While you can’t go down to your local arcade anymore and look through the long list of games in the cabinet, you can still recreate that experience in your own home with an arcade cabinet. There are big names like Street Fighter II, Pac-Man, and Galaga that get their own cabinet design, and you have the opportunity to purchase it for yourself.
In this article, we’re taking a look at the best arcade cabinets of 2020 and beyond.
Eugene Jarvis practically created the twin-stick shooter with Robotron: 2084 in the early ‘80s, and in 1990 he and the team at Williams came close to perfecting it with Smash TV. Set on a futuristic game show reminiscent of The Running Man, the game puts you in the shoes of a contestant who must kill and destroy waves of enemies from all directions in order to win silly prizes like a toaster or new VCR. With two control sticks needed to play it, Smash TV wouldn’t fit on a traditional cabinet, and would thus need to be the star of the show — it’s an underappreciated gem that could star alongside Robotron: 2084 and the Eugene Jarvis game Total Carnage.
C-c-c-combo breaker! One of the most acclaimed fighting games of all time, Killer Instinct is available on everything from the Super Nintendo to the Xbox One, but there is nothing quite like playing the arcade version with another person right at your side, ready to punch you in the arm if you manage to deliver an overwhelming victory. Its cast of characters includes classics like Sabrewulf, T.J. Combo, Cinder, and Riptor, all waiting to deliver long strings of hits that end with their opponents embarrassed and ashamed. Naturally, we’d love to see this game packaged with its sequel Killer Instinct 2, as well as the updated version originally released for Xbox One and PC.
This one is a complete pipe dream because Nintendo is notoriously protective of its franchises and releasing them outside of its own systems, but the original Donkey Kong remains one of the most popular arcade games of all time. It introduced us not only to the titular character but also to Mario, who at that time was known as “Jumpman.” Its simple vertical gameplay was surprisingly difficult, as Donkey Kong would throw hazards down a series of ramps that would have to be carefully avoided as the player climbed upward. Obvious inclusions in this cabinet include Donkey Kong Jr., which put the shoe on the other foot for the giant ape, as well as Donkey Kong 3.
House of the Dead
A classic arcade shooter with a physical controller, House of the Dead is one of the goriest and most engaging light gun games around. Played on rails, the simple gameplay is simple enough that anyone can pick it up and start blasting zombies to pieces in no time, but the intensity and number of baddies also means you’ll need to be highly skilled in order to win. The main difficulty of producing a home version would be the price — the controllers aren’t cheap — but it would become the centerpiece of any game room and a hit when throwing a party with friends. Throw in a few sequels and you have a must-own machine.
One of the most memorable games for the NES, the original Contra actually debuted as an arcade cabinet, where the beefier hardware meant it looked even better than the home console version. These gorgeous visuals were better replicated with later titles such as Contra III: The Alien Wars, but being able to stand up at a machine and play the game that started it all would be a thrill — as long as you don’t accidentally break your cabinet when you die for the millionth time. Its sequel Super Contra would be a logical inclusion, and two players could team up to defeat the ridiculous number of enemies standing in their way.
A classic vertical shooter from nearly two decades ago, Ikaruga has managed to stay relevant by appearing on everything from Dreamcast to Nintendo Switch. Its bullet-hell style is frantic and incredibly rewarding, and you can see clear influence from its design in Nier: Automata’s shoot-‘em-up segments. Its soaring soundtrack, clever enemy designs, and absolutely gorgeous visuals still hold up all these years later, and it’s practically begging to be introduced to even more players with its own cabinet. Its predecessor Radiant Silvergun could join it for some added variety.
Dance Dance Revolution
Want to play an arcade game in your own home and want to look like a buffoon while doing it? So do we, and that’s why we need a Dance Dance Revolution home arcade cabinet. This cabinet would have to include a relatively large number of danceable tunes, as well as a dancing mat so you can get the original DDR experience. This cabinet would require a bit more space than a traditional machine, and possibly even a larger screen because of where players would be standing, but you could experience all the fun of the original arcade version with none of the embarrassment.
From downtown … right to your game room? NBA Jam distilled the game of basketball down to its most basic elements in a two-on-two arcade game. You didn’t have to know all the rules in order to play, but you did have to be quick with your shots and good at defending if you ever wanted your team to be “on fire.” It remains one of the best games of the ‘90s for its irreverent take on the sport and its snapshot of the golden era of NBA talent, though Michael Jordan was not included. Perhaps that could be justified in a home arcade re-release, but we don’t want Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant to feel unappreciated.
Arcade1Up machines can be fitted with risers that put them at a standing height, which is ideal for nearly all arcade games. We say nearly all, because racing games are, of course, best experienced sitting down. Sega’s Out Run is one of the most recognizable. With a built-in racing wheel, accelerator, and brakes, it would likely be a more expensive cabinet, but the experience of playing a racing arcade game the right way, all from your own home, would certainly still make it worth playing. Its gorgeous, sunny graphics and bumping soundtrack will keep you enthralled for hours, too.
Most arcade cabinets from Arcade1Up and other companies require a few different games in order to feel like a proper value, but Tron could break this mold. Featuring multiple types of gameplay, including action, shooting, and racing, it delivered the spirit of the classic science-fiction film with the limited technology available at the time. Few other individual arcade games have been able to deliver the same amount of variety, and there is something charming about how rudimentary it all looks, much like the vector-graphics arcade versions of Star Wars that have already been turned into a cabinet. All it needs is a big picture of Jeff Bridges on the side to really nail the look.