We trawl Scottish arcades for Sega games,
then film & write about them.

Friday, 11 November 2011

'Tenpin' (Edinburgh) & 'Lanes' (Largs)

It’s always fascinating to see arcades from other parts of the world and to speculate on the functions that they might hold. Reading about the closure of New York’s Chinatown Fair arcade was fascinating simply because it was incredible to learn that that arcade subsisted on actual, honest to God video games (and a noughts and crosses playing chicken, apparently). Similarly, reading stories about other countries’ arcades often results in discoveries that feel almost mythical like Dubai's Sega Republic. Sega Republic. Let that sink in.

In comparison, dedicated Scottish arcades can feel like pretty sleazy places where video games can feel like a tacked on afterthought. Thankfully, however, some places do manage to capture at least some of the romance and exuberance an arcade should have.

Ten-Pin bowling has been a fixture in the United Kingdom for around half a decade now, but many of them don’t seem to have escaped the trappings of a kind of retro-Americana: Marilyn Monroe statues, hamburgers and hotdogs and fifties diner kitsch. And sweet, sweet arcade games. Placed in this environment, the games seem to take on a different context. They feel like something a cool, older kid who can skateboard and breakdance would do while waiting to take his best girl for a milkshake.  Games like Outrun 2 and 18 Wheeler seem to make perfect sense with their weirdly dated yet idealised views of the United States. Have you seriously looked at the geography of Outrun’s maps? It’s glorious bullshit, but the pop-cultural singularity that often makes up the bowling alley compliments it so well.

Edinburgh’s Tenpin is perhaps a move away from the décor of many bowling alleys as it’s part of a large, modern entertainment complex, but it’s really great to enter through the main doors and be greeted with a respectable number of good condition arcade cabinets in bright, spacious surroundings. None of the games we played seemed to suffer from any serious technical issues and every game was turned on and playable. We visited fairly early in the day, but going in there as a kid on a sugar-rush and seeing Rambo, Let’s Go Jungle and GRID all massive and loud and bright must be pretty great. It was also great to see the oddly rare House of the Dead 4 in there, audible despite its proximity to some dancing games with pretty cool, tactile, working controllers. Seeing arcades treated as an attraction and not a cumbersome inconvenience was really heartening and they made a really thrilling welcome to visitors to Tenpin. If anything, there’s a feeling here that arcade games are a social experience and are supposed to be played competitively or cooperatively, something to be played and watched and enjoyed.  There are no games hidden in corners here like expensive, broken down embarrassments. I saw a young family play Let’s Go Jungle together. They actually Went Jungle, right before my very eyes. Once they had Gone Jungle they looked really happy. I think that’s what Sega wanted.

Lanes in Largs is another example of the bowling alley-come-arcade, but one that seems to have a bit of a dual purpose, doubling as a seaside arcade with gambling machines and the more standard family bowling/arcade experience. The place was a bit of a maze to navigate with some of the gambling machines hidden behind a seemingly impassable wood and glass partition (there was a man in there, was he imprisoned?), but the games section itself was busy and had plenty to play. We had to wait quite a long time to try out the 18 Wheeler cabinet as it was really popular with a wide range of people. Why 18 Wheeler was such a hit when Afterburner:Climax and Outrun 2 SP were unoccupied was a mystery, but I’m certainly not going to scoff at the idea of a popular, well maintained arcade game helping people have fun. I even saw one kid give a bittersweet “Awwwwww” in disappointment when her credits ran out. Ghost Recon and Virtua Cop 3 were sadly unplayable due to their broken guns, which is a bit of a black mark against Lanes. Lanes generally seemed to suffer a bit due to its indecision of whether it wanted to be a seaside arcade or a family orientated bowling centre. There were two dedicated slot machine arcades on the same street, so the literally disorientating presence of them in Lanes felt unnecessary. There were some good games there, but with the lightgun games destroyed and 18 Wheeler impossible to stand behind due to a fruit machine backed right up to it, it felt like they were maybe being sidelined.

Perhaps this kind of encroachment of gambling machines is a necessary evil in Scottish arcades, as I’m sure one-armed bandits and bingo-halls had a hold at the seaside long before Sega did. We’ve seen enough outright destroyed games machines left to rot in other arcades to know that they don’t seem to be the main source of income for arcades and taking a trip out especially to play video games sadly seems to be dead practice.  After the closure of New York’s Chinatown Fair arcade, a new, smaller arcade was set up specialising in fighting games. For a while in the early to mid-nineties, when you had to queue to play Mortal Kombat II and your heart leapt out of your chest when you saw Marvel vs Capcom was an actual real thing and not the imaginations of the kind of maniac who claimed to have played Sonic 4 in 1994 (“He can do fatalities and Tails melts in acid”) the idea of a dedicated games arcade felt viable. Now, I’m just really happy that places like Tenpin keep the games turned on and serviceable in a way that lets them shine as what they are: big, dumb, loud, escapist distractions. 


There used to be a great little arcade on Lothian Road. Closed around 2008 I believe but was stuck in a time-warp. The video to slots ratio was well in favour of the videos, of which there were 2 Neo-Geo MVS machines, Tekken 3 and 4, Daytona and a few other mid-late 90s machines, alongside the usual Ferrari 355, Shooting, Tennis and Football games.

Thanks for the info! That's a shame it's gone, would have been great to see it. Where about on Lothian Road was it?

It was right next door to the Picture House. It's now a William Hill.

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