There were weird rumblings from arcade enthusiasts on social media recently about tiny, $20 arcade machines that could be found at Cracker Barrel, of all the random places.
The machines have since been the subject of many bemused unboxing videos as fans noted that the price seemed too good to be true for collectibles that looked so damned good, while also providing working reproductions of the original games.
I finally gave into fate and ran to my own local Cracker Barrel to pick up the Ms. Pac-Man and Space Invaders machines to test them out myself. There is a reason everyone seems to love these things so much, and that reason is that they’re amazing.
There are definite downsides here, but they’re all minor when you look at the total package. The resolution on the tiny screens is abysmal, but it doesn’t matter that much when you’re dealing with iconic games that rely on such a small amount of visual information. The controls themselves feel nothing like an arcade cabinet, but instead offer a stiff “click” when you use the stick or press the buttons. It’s also not like you’re going to be very comfortable putting your fingers on controls that are this small; the entire cabinets are 3.5 inches tall.
Each machine comes with a keychain, which is more of a note about the scale than a serious suggestion that you put one of these things in your pocket for any extended period of time. There are a lot of sharp edges involved, after all.
Everything else comes through. The retro artwork on the machines themselves, the games, the classic sound effects and music ... they’re the perfect size. Tiny enough to be remarkable while being large enough to actually play in a manner that’s actually enjoyable instead of just a gimmick. The feel of the controls will likely keep you from chasing the high scores of your youth, but who cares? You can take the entire arcade experience with you, wherever you go?
The price is low enough to be an impulse buy, the quality is high enough that you won’t be disappointed in your purchase; just about everything about these machines is done the right way, with smart compromises that keep the price low without killing the experience.
You can also find them at Amazon, Walmart and Think Geek, but be sure you know exactly what you’re buying; there are a lot of tiny arcade machines and knockoffs on the market, and most aren’t nearly as good as these units. You’re looking for the Tiny Arcade line of machines, and make sure you take a look at the specific packaging so you can avoid a lot of the inferior products that sell for around the same price. Tiny Arcade has released Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaxian and Space Invaders machines, so the whole line will only cost you $80 if you want to open a teeny-tiny arcade at your work desk.
Be aware that there is no way to mute these things, however, so play them around your coworkers or give them to your children at your own risk. A piece of tape over the speakers does wonders.