Game Focus, London Computer Exchange, London Casino Leisure Centre, Goodge Street, London Casino Leisure Centre, London - basement YouTube video clip of Casino Leisure Three cabinets at Casino Leisure Centre, London More cabinets at Casino Leisure, London Time for dinner, T.G.I. Friday's in London The Trocadero at Piccadilly Circus, London View from rear of Trocadero Arcade, London

SUMMER BREAK 2007 - LONDON

The trip to London was booked for Friday so I decided to spend Thursday checking out what was available in Norwich. It turned out to be quite an interesting day. After grabbing a coffee from my favourite stall on Norwich Market, I popped in to see Paul at One Step Gaming. I was lucky enough to pick up some loose Master System carts, two boxed Megadrive games, some NES games, some loose SNES games, and a boxed copy of Solstice on the NES, plus an original Game Boy and a copy of Tetris (of course) for under a tenner. A nice little addition to the collection.

Although there wasn't much at GameStation, Swallow Games, and, Second Hand Land, thankfully Andy Cherry didn't let me down at Norwich SpaceStation. I bagged Wonder Boy and Columns on the Game Gear for £2 each. This would give me something to play on the train to London. GameStation did have a copy of 'In The Hunt' for the Saturn, but at £9.99 it was not really worth it.

The highlight of the week was always going to be Friday. A trip to London with a list of places I wanted to check out, how exciting! Game Gear & games, Camera, Voice Recorder, Phone (loaded with some classic sid remakes), train tickets, and some spending money - packed and ready to go. At Norwich station I had some time to kill so I grabbed a quick baguette and a coffee. So as the train departed I was eagerly looking forward to my day in the big city.

After leaving Liverpool Street station, I decided to check out the Retro Game shops. First stop was Tottenham Court Road and the first mission was to track down a Starbucks (not difficult) for a caffeine fix. Just down the road I found Game Focus with their 'retro basement'. It didn't look like it had changed much since my visit back in 2006. I did take a look at the Japanese Saturn games as I had recently bought an Action Replay cartridge/ Most of the good games were quite expensive (of course) and even though there were a few games were only a fiver, I decided not to risk it. There wasn't really much else on display so I made my way to Computer Exchange (CEX).

The once great CEX is now woefully lacking in much of a retro scene. To make matters worse their air con must have failed as they had a large pipe trying to expel the hot air inside. I didn't hang around long in there.

After a rather lacklustre showing in the game stores, it was the next destination on my list, the Casino Leisure Centre. I remember sticking my head in the door last time but as I had only seen new games and fruit machines I had moved on. This time I thought I'd give it a better look and I had read on the Web that they had some old arcade machines. As I walked through the front doors I noticed a sign stating that there were more videogames downstairs. I found a door but when I tried it I found it was locked. I walked out of the the arcade, feeling a little confused, but as I turned around I noticed a set of stairs at the front of the building. I made missed these as I entered the building from the left side and the mirrored walls had made it hard to see (at least that was my excuse!). I have to honest, as I descended the stairs I expected to find more recent games but I could not be more wrong. I guess the sound of Mr DO! gave it away.

The basement was wall to wall with cabinets, some from the 90's and some older. Several of the cabinets were generic by the games were original. As I walked around I felt I had discovered a gaming nirvana in the centre of the capital. It really was like being in a different world. There were several people playing the games and chap playing Mr. DO! was pushing 300,000 points (with little chance of me getting on the machine). I knew I had to record this experience so I popped back upstairs to ask the chap in the change booth if I could take some photos. Initially he was not willing to let me and told me I needed the managers permission (I did suggest I could ask him myself), but eventually he relented but told me I could only take photos of the machines downstairs. This suited me as I wasn't interested in the newer machines anyway.

I ended up spending well over an hour in there. I took a number images, which didn't come out too good due to the lighting so I decided to do a video walk-around (see the YouTube link in the panel to the left). I thought it was only fair to spend some money in the place so I got some change and pumped several pounds into a multi-game cabinet (I think the screen said 'game not over'. There was must have been something like 15 games that I could select from the menu, each game cost 50p. Although it was a generic cabinet, the games themselves appeared to be the originals. Two of my favourites were on it, Mr DO! and 1942. Other games included all the Pacman and Donkey Kong games as well as classics such as Centipede, Space Invades, Galaxian, Moon Cresta, and, Phoenix. Unfortunately it wasn't until I fed £8 of credits into the machine that I realised the joystick was a bit naff. It didn't respond too well but thankfully it didn't spoil the experience too much. I was really in the zone and the whole atmosphere in place was like the old days.

