Namco Funscape London: a round-up

When I was a teenager in the 1990s, I used to visit the London Trocadero on weekends. At the time it was home to a SegaWorld amusement arcade that included games and indoor rides so it was easy to get lost in there for a while. It started to change though when the venue was renamed to ‘Funland’ in 2000 and gradually we, along with other visitors, stopped coming.

Fast-forward to 2019 and my department at work was organising its annual summer party. It turned out the director had decided this would held at Namco Funscape this year – part of the Bandai Namco group and just like how the Trocadero used to be when we were kids. So on an afternoon at the end July, we all cleared out of the office a few hours early, crammed ourselves onto a sweaty tube train and made our way over to Westminster for an evening of fun and games.

The sense of nostalgia walking in was huge: the flashing lights and beep-boop sounds felt like returning to those weekend visits as a teenager. I was sad to see that the old ‘rocket’ escalator hadn’t made its way to the venue and we had to make do with standard escalators to take us down to the reserved area in the basement. A selection of pool and ping-pong tables had been set aside for us along with a private bar, and I think that made most of my colleagues forget their disappointment.

After a couple of drinks and some time to cool off under the air-conditioning, Phil and I went back upstairs to check out what was on offer in the arcade. It felt smaller than the old centre at the Trocadero but was still as loud and had the familiar circular dodgems track situated in the middle of all the games. Although we gave that a miss, we did jump on Pac-Man and Connect 4 – and even found a Tomb Raider machine among all those dedicated to mobile titles like Flappy Bird.

I had a thing about those old Zoltar fortune-teller machines when I was young and would always make a beeline for them during family trips to the seaside. It therefore pleased me to see one of these tucked away in the corner and we couldn’t resist finding out the fate of one of our colleagues. Obviously the cards are written to be vague enough so they apply to absolutely everybody, but after a couple of beers it’s hilarious when it seems as if someone’s life has been foretold.

It was a pleasant night out topped off by a walk along the Thames in the sun, and although It was good to feel like a kid again I’m not sure I’ll be going back to Namco Funscape soon. As can be the case with many commercial arcades like this, I’d imagine it would be quite expensive if we’d gone there independently of a paid-for work event; and the strange smell of feet everywhere was a little off-putting (I guess that’s what you get for having an indoor bowling area in the heat).

Have you been to the venue and what did you think? And are there any better amusement arcades in London that are worth visiting?

Namco Funscape London photo gallery

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198X: every 80s game in one

Last week I wrote about Backbone, a detective noir adventure I’d come across on Kickstarter. Its pixelated art and ‘challenging, thought-provoking storyline featuring themes of power, corruption, social decay and systemic discrimination’ caught my eye and made a pledge.

In that post I mentioned I’d found the campaign for 198X by Hi-Bit Studios on the same evening. While Backbone appealed to me as a gamer and is more in line with the adventure releases I usually play, there was something about this title which drew me in. The retro-futuristic artwork featured in the promotional video, ambient electronic beats, and a lone protagonist called Kid who talked about finding new meaning in video games; all the elements combined into something I wanted to know.

The title is set in Surburbia, just outside the city, sometime in 1980X and follows the journey of a teenager ‘stuck between the limitations of innocent youth and the obligations of inevitable adulthood’. The story unfolds when Kid discovers the local arcade and the new worlds within it; and our protagonist grows stronger with every visit, every game uncovered, every move mastered and every demon defeated. The line between game and reality starts to blur…

The Kickstarter page describes 198X as an arcade epic, a ‘coming-of-age story told through multiple genres, worlds and characters’. The project is built around five distinct arcade games and players will find themselves confronted with the beat-em-up, shoot-em-up, RPG, ninja and racing genres. Each are fully playable and will feature several stages with familiar settings and well-known core mechanics – not to mention a few unique twists, unexpected turns and lovely pixelated artwork.

It’s the last of those genres I’m looking forward to the most as I was a big fan of OutRun while growing up (I used to steal my brother’s Game Gear so I could play it when he wasn’t around). And I love the way it’s described by the developer: ‘Take your deluxe sports car for the ride of your life. Race the setting sun to reach the metropolis of your dreams, brilliant as a gemstone in the dark. Cruise with attitude as you overtake nobodies and become one with the rhythm of the open road.’

Although very intriguing, not much is given away in the video above or the second trailer released at the end of May. There also doesn’t seem to be much about the title online and it’s therefore it’s difficult to tell how Hi-Bit Studios are going to combine these arcade elements and the storyline. But the details revealed so far make it seem as though 198X is every 80s video game rolled up into one and that fascinates me; and there’s every chance for us to get something unique yet familiar out of this campaign.

There’s something about Kid’s monologues in these videos which reminds me of 80s movie protagonists such as Ferris Bueller and Allison Reynolds. When talking about the arcade, the protagonist says: “Some nights I just wanted to get away from it all and, down there, everything made sense.” It’s lines like this which give me the same feeling I get when watching films like WarGames and Flight of the Navigator; as though something deeper is going on just underneath the surface and is about to break through…

198X was successful in meeting its SEK 500,000 fundraising target and actually surpassed this by over 35% with the help of 1,920 backers last month. Hopefully we’ll get our hands on the game around March 2019 and pre-orders are being taken via Indiegogo if you’re interested. In the meantime, take a look at the official website and give the Twitter account a follow to stay up-to-date on their progress.