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Nerf Arcade is a Curious Case

By now, I think it’s more than clear that I am a man of coin-op tastes. Arcades are my soul passion—my single-minded obsession—and I’m doing everything in my power to support them. And on the whole, things have been looking really solid lately. We’ve seen a slew of indie titles (including Killer Queen, Skycurser, Cosmotrons, Tipsy Raccoons, and Rashlander); the exA-Arcadia hardware platform dedicated to reinvigorating the market; and overall good numbers from all corners of the industry.

Even so, the coin-op market sometimes produces items that I simply cannot get behind. Items that, in some ways, make me question if the core players' values are being considered. Enter: Nerf Arcade.

Update 3/6/19 2:40 PM: Here's the official cabinet render. The art is definitely slicker.

Recently discovered on location test at a Dave and Buster’s in Addison, California and a Round1 in Puente Hills, California, Nerf Arcade is an upcoming ticket redemption rail shooter boasting the license of the iconic toyline. The overall cabinet design is fairly simple, and nothing looks too “off” in photos. What makes this unappealing is the gameplay. According to one user on Reddit, “You get about a minute to shoot as many targets as possible. Every so often, the location will change. I think there was a swamp, amusement park, an a factory. Get a high enough score, and win the jackpot, which was set to 500 tickets.”

At this point, I’m used to standard video redemption games. The ticket side of arcades is so uninspired that I don’t mention it on a regular basis. But seeing Nerf Arcade and various responses to it online struck a real chord with me. We dedicated arcade gamers keep fighting for what we love—what we’ll gladly spend unreasonable portions of our income on—and it feels almost as if we’re being ignored.

Nerf Arcade, through and through, is a simple target-shooting title, a la America’s Army (Global VR) or Sports Shooting USA (Sammy). Apart from what some consider a tacked-on Nerf license, there’s doesn’t seem to be anything remarkable about the software. Pay three bucks. Shoot stuff for a minute. Get some tickets. Wash, rinse, repeat. Sure, it’s not a true video arcade game, but it’s still a little offensive to the core arcade community.

So far, feedback regarding Nerf Arcade, at least from what I’ve seen in my relatively small circle, has been somewhat mixed. A lot of us are getting tired of seeing nothing but licensed casual fodder—the stuff that would have filled Wii bargain bins circa 2009. It’s the combination of overly simplistic gameplay, toy branding, and ticket redemption that, all in all, makes for a real shovelware experience. Nerf Arcade seems like evidence that hardcore coin-op gamers aren’t as much of consideration in today’s market as they once were.

Like I said, I’m a guy who loves arcades. But sometimes, it’s difficult to muster that passion. For years now, there have been people just like me pushing for more robust gaming options. The kind of experiences that coin-op used to provide and consoles still provide on a regular basis. When I see something like Nerf Arcade, I have to wonder if developers are even listening to our small but vocal collective.

We arcade gamers fight for real video games—showing massive support for the good stuff—but developers don’t always hear us. What we see instead are oodles of identical rail shooters, droves of shallow drivers, and, of course, waves upon waves of ticket redemption. Again and again and again, we see these issues. Were they the minority, they could easily be ignored. However, when the vast majority of new coin-op releases aren’t remotely close to the spectacular experiences we see on the console gaming side (or arcades of old), it’s hard not to feel frustrated.

The casual market is strong. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be seeing so many titles that pander exclusively to that demographic. But how long will the casuals stay with us? How long can we sustain our entire industry on these easily-distracted customers? We all remember when Nintendo once had a stranglehold on casuals with the DS and Wii. Little the company did know that their market would collapse with the release of the Wii U. Coin-op is obviously very distinct from home gaming, but that doesn’t necessarily make it immune to the same phenomena. When’s our Wii U coming? Today? Tomorrow?

I certainly hope the core community hasn’t completely abandoned arcades when that time comes.

As I mentioned earlier, things are looking nice for coin-op as a whole. But sometimes, it feels like we take two steps backward each time we take one step forward. We may have industry boon exA-Arcadia on the horizon, but we also have Nerf Arcade and countless releases just like it. As more and more independent manufacturers join the fray, the major developers double-down on casual fodder. It’s crazy, but it’s true.

Naturally, since this is a location test, Nerf Arcade may never even see the light of day. But as it stands, this is a game that...well, exists. It does make me wonder if the dedicated player's dollar means as much as the casual's—if quick-play is what brings the quick buck. As I see it, our industry will never return to its former glory unless developers and operators alike support positive movements that result in better games. (Dave and Buster's, with their seemingly infinite capital, has still not purchased a single indie title. Let's see if that changes with the advent of exA.)

At the end of the day, this news is just kinda upsetting, ya know? I hate being critical, because it doesn’t make for brighter days. But when our amazing, exciting industry is rapidly spiraling into a direction I don’t agree with, I’m not going to stand idle. People like to throw around the phrase “entitled gamers,” but I don’t think that’s what we are. We’re just average folks who want nothing more than to give companies our money. Sometimes, we want a different product than what is being sold.

On that note, I’ve gotta jet. See y’all around.

Update 3/6/2019 2:43 PM: I received a press release this morning confirming that Nerf Arcade is, in fact, set for release in June. It'll be interesting to see how the final software shapes up.


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