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5 Games That Make Working in an Arcade the Absolute Worst


5 Games That Make Working in an Arcade the Absolute Worst

Around this time last year, I discussed what it was like working in a gaming arcade in the modern era. Though I highly recommend you read it in full (then follow that up by reading every single article I’ve ever written, please and thank you), the short version is that it kinda sucks.

One of the primary reasons, of course, is that arcade games are often fickle, contrary beasts, built to sell without necessarily being built to last. So now, from an insider’s point of view, I would like to reveal five of the most heinous devices I have ever had to deal with.

They’re not in any particular order, though if you pay close enough attention, you can probably work out which of them I detest the most.

Dragon Punch (Andamiro)

Dragon Punch, arcade games

The game: Easily the most famous culprit you’ll see on this list, punching machines are a hit across the world, and yes I do mean that literally.

They can be found in arcades, bars, amusement parks, bathrooms of eccentric billionaires, you name it! And though there are a few variations doing the rounds, Dragon Punch is particularly popular for a couple of reasons — it’s cheap, and it pulls in revenue like nobody’s business. Well, except for your business, ideally.

The premise is straightforward enough. You pull the punching bag down, you hit the punching bag. Your result is registered depending on how hard it hits the panel behind it. If anyone ever scores 1,230, feel free to laugh at them, because that’s the lowest possible number they can receive.

The issue: Many of the punching machines (including old Dragon Punch here) rely on a degree of cooperation from the user, which is an issue since the target demographic of such an apparatus is not exactly made up of the world’s great thinkers.

‘Pull down the punch ball!’ it crows.

Already, you’re asking for trouble, Dragon Punch. This is the part where one of the solenoids will deactivate, loosening its grip on the rope connected to the punching bag. If you’re unclear as to what a solenoid is, don’t worry, I am too, and I had to deal with the damn things for nine years. It’s basically a magical magnet that pulls or holds things.

If someone pulls the punching bag down far enough to trip the microswitch that tells the game it’s ready, but fails to bring it down all the way to lock it in place, that ball will yank right back up, like a vampire gopher retreating to its lair. Of course, the solenoid doesn’t know this, so it’ll assume it’s still down. The result: the game tells you to hit the punch ball, which is still resting in its place partially within the cabinet.

Sound like a minor issue? It sure is, except for the fact that it happens all the time. Literally, you’ll deal with this twenty times a night.

“It’s broken!” they’ll protest.

“You’re broken!” I’ll snarl in response. I probably should have been fired years ago.

The next problem is the nature of the game itself. Punching machines bring out the worst in people, and Dragon Punch will quickly devolve into Dragon Kick, Dragon Headbutt, Dragon Swing off the Bag Like Miley Cyrus on a Wrecking Ball, or my personal favorite, Dragon Run Into It and Fall Over, Dislocating Your Shoulder and Requiring First Aid.

All of the internal components are held in tenuously by tiny little c-clips, and with every wallop it receives, the whole cabinet rattles around, shaking everything loose. It requires constant maintenance, and during its downtime, you basically have to rope off the entire area, because people will still try to hit it while you are in the process of fixing it.

Severed cables, busted microswitches, destroyed punching bags, warped LED displays, faulty solenoids, whatever is in there is basically going to break before too long. Alas, the instruction manual, translated hastily from its original Korean, is distinctly unclear. My friend describes it as 안좋아, which either means ‘not good’, ‘useless’, or ‘stop asking me how to say things in Korean, you idiot’.

Just remember, however, that if the machine is damaged drug transportation, do not install, accident or problem.

Good advice!

Extreme Machine (Xtrematic)

Extreme Machine

The game: A VR simulator that transports you to a variety of worlds, from roller coasters and snowmobiles to straight-up getting murdered by velociraptors. The action takes place on a raised platform with a handlebar, and tilting it in various directions allows the user to turn, to tip and to do the Twist in a manner that would make Chubby Checker proud.

No, I refuse to update that to a more topical reference, because all popular music is terrible. I don’t know what a Post Malone is, but I look forward to living in the post-Post Malone era.

The issue: Most virtual reality arcade games are atrocious, in actual fact. The technology is just too underdeveloped and overpriced; nobody has quite figured out how to use it properly, yet everyone insists on pushing it out into the market anyway.

This particular machine gets special mention, however, because it is a frontrunner in useless gadgets. It requires the use of an HTC Vive or an Oculus Rift, but other than a tether attaching it to the machine, there is nothing to actually protect that expensive piece of equipment. It gets thrown, dropped, banged against the handlebar, and otherwise thrashed whenever it’s put into use.

The solution for this is to assign a staff member to man the machine at all times. It’s a good way to punish anyone who’s underperforming, because being banished to the Extreme VR is quite the harsh sentence.

The internal PCs are temperamental, and liable to de-sync with the game program, and as for the games themselves? They’re… just not any fun, to be honest.

They all feel like generic, uninspired tech demos that should have never left the shop floor. It doesn’t matter which variation of ‘lean and frown’ game you play, they’re all just the same drivel, and people will often just give up halfway through, removing the headset and walking away in disgust.

I’m no businessman (I might have a marketing degree, I’m not 100% sure), but if the customer’s impression of your game is that it’s expensive and unenjoyable, they’re probably not going to tell their friends about it. So unless they’re going to recommend it to people they don’t like as a nasty trick, you won’t be seeing many subsequent visits.

Let’s Bounce (LAI Games)

Let's Bounce, worst arcade games

The game: Armed with a bevy of ping pong balls, your task is to hit all 45 panels in front of you. As you do, they’ll change from orange to blue, and if you hit all of them within the allocated amount of balls, hooray! The tiles turn flashing rainbow colors and you get a bonus 10 seconds to try and hit as many as you can again.

