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What the My Arcade line of mini arcade cabinets gets right about nostalgia

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How to straddle the line between authenticity and fun

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My Arcade

We’re in the middle of this strange little renaissance of portable gaming machines that are meant to operate as both nostalgic conversation pieces and fun toys in their own right. And the My Arcade line of licensed Data East games — which includes Burger Time, Bad Dudes and Karate Champ — is able to walk that line very well. The hardware’s designers understood that fun should trump authenticity, and that making that choice doesn’t have diminish the appeal of your product.

My Arcade sent us one of the Burger Time units to check out, and it only took a few minutes of play before I realized how many decisions here may annoy purists. The machine is 6 inches tall, but doesn’t conform to the expected dimensions of arcade cabinets; it’s low and squat instead of being narrow but long. The artwork on the sides of the machine is inspired by Burger Time but isn’t the original illustration itself.

Burger Time My Arcade machine - side art
Can you remember how this differs from the original art without looking it up?
Ben Kuchera/Polygon

The buttons are all red, instead of the red and yellow combination that evoked ketchup and mustard in the original arcade machine. The joystick can be unscrewed so you can use it as a standard directional pad if you’d rather play that way, a feature you won’t find on an arcade machine. And be warned, the tiny plastic joystick is very easy to lose once you remove it.

But these concessions all make the game itself much more fun to play. The screen is large enough to see everything clearly without squinting, and the controls likewise didn’t cramp up my hand.

What My Arcade lost in terms of rote authenticity it gained in the fun you’ll be able to have when you actually play the game, and it passed the “delight” test I run on friends and family when I’m evaluating a product like this. If someone is walking by, do they want to pick it up and touch it? Does it make them smile? Can they figure it out without me having to explain what’s going on?

My Arcade - hand holding Burger Time machine
This image gives you a better sense of scale.
My Arcade

And the My Arcade hardware passed all these tests. People loved it, and to my surprise no one brought up the odd dimensions. Exclamations of “I remember Burger Time!” were common. This is a product that evokes the original enough that most people won’t care about the liberties taken, and those changes help to make the overall package much more enjoyable for long-term gaming sessions. This is a desk toy that loses some of the gee-whiz surprise of some of the other functional mini arcade machines I’ve bought, but it’s probably the best way to play these games that I’ve seen in a toy of this size.

It also brings a few extra flourishes that help make it a good product outside of the obvious gimmick. There’s a volume control on the back that also allows you to fully mute the sounds or plug in headphones, which has been a lifesaver when the kids want to play it and no one else particularly wants to listen.

You turn the unit on and off by pressing the lighted “coin slot” on the bottom half of the machine’s front, although this feature didn’t work on the first unit I tried, and My Arcade had to send me a replacement, which worked perfectly fine. You may want to test this aspect of the machine first if you decide to buy one, however.

The machine runs on four AA batteries, although you can also plug in a micro USB cable for power, which is yet another thoughtful touch.

Overall, the My Arcade Burger Time machine is enough of a fun gimmick to catch your eye and justify the $29.99 retail price, if you want a cool display piece or a fun toy for your desk. But it does enough right on top of that to make you want to continue playing once the initial attraction has worn off. This isn’t a replica of the original arcade machine; it’s a toy that hints at that form factor without sacrificing its utility as an actual game. That’s a much better approach than slavish devotion to the original — even if I do kinda miss the original art.