The Arcade1Up Star Wars Arcade Cabinet lets you have three classic Star Wars games in your home in one standalone arcade cabinet. It’s a $499.99 kit that includes all three games, with the same kind of flight yoke the original cabinets used and a riser to lift the cabinet to a comfortable height for standing while playing. It’s more expensive than most of Arcade1Up’s other cabinets, like the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter models, but improvements like a lighted marquee and better speakers, along with the pure nostalgic appeal of the games themselves, make it a must-have for any fans of the force with room in their home. That’s enough to earn our Editors’ Choice.
Building the Cabinet
Putting an Arcade1Up cabinet together is a lot like putting together a piece of Ikea furniture, down to the text-free instructions and the use of wooden dowels to stabilize panels. Building the Star Wars cabinet and riser is a similar process to building the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II cabinets, with two small extra steps. The new cabinet features a lighted marquee and speakers mounted on the top panel instead of built into the controls, so two additional wires need to be plugged into the box behind the screen. That’s the only difference, and it doesn’t add any time to the process. The whole process took me less than two hours.
Arcade1Up really outdid itself with the Star Wars cabinet. The marquee above the screen now lights up, with a full-color logo for the game. The speakers have been moved to the top panel, which produces much better sound that can get quite loud. And the chunky flight yoke of the original Star Wars arcade game has been reproduced fairly faithfully, albeit slightly smaller and almost fully plastic.
A riser is included with the cabinet as well, fixing our complaints about the the company’s other cabinets being too short to play comfortably while standing. You can use just the 47-inch-tall cabinet with a stool, or bring it up to 60 inches with the riser. The riser is covered in Star Wars arcade art that matches the cabinet.
The flight yoke is the real centerpiece here. It’s a large plastic box with a metal pipe extending from the left and right. That pipe holds two hand grips, each with a trigger and a thumb button. You can twist the entire yoke clockwise or counterclockwise for horizontal movement of the onscreen cursor, or pull the grips up and down for vertical movement of the cursor. It feels more like a tilting steering wheel than a joystick, but it reproduces the movement of the original arcade controls. Because the horizontal and vertical controls are on completely separate pivots, be prepared for some inconsistency in control tension; in our cabinet the up-down tilt of the grips felt notably tighter than the left-right rotation of the yoke. It wasn’t too tight to play, but it took some adjusting to.
Because there is only one flight yoke, and the three games included are single-player-only, only one person can play on the cabinet at a time, unlike most of Arcade1Up’s other cabinets.
The cabinet houses a 17-inch LCD. LCDs are crisp, colorful, and consume much less power than the tube screens used in older arcade games, which is why virtually every display device you can buy today is some form of flat panel, and the cathode ray tube is an antique.
Unfortunately, for games with vector graphics (lines drawing a picture against a completely dark background), LCDs show their weakness against classic tube screens. The lines in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back can only get so bright on an LCD, and the backgrounds can’t stay perfectly black. This means the overall contrast of the games is much lower than you get on the original cabinets. The bright green lines of TIE Fighters and the flashing whites and reds of fireballs don’t pop out as much as they do on tube screens.
To help offset the weakness of LCDs with these types of games, the cabinet features some optional settings for graphics. A Vector Glow option enables different types of glow around each line, of varying brightness and intensity. It makes the game a bit less sharp, but really helps the graphics pop out and make up for the lower contrast. It isn’t a perfect fix, but it’s a welcome one.
The cabinet comes with three Atari games: Star Wars (the 1983 arcade game), Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (the 1985 arcade game), and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (the 1984 arcade game). Those aren’t typos; the Jedi arcade game came out a year before Empire, and the reason Atari went back to Empire will become clear as soon as you play Jedi.
Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are both vector graphics games that put you in the first-person cockpit of an X-Wing, a snowspeeder, and the Millennium Falcon. You aim an on-screen cursor at enemy vehicles, shooting them down or (in the case of AT-AT walkers) launching tow cables to trip them up. They’re simple and repetitive, but exciting to play, with a small variety of scenarios and steadily escalating difficulty.
Return of the Jedi, meanwhile, is an isometric third-person game with sprite-based graphics. Using the same flight yoke controller, you have to pilot your speeder bike left and right (diagonally upper left and lower right on the screen) while avoiding scout troopers on their own bikes. It’s more awkward to control, more difficult, and much less fun. It’s easy to see why Atari returned to a more original Star Wars arcade experience with Empire after Jedi. Ironically, while it’s the worst-playing of the three games, Jedi’s sprite-based graphics mean it’s the best-looking of the three games on the LCD, since LCDs handle full-color screens full of pixels much better than they handle vector graphics.
Star Wars and Empire are still a blast to play, though. They’re simple, repetitive, Atari arcade fun filled with Star Wars vehicles and voice clips. Flying down the Death Star trench and taking down AT-ATs remains challenging, and the ability to start off at much harder waves for huge bonus points keeps the gameplay engaging without forcing you to play through the easy, low-pressure versions of the different waves first.
The Arcade1Up Star Wars cabinet shows how the company is moving forward with improvements and variety in design, and earns our Editors’ Choice. The flight yoke is an excellent nod to the original Star Wars arcade games, and the lighted marquee and upward-facing speakers give the cabinet a much more premium look and sound. These points, along with the included riser, help justify the cabinet’s heftier price over the other versions we’ve reviewed. More importantly, they’re faithful recreations of two excellent Star Wars arcade games (and one middling novelty), and if you ever grew up wishing you could have one of those games in your home, this is a much more economical and readily available way to do it than finding the original and having it shipped via freight to your house.