Childhood dreams, revisited

Ask any kid who was old enough to hang out in an arcade in the early eighties what he would really love to have in his house. Chances are, the answer would be … an arcade game. Or, many arcade games.

More that twenty years later, home consoles barely break a sweat delivering the graphics and sound that we could only get at the arcades back then. But there’s still something about an arcade machine. Maybe it’s standing up in front of the machine. Maybe it’s the large control panel right up beside the screen, where the arcade sounds can blare in your face. I don’t know what it is – but there’s something

Back in 2005, I happened across the Big Electronic Games Ltd. Midway Arcade at the local Target, which promised to deliver a multi-game arcade system to the living room. The Midway machine was a disappointment. The monitor was small and of very low quality. As a result, the games looked awful. The games didn’t sound very good, either. But above all else, there was the asking price: $499. That’s a lot of money to blow on a machine that plays twelve games on a small, blurry screen.

In late 2006, Target carried another Big Electronic Games Ltd. product – the Konami Arcade – this time with a lower price of $399.

$399 is still steep, but this was Target. Target eventually puts things on clearance. Deep clearance. As a result, here’s what my living room now looks like:

[Konami Arcade]
Patty says that Cate’s going to “grow up in the funhouse”!

The machine comes partially assembled in a single, smaller box that I was able to fit easily into the back of my Jeep.

The Konami Arcade has three sections. The middle section, with all the electronics, joysticks, and screen is pre-assembled. The top and bottom sections have to be assembled after unpacking. Assembly was fairly easy – everything is pre-drilled so that you only need a pair of screwdrivers to build the machine. One gripe I had about assembly was that one of the pre-drilled holes was drilled at the wrong angle, so one screw (out of the many that hold the machine together) wouldn’t sink properly.

The bottom of the machine is a storage cabinet with two small shelves. (This is done, perhaps, as a selling point to whoever in your house doesn’t play video games?) But enough about storage and shelves. It”s time to talk about the games.

The Konami Arcade comes with a dozen games, all from the eighties.

  1. Hyper Sports – Konami (1984)
  2. Time Pilot ’84 – Konami (1984)
  3. Shao-Lin’s Road – Konami (1985)
  4. Jungler – Konami / Stern (1981)
  5. Super Basketball – Konami (1984)
  6. Vs. Castlevania – Konami / Nintendo (1987)
  7. Blades of Steel – Konami (1987)
  8. Green Beret – Konami (1985) (released as Rush’n Attack here in the US)
  9. Contra – Konami (1987)
  10. Frogger – Sega / Gremlin / Konami (1981)
  11. Gyruss – Konami (1983)
  12. Scramble – Konami / Stern (1981)

(dates from the Killer List of Video Games and the attract modes of the games)

Not a bad list, though if I were designing this machine I’d have replaced Blades of Steel and Super Basketball with Gradius and Lifeforce.

You control all of these games with two sets of 8-way joysticks and buttons:

[Konami Arcade joysticks]

You can see six buttons on the panel for each player (a holdover from the Midway machine?), but only the top three buttons are actually wired. The lower three buttons don’t even “click” when pressed like the upper ones do.

You play the games on a 15″ screen mounted into the cabinet. Unlike the Midway Arcade’s screen, the Konami Arcade features a higher-resolution computer monitor as the display. How do I know? Take a look.

[Konami Arcade monitor]
This system uses a computer monitor mounted sideways into the cabinet. You can adjust the monitor’s settings if you turn your head a bit.

As a result, the screen display is nice and sharp – with no flickering or dot crawl. I wish the monitor was a little larger, but I have no complaints about the picture clarity.

Game sounds come out of a front-facing speaker mounted on the front panel. The volume is adjustable (and can be turned off entirely). At lower volumes, some of the games have distorted sound – Contra is particularly bad at the two lowest volume settings. Turning the volume up makes Contra‘s sounds much less distorted, but is not an option when the baby is asleep.

To start a game, select from the menu, and hit either the 1P or 2P start button to get to the game.

[Konami Arcade menu]
Select a game from the menu

When you hit either start button, the game begins immediately (after a 1-2 second pause while the game loads), rather than simply going to the game’s attract mode or coin inserted screen.