As I left the arcade, with the chap still playing Mr DO!, I felt happy that there was at least one place that still had the classics available to the public.

As I walked back down Tottenham Court Road I was on the lookup for Forbidden Planet. I never found it but ended up at Oxford Circus and thought I might as well take a visit to Hamleys. As I walked along Regent Street I went into 'tourist mode' and took out the camera for some photos. Regent Street was very busy and Hamleys was packed. I had a wander around but managed to refrain from buying anything. It was around 3pm but I still wanted to check out a few shops so I headed back to the tube station at Oxford Circus.

It may sound a bit sad but I wanted to check out a GameStation in London, just to see how it compared to my local ones. As it was only a quick hop to Euston tube station, I got on the Victoria Line. I partook in the tradition of zipping down the escalators - which I later regretted as all the walking made me knackered. Anyway as I left the station and started walking down Eversholt Street I wasn't sure if I was actually going in the right direction (unfortunately my printed Google Map couldn't show my location). I thought I'd better check with somebody and thankfully a chap on the street confirmed that I was heading in the right direction for Camden High Street.

After about 15 minutes I reached the High Street and located GameStation. To my surprise (or not) I found the store was almost the same as all the others I had been in. No old hardware and very little games of interest (normal Sega and Nintendo fare). It amazes me that all the shops have the same collection of old footie games!!

As I headed back to Euston Station I contemplated what I should do next. It was a little early to have dinner so I thought I'd do a little exploring. To be honest I was still looking for Forbidden Planet but I must have been in the wrong galaxy as it evaded me once more (why couldn't I have one of those 'smart' phones with GPS on them!). Strolling along I found myself in Trafalgar Square which presented plenty of photo opportunities. From there I went to St James Park and then Westminster.

As it was getting late (and I was now hungry after all the walking), I decided it was time eat. I couldn't go all the way to London without having a meal at T.G.I. Friday's so off I went. As to be expected the place was very busy, so I got my name on the list and waited for a table to be free. Time passed and I began to wonder if there was a problem. I checked with the front desk and they couldn't find my name on the list. D'oh! To be fair they got me in pretty quickly after that and the lady who seated me was the same one that had originally taken my name. She was very apologetic about the amount of time I had waited. To be honest it wasn't a big deal, I was just happy to sit down and eat. I was served by a very nice waitress called 'Marta'. I did take a while to decide what to order as everything sounded good. Eventually I choose the fillet mignon with cheesy mash and coleslaw, with a peppercorn sauce. And yes, it was lovely. I finished this off with a nice latté and a piece of cinnamon swirl cheesecake. Oh yes, I do like Friday's (literally).

I had about an hour and a half left before my train department so I decided to check out the Trocadero. This was somewhere that I had visited last time but just in passing so now I intended to really check it out. The arcade(s) were really busy and it made for a very good atmosphere. I dabbled a little with a couple of goes on Raiden 3 (another cabinet with a dodgy stick, this time it was hard to move right - explains why nobody was on it). The game was great and the explosions, when you take out a end of level boss, really burnt the retina's - ouch! I also had a on Strikers 1945, which wasn't a soccer gamer but a vertical shoot'em up in the same vain as the Capcom 194x games. Lastly I put £2 in a massive hydraulic Outrun 2SP machine. It was great fun with lovely graphics and the smooth movement you would expect from a game with such great gaming history.

After sneaking in one of my infamous 'tour' video's of the venue, I left and noticed that I had spent so much time in the arcade that I had little time to get the train back to Norwich. Thankfully after a mad rush from on the tube to Liverpool Street (with just 5 minutes to spare!), I caught my train at 10:30pm. On the train home, after feeling pretty fried from a full-on day, I had a snooze but did have enough time to squeeze in a few games of Sonic, Columns, and Wonder Boy on the Game Gear.

Arriving at Norwich rail station at 12:40am, the club scene was in full effect. Walking up Prince Of Wales Road, I had to smile at all the youngsters queuing up to get in the various clubs. It seems a long time ago that I had last done that. And as it was now Saturday morning, it was my birthday - 38 years old. I walked home and felt good that I'd enjoyed another great day our in London. By the time I got through the door it was 1:20am and I hit the sack after a very long day. Tired but happy.

 

Original article by Gary - September 2007 (revised April 2015)