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I just stepped out of what may as well have been a time machine. NewRetroArcade uses gaming’s newest technology to take players back to a classic arcade of yore, replete with playable arcade machines buzzing and blinking in a battle for your attention, mini games like bowling and darts, and an attention to detail that works synergistically with the transportive power of the Oculus Rift. Did I mention that this all comes at the compelling price of completely free?

Developer Digital Cybercherries has created what will undoubtedly become a go-to for showing people the power of the Oculus Rift. NewRetroArcade is polished and atmospheric. Praise should be divided equally between the developer and the game engine upon which the title is built–NewRetroArcade is a prime example of the sort of impressive production value that skilled indies can achieve using UE4.

Gameplay

You’ll start in a dingy hallway that’s welcoming you back to a moment from the 80’s. A neon light before you reflects beautifully off the worn wooden floor, its glow beckons you forth into a room full of playable arcade machines with games from the 80’s and early 90’s. The walls are adorned with movie posters representing classics from the era, while decidedly 80’s music bumps from the boom box. As you stroll through the corridors of cabinets detailed with lighting, artwork, and music, you may be torn, as I was, deciding which to play first.

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Whichever you choose, you can approach by using the ‘E’ key to begin the title. Within seconds, you’re playing. Despite the chirping of nearby cabinets, it’s easy to become completely lost in the game you’re playing. If you spend some time with one of the machines, you might even forget you’re in a (virtual) arcade. With a simple tap of the ‘E’ key, you’re suddenly back to that moment from the 80’s. This ability to become engrossed in these classic titles, while seamlessly jumping from one to another, is one of NewRetroArcade’s most impressive achievements. For those curious, NewRetroArcade uses the Gearboy emulator, which emulates Gameboy and Gameboy Color titles, to power the arcade machines.

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In addition to the arcade cabinets, there’s three mini-games within NewRetroArcade: bowling, darts, and basketball. They aren’t particularly deep from a gameplay standpoint, but all are functional and even keep score while adding to the believability of the scene.

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Open pizza boxes, cans of coke, and other detailed nostalgic arcade items litter the arcade. Among them are cassette tapes, holding tunes from the era, which can be inserted into the boom box to change the musical vibe of the space.

VR Design

The impressive graphical detail of the scene seems to make the immersion even stronger. While playing one of the arcade games, you can look down to see the sticks moving and buttons tapping in perfect sync with your own presses. Subtle details—the black-lit carpet, worn couches, and power cables running to the ceiling, to name a few—had me in awe of the attention to detail achieved by an indie developer who says that NewRetroArcade was merely a learning exercise for developing using UE4.

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NewRetroArcade doesn’t innovate much in the VR Design department. The game is controlled using keyboard and mouse or an Xbox controller. It’s your standard WASD + mouse or left stick + right stick movement scheme depending upon which you’re using. Movement speed is kept slow enough to not make me sick, but some people are more sensitive than others and might benefit from an alternative way of interacting with the scene, perhaps leaving free-roam as an option.

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Interactions with the core of the experience, arcade machines, is spot on. When you press ‘E’ to begin playing, the game helpfully moves your view close to the screen. Interacting with other objects around the scene is not as good. Upon pickup, cassette tapes display floating text to let you know what song they hold, but that text sometimes goes outside of your view on the left and right; you can’t turn your head to read it because the item essentially attaches itself to your face.

Most object interactions—like the bowling balls and basketballs—are awkward for this reason, but they remain functional and mostly not uncomfortable. Holding one of the Gameboy’s scattered throughout NewRetroArcade felt the most wonky as the device responded in an unintuitive way as I tried to move my head to move the screen to a comfortable viewing distance.

I would have loved to have seen motion input options, which would make the mini games much more fun, and make item interactions far more intuitive. However, some tweaks to the way items are handled could improve that part of the experience without the need for motion controls.

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If NewRetroArcade was a paid experience, it would almost certainly be worth your money. Given that it’s free–it’s definitely worth your money. You have no excuse not to download and try it out right now. The game is currently available for Windows.

NewRetroArcade at Digital Cybercherries
(download link on the right)

NewRetroArcade Review Score

Gameplay: 9.0
VR Design: 8.0
Overall: 8.5