Eight of the best Hong Kong classic video game arcades – ratings, how to find them and what to play
Xbox and PlayStation have driven Hong Kong’s video arcades underground, literally. We trawl the city’s basements (and occasionally upstairs), where games such as Virtua Tennis, Street Fighter and Rambo are still being played
Video game arcades were a part of everyday life for those who grew up in Hong Kong in the 1990s. After school, youngsters would sneak into town and hit up one of dozens of venues scattered throughout the city.
Most of the arcades are gone now, victims of a massive industry that convinced us to put consoles machines in our homes, before charging us hundreds of dollars for games we’d only play once.
But there’s something about a classic games arcade that can’t be replicated at home. The atmospheric neon-lit spaces, the sheer variety, the immediate thrills, the camaraderie of strangers and friends. And for those willing to snake their way across our city, they can still be found in Hong Kong, although they’re not always easily located.
To help you out, we hit every corner of the city to put together for the definitive guide to Hong Kong’s surviving game arcades.
HONG KONG ISLAND
B/F, 1 Jubilee St, Central
Modern-day Central is a far cry from what it was in the late 1990s, which makes this arcade such a surprise. Like Mario entering a hallucinogenic world, nostalgia hit me as I shuffled down the stairs (these arcades are mostly in basements, by the way, although occasionally upstairs), as this was a spot we’d often visit as kids. Game Centre (yes, its name is “Game Centre”) hasn’t changed much: dark, grimy and vaguely smoke-filled (even though smoking has long been banned).
The games confounded me, though: there were some classics, but also some weirdly futuristic-looking ones.
Choice games: a retro selection for ’90s game fans, including Virtua Tennis and racer Battle Gear 4.
Rating: 4/5, mostly for its convenient location.
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Hong Kong City Game
B/F, 2-4 Marsh Rd, Wan Chai
Hopping a tram to Wan Chai, I spot a game centre sign that I’d been seeing for the past decade or so. And sure enough, Hong Kong City Game was still chugging along, a smoke-filled paradise of low-down fighters and age-old relics. A quick look-around revealed why this one had survived: the Street Fighter 4 machines went on as far as the eye could see, and this is apparently the go-to destination for international battles. I slotted in a couple of coins, selected my go-to fighter Dhalsim and immediately got trounced.
Choice games: Street Fighter mostly, but they have others including King of Fighters.
Rating: 3/5, only for dedicated fighter fans.
Silvercord Amusement & Games
B/F 30 Canton Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui
Over to the dark side we go – deep in the bowels of Canton Road, far below the mainlanders dropping wads of cash on Gucci and LV, is this strange little place. It’s not a great arcade: half of the games are old titles from the ’90s and early 2000s, and the rest are gambling machines. That’s the problem with modern-day “arcades” – most are now just fronts for a form of gambling, where our ageing denizens wager their cash on slot machines. Sad, really.
Choice games: if you’re here, definitely try Tokyo Bus Guide, in which you sit in a faux driver’s seat and bus people around the outskirts of Tokyo. Ridiculous.
Rating: 2/5, only if you’re in the area.
1/F, 5 Fa Yuen St, Mong Kok
Down a grimy side street and up a dark set of stairs is SmartGame. It’s small and the selection of games is limited. But the place is usually packed: this is seemingly the meeting group for a group of racing-game fanatics, and groups of up to six players were twisting wheels and slamming gears like they were driving real cars. I had a hell of a time racing shoulder to shoulder on Mario Kart and the Hong Kong-set level of Grid 2.
Choice games: a startling variety of racing games such as Mario Kart, Grid 2, Initial D and especially Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 5DX (really, that’s its name.)
Rating: 3/5, a place to race the night away.
B/F, 65 Argyle St, Mong Kok
Five arcades in, and I was ready for disappointment with GameZone, but a whole new world revealed itself – this Mong Kok arcade was the peak of my odyssey. It’s a massive space, filled with games of every conceivable type, classic fighters, racers and futuristic looking ones. I figured them out, too. They’re modern variations of music games Guitar Freaks and Beatmania, but these were next-level: I’m talking hologram visuals and every kid was wearing gloves to make themselves more aerodynamic (or something). I tried one out and failed miserably, consoling myself with some grooving on Dance Dance Revolution.
Choice games: anything music-based, the selection was astounding.
Rating: 5/5. The best of the best, by far.
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3/F 383 Plaza Hollywood, 3 Lung Poon St, Diamond Hill
I visited a few more Kowloon arcades, but this is the last one you want to know about. The rest were depression incarnate, with old folks gambling away in dirty rooms. The games at Hollywood Gamezone aren’t different from those at the arcades listed above, save one: Rambo. Yes, that ridiculous massive-screen shooter based on the terrible third film, on which the player mows down dozens of seedy Russians before bursting into “rage” mode. Brilliant.
Choice games: Rambo. that’s it.
Rating: 3/5, because of Rambo.
4/F Tsuen Wan City Landmark, 68 Chung On St, Tsuen Wan
Way out in Tsuen Wan, X-Land is a Narnia-like place accessed through the back of a service entrance in some squeaky-clean mall. Push through the innocuous looking door and a massive neon-lit arcade reveals itself, like Blade Runner meets Chuck E. Cheese. X-Land is easily Hong Kong’s biggest arcade, though not the best, but there’s a top-notch mix of classic arcade games, modern showcases and what I like to call “physical games”: those kid-friendly ones where you throw real basketballs or punch a real boxing bag.
Choice games: Jurassic Park, a car-shaped game in which you shoot dinosaurs, and Silent Scope, an almost sickeningly realistic sniper game.
Rating: 5/5, one of the best, but an effort to reach.
GameZone, Tsuen Wan
3/F, New Town Mall, 264 Castle Peak Road, Tsuen Wan
Another bizarre location, another massive games arcade. Tseun Wan’s GameZone was jam-packed with truant schoolkids and the obviously out-of-work. Most were on multiplayer games: Gundam especially, but also World Club Championship Football, which requires you to buy physical football player cards and then place them onto a chip-reading surface before controlling the players onscreen.
Confusing and no doubt expensive. I didn’t bother, and chose instead to relive my glory years on their emulator machines which are loaded with ’80s and ’90s classics.
Choice games: multiplayers, if you’re bold. Emulators if you’re not, with everything from Moonwalker to Final Fight.
Rating: 4/5. Not as good as its Mong Kok brethren, but right next to the MTR.