Saturday, 10 March 2018

Arcade gaming in Blackpool

Hi all, Ted here again with another arcades write-up! For the last week in February I ventured up north to Blackpool- a seaside town I had not yet been to yet. I've been to most others in the UK before (Skegness, Cornwall, Great Yarmouth), but Blackpool has always been one I've been meaning to visit but stuff has always came in the way.

Blackpool is the first place that most people think of when it comes to seaside resorts in the UK- with the Blackpool Tower, Pleasure Beach, 3 piers and arcades. Millions have visited it over the years but it's peak is long gone, as despite the bright lights and tourist attractions for families to visit, the back streets of Blackpool show a run down and grotty town that is dead outside of the summer holidays. That's just how Blackpool is, love it or loathe it, but it didn't help that I'd visited off-season.
The same could be kind of said for the arcades as far as video games go- I asked Twitter what games they had, and most replied lamenting how all of them are full of gambling and redemption machines- not even any modern games. I knew Blackpool's arcades, like most of the others in the UK, were definitely not what they used to be, but surely they weren't that bad? With that in mind I decided to look as hard as I could, and hopefully find a few uncommon games to have a few plays on.

I'm going to start with the traditional, in-land arcades that Blackpool has along it's 'Golden Mile', then move onto the 4 piers with arcades I visited and finally the Pleasure Beach's arcades. I also saw a couple of arcades in nearby Fleetwood and Cleveleys but didn't have a chance to visit them- though I may return to Blackpool later this year and will definitely check those out.


Traditional Arcades

Coral Island

First is probably one of Blackpool's most famous arcades- and for good reason. Money has clearly been spent on this place- from the massive pirate skull entrance, to the various bars and restaurants, Ghost Train, and the monorail of pirate ships running through the arcade. It's definitely one of the most impressive arcades in the UK as far as decor and theming goes. I'd heard mostly good things about their selection of games, including their OutRun 2 SP SDX machine.


However, I was severely disappointed in their selection of games. Overall, about 5% of Coral Island's space has actual video games, and although most arcade's money comes from the redemption machines and coin pushers now, it was still sad to see how many games Coral Island actually had considering the floor space available.
Coral Island's games were alright, the usual fare- DDR X2, Time Crisis 4, Rambo, and a rare OutRun 2 SP SDX- but what surprised me was that all these machines had a fault in some way, which just shouldn't be happening in an arcade of this size and calibre. After Burner Climax's missile button was missing, Time Crisis 4 wouldn't coin up, DDR X2's pads would often stick, and OutRun 2's steering wheels wouldn't self centre, gear shifters non-working, and was missing the 4th car.
The worst part was, there were staff out on the floor fixing coin pushers and ticket games, seemingly ignoring the game's faults. I told one that the Time Crisis 4 wasn't accepting coins, and they mentioned that they would look into it, but the next day it still wasn't! This says to me they're just letting the games rot away until they can replace them with more 2p machines, and it's a damn shame if so. 

Coral Island's space has amazing potential for more, newer games, like Daytona Championship USA, and they would do well considering the amount of people that come there every year, but it would seem they aren't very enthusiastic about it. They also absolutely must keep their games in good condition if they want people to play them, and I do know this is Blackpool's most popular arcade with a lot of people passing through, but anyone would notice the wheels on OutRun 2 were broke!

I have to give credit where credit is due and say that this is one of the most impressive looking arcades I've seen- but the condition of the machines left a lot to be desired. Coral Island's focus is clearly on the redemption machines and other facilities, and I do realise that it is their main source of money, but again I must compare it to The Mirage in Mablethorpe. They are around the same size, have similar facilities, and the redemption machines are clearly the priority, but Mirage keeps almost all their games in 10/10 condition- in fact, they have more games than them I believe, and get new machines regularly.

So, overall, Coral Island didn't live up to the hype. I'd heard this was the one place in Blackpool with good games and amazing decor, but I only got half of that. I hope they do improve in the future, but sadly that isn't very likely.

Golden Mile Amusements

The next arcade along the strip was Golden Mile, and despite not having the same impressive decor that Coral Island had, the place overall seemed pretty clean and well run. Unfortunately, this too had little to speak of games wise. The games were all in one small cluster at the side entrance, away from all the redemption. 
There wasn't much variety in the games either, with most being the average racing games like Mario Kart, Sega Rally 3, GRID, and Fast & Furious- and I was hoping to see more recent racers, like Daytona Championship USA or even Cruis'n Blast. The one thing of note was what they claimed to be the only Virtual Rabbids ride in the whole of Europe so far. It's nice to see more arcades adopting VR, but I'm not sure £3 per rider is the price most people would want to pay.
Recently unearthed by Sara Zielinski and Mark Fisher on Facebook, is some pictures of what Golden Mile Amusements (then named Mr B's) was like in 1994. The games include 4 player Virtua Formula, and a R360 simulator- massive machines that are very hard to come by now, as well as the latest releases from that year- Daytona USA and Virtua Fighter. These were just a few of the amazing games Blackpool once had in each and every arcade on the strip.

