Toby’s arcade round-up, Paignton, Dawlish & Weston Super Mare
Coin-op Community’s guest arcade editor Toby Na Nakhorn took a trip to Devon and Somerset before EAG to check out the arcades. Here is what he found:
Had a big weekend planned in Devon before EAG, flying in from Berlin Friday night. The reality was Easyjet decided to text “It’s snowed this year, just like every year. Flight cancelled!” around 2 hours before the flight was due to depart. Majorly disrupting my Sega Rally career in one fell swoop.
Another flight to Heathrow and train to Paignton later, I arrived on a wet and Sunday afternoon, perfect for visiting all the shut complexes. Settled for a snacks and a talk with my friends about the nearby locations. With only Monday to cram in my original 3 day’s, I needed a plan. Get a train to Weston Super Mare and hop off at every potential arcade looking stop. Here we go!
After the Playstation had already “bridged the gap” with it’s arcade perfect power in the mid 90′s, the industry saw a huge decline. Dance platforms and racing games such as Initial D which used memory cards gave the arcade industry one final resurgence. Paignton had many players during that 1999-2002 era; a time when many agree music and dance games were at their busiest in the industry I met a lot of my good friends via the now defunct dancegames.com website who would come from various parts of Devon to meet and play. Home of the best Konami Internet ranking players, this town had a bit of legendary status for me.
-Enterprise and Regency Palace
Walking towards the sea, first on the high street was Enterprise. UFO catchers on the outside and slots like “Lara Jones and the Temple of secrets” (bonus points for ripping off two major franchises there!) nothing for gamers though. Regency Palace is much the same fare, but with a bonus loyalty card system and faux comfy leather sofa to relax in and eat Quality Street! Poor for games but great for gambling customers, that sofa, some penny chews and a tasty tea partly made up for the lack of Tekken or Daytona.
Next up, Leisure 2000. This was the big one. From the outside it certainly had the biggest presence on the street. I’d seen pictures of rows of fighting games, racers and dance games on purpose built raised stages. Would it be better than my hometown of Brighton, with it’s endless stream of Deal or No Deal, coin pushers, Need for Speed racers and redemption? What greeted me was Noel Edmonds voice, the Deal or No Deal setup… Surrounded by coin pushers. I was told the casino section that split the arcade was built when the video market became less popular. It’s a clean and well organised environment where I could have another free coffee and while away 20p coins. It was a disappointement (game wise) but this place just had to move with the times. Aside from a couple of games; Grid, Sega Rally 3, some racers and a Highway 66 Bowling lane… It’s a gambling arcade with redemption for the kids.
First of all, the whole area by the pier is excellent. Coming out of Leisure 2000 you reach the Apollo Cinema and to your left you have a whole lawn area of family friendly pubs with beer gardens, plus the recently finished £500 000 Geopark with swings, slides, bouncy things and a zip swing. Good clean place to take the kids cost free on a sunny afternoon.
In comparison the pier itself is not going to win any architectural awards (although definitely a work of art compared to Bognor Regis). It’s the IKEA of piers, a functional affair, pleasant, does the job! The main building is a narrow stretch, yet full of games. I’d say even outnumbering the gamblers… A rare thing nowadays! This included a 3 screen SEGA Ferrari F350 challenge with the printout machine (I’d NEVER seen this working before, even in London Trocadero), 18 Wheeler, GTI Club, Final Furlong, the relatively new Dead Heat and Nirin Bikes, Mario Kart, Star Wars arcade, and even two pinball machines, Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars Episode I. You can find the obligatory Euromix and Supernova Dancing Stages, as well as Fast and the Furious. Towards the end of the arcade is the redemption centre with hot drinks and snack vending machines, and at the end of the pier itself are bumper cars, a lighthouse slide and a snack bar. Pretty clean too. As a gamer I’d actually rate the pier as worth a look, plus the nearby excellent Geopark adds definite value to a family day out.
Great view from the train! A picture perfect typically British seaside town, with Harrison’s arcade clearly visible. Armed with a Weston Super Mare ticket I hoped no one would stamp, managed to hop off unchecked. The view was what you see is what you get – 1 arcade, a stream with ducks, a couple of cafes. Now I’d heard that the adjacent Dawlish Warren is an amazing summer resort. However with only 1 train there per hour and time ticking, I had to get to Weston Super Mare. So deciding to skim Dawlish then check out the big guns first, maybe I could pop by Weston on the way back.
