Arcade1Up Class Of ’81 Deluxe Review – Put A Bow On It

Arcade1Up has been producing home-arcade cabinets for more than four years, releasing titles from hit classics like Pac-Man to racers like Out Run and even lightgun shooters like Big Buck Hunter. With the exception of its expensive Killer Instinct Pro Series cabinet, however, all of its 3/4-scale systems have required a separate riser to reach a good standing height for adults. The risers don’t look particularly good, break up the artwork on the cabinet, and add another step to the building process. Arcade1Up smartly decided to ditch the risers for its new Deluxe lineup, and after spending time with the Class of ’81 Deluxe cabinet, I can confidently say it was the right move. Even better, it’s just one of several changes that will make longtime home-arcade players very happy.

The Arcade1Up Deluxe lineup–despite its name implying a high price tag–is actually more in line with the company’s cheaper Legacy cabinets, packing a variety of games from a particular publisher into one system for around $500. The Pac-Man and Mortal Kombat II machines each include 14 games, and in the case of the Class of ’81 Deluxe cabinet, I got 12:

  • Ms. Pac-Man
  • Galaga
  • Galaga ’88
  • Galaxian
  • Dig Dug
  • Dig Dug II
  • Mappy
  • Rally-X
  • Rolling Thunder
  • Rompers
  • The Tower of Druaga
  • King and Balloon

There are a few absolute classics in this collection, including the two marquee games–Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga–as well as Galaga ’88 and Dig Dug. The other Deluxe cabinets feature similarly prestigious games, so your choice will really come down to genre preference and nostalgia. There are certainly a few here that I wouldn’t consider winners, especially The Tower of Druaga, but almost everything is at least worth giving a shot.

The 12 games on this particular system were previously featured in Arcade1Up’s standard Class of ’81 cabinet, but this is now obsolete, further emphasizing that the Deluxe line is more of an improvement and revision to some of the most popular cabinets rather than an entirely new experience. That being said, the changes made here are welcome pretty much across the board.

The most obvious of these is the riserless design, which gets the cabinet to just over five feet–a few inches taller than the previous cabinet. The system isn’t actually one continuous piece on the side panels–it’s two that are slotted into each other at the end of the build–but the small connecting line isn’t distracting and looks much better than the old cabinet. Class of ’81 features split artwork of Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga, both of which look gorgeous. I did have a hell of a time getting the machine assembled and certainly recommend having two people work together if you have the option. Because of the riserless design, there comes a point when you line up a whole bunch of dowels and screw-holes to sandwich the system in place and then join the top and bottom halves together before connecting them on the inside. I was able to do this eventually, but did split a few of the many MDF boards inside the cabinet while doing so, as it’s really meant for someone to line up all the holes while a second person sets the pieces into place.

This could be you!
This could be you!

Gallery

The Ms. Pac-Man side’s bright colors are impressive, but the bigger improvement comes on the Galaga side. Whereas the old cabinet’s riser featured its own flashy artwork below a shrunken-down design on the main cabinet, this isn’t necessary on the Deluxe edition. Instead, we get a larger piece of artwork that looks nearly identical to the real Class of ’81 cabinet from 2001. Authenticity isn’t everything, but when there’s an opportunity to get the home version as close as possible to the original, it’s always appreciated.

There are a few other welcome improvements to the Class of ’81, too, and they show that Arcade1Up has been taking some notes from its most vocal community members. The cabinet comes with a replica coin door–which the previous model didn’t have–and Arcade1Up used a plastic molded door instead of the cheap-looking printed ones from its Legacy lineup. It has been present in some of the more-expensive offerings for some time now, but finally getting it in an affordable cabinet is a nice bonus.

The light-up marquee–a point of criticism on some of Arcade1Up’s cabinets–looks magnificent here, with no light bleed on the edges and the black color still looking sharp when it’s turned on. It’s tough to say exactly what the reason is for this one being so much better than some of the other washed-out marquees we’ve seen in the past, but it seems like Arcade1Up finally has it nailed down. Extra little aesthetic touches like included screw caps (with specific colors to match different parts of the system) and speaker grates help it to warrant the “Deluxe” name. The sound is loud, too, and while there are several levels you can choose from, even the very softest volume that isn’t outright muted is still fairly loud.

More functional changes have been made for the Deluxe lineup, as well. Both Class of ’81 and Pac-Man (but not Mortal Kombat II) feature screens at much flatter angles than in the previous versions, mimicking the CRT displays of the real arcade cabinets. It’s something that not only adds an authentic flavor to their design, but also makes playing them much more comfortable from both a standing position and on a stool. If you have mischievous cats like I do, however, keep in mind that the control panel and screen on the Pac-Man and Class of ’81 cabinets are one continuous piece, meaning your furry friend can easily climb onto the screen unless you think of a creative way to stop them.

The sticks on earlier Arcade1Up models were… not the best, to put it mildly. Their microswitches and springs were very weak compared to competing systems, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this addressed on the Class of ’81 Deluxe cabinet. They certainly aren’t up to the standard of a SuzoHapp or the Sanwa clones seen on the iiRcade, but they feel appropriately stiff, and you get a clear click when moving from one direction to another. If you plan on playing only Galaga or Ms. Pac-Man on the system, it might be worth it to get a joystick restrictor so you aren’t accidentally hitting diagonal inputs, but I don’t anticipate this being nearly as much of a necessity as it was with the older joysticks.

The Arcade1Up Deluxe lineup isn’t a night-and-day upgrade over the company’s previous offerings–the buttons still feel pretty cheap, for instance–but there are enough improvements here that make it a great choice for someone looking to start or expand their home arcade. Small touches like the speaker grates and molded coin door, as well as the impressive riserless design, make it feel less like a toy and more like an honest-to-goodness arcade you can buy without mortgaging your house. If the lineup is further expanded with other cabinets from the likes of Capcom, Atari, and Midway, Arcade1Up will have the home arcade community and retro game enthusiasts very excited.

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