Funland

This arcade was closed for most of the time I was there, and it was only on the day I left Blackpool it opened up. I could only have a quick visit as a result, but there really were no games in this arcade! Just redemption and gamblers, and maybe one nondescript motorbike game...
I'd heard that Funland's upstairs had some of the oldest games in Blackpool, like Sega Rally 2, Soul Surfer, and the original Time Crisis, but these were nowhere to be found sadly. Like the other two big arcades on the strip, it looked very well maintained and clean, but there just wasn't any games at all- even less than Coral Island!

Fun Palace

Another arcade that was closed until later on, Fun Palace seemed like one of the only arcades in Blackpool that had changed little over the past few years- the exterior and insides looked a little dated. I unfortunately didn't get to see what was upstairs, which was closed off presumably due to it being off season, but it may have been like Funland's 2nd floor.
They have made a pretty big deal about having Star Wars Battle Pod- possibly because it was the only place in Blackpool that actually had one, surprisingly! Of course, I had to have a go, it is one of the more impressive arcade games of recent years, and was surprisingly cheap for an experience like it at 50p.
Other than that Fun Palace had the usual Raw Thrills games- including a twin Fast & Furious that had seemingly been converted from a Maximum Tune 3 machine, pretty odd. Would've appreciated that more than F&F, mind :(

Other arcades


I did unfortunately miss out on a couple of arcades. Brookes Collectables, an antique shop, has some nice cocktail cabs and uprights in their basement to play- but they were sadly closed for refurbishment. Due to it being off season- Happy Dayz and Slots Of Fun were closed but from the videos I've seen I hadn't missed much. Happy Dayz looked like it had a twin OutRun 2 and Mario Kart Arcade GP 2, but not much else, and Slots Of Fun probably doesn't have any games at all.
There was also a few arcades that were tacked on to attractions and cafes, the Blackpool Tower had a small arcade with a Dancing Stage Euromix and Fast & Furious, and another, Rainbow Amusements, attached to a chip shop, again with a Fast & Furious type racing game. No pictures of these though, not of note!

Piers


Now, onto the pier arcades. In total Blackpool has three piers- which impressed me greatly, as the place I usually go to only have one! If I'm not mistaken, all are owned by the same operator, but none of them look similar to each other and have different varieties of games, which was nice to see.

North Pier

This pier mainly had Namco games, which was a nice break from the predominantly Sega and Raw Thrills games I'd seen so far in the arcades. I enjoyed a few credits on Time Crisis 5 here, which so far I have only seen in a few arcades, which is a shame as the left and right pedals give it more depth than other shooters.
Other games included Dead Heat, Deadstorm Pirates, and a non-working Transformers: Human Alliance.

Central Pier

Probably my favourite out of all the piers, Central Pier had some older pieces compared to the rest of Blackpool. The standout was this uncommon Initial D 3 Cycraft! Usually, these Cycraft machines have the game Club Kart installed, so it was nice to see this for a change. It's designed more to be a quick experience, so a gear shifter and card reader aren't in this version, but the Cycraft moves quite a bit indeed!
More pictures-




Central Pier also had DDR X2, House of The Dead 4, GRID, Paradise Lost, and Razing Storm, the pseudo-sequel to Crisis Zone. This machine has gotten probably one of the best LCD conversions I've ever seen- the game ran smoothly and looked great on the LCD, with no input lag from the guns either.

South Pier

South Pier had some of the most up to date games of the piers, and a few surprises both good and bad.
It was nice to see the latest iteration in the Pump It Up series, Prime 2 2017. Not many arcades invest in new dance games these days, as most keep their Dancing Stage Euromix or Fusion still going. Unfortunately this cab was offline, but it looked like it was doing well with tourists.
It was the first time I'd seen Storm Racer G by the Chinese Wahlap Tech. I'd heard bad things about this game, but the big motion cab looked nice so I gave it a go- yet it didn't move? It's a pretty new game, so surely the motion hasn't stopped working already? Unfortunately the game wasn't very good too- it just felt like a mobile game put in a arcade cabinet. Probably won't be giving this one a play the next time I see it!
South Pier also had a Jurassic Park Arcade cab. Like Storm Racer, this too had a motion base- that wasn't working. This one had a Motion Stop button, so I pressed it in hope of the motion working, but it did nothing. Maybe the staff have disabled the motion in their games on purpose? If so, why! The hydraulics and motion of these games is supposed impress people and bring in more money and the fact that South Pier's games don't have this is odd.

