Most retro gamers will have fond memories of the smoke filled arcades of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Slurping Dr Pepper while queuing up to play the latest iteration of Street Fighter II, blowing cigarette ash from the battered buttons of your favourite shooter or battling with a change machine that wont accept your coins. During this time crowds of kids and young people would hang around watching as the winner stayed on hoping they would get the chance to knock them off their perch. Friends would work together to take down bosses made up of huge onscreen sprites and swarms of wannabe racing drivers would start their engines.
This was a special time in the history of video games when there was a true distinction between what you experienced at home and in the arcades. Nothing could compare to the sense of community, rivalry and mass amazement that spawned in those dingy grottoes of flashing images and blaring sound. Even if you had a Neo Geo AES at home you would lack the social feel and excitement that only an arcade could truly offer. The self-satisfaction of setting a new high score, beating the best lap time or winning a local tournament while being surrounded by fellow gamers is all but gone now sadly, however, there are still glimpses of this time scattered around in nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered.
The Four Quarters in Peckham, South East London, is one such place. A short walk from Peckham Rye train station you find yourself outside a fairly unassuming establishment that would otherwise go unnoticed were it not for the flashing cabinets and dimly set lighting that draws the eyes as you approach. The moment you step inside there is a stirring in your belly that is pulling the nostalgia chain from the outset. Along one side is a whole row of arcade cabinets stretching from the entrance right down to the corner bar at the back of the long building. As you travel deeper in, the familiar sound of blaring chip tunes and digital sound effects bounce around your ears and your eyes are taking in flashes and flickers from the array of colourful games on offer. over on the far side there is a CRT television with a Nintendo 64 hooked up, it mainly has four player Mario Kart playing but you can ask for the GoldenEye cartridge from behind the bar to mix things up. Near the bar there are tables to relax on when not indulging the arcade games and there are a couple of old school pinball machines lined up in one corner.
This is not the main attraction however, it is the selection of 1980’s and 1990’s fighting, shooting and beat em ups that send you back to a time that seems a long gone memory suddenly thrust back to the forefront of your mind. It is a nice feeling and the vibe of The Four Quarters is mellow with a touch of excitement. There are a couple of other cabinets scattered around away from the main row with the most noteworthy being a huge, original Time Crisis which can be seen from the street window. The perfect advert to draw in any passers by looking for some arcade action. All the cabinets appear to be well maintained and clean, gone are the days of cigarette ash and sticky coke stains it seems.
There is something for everyone although the only racing game is a Sega Rally up-right cabinet rather than the full bucket seat version. There is Street Fighter II and Tekken 2 to keep fighting game fans happy and a classic shmup in the form of 1943. The older games are Asteroids and Pacman, both of which looked glorious, especially the bright vector graphics radiating from Asteroids. The stars of the show are the four player Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle and Moonwalker beat em ups and 3D rail shooters in the form of House of the Dead 2, Point Blank and the already mentioned Time Crisis. No matter your retro tipple you will find something to have a blast on and it is great that you need to change your British coins into actual American Quarters from the coin machine to play the games.
Another positive aspect of the venue is the age range of the customers, it is wonderful to see a diverse mix of 20 something students mingling with those in their 30’s and beyond. It is quite inspiring that these younger gamers were able to enjoy games that are older than themselves and it was not just the diversity of age that stood out. There were many female gamers blasting away and enjoying the amusements as well. The bar itself has a simple pub menu of burgers and nachos, and the usual items you would expect and there was a Donkey Kong inspired cocktail to sample as well as some local brews. The facilities are decorated with old magazine and poster clippings that bring back more memories of reading up on the latest releases or cheats long before the internet was a thing.
Having places like The Four Quarters in the modern world of online gaming and streaming help keep the retro community alive. They give younger gamers a small glimpse into the heady days of arcades from yesteryear and allow older gamers to relive the glory days as they did with their friends way back when. Long may the retro scene thrive and with more of these arcade bars popping up recently there is no reason why it dwindle. These are great times to be a member of the retro community and having real spaces to bring the hobby to live is simply fantastic.