The controller, while nicely constructed, is not the star of this package, at least not in my opinion. What is unique about NextArcade is their ever-growing collection of games, all integrated and managed through the Next Arcade Desktop Manager.
An integrated system for trying and buying games, the Desktop Manager provides you with a single interface for downloading demos, buying and playing games, even obtaining updates and communicating with fellow Next Arcade game players.
The NextArcade Desktop Manager is a web-based application, and requires an active Internet connection when it is running. From the side menu you can play your installed games, browse and download demos, and more. It's a very nice integrated system for managing games.
The "games launcher" portion of the game manager lists both your purchased games and the installed demos. The demos are time-limited, giving you one free hour of gameplay. I think this is a great way to handle demos, as it allows you to explore more a game than a demo that's limited to just one level.
The games manager is nice, but is still a little rough around the edges. The beta version of the software I tested is an early version and some features were not yet implemented, such as the "child lock" feature. It's a promising start, and the Games Manager was stable and useful even though it isn't completely finished. I look forward to seeing how the software evolves and matures.
NextArcade has a fairly impressive lineup of games: about forty at the time of this review, with more games showing up weekly. They're a good mix of sports games, shoot-em-ups, puzzle games, and more.
Unfortunately, not all of the games are designed for use with the NextArcade control panels, and that means you'll need to use a standard keyboard/mouse combo once in a while. This is a bit disappointing, but the games are quite good nevertheless.
There are some truly unique games here: many have been bouncing around for a while on the Net as shareware games, but others seem to be exclusive to NextArcade. The quality level of the games is also a bit uneven: while there are some "instant classics" in the mix, there are also a few, well, duds. Luckily, all of the games can be played as demos before you purchase them.
Like the Games Manager software, the games catalog will continue to grow: I know that TLC Industries is negotiating with several big gaming companies, and the NextArcade system will continue to add new games to their lineup.
Evangelizing the Arcade
One of the more interesting aspects of TLC's efforts with NextArcade is their "evangelism" program for encouraging new arcade game development. TLC has reached out to colleges and art schools, working with each campus to encourage students to code new arcade-style games.
If you think about it, this is a great idea: an arcade game is usually easier to create than today's massive 3D games, and yet it is a chance for a programming student to really show off their programming skills and creativity and create something fun at the same time. Plus, if the game's really good it will become part of the NextArcade lineup, earning the aspiring programmer some money for their efforts as well!
Already there are a few student games included in the NextArcade lineup. These games are part of the "Full Sail Student Showcase", highlighting the collaboration of TLC Industries and the Full Sail School of Film, Art, Design, Music, and Media Production.
I appreciate the fact that TLC is not simply looking to track down arcade-styled games that are already out there, but is also working to ensure that new, original arcade games will continue to be developed.
The NextArcade program is a concept that really does appeal to me: a source of brand new arcade-style games. As much as I love emulators and the "arcade classics," a source of new arcade games is a much needed breath of fresh air in an increasingly stagnant genre.
The NextArcade hardware ranges in price from $99 for the base joystick/button controller, all the way up to $3,400 for the 27" arcade cabinet system. The NextArcade games are available for individual purchase at about $20 a game, or you can join the NextArcade "Games Club" for $84 a year (roughly $6.95 a month), which gives you a free control panel and discounted prices on games as well as monthly specials and other goodies.
Overall the NextArcade program is off to a very good start, and while there are a few rough edges, the sheer promise of the program has me very excited. If you're getting tired of playing Pac-Man over and over, check out NextArcade: it's just the ticket for the arcade enthusiast looking for something new.