Zooo ABC Arcade, classic gaming in Madrid

Portada del recreativo Zooo Arcade en Madrid
I’ve always been jealous of the arcades I saw in distant cities. To my knowledge, Madrid had never had one focused on older games. At least, none worth mentioning. And yet, in a shopping mall right in the middle of Serrano street, there’s a truly great one. Zooo Arcade is not just a novelty, but one of the best arcades of Spain’s capital city.

CLASSICS IN MADRID

Zooo Arcade is located on the lower floor of the ABC Serrano shopping centre. It’s a small, tightly-packed place, without any flashy signs to indicate its contents. Inside, there are more than 40 games, mostly from the 80s and 90s, all of them using original hardware and in the right type of cabinet.

The selection, while humble, is quite strong. We can find established classics such as OutRun, Afterburner II, Metal Slug or the first House of the Dead, as well as some that might not be as well-known, but every bit as worthwhile. Titles such as Super Sprint, a fast-paced top-down racer by Atari, offer experiences we may struggle to replicate at home.

The inclusion of titles like Pang! or Hyper Sports, shows a criteria beyond what’s easy or cheaper to obtain. They are unique, fun titles that anyone may try and get hooked to. For rhythm game fanatics, Pump it Up 2019 may justify a visit on its own. Personally, the biggest draw are two American titles: Defender and Ms Pac Man. Not only are they great in their own terms, they are quite rare in Spain.

It’s true, however, that some games are second-rate. Dark Adventure, a Gauntlet clone designed by Konami, is ugly, slow and extremely repetitive. I don’t recommend spending much time with the original Mortal Kombat, nor with Lethal Enforcers II either. They have aged horribly, both in looks and in how they play.

I would also avoid Taito’s Double Dragon and Konami’s two beat’em ups, The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Turtles. While playing them with friends seems appealing, their challenge is based on endless waves of generic enemies, hardly anything to be excited about. Instead, I would have liked to see Capcom’s entries in the genre, perhaps Final Fight or Shadows of Mystara. Perhaps it’s also redundant to have two Street Fighter II machines, particularly when other genres are underrepresented.

PERFECT WORKINGS

The first thing I realized when I entered Zooo Arcade is how well-kept it is. I’ve never seen arcade machines in such a great shape. Cabinets in perfect condition, with full art on the side and their bezel around the monitor. Buttons work, and they all match, unlike the shoddy mix of manufacturers we see in other arcades. Above all, everything’s clean. And not just on the outside, games are clean behind the glass as well.

It mustn’t have been easy. Star Wars (1983) uses a vector monitor, like an oscilloscope, but in colour. There are two Laserdisc games, Dragon’s Lair and Marbella Vice. And quite a few games have unique cabinets, like Tron (1982) and Alpine Racer 2. Until now, I didn’t know Afterburner II had a light in the front that tells us when our weapons are locked in on the enemy.

That said, some corners of the arcade might be too narrow. For example, OutRun has been squeezed in between a wall and Pump It Up‘s dance pads. Fortunately, the place is never busy enough that it becomes overly stifling. The decoration, filled with neons and old TVs playing films from the 80s, goes for a clear nostalgic angle, as do the pop songs being played in the background.

Truthfully, I would rather hear the sound from the actual games. Ultimately, the reason we go to arcades is to play old games and that includes their soundtracks. It’s part of their style, and should not be pushed back in favour of unrelated songs, no matter if they are well-known or give the right ambiance. The lack of sound also affects gameplay, as it becomes harder to know when attacks connect with the enemy.

Another, perhaps less obvious, issue is the heightened difficulty of a handful of games. They seem to be set at harder settings than those that come by default, perhaps by accident. The clearest example might be Golden Axe; we get only two life bars instead of the normal three. The time limit also seems overly tight in Mans TT. Even a perfect race doesn’t leave us with more than a couple seconds left on the clock. Restoring them to their default setting would make them far more enjoyable.

PRICE OF ENTRY

Like most modern arcades, games are set to free play. Instead, we’ll pay according to the time we spend inside. This allows us to play as much as we want, regardless of how well or poorly we fare. Without a question, this is the best way to enjoy arcade games, as it does away with the need to maximize our enjoyment per credit.

Theoretically, the price is set at 3 euros for the first 30 minutes, and then an additional fraction per extra minute. In practice, the maximum amount is just 8 euros, a more than fair price for a whole evening of gaming. Zooo Arcade opens evenings from 17:00 to 21:00, from 12:00 to 21:00 on weekends and closes on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

With two metro stations within walking distance, we finally have the chance to enjoy a little bit of historical gaming in Madrid. Whether we just want an enjoyable time, or rediscover our favourites, we’ll hardly go wrong with a visit to Zooo Arcade. It’s our best choice for any of us who enjoys old classics.

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