Does Blackpool rock? Arcade Player report
One afternoon in August Travelodge were having a sale. I didn’t have anywhere particular in mind but I love arcades. Blackpool came up for November, booked! Having done most arcades in the south I was excited to check out this major arcade town. Being quite a trip, the late morning train from Brighton arrived just before 4pm as it was beginning to get dark. I figured that wouldn’t be a problem, and was expecting a late night arcades with cheap kebabs, chips and bright neon lights. Great! The 10 minute walk from Blackpool South to Travelodge promptly gave me view upon view of closed B&B’s, boarded up shops and the smell of car oil.
Realising it was off season and I had been sitting on the train perhaps expecting Miami crossed with Las Vegas, I was pleased to find the Travelodge was clean and I could see the Pleasure Park from across the street from my hotel room, happy days. Although on closer inspection this was also shut! It was getting dark, the lights from the G Casino on the seafront were visible. There would surely be some emptyish arcades and hidden gems, so headed out, ready for a night of gaming.
The first thing that hit me was the lack of people, not a person in sight. The Pleasure Park itself was closed, but the arcade was still open (Beach Amusements). I managed to get 1 foot in before the attendant came to life speeding to the door so quickly that I barely saw him move between the change booth and the entrance. He explained they were closing and was pretty friendly too, probably considering I may have been the only person in there all day. Advised to come back on Saturday as it would be the last open weekend of the season. When I said I was leaving Friday, he just nodded with a “Ta Ra then!” and shut the door in my face. I felt strangely welcomed yet confused! Had a nose in the windows – The place was clean, yet full of fairly worn and old cabinets, below the standard I would expect for a main tourist attraction.
Heading into town, I passed the Lucky Star arcade. This was shut and the lights off. On the main strip, the lack of people was spooking me out. This was a promenade twice as big as Brighton yet I could only count 3 to 4 people within sight. The South Pier was shut; I could make out a shadow of someone walking around in the amusements, hopefully at least the ghosts were making use of all the closed arcades. The seafront promenade itself was lovely and well kept, which didn’t hold much appeal right then in the cold. I crossed over the road to an endless row of closed B&B’s and to start my 2 hours continual snack fest in the open, yet all empty doner kebab shops.
The Central Pier and the North Pier lights were also off. This was a bit of an alien concept to me. Again, Brighton’s Palace pier is a major busy tourist attraction open all year round, as well as bars and a lively seafront, even in winter. After feeling genuinely excited, I was starting to lose hope. After close to 30 minutes of walking, up the road there was something… (Fun Palace) My eyes lit up! This turned out to be an arcade with very standard machines – 2 player Sega Rally, Time Crisis, The Fast and Furious racing. Nothing to hold my interest. But it did give me enthusiasm there may be some more open arcades to discover.
Two minutes later, Coral Island appeared on the corner. You can’t exactly miss it, amazing! The entrance is a spectacle in itself, a giant skull set into a castle with lots of neon. It’s easily one of the most impressive arcade entrances I’ve ever seen, totally eye catching. On entering you already know this arcade will be different. Inside it was immaculate. I could see staff members everywhere – Either cleaning, maintaining machines or serving customers. It was a spotless arcade for the UK, comparable to the ones I went to in Seoul, Korea. To be honest, the machines were hardly memorable… And three of everything seemed to be the rule. A row of Terminator Salvation, a row of Guitar Heroes, a row of DDR Euromix cabinets and Fast & Furious machines.
There were several themed places to eat (apparently the Buccaneer snack bar used to be a dodgems area). It felt like a very safe and welcoming place to bring a family. To an average passer by I’d imagine all these things were a bonus. I was impressed but as a gamer I was not really interested in snacks. I was here to play games. And aside from the Outrun 2 deluxe 8 player cabinet (both players sit next to each other in replica Ferraris, taking turns driving the same car with their own set of controls) there was nothing that I couldn’t play anywhere else. No fighting games, and even as a dancegames fan, the 11 year old Dancing Stage Euromix wasn’t something I already hadn’t played to death. The majority of the central floor was dedicated to gambling and fruit machines only, although it was a nice, well maintained and brightly lit setup. After checking the building itself out, I decided to scout other arcades then head back.
Happily spotting a Poundland, I proceeded to walk through the town centre drinking a 10 pack of Capri Suns and Jammy Dodgers. The area was was much nicer than the seafront. A lot of money had been put into renovation, a stark contrast to the boarded up areas I’d walked past to get there. Took a lot of photos and found it hilarious to find a punching machine in a kebab shop. Having worked late nights in takeaways I could imagine the fun the staff must have. I suppose it is at least organised fights with a pound coin queue line!
