Last week I ticked a major item off my bucket list: I built an arcade cabinet.
Alright, look, I put an arcade cabinet together from a kit not dissimilar to an Ikea flatpack and I didn’t have to do any of the electronics or soldering myself. The cabinet I built with my own two hands was a TMNT kit by Arcade1Up. The cabinet, which is part of Arcade1Up’s Pro range of full-size cabinets, features two games — the 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game and its sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time. Both games were developed by Konami.
Before the arcade purists leap into the comments with their jimmies at maximum over-rustle: I know. I already know what you’re going to say. I know the emulation isn’t 100% perfect. You’re right, it doesn’t have a true CRT display. It is limited in ways the old cabinets simply aren’t. But this isn’t an item for the hardcore cabinet builder or collector. This is for people like me who think it would be neat to have an arcade cabinet in the house, but aren’t handy enough to build a real one from scratch.
Arcade1Up has weaponised elder millennial nostalgia in a way that’s practical for the home. The Arcade1Up TMNT countercade can be constructed out of the box in a few hours by one person, though you’ll get through it much faster with two. The 4-player countercade cabinet is made of lightweight wood, all pre-drilled. The instructions, though lengthy, are quite clear and allow for quick assembly. It has the flow of a Lego kit, the pieces falling rapidly into place, a fully-fledged arcade cabinet emerging from the detritus before your eyes.
The build goes together easily. Almost every step requires a different type of screw to secure, but thankfully the kit keeps things separated and clearly labelled. The instructions do state that drills should be avoided, but there was more than one occasion where the screw well was so tight I had no choice but to use one. It didn’t seem to hurt the cabinet in the slightest, so all’s well that ends well.
The 4-player kit also comes with a riser and a stool. The riser is important if you’re setting the cabinet up for adult players of average height. The standard cabinet size is great for kids but stands about a foot too short for grown-ups. The cabinet sits within the riser, bringing it up to a more reasonable height, but isn’t bolted in. This means it can be removed at any time for smaller players, but it also sits deeply enough in the riser that, were a child to run into the side of it, they likely couldn’t tip it over. If you are worried about the unit tipping over, there is a separate strap you can attach to a wall for avoiding such a situation.
Because the kit is lightweight, you can move around quite easily if you need to. You could use a trolley if you wanted, but it’s so light you could lift it and move it yourself. This is another big point for household practicality. Moving it around isn’t a problem.
The whole cabinet has been decorated with the same art that adorned the Turtles In Time machine when it launched in 1991. It also bears several Nickelodeon logos, the current owner of the TMNT IP.
No electronics experience required
Those who are don’t have a degree in electrical engineering needn’t worry about the electronics involved. The board that controls the cabinet and the software on it arrives pre-installed and bolted to a firm piece of ply. Once that piece of ply has been installed inside the cabinet structure, all you have to do is connect the cables in the right order. The instructions walk you through how and where each cable connects. It’s quite honestly no more complex than plugging in your PlayStation at home. No soldering or wire-cutting is required.
The cabinet has a pair of speakers mounted in the placard above the screen. These are quite loud and function as attractors, exactly the way the old cabinets used to. Thankfully, Arcade1Up has included a volume button so you can turn these speakers down or off entirely if you wish.
The screen is a 17″ LCD running at 1280 x 960 resolution. Though it doesn’t recreate the classic CRT look, it does make these colourful old games pop in all the ways you remember.
The two games on the cabinet are straight out of your elder Millenial memory. I suspect there will be a large swath of players my age who have never played Turtles In Time on an arcade cabinet. Though the original ’89 machine was a regular sight in Australian arcades in the early 90s, the sequel never gained quite the same traction here. The home console ports — retitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time on the SNES, significantly retooled as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist on Mega Drive — were the easiest way to access it.
The thing Arcade1Up cabinets have been stung for in the past is a fairly lax approach to emulation. Earlier machines tended to suffer slowdown when running high-intensity games. Thankfully, Arcade1Up appears to have addressed this issue with the current iteration of its hardware. Playing through both games, even with a full complement of four players, saw minimal lag. Indeed, playing with a group of non-gamers in the office was an ideal testbed because not one of them noticed the slowdown on the occasions it did rear its head.
Yes, that’s right, I had it delivered to the office for the clout.
(In truth, I didn’t have room in the house and I didn’t want to leave it in the garage.)
Because the cabinet runs on the Android OS, the first question many users will have is: “Can I add more games though?” Not out of the box, no.
New games can technically be added to the cabinet, but that process comes with a couple of important qualifications: 1) Doing this voids your warranty; and 2) It requires more mucking around than you might expect. A problem quickly emerges, then: with only two games on board, how much play should you honestly expect to get out of a machine worth $1200? Something to factor into your calculations.
The Arcade1Up TMNT countercade is a solid arcade cabinet for the home, particularly for those who want a no-fuss build. Purists will still want to build their own cabinets from scratch or track down the ever-rarer Real Thing. For those who aren’t quite as particular, this is a practical option. These Pro level cabinets run a little more expensive, with the TMNT cabinet weighing in at an Australian RRP of $1,199. Hunt around though, I’ve seen them for as low as $999, and Arcade1Up regularly puts them on sale.
It’s a great conversation piece in the home, and certainly a striking living room decoration once the appeal of playing retro Turtles wears off. The fact that it only comes with two games on the board does weaken its longevity, but if you’re using it to build an ad-hoc home arcade, that likely won’t bother you too much.