Michael Watkins / Courier Attendees of the Retrocade Experience play classic video games inside Union Station in Los Angeles, Calif. on sunday, september 29, 2019.
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Arcade cabinets, pinball machines, chiptune music and a crowd eager to relive the heyday of social gaming filled Union Station over the weekend, for the travel hub’s second annual pop-up arcade. The Retrocade Experience, which took place in the historic ticketing hall and advertised as the “ultimate arcade rewind,” is a novel concept that can’t live up to its hype and is average at best.

For a five dollar admission fee, the public was granted a two hour free play session of games spanning different genres over the 70s, 80s and 90s. The assortment of over 50 retro games had enough time-tested software titles among the forgotten ones to justify the low entrance cost.

Popular quarter-eating classics like Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers are some of the definitive arcade games anyone interested in the hobby should play. Then there are the more niche titles like Nintendo’s official “Popeye” game in 1982 featuring characters from the self-titled cartoon. Both beloved and unknown games are crucial to recreating an arcade setting, since omitting the latter would misrepresent part of gaming history.

Along with video game history being showcased, the juxtaposition of bulky, multicolored gaming cabinets consuming the cramped art deco inspired hall, with cheap plastic picnic pennants overhead, was deliciously anachronistic. It’s a shame the venue space was small. Queueing for the next round on a cabinet was uncomfortable since parts of the layout can only reasonably accommodate between two or three people while leaving room for passers by.

Other elements like a tiny bar with an equally small menu, snacks like popcorn, nachos and raspados, and a chiptune DJ set further emulated an arcade bar vibe. Conceptually, these were nice touches, but the execution was once again neither amazing nor horrible.

The music was the strongest secondary component of the event. Old school game themes from Super Mario Bros., Ice Climber and Metroid were occasionally followed up with 8-bit versions of pop songs like New Order’s “Blue Monday” and Billie Eilish’s “bad guy.”

Despite failing to live up to its “ultimate” status, the Retrocade Experience is a suitable replacement for casual gamers or those unfamiliar with arcades. Hardcore enthusiasts are better off visiting an arcade bar that expand the ideas Retrocade plays with.

 

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