Arcade 1Up has been around for a few years now selling arcade cabinets at a reduced size and also a reduced price. The cabinets are significantly smaller than an actual arcade cabinet, but still plenty large enough to take up a lot of floor space in your home. And while they’re cheaper than the “real thing,” they’re hardly what I would call cheap. Many of the full-size units will set you back over 500 big ones, and newer models have eclipsed the $700 price tag as components become harder to come by and virtually everything has become more expensive. Even when the units were cheaper, I was never able to bring myself to spend hundreds of dollars on what is essentially a novelty item. The cabinets, being smaller than the real thing, are less functional. You can’t physically accommodate four adults for a game of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for instance. And these are all games that can be experienced in a far more convenient and cheaper manner. Only some of the side-scrolling beat-em-ups are unavailable for purchase these days, but they’re also games not really designed for home consumption. They were made to entertain in bursts and consume quarters, with free play they last less than an hour and have little to no replay value once completed.
There’s nothing particularly practical about what Arcade 1Up sells, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. I already used the term novelty when talking about them, and that’s really what they are. They liven up a room at your house, give people something to talk about when they come over for the first time, and do offer some entertainment value. Especially when it comes to skill-based games. And I certainly am willing to spend money on novelty items as I own several mini consoles and recently reviewed the Zelda Game & Watch. I just have a limit on what I want to spend on such a device and on how much room I want to dedicate to one. I’ve often considered buying an arcade cabinet for my bar room at home. I was really close to doing so with an SNK cabinet more than 10 years ago since those can actually swap games. And when a local arcade closed-up shop near me five years ago I strongly considered making an offer on their Simpsons cabinet, but thought better of it in the end. Arcade 1Up has always had some appeal to me, but nothing got me to bite. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one came the closest because of my love for that IP, but realistically I’d play it a couple of times and then never touch it again. I thought I might take the plunge if Arcade 1Up ever did The Simpsons and they did in 2021, but the $700 price tag was a non-starter for me.
Arcade 1Up seems to know there are lots of folks like me out there that want their product, but are hesitant either due to cost or space concerns. Enter the Counter-Cade! This is a smaller version of an arcade cabinet intended to be placed on a counter, or better yet, a bar. And I have a bar! Aside from a bar-top juke box, I can’t think of a better accessory than a small arcade cabinet. And that’s what the Counter-Cade is, it’s just a small arcade cabinet with a short base. Since they’re even smaller than the normal Arcade 1Up, they’re only suitable for 2 players so no four-player models exist (that I’m aware of) and it looks like many have fewer games loaded on them than the bigger model, which makes sense as Arcade 1Up needs something more than size to entice folks to pony up the big bucks. There’s no wi-fi either, but you can plug in a controller if you find it too small to comfortably accommodate two players (though I tried it and didn’t have much luck). I was interested when I first saw the Counter-Cade, but I wanted it to contain games I’d actually play. My wife seemed to pick-up on this for underneath my Christmas tree was the Arcade 1Up Marvel Super Heroes edition of the Counter-Cade.
The Marvel Super Heroes Counter-Cade from Arcade 1Up comes with four games pre-loaded onto it: Marvel Super Heroes, X-Men vs Street Fighter, Marvel vs Capcom, and The Punisher. All four are developed by Capcom and obviously contain characters from the world of Marvel Comics. Three of the four are 2D fighters, while The Punisher is a two-player beat-em-up. It’s a solid assortment of games as you get a traditional 2D fighter in Marvel Super Heroes and a pair of tag-fighters. I would have preferred it if Arcade 1Up had made this an X-Men themed unit based on Children of the Atom, but oh well. I’m sure almost everyone would have preferred another “VS” title in place of The Punisher, but I’m okay with it as it gets another style of game into the set.
What’s going to sell this unit is the size, price, and game selection. As far as size goes, the cabinet basically takes up a space of 16.5″ wide, 16 1/8″ high, and 13″ depth. That’s me measuring the unit at it’s widest part, which is the platform where the controls are mounted, but that’s roughly the area this thing occupies. It runs off of an AC adapter so you do need to be relatively close to an outlet as the chord is only about 4′ long. The screen is approximately 6.5″ wide x 5″ high and it’s suitable for the software. The colors are vibrant and there’s no taring of the sprites. It’s also pretty loud so if you were worried about the audio I think most will be fine. There is a headphones jack for those who want to game without disturbing others, though the clicky joystick and buttons will prevent truly silent play.
