually, it’s actually an impressive looking indie game – there’s a great sense of presence to the street your business is located on, and all of the surfaces are reflective, meaning you get glare on the arcade cabinet screens and even the washing machines. It should also be underlined just how much variety there is to the arcade cabinets themselves – everything from vector graphics to 16-bit art styles are explored.
The only downside is that the release utilises an in-game clock, which some may find restrictive, as you cease earning money past 11PM and are told to go to bed at 2AM. However, you can actually continue playing arcade games way beyond closing time, and you later unlock the power to meditate, effectively expanding the length of each day. As you begin to unlock upgrades, the sandbox nature of the release comes closer to the fore, and you’re able to spend more time simply messing around. It can feel like progression comes a little too slowly on occasion, but this is a minor gripe.
And ultimately, the carrot on the stick is a brilliant one: you’re always working towards that next arcade cabinet, knowing that it’s going to provide you with something new to play. Customers will begin to email you with high score challenges, and meanwhile you’ll use AIM Messenger to reacquaint yourself with old friends and further the story – it’s really impressive just how much Nosebleed Interactive has managed to eke out of this fairly silly concept.
If you’re nostalgic for the 90s and genuinely enjoy minigame compilations, Arcade Paradise is utterly essential. The title’s tongue-in-cheek tycoon gameplay and simulator window dressing serve as the backdrop for dozens upon dozens of video game parodies, spanning a GTA-style Pac-Man clone through to an OutRun-inspired futuristic racer. Not every idea shines, but the sheer density of content alone means you’ll never get bored. And with an addictive progression system that’s forever tempting you with something shiny on the horizon, this release actually lives up to its name: it’s truly an arcade paradise.