The night before I got married, my groomsmen took me to Brewcade, a bar-arcade hybrid in San Francisco, CA. I don’t drink so I was just there for the atmosphere and arcade games. We dropped some cash in the coin machine and loaded up the arcade cabinets with dozens of quarters over the next few hours. We even played through the entire X-Men arcade game.
Needless to say, it was a ton of fun.
The camaraderie-laden, just-one-more-life excitement of arcade gaming is all but lost from modern video games. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything on a recent game console or VR device that’s anywhere near as punishingly difficult as most arcade games and in 2016 “playing a game together” means playing online with a microphone. Luckily, the folks at Digital Cybercherries have used the power of VR to recreate not only the physical location of an arcade, but the social atmosphere of one as well with New Retro Arcade: Neon.
Previously, NewRetroArcade, the last iteration of the experience, delivered an accurate arcade recreation in VR. It was relatively limited, didn’t support consumer VR headsets, lacked some of the desired customization, was an entirely solitary experience with zero multiplayer, and didn’t feature any motion controls. Then, back in May, we pulled the curtain back on the updated release that was aiming to hit Steam this summer, including all of the things the free demo lacked. Today, New Retro Arcade: Neon is officially released into the wild.
Just by quickly watching the trailer, browsing the Steam page, and looking at screenshots, Neon probably looks a lot like the previous iteration of NRC. But if you think it’s just a spruced up port that’s been updated for consumer hardware, you’d be sorely mistaken. The two best things about Neon, the things you’re truly paying for, are the original minigames they created on their own for this project, and the multiplayer support.
From the custom arcade games like Aimbot and Zombie Problem, all the way to Air Hockey, Skeeball, and Whack-a-Mole, it fully captures the arcade experience unlike anything we’ve seen before. In the same way Pool Nation VR is able to capture the dive bar atmosphere — Neon rips the deceased heart out of the retro-futuristic 80s arcade you knew and loved and jolts it back to life in the immortal form of digital recreation.
It’s quite remarkable, honestly. You’ll truly feel like you’re walking around an authentic arcade. The team at Digital Cybercherries do an excellent job of capturing the vibe and atmosphere. As I walked around to inspect the arcade cabinets, play skee ball, and enjoy my surroundings, it felt like one of the most convincing VR scenes I’ve ever seen.
The big feature that gets a lot of people the most excited is being able to emulate your own ROMs inside the arcade, but keep in mind that those games cannot be played via multiplayer. Realistically, even though that’s a feature that people desperately want, it will likely never happen given the sticky legal ramifications. This means that emulating your own ROMs can only be done in single player – friends will not even be able to watch you play your emulated games.
If you’re interested in a VR LAN party or couch gaming experience, then something like BigScreen might be more applicable, but even that doesn’t let people play emulated games across the network. Luckily, you can at least enjoy the custom arcade cabinets and various other games with friends, including the aforementioned Aimbot and Zombie Problem, as well as bowling, air hockey, and more.
Since Neon just launched today, there have been some hiccups. For starters, VOIP is currently disabled after some bugs plagued the feature on release. The trackpad on Vive controllers suffers from inaccuracies that make some games difficult to play, resulting in the use of either a gamepad or keyboard at times. Latency also appears to be a sticking point for some people, but I didn’t notice any problems there.
Surprisingly, Neon didn’t release in Early Access. It’s a full release and developer communication about bug fixes has been good so far. Hopefully it won’t take long to get them addressed.
Ultimately, Neon’s not so much a game as it is an expertly realized digital arcade that you can visit in VR to hang out with friends. If you are a fan of the demo’s emulation features and primarily use it for playing your ROMs in a VR arcade, then there isn’t really anything here worth upgrading over. It’s also worth mentioning that early reports are stating that downloading the full game will overwrite your demo settings, which many users spent hours designing and customizing.
New Retro Arcade: Neon is now available on Steam with support for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and non-VR for $24.99 (currently 10% off at the time of this writing.) We recommend playing it with motion controllers if at all possible – it dramatically improves the experience.