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Home / Features / Why I think Numskull’s Space Invaders Quarter Arcade is the best retro gaming gadget ever

Why I think Numskull’s Space Invaders Quarter Arcade is the best retro gaming gadget ever

One-quarter scale but four-quarters fun. This tiny Space Invaders cab rekindled my love of a classic

Space Invaders Quarter Arcade

My first vivid gaming memory is Space Invaders. And proper Space Invaders too, not a knock-off or dodgy home console port. My family was on holiday in a grey British seaside town, and I spotted a gleaming cabinet with a glowing screen and ominous, hypnotic four-note beat. I was transfixed. Being very young and very short at the time, my dad had to lift me up so I could play – something he instantly regretted when it turned out I was really good at the game.

I bugged him for more goes during the remainder of the trip, and the experience kicked off a lifelong love of arcade gaming. But I’ll admit my fondness for Space Invaders has blown hot and cold over the years. It was a pioneering title. But from a gameplay perspective, it was considered a relic just a few years after its release. And now here we are, 45 years later.

Despite this, I knew I wanted a Space Invaders Quarter Arcade the moment it was announced. It looked like an amazing object to own. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to rekindle my love for the game itself.

Takes-up-less-space invaders

Tiny cab, not in a tiny arcade

On freeing the cab from its box, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. It looked the part, with the original – and still gorgeous – cabinet artwork beautifully recreated. The dinky controls were present and correct, alongside instructions rendered in tiny text I was happy to discover I could read. (Take that, optician!) That was all nice. This would look great on a shelf. But everything changed when I turned the Quarter Arcade on.

It was then I realised with Space Invaders how much an authentic experience matters. These days, you can emulate Space Invaders on almost any hardware. I’m half surprised there isn’t a version for Apple Watch. But what you get is usually a pale shadow of the original experience, often based around the raw output of the arcade ROM. Even a local arcade purporting to have a Space Invaders cabinet does this, giving you white invaders that march atop a boring, blank, black background.

The original cabinet was markedly different – and unique. The action was reflected off a mirror, behind which sat a planet cutout and starry background. The addition of clever lighting created a Pepper’s ghost effect, where glowing invaders appeared to eerily float before the scene.

On reflection, it’s a classic

Space Invaders reflected

All of which probably explains why this cabinet sat in production hell for many months. You can imagine how things started at Numskull HQ: how difficult could it be to make a quarter-sized arcade cab based on a title from 1979? Get a cheap board. Add an emulator. Measure the original cab. Grab a calculator and use the ÷ and 4 keys until your thumb hurts. Bit of wood for the cabinet itself. Make sure nothing explodes. Job done!

Only no, because the Space Invaders hardware was bonkers. And now the Space Invaders Quarter Arcade is bonkers in miniature. Doubtless pedants will gripe – “The coin door should have been in a different shade of metal!” – but to me this cab feels wonderful. It’s like the original in a way no emulated take or remake I’ve ever played is.

Moreover, youngling me could never have imagined actually owning a Space Invaders cab. And I still don’t – but this is the next best thing. It’s a great reminder the classics are classics for a reason, and when I forget that, it’s probably because I’m not experiencing them in the best way. It’s also the one retro gadget I’d rescue from my house if real space invaders descended. Which would be ironic – doubly so if I then ran into the street and bumped into a trundling tank with a vertical turret that reloads infuriatingly slowly. Still, at least I’d be ready for them now.

Space Invaders Quarter Arcade is available from Numskull. A unit was provided for review. But I’d have bought one if it hadn’t been. Five invaders out of five rating. Etc.

Profile image of Craig Grannell Craig Grannell Contributor


I’m a regular contributor to Stuff magazine and Stuff.tv, covering apps, games, Apple kit, Android, Lego, retro gaming and other interesting oddities. I also pen opinion pieces when the editor lets me, getting all serious about accessibility and predicting when sentient AI smart cookware will take over the world, in a terrifying mix of Bake Off and Terminator.

Areas of expertise

Mobile apps and games, Macs, iOS and tvOS devices, Android, retro games, crowdfunding, design, how to fight off an enraged smart saucepan with a massive stick.

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