St Annes Pier

Just a few minutes south of Blackpool is Lytham St Annes, a quiet little town with a Victorian seafront in stark contrast to the bright lights just up the road. I'd done some looking and it seemed like this place had some older games than Blackpool's arcades so I decided to try and make it down there at some point.
And sure enough, it had a good amount of Sega titles from the 90's and 2000's, including Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Manx TT Super Bike, Star Wars Trilogy, and House Of The Dead 4.
Alongside the standard Dancing Stage Euromix St Annes Pier also had a Pump It Up Pro, again refreshing to see dance games other than DDR.
The highlight of this pier though was a very rare 2 player After Burner Climax link up! I'd seen one of these before in a video of Club Sega Akihabara but didn't think for a second that it would be here. I'm glad I got a lot of pictures of it, as there's barely anything about this particular setup online.

Pleasure Beach

Finally, at the end of Blackpool's Golden Mile is the Pleasure Beach theme park, easily noticeable thanks to the massive roller-coasters it has.. I'd heard good things about this place's arcades, but also that it had been declining over the past few years, caring less and less about their games condition. Even if that was true, I knew for sure there was one thing there that would make the visit worth it, and of course I did go on a few rides!


Beach Amusements

The first arcade you see in Pleasure Beach is Beach Amusements. Unlike the other arcades in the park, you can go in this one without having to enter the park itself, as it has an entrance on the outside street. Convenient if you're in the area and just want a quick game!
A nice deluxe Point Blank 2. While it was £1 a go, the guns surprisingly worked perfectly. 
Also- the fact that Rambo, a 10 year old game- is not working next to a almost 20 year old Point Blank 2 in perfect condition- says a lot about the lastability of new arcade games these days!

Playdium

Next was Playdium. This one had the least games out of any of the arcades in the park, mainly having gambling machines and coin pushers. A Dancing Stage Euromix, King Of Route 66, and another non-working Rambo were the only games here. I tried to play Route 66, but it wouldn't coin up...

Millennium Dome

Pleasure Beach's biggest arcade is the Millennium Dome. This building used to house a ride, the 'Millennium Bug', but this now resides at Southport's Pleasureland I believe. The space has since been filled with arcade games and feels a little run down if I'm being honest. It looked good at first- there was a row of some pretty uncommon cabs, including a twin Ridge Racer 2, MTV Drumscape, and a deluxe Sega Rally.
Yet, despite being switched on, they all had this taped over the coin slot...
Elsewhere was this 18 Wheeler deluxe. It had gotten a good LCD conversion for once, but for some bizarre reason the up-down shifter mechanism had been replaced by a 4 gear 'H' one instead? It made the game pretty frustrating to play unfortunately.
And again, even the modern games had issues. One of these two GRID deluxe's was fine, but the other was clearly not!

Bowl-A-Drome

Lastly we have the Bowl-A-Drome arcade. This one had a lot of older deluxe machines, all in poor condition, with some of the worst LCD conversions I've ever seen.
House Of The Dead 2, one of my favourite shooters. I've noticed it's becoming scarcer, and this machine was set to 3 credits for £1, but there was no sound and the 1st player gun didn't work...
Ferrari F355 Challenge- the 3 screen version, but not much point in playing it when only 1 of the screens is working! This is unfortunately the fate most of these machines are falling to, the one in The Mirage in Mablethorpe was 1 screen down to 2 last summer...
Namco's Rapid River is pretty hard to come by these days, which is a shame as it's just a real fun game, especially with 2 players. But this one's seat hydraulics weren't working, and again, no sound!
Another Sega Rally deluxe. This one didn't have a coin slot that was taped over, but some of the worst texture glitching I've ever seen- and I know this game is prone to it.
Let's Go Jungle, Harley Davidson L.A Riders, and Ghost Squad were also in the arcade, all with faults of some sort. Ghost Squad was the worst, as while the lights were on and sound was coming out of the machine, the screen was displaying black and white lines which didn't look too good at all.
If that was it, I would write off Pleasure Beach's arcades as tired and poorly maintained- but there's one game left, and it's a big one- literally. Because Pleasure Beach still has probably one of the most expensive and mad arcade games ever made...
Ridge Racer Full Scale!
Yes, really, Namco's monstrous arcade machine from the 90's is still at Pleasure Beach! This is the final remnant of days gone by in Blackpool- back when each arcade had row upon row of games and the newest simulators available. By all accounts, this shouldn't be here, considering the condition of the park's other machines, but it a massive effort is still being made by the park to keep it running, it seems.
The real Eunos Roadster- or Mazda MX-5, as it's more commonly known- you sit and play the game in is in incredibly good shape to say it's almost 25 years old. The seats and steering wheel have been replaced, and the windscreen has been taken out, but almost everything else is intact. I was also expecting to see parts of it vandalised and dented, but there was very minimal damage to the car. Bits of tape and a few dents here and there, but it would still look great on the road!
Of course, the original Sony projectors are no longer in use with it. Pleasure Island have had to use Epson DLP projectors, and while this does mean there is a bit of control lag, the game still looks great on it. The projectors go through a new bulb in a few months so Pleasure Beach have to replace them regularly- incredible dedication for a game this old, I guess it still brings in a lot of money for them!
And here's a video of me playing it! Believe it or not but this is one of the first times I've ever played Ridge Racer. I've played a little bit of it in Skegness before but the cab had a dodgy accelerator. I only barely complete the race as such, but the next time I come here I swear I'll be better at it!

