Could a modern indie game light up the arcades?

Not too long back on one of my streams, myself and my viewers were having a few laughs at the possibility of Sid Meier’s Civilization being turned into an arcade game. Obviously doing such a thing would be very silly, although in reality, the publishers of the grand strategy classic, MicroProse, did try to take some of their successful PC flight simulators such as F-15 Strike Eagle to the arcades.

They lacked any experience in or understanding of the field, spent a lot of money, and they failed miserably – creating something that looked impressive, but was completely ill-suited to being an arcade game in every possible way. Such things clearly should have been left to folks like Sega, Capcom, and Konami, who actually knew what they were doing.

Jokes about spending 20p on building an empire aside, the light conversation did turn to speculation on the sort of games from these days that could possibly work in the arcade – the consensus was that a fair few modern indie titles, the action-packed ones that embrace old-school difficulty and play styles, may actually work. In particular, people focused on Studio MDHR’s almighty Cuphead as a game that could absolutely fit the bill – it’s got the impressive and unique look, it’s got the serious challenge, and people would no doubt love to see Cuphead, Mugman, and the Devil immortalised on an arcade mural. But would it actually work?

Having thought about it, it most probably would – although there’d need to be some more subtle changes. Even if the difficulty and the presentation are absolutely there, there’s a little bit more to it than that when it comes to making Cuphead a proper arcade game. An arcade game of the old-school variety needs to satisfy the player and deliver an immediate first impression – ideally, a player gets a good few minutes with the game before moving on, ready for the next player to put their coins in. So you’d have to streamline the experience a fair bit. The tutorial? Probably needs to go because there’s no time for it – you need big buttons marked ‘JUMP’ and ‘FIRE’ instead. In fact, you might have to simplify the controls a fair deal, removing some of the game’s more intricate parts. Maybe you’d have to purely focus on the boss rush style and do away with the side-scrolling stages completely, reducing Cuphead to its essence.

These are just a few things you may have to do to take Cuphead and make it palatable for the arcade, where satisfaction must be immediate, and turnover is paramount. It could be done…but in the process of doing it, would you end up taking too much away from the game? Would you lose a significant chunk of what makes Cuphead great? It’s a delicate act, more than just sticking a game on a ROM board because it’s classically tough. Still, it’s quite interesting to think about, isn’t it? No matter the result, I’d definitely want to be first in line.

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