The components outside of the screen seem fine. I don’t know that the joystick is quite on the level with a true Capcom unit, but it’s better than a lot of third party joysticks I used long ago (granted, I have not bought an arcade style controller for about 25 years). There are seven buttons for each player with one of those being a Start or Credit button to enter the game. There are six buttons for actual gameplay, which is all you need for the software present here. The buttons feel okay, I feel like they’re a little soft and could rebound a touch firmer, but are otherwise fine. The theme is Marvel Super Heroes so you get Thanos on each side with blue filtered comic art on the front and platform. The marquee does light up when the unit is on and features the cast from that game so if you were hoping to see Rogue or Ken on the cabinet you’ll be disappointed.
When the unit is powered on it takes you to a simple screen with the highlighted game displayed. You can cycle through and upon selecting a game a quick controls dashboard is displayed. It’s not entirely useful as it basically just tells you what each button does in the game. It won’t tell you, for instance, how to tag out in the VS titles or how to use grenades in The Punisher which stinks. Once you select a game, the unit basically becomes an arcade cabinet. If you leave it alone you’re effectively in “Attract Mode” for the selected game, which is definitely a fun thing to have in a rec room, even if it isn’t practical from a power consumption point of view. Everything is set to free play and there are no coin slots anyway so you can’t make money off of your friends directly. It’s easy to get out of and into another game and the interface is simple and intuitive enough.
As for the games, well, reviewing each one individually would take some time. Basically, if you’ve played a Capcom fighter then you probably know what to expect. Marvel Super Heroes is the most straight-forward as it’s a one on one fighter starring some of the heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe. It’s always been a little odd in that respect (Shuma-Gorath?), but it’s actually probably better received now than it was in the 90s given how popular the Avengers are now versus then. Still, it was pretty cool to get a dedicated Marvel fighter in 1995 and the fact that it was dedicated to Jack Kirby gives it a little extra sweetness. I don’t consider it a great 2D fighter, but it’s a perfectly fine alternative to Street Fighter 2 for the Marvel fan.
The VS games are probably want most fans will play the most. X-Men vs Street Fighter is what got the whole thing rolling. It features a terrific roster from both franchises and it actually feels more focused than the games that followed. If X-Men is your jam, then this might be your favorite from the set. Marvel vs Capcom is very similar, but bigger. This was the last 2 vs 2 fighter as its sequel would up things to 3 on 3 and get almost too big for my liking. You may notice one game was skipped, Marvel vs Street Fighter, but you’re not missing much by going straight to Marvel vs Capcom. This lets other Capcom stars get a chance to shine and help even the sides as it was pretty rough for the World Warriors to have to take on the entire Marvel Universe.
Lastly, we have The Punisher. It’s a perfectly cromulent brawler. Player One controls the Punisher while a second player can join in as Nick Fury. The two will banter a bit (via text) to liven things up while battling through the criminal underworld leading to a final confrontation with the Kingpin. It’s less impressive than the fighters from a presentation aspect and the mechanics of the game are pretty standard: attack, jump, and a special attack that drains life when it connects. Sometimes The Punisher and Fury will be allowed to use guns, usually in response to when the villains do the same, but mostly it’s a melee affair. There’s an abundance of temporary weapons to bash foes with that helps add a little variety, though most are just something to bash a foe with. A playthrough will take most around 45 minutes and when it’s over there likely will be little appetite in venturing forth again. There’s no reason to from a gameplay perspective aside from achieving a better score, it’s just the video game equivalent of chewing gum. At least it’s a longer experience than what Fruit Stripe offers.
I had a desire to add an arcade machine to my bar room, and this Counter-Cade from Arcade 1Up gets the job done. It’s an attractive piece with a solid selection of games which 3 of the 4 offer incentive to play and replay while the 4th is certainly good for entertaining younger gamers (ignoring the violence). And the other important selling point, maybe the most important, is it’s not ludicrously expensive. The MSRP on this is $229 at most stores and many offered discounts during the holidays. Since this was a gift, I don’t know exactly how much my wife paid, but I know it was less than $200 due to sales and the use of good old Kohl’s Cash. At the high end of $229, I do think it’s a tougher sell, but not terrible. If you really love the games included and want something to bring your room together then I think it’s doable. On sale though, it becomes a much easier call. You’re still better off going in a different direction if your goal is simply to play these games, but as we established earlier, if you’re interested in this set then you’re in it for the novelty more so than the software.