Game wise, there were two Afterburners back to back behind a themed marquee on a dedicated stand. Get in! This was going to be the business I thought… Before walking around to discover that was basically it aside from the cafe and gambling area. A single player Dead Heat (why?) and Sonic Allstars air hockey were the only games of note. The staff did ask me not to take pictures, so it was hard to get any of the snack bar but they let me have one of the Afterburner cab after I explained it was a rare thing to see. Fairly friendly guys. The arcade was clean just a lack of games made it a let down. Dawlish itself seems like a nice place to visit for a relaxing summer coffee if you are in the area. Picturesque village, reminds me of Hove (Brighton & Hove) or Herne Bay (Kent). However it’s a small place and you won’t find much arcade action!
Weston Super Mare
On a train equipped with mains sockets under every pair of seats (more operators take note; WHY can’t you do this?!) I arrived at WSM around 3pm. A man who was thrown out at Newton Abbot without a ticket managed to ninja teleport back onto the train (i.e. walked straight on again in full view of all the ticket guards) also left with me, repeatedly asking for money until I replied no, and asked him where the nearest Tekken 6 cabinet was. He replied he’d love to get high on that. Walking to the sea, I passed a “DOOR CENTRE” warehouse and half a demolished tropical parrot shop. First impressions didn’t bode well.
-Arcades; Penny Falls, Goldengate and Olympia
Turning into town things brightened up; struck a road lined with arcades leading direct to the pier. I’m a funny old sod, me. Even though I know what’s coming, even though I know it’s redemption and pushers and reiterated Fast and the Furious and Deal or No Deal stands… Being at the end of the street with arcades and pier in full view, realising I am going to explore them all, really slows down time and makes me feel 13 again. Being an arcade enthusiast is a little bit like a train spotter – Hoping to discover one gem. See a rare cabinet, walk around it, look it up and down, take photographs and document it! Only then will I have a go. That’s why there are now arcade museums popping up, for bat crazy collectors like me.
The street had Penny Falls (all gamblers) the large Olympia Arcade while impressive was only row on rows of penny pushers. It did have an ACDC Pinball. Goldengate amusements was similar with the 10 a penny Need for Speed Carbon and Deal or No Deal machines. Although it did have a couple of interesting finds; the touchscreen Manic Panic Ghosts, SEGA’s dinosaur shooter Primeval Hunt and the newish Real Puncher HD aka Sonic Blastman 2.
-Weston Grand Pier
Now I was here, what I came for. The big one. The largest pier in the UK! I first noticed the entrance cafes were shut with a couple of people at the front. My heart sunk, thinking maybe it was shut for the winter and they were misguided tourists, or the refuse guys on a fag break. On closer inspection, they were members of staff. “Are you open?”. “Yeah until 4 o’clock”. Checking my watch I realized I had less than 40 minutes… As a grown man sprint walking up the gangway taking care to not look like it was running I immediately noticed two things. 1): The pier was new, and nice, and clean, the decking was immaculate. 2): It was bloody long. Time seemed endless until I reached the front. “Grand Pier, 2010″ the signs exclaimed. Walking in resembled the entrance to a shopping complex. Deserted yet sparkling new, it was a bit surreal. I doubled back before getting ahead of myself, to film it when entering for first time. And yes, even Noel bloody Edmonds “DoND” made his guaranteed appearance.
Inside, it struck me just how big, shiny, new and loud it was, much like the large Dave and Busters chains in America. A brand new arcade with sparkling new machines, fresh off the production line. As well as being immaculately maintained, it really screamed “We do it bigger and better!”. Very unlike the UK. Only when I passed the Trocadero “Pepsi Max” style ride drop (the actual ride was relocated from SegaWorld to Hayling Island, another trip I’ll leave for another time) it made me look up and realising the place was HUGE. It had an upstairs with rides and lights, jazz and razzmatazz. I did a slow 360 to take it all in. Back down on ground level, to the right was a haunted house, then a full sized funhouse, a performance stage with speakers and rigging, dodgems, and I hadn’t even started looking to the left yet. Having 30 minutes to do the whole place, I got right on filming and taking pictures. Everything was so clean. Walked around the back lef me to find it full of games, then up the escalator to discover a race themed area with 4 technicians fixing an impressive looking simulator. Every staff member was either cleaning something, fixing something, or looking plain busy.