 

Despite the machine's faults, it was simply amazing seeing one of the last known Ridge Racer Full Scale machines in the world. Pleasure Beach clearly do a lot to keep this running, as it still surprises people to this day, and it's preserving a piece of arcade gaming history so people like me can play it before it's gone forever, which I am all for.

I was certainly disappointed by the condition of the other games in Pleasure Beach's arcades, but as long as they keep maintaining Ridge Racer well, it's an absolute must for arcade goers in Blackpool- it costs £6 to get in if you don't want to go on the rides. Do it, before Ridge Racer Full Scale is lost to time- and you will never experience an arcade racer in a real car again!
And, that is it for Blackpool's arcades. Compared to other seaside towns, the arcades were very well kept and maintained for the most part, but the range of games wasn't quite as varied as other places I've been to- almost every arcade had a GRID machine here! 

But, there were a few nice surprises, and some modern games you see very little elsewhere. Blackpool wouldn't be my first choice if I had to choose a seaside town to go on holiday to, but it's definitely up there indeed. Hope you all enjoyed.

Ted

5 comments:

  1. Excellent read Ted. It's depressing and at the same time, expected that UK arcade owners put no effort into maintaining their games... And they wonder why the market is on a downturn. That was really informative and interesting to see a nice update on the scene. Keep it up.

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  2. I hate to say and I think this true of any arcade in the UK is that the console and PC systems have killed the video parts of arcades off, whereas back in the 80's or 90's the arcades could produce graphics home consoles and computers could only dream of these days it's the other way round. The only way an arcade machine could differentiate itself is in the controls and or feedback systems, I'll refer to WEC 24hr Le Mans spinning cabinet as an example, while the graphics could easily be recreated (and they have been) on mobile phones via the MAME app, you couldn't possibly fit a 360 degree spinning car game in your front room.

    This is probably why multi-game arcade cabinets and controller bars (the ones with the games built in) are getting so popular, partly through nostalgia for these games but also because you can't play them in arcades anymore.

    I used to look forward to going to an arcade to see what this years new games were but that doesn't seem to happen any more as most places not are just redemption or fruit machines and those don't really excite me any more (I mean I can play a fruiter anytime down the local pub) and yes I'll admit I'm kinda repeating the main article here but the arcades of the 80's, 90's and to some extent the 20xx's are gone and the sad fact is, they ain't coming back anytime soon.

    Sorry for the rant but this comes from a old gamer (ok I'm 46) but I remember the days of Pac-Man, Space Invaders etc and it depresses me that some nearly 50 years later this decade doesn't have an historic standout game that we will still be talking about in say 2030+.

    I've gone on long enough, Long live Retro gaming in all it's forms (Emulation and or playing the surviving originals).

    Out.

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    Replies
    1. No no nooooooo. It's a misconception that console graphics killed it. Check out Arcade Club in Manchester or Las Vegas Soho (in Soho, lol). Try telling the crows of 16 and 17 year olds who come to Las Vegas each week that arcades are dead.

      What really killed it was owners not understanding or adapting to the market at all. This means you can make a clean sweep with knowledge. I run LV in Soho and we are always rammed to capacity. I don't think I even need to mention Arcade Club, haha. Wish there were more people like us or yourself... Arcades can easily make profit with the right decisions and knowledge.

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  3. Forgot to mention that Lucky Star near the Pleasure Beach is now a Weatherspoons.

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  4. The Afterburner, Cycraft and of course the ridge racer are really good finds, shame not much else was working, but most importantly the ridge racer is getting the attention it deserves.

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