Day two. Stretching my head outside my window, I couldn’t believe it!! Lucky Star was open and it looked decent. Once in the side entrance, the first thing catching my eye as a gamer was an immaculate Maximum Tune 3 four player set up. There was the usual fare: a Super Bikes 2, Nirin Bikes, Razing Storm and an Extreme Hunting 2 game, with the exception of this being in a bigger than usual widescreen cabinet. It was good to see 18 Wheeler, and even a Dancing Stage X2 (I was very surprised to see this). In the corner was a bumper car area called the Orbiter. At £1 a go, this looked fun for the younger kids. Taking the escalator upstairs produced a mini bowling, pool tables and a Silent Scope cabinet (the only game someone was playing!). While there was nothing that really made me sit up, I was impressed like Coral Island how clean it was, and the fact there were staff looking busy. This was definitely my second favourite arcade so far.
I was really hoping that on a Friday more places would be open, but the only extra arcades were the North Pier which was mainly gamblers and nothing of note, which went for the same as Carousel Amusements. Meanwhile Happy Days, Funland and Slots of Fun plus the other two piers were clearly shut for the season. The surprise arcade was Mr T’s, with a fully moving GT Racer machine, extra rare! It had the usual fare such as Grid, Fast & the Furious, and another DDR X2, which again surprised me, as the only one I can think of in the South is Las Vegas arcade in London.
I thought I could head up to Blackpool North Rail, then get a train to St Anne’s. Once there, it turned out I would have to get a connection at Kirkham, out of the way and nearer Preston! So to prove a point (whatever that was) I stubbornly decided to walk, no bus, to St Annes. The first part of my walk I noticed again how many disused pubs, boarded up B&B’s and closed shops there were. 1 hour later I was back to where I woke up at Lucky Start by Travelodge, then past Blackpool Pleasure Beach and down the seafront promenade with its giant disco ball and what only seemed to be two giant golf balls.
Carrying on my walking phenomenon, the road ventured off the beach and past Squires Gate Rail, which seemed to be flats due for demolition. As the only source of amusement and my legs running out of steam, I decided to look around wondering what it might have been. It was eerie and fun to explore a little, and summed up how Blackpool felt to me during the whole trip – Once grand buildings with history and tales of former glory. I would really have liked to visit growing up in the late 80’s. This thought was quickly burst as I heard noise and legged it from the unseen survivors. A search on Google says this Pontin’s shut in October 2009 and is still waiting to be demolished. Making a dignified exit walking unnaturally as fast as I could back to the main road, a sign came up… Salters Wharf & Fun City! St Annes finally! If Blackpool is loud and in your face along with the Great Yarmouth and Margates of the UK, I found St Annes the calm and pretty Herne Bay or (Brighton and) Hove equivalent. Walking past the cliff top and the quiet sandy beach, the pier was straight ahead with none of the tacky Blackpool takeaways, signs or closed B&Bs. Inside the pier was a grand total of 3 people, so I was all ready for another banging gaming session. No music was being played either, and half the pier appeared to be closed off via a line of fruit machines blocking mid-entry.
Despite all this there were several great cabinets crammed into the space available. Manx TT Superbikes, F Zero AX which is extremely rare these days, Scud Race, and 2 Afterburners lined up. A giant 18 Wheeler next to the Highway 66 Bowling Lane and Lets Go Jungle along with my favourite game, Pump It Up, in great condition. I was happy! Ironically after a good 5 hours of walking and a mini jog to avoid the potential Pontins inhabitants I didn’t fancy a game.
My friend texted to say there was another arcade, a short walk away. Within minutes I was in the Pleasure Park, with another clean arcade. The Maximum Tune 2 machine displayed “Call Attendant!” on both cabinets. With me being the only person in the arcade, I don’t think anything was going to happen in a hurry. Then came the first and only fighting game of the trip – Tekken 5 which also dispensed data cards. As Tekken 6 is all over London this was a rarity, so I inserted rejected pound after pound to get my card. Nothing came out. Its not like anyone would be queuing up to play me anytime soon, but having the card would have been nice. My friend also said a couple of years ago this was great for DDR. There was one DDR Fusion cabinet, and a neon light above it said “Dance” with a bit of open space in the corner, so I assume it used to be a bigger dedicated dance area with more cabs.
Because I missed 2 piers and a couple of arcades due to the off season, it is harder to give Blackpool a fair rating. For a gamer, Blackpool has Coral Island with a great environment and a clean place to eat and play some standard videogames, but nothing of much note. Lucky Star is nice but as per all the other arcades, too quiet. St Annes is more downscaled and much smaller arcades but rarer cabs the gamers will actually want to play. Quality over quantity here. I would say the machines and arcades were very well maintained overall in both places, compared to spots I’d visited this year (Eastbourne, Hastings, The Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Worthing, Barry Island and Margate). Worth a day out for a change of scene, but the real videogamers choice has to be Ryde in Isle of Wight, with an incredible line of stand up machines and a fully working 1986 Outrun moving cabinet!
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