Your reward, lots of tickets and the kind of self-satisfaction that can only be achieved in an arcade. You done good, son/daughter. You done real good.

The issue: Aesthetically, Let’s Bounce is one of the most appealing games you’ll find out there. Upon its release in 2017, it won the AMOA Innovator Award and netted a silver for BMI’s Best of Show. Because yes, it’s kind of fun to play. Had any of the people handing out the award stuck around for more than five minutes however, they’d have changed their minds real fast…

For starters, and this is a mind-numbingly stupid design flaw, there is no ball guard at the front of the cabinet. You have people frantically flinging ping pong balls around the place, and they’ll end up everywhere. They bounce backwards, forwards, upwards, even occasionally getting stuck within the cabinet lining. Should you be unfortunate enough to have two of these infernal devices, they’ll frequently all end up in just one machine, leaving the other empty.

When ball games run out of balls, they get very cranky. The machine will go into lockdown mode. No games, no happiness, no way for unsuspecting customers to actually know that the game is down, short of a tiny LED screen and a pathetic voice that proclaims there is a ball error.

Once you open this sucker up, you’ll be left flabbergasted as to what’s going on in there. The balls move from place to place via tiny little ramps that are inexplicably built at far too level an angle. Because of this, they often refuse to roll into their proper place, lodging themselves under the dispenser mechanism. Then you progress from a ball error to a ball gate error, which isn’t much more fun, either.

Navigating through the menu should be straightforward, but do you remember that LED screen I alluded to? When you open the machine to investigate the ball area, you lift up the panel that that LED screen is sitting on. Unless you categorically remember exactly how to navigate through the menu or you happen to be eleven feet tall and can just peer over at it, you won’t be able to scroll through while diagnosing faults.

As always, adding the human element in makes things even worse. The front few panels are within arm’s reach, and people will frequently reach in and smack them with their fists. Funnily enough, those panels aren’t exactly sturdy, and once they’ve come detached from their rubber basing, they’ll pretty much stay loose until the end of time. I’ve tried all kinds of industrial-strength adhesive (read: super glue), but it never seems to work.

And you know that bonus round I mentioned? Nobody ever knows it’s taking place until it’s already over. Come on manufacturers, stop assuming people understand these things.

Ice Man (Coastal Amusements)

Ice Man, worst arcade games

The game: Zombies appear onscreen, and players have to blast them with water before they get too close. Power-ups increase the amount of water shot out, while a filter creates a mist that creeps up through the playfield.

It’s like Plants vs. Zombies, except… please don’t ever tell PopCap Studios this game exists. Please? We’ll give you lots of free tickets if you’ll just keep this our little secret.

The issue: Let’s make something clear: water games simply should not exist. Ask four logical people and one small child whether mixing water with electronics is a good idea, and you’ll get a unanimous five votes for “no, that’s dumb”, alongside one rogue vote for “give me candy”.

Ice Man is every bit the uninspired knockoff that it looks like, and it also requires constant attention to keep it running. For you see, that vaunted ‘misting’ mechanic that it so proudly touts is a double-edged sword, evaporating the very resource it runs on.

To refill the water supply, you’ll have to pull the entire machine out to access a panel at the back to top up the bucket. If it gets down to critical levels, you’ll also have to re-prime the pump, either to stimulate the flow of liquid, or to show it that you still love it and you’re sorry for the neglect.

In theory, you could just pour the water in at the top though, right? Grab a great big pail of H2O and slosh it right back in there?

Sure, you absolutely can do that! Victoriously pump your fist for the time you saved, leap into the air and give yourself a high five (because nobody else really cares that much).

However, you have no way of monitoring the water intake from this vantage point, and zealous refilling quickly becomes overzealous overfilling. At this point, water will flood out of the machine and into your venue, spreading its message of goodwill and electrocution to every machine that surrounds it.

From here, you have two choices. Either sop that stuff up before it kills somebody, or shrug your shoulders and laugh like a crazy person. Me personally, I opted for the latter. Chiefly, because I am a crazy person.

My friends call me Moon Unit!

Pin Setter (Universal Space)

Pin Setter, arcade games

The game: A bowling pin sits atop a rotating platform. Your mission, if you choose to accept it — most don’t — is to hook a ring around the pin and stand it up in the fastest time possible.

That is literally all there is to it. It’s such a simple concept, and it’s amazing how badly they screwed it up.

The issue: Oh, where to begin, where to begin…

The first thing most people do when they spot this machine is fiddle with it. They see a bowling pin, they see a rod with a ring on it, they’ll try to stand the pin up. It’s just human nature.

However, the cable holding the rod up won’t loosen until the start button is pressed, as an anti-cheat measure. Does that stop people from trying to force it down, however?

The answer lies somewhere between no and hell no. The plastic rod will bend sickeningly as the desperate clientele commit further to the endeavor, and the true game becomes a question of which will snap first; the rod, the cable, or an angry staff member passing by?

Assuming that they somehow manage to set the pin up successfully, as soon as the game starts, there is a wire that will pop up, pushing the pin down anyway, making the anti-cheat mechanism completely pointless to begin with.

Effectively, Pin Setter is always finding fantastic new ways to break. Sometimes, the wire will get caught on the keyring upon the game commencing. Other times, the rod handle will be broken off entirely.

The most damning thing of all, is that unlike Let’s Bounce or Extreme VR, which at least look impressive, Pin Setter does nothing to differentiate itself from every other game that surrounds it. It’s high maintenance and yet low revenue, which is basically paramount to sin in the arcade industry.

Avoid like the plague. In fact, if given the option, choose the plague over Pin Setter. It’s far less agonizing and makes for a better story to tell your friends.

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