I’d prefer a way to select a game that would take you to the game’s attract mode, but I suppose that I can get used to the way the Konami Arcade starts games.

When a game is over, you get to enter your initials for a high score (if that particular game supports initials), and the game goes briefly into attract mode. After a few seconds, the machine goes back to the game select menu. I think the machine would “feel” more like the arcade if the games would stay in attract mode longer.

High scores are saved, even after you turn the machine off. You can access the high scores from the main game menu by pushing the joystick to the left or right … because bragging rights are important.

How are the games? The ones I most remember (Time Pilot ’84, Gyruss, Scramble, and Green Beret) seem pretty faithful to their arcade counterparts. The controls respond well; in other words, my dying was my own fault and not a lack of response from the buttons or stick. The graphics are sharp and look good. The sound (aside from the distortion problem in Contra) was passable, but could have been better.

You can pause the games during the action by holding down the two game start buttons together. This brings up a menu which allows you to adjust the volume, blocking the game graphics. Since I was using a digital camera, I couldn’t get pictures of any fast-moving game graphics. I was able to manage a couple of shots of the attract modes of two of the games. (I blocked out the family initials – it’s not a graphics glitch in the games.)

[Konami Arcade Time Pilot '84]
Time Pilot ’84

[Konami Arcade Gyruss]

To sum up, the Konami Arcade is a vast improvement over Big Electronic Games Ltd’s Midway Arcade machine from 2005. It still costs too much at $399 for a purchase, but it’s worth a look if your local Target is clearing them out for under $200.

On the minus side, the sound from the Konami Arcade is disappointing. It’s loud enough, but isn’t as clear as it should be – especially at lower volumes. The games don’t display their attract modes long enough for you to figure out the controls (if there’s a game you don’t remember well) before going back to the main menu. And, of course, there’s the small monitor.

On the plus side,. the small monitor does give a decent picture, the controls are responsive, and the machine saves your high scores for future bragging. The assortment of games gives you a little something for everyone (side-scrolling shooter fans excepted – Scramble is no Gradius). You can also move the machine easily – should you decide you want the machine in some other room, you can disassemble/reassemble it into its three sections and move it very easily. And, it’s just cool to have a stand-up machine in the house.

Since the system incorporates what appears to be a standard computer monitor, I wonder how difficult of a project it would be to convert the Konami Arvade into a MAME cabinet – replacing the guts of the machine with a small PC. But that’s a project for another day – I just got this thing and I don’t want to tear it apart just yet! 🙂

8 Responses to “Childhood dreams, revisited”

  1. eric says:

    i still remember playing galaga at the gas station and winning a can of coke and a bag of chips for getting the high score. those were the days.


  2. wb says:


    My ultimate dream was to have a PINBALL machine in my gameroom.

    Scuz me, it’s time for my Geritol…..

  3. Rick says:

    You could always cover all of the bases with one of these, wb.

  4. Oh come on. Where is Joust in there?

    My wife will go one better. She’s fixated on an original Adams Family Pin Ball machine. Ouch.

  5. Rick says:

    Oh come on. Where is Joust in there?

    Joust was not made by Konami. 🙂

    (Actually, that was in the other Big Electronics machine – the more expensive “Midway” machine with the craptastic screen.)

    My wife will go one better. She’s fixated on an original Adams Family Pin Ball machine. Ouch.

    My buddies and I played the hell out of an Addams Family machine in the University Union at Clemson. If I’d saved all those quarters, I might’ve been able to buy one myself.

  6. I have a feeling her love of that machine came from the exact same one you spent time on. She’s a Clemson (91 or 92 can’t remember) grad as well.

  7. Rick says:

    Must’ve been ’92 – since that’s when that Addams Family pinball first came out.

    Also in that arcade, Golden Axe (timekiller for when pinball was in use) and 4-player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Hey, it was a small room.

  8. Kellie says:

    Was it the Addams Family machine or the Jurassic Park (STAMPEDE!!) pinball machine or both? Or did y’all send the Addams Family machine into retirement before I got there to see the constant daily abuse of the Jurassic Park machine?

    Wonder what they have now…because I know the Jurassic Park machine didn’t survive the lifting/dropping/TILTing…