The back of the top floor was racing focused; by the simulator a themed driving cafe, many SEGA driving games and an indoor race track. If I wasn’t impressed before, I really was now. I started to make a realisation which I will get into later. Walking back on myself and around the upper level, are gamblers (admittedly nice bright neon Sonic the Hedgehog slots). This didn’t carry on for too long, as I came to the immaculate toilets and Dancing Stage machine. Breaking up into an open space at the pier entrance, tall glass windows light up the area and make it feel very bright. Again, the cafe and seating area was really clean and combined with the lighting, family friendly. At all points upstairs can you look over the railings unto the level below, which highlights how huge the site is, impressive in itself.
Walking around to more attractions; the Crystal Maze, “4D Cinema”, Egyptian Maze (with a Tekken 5 cab for you fighting game fans) and another escalator leading down past the funhouse to the dodgems area. By this time I had around 15 minutes to scout out and actually play any games, mainly concentrated to the left. I found my favourite American pastime, Skeeball, where you run the ball up a mini bowling lane into holes for points. (Once paid a visit to the official Skeeball bar in Brooklyn, a typical grubby yet friendly joint that wouldn’t be out of place in London. With several units in a row, it even gets filmed on ESPN as a competitive sport!). Skeelball has also been released as “Ice Ball” in the UK, with the more recent moniker “Pacman Ghost Bowling” presented this year by Namco at EAG. Next to Skeelball was Air Trix, the spiritual successor to SEGA’s Top Skater, extremely rare and when I saw it didn’t actually know what it was. The first time I have seen it in the UK, the USA or 2 trips to Asia! And of course my favourite, Pump It Up, all cabinets next to each other. Had a quick go during the announcements “The pier is closing in 5 minutes.. The pier is now closed. Can you make this your last game on the dance machine please”. Creepy but not surprising in this high tech centre in the sea.
What arcade owners could learn:
Two main reasons why Weston Super Mare got it right.
The more I walked around the centre, two things hit me, and became more apparent as I moved on. Whoever designed the pier, or was in charge of the Pier’s vision had real experience/insight that other operators often lack. An all-in, total entertainment attraction. A place where you could spend an afternoon or a day, and experience completely DIFFERENT things. Too many centres/piers have the usual games and a few “Hook a duck” stalls… Really only 1 experience and one that you expect. As well as the usual video games and dodgems, WSM Pier had the Funhouse, Racetrack themed area, 4D Cinema, performance stage, Egyptian maze, large rides, all mixed up with games. And this was all inside, covering the great British rainy weather! One completely different experience per half hour. Combine all of them and you have 3 hours – Not including game time and a meal breaks… You’re talking 4/5 hours, that’s a day out to enjoy and give the complex all your money. With the death of arcades, more effort needs to be made like this, to give the family or individual a REASON to visit for an experience they can’t get at home on their xbox. WSM does this.
Secondly, this is something even the smallest of arcades could do… Instead of throwing money at, quite frankly, useless and tacky machines expecting them to pull punters in, why not do some research? An older Outrun, Maximum Tune or Initial D cabinet costs less than the 20th iteration of Fast and Furious, Need for Speed and are still attractive to the general public (most would not know the difference) but especially so for gamers. WSM have done a fantastic job of combining both new and older machines. The older (pre 2010 opening) games were clearly bought secondhand and seeing Outrun, Manx TT Superbikes, Sega Touring Cars, Air Trix and more, really made me smile. Surely as well as satisfying gamers and being fun to casual punters, these were way cheaper to purchase? But as is often the case, business minded operators seem to understand little about the games themselves and think just by throwing money at a new game it will in turn take more money. If more arcades did some research they would save so much on costs and have better quality video cabinets people will want to come & play.
Summing up, Weston Super Mare Pier – One of the best arcade entertainment centres out there. Even for the enthusiasts; Don’t expect to find walls of back to back Streetfighter cabinets, this isn’t the 90′s. But for 2013 be pleasantly surprised. Air Trix, Pump NXA, SEGA Touring Cars and 4 player Manx TT are pretty rare. Even a Tekken 5 (with working game save card slots) for good measure. It would be nice if the pier could nab a few more fighting or rhythm game machines… But be more than happy with the variety on offer considering the state of the market today. Nothing to complain about. Definitely worth a trip. After my dodgy train entrance, I found the town centre is actually pretty nice too.
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