08/11/2021

๐Ÿ•น️ NQ64 Cardiff | Arcade Bar | "A Real High Point For Gamers in Cardiff (and Yes It Has Point Blank 2 and Wrestlefest !!)" ๐Ÿ•น️ #Arcade #RetroGaming #Cardiff #NQ64

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https://nq64.co.uk/cardiff/

Long have I and my friends dreamed of a decent arcade bar in Cardiff, and finally, that dream is now a high-score (and gaming-themed cocktail) fuelled fantasy!

That’s not to say there aren’t other places available in town, The Arcade Vaults is a great and chilled place to hang out, and there is also the Good Game Cafe, which does great snacks and holds various gaming tournaments, with a raft of PCs and a handful of retro consoles to tuck into as well as more modern fare.

What has been missing though - is a BAR, somewhere that is open well into the wee hours that you can arrange to meet up without booking in advance and has music and a plentiful amount of saucy games to dive into.

Yes, there’s KONGS bar on the same street, but that really feels like a missed opportunity - a place where the machines are over-priced, sparse and often in need of attention.

With branches in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Edinburgh, this new NQ64 Cardiff location looks to be a keeper of a place that is hopefully here to stay.

I first visited an NQ64 back in 2018, @kingdomofcarts and I were in Manchester for the Play Expo there and after the first day at the event, we wandered off with a group to get into some arcade action and the atmosphere, cool underground location and selection of cabinets on offer had us both wishing there was something similar in our home town of Cardiff.

Oddly, my overriding memory of that time was texting Top Hat Gaming Man and Lady Decade - who were thinking of heading over - to warn them that they would NEVER be able to get a pram down those stairs, also - the locations are all 18+, which is worth noting.

When I began following NQ64 on social media months back as the Cardiff location was being announced, the excitement in my group of friends was almost palpable. We had been disillusioned by KONGS - a place where the arcade cabinets feel more ornamental than practical - and having a place we could all meet up and also celebrate birthdays etc. with a load of cocktails was a good image to hold in our minds.

As the opening grew closer, three members of the crack team at The Mighty Games Freezer (myself, Max Score and Semi-Retired Rupert) headed in for the pre-opening party and we had what the Aztecs referred to as ‘a bloody good time’.

On St. Mary’s Street situated next to cocktail bar Be At One, NQ64 cuts a pretty understated profile, a cordoned-off smoking area and a couple of bouncers outside with a mostly black facade and a stylish ‘NQ64’ sign hint as to the gold inside. The location is perfect in terms of public transport, accessibility, foot traffic and - most importantly - distance from my home.

There’ll clearly be some people on weekends who bumble in completely battered from places like Walkabout (NQ64 is open from 12pm to 2am) that probably ‘aren’t the target demographic’, but the presence of bouncers will be a great deterrent to anyone that messes around with the machines or is causing problems from just being too hammered. They’ve clearly had the experience of this from their other, existing branches throughout the UK, which is a comforting thought.

Time for a flyby! Walking in, NQ64 makes a great first impression - on the left are some caged consoles set up underneath flat-screen TVs that have Everdrives and the like with multiple games ready to rock, these are free to play and it was an area that we returned to a few times throughout the evening, as each system became free. In this area, there were Mega Drive, Super Nintendo, PlayStation One, N64 and GameCube consoles. Towards the end of the night, I - naturally - tried to squeeze in a few holes on PGA Golf Tour 2 on the MD, but the cartridge must have needed a quick blow-on and I was denied my inevitable 18 consecutive hole-in-ones.

Over to the right, there are a few machines lined up - Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat 2, Street Fighter 2 (this is probably as far as my GF colleague Lee will ever get inside NQ64), Star Wars and Tekken Tag Tournament (Hwoarang all day long, babe) and just a few steps up from this are Time Crisis 2, Rambo and Terminator 2: Judgement Day as well as two pinball machines - Batman (2005) and Game of Thrones.

Beyond the three light-gun titles and on the right are a series of four-person booths with the all-important bar adjacent. Just before a couple of steps up (there is a collapsible ramp available for wheelchair users) there is the 4-player Simpsons arcade game and down a little nook facing this are Golden Axe, Track & Field, Robocop, Bubble Bobble and Crazy Taxi. Up the steps and to the left are Space Invaders and Donkey Kong - the toilets are past these - whereas on the right you’ll find full sit-down cabinets of a two-player Mario Kart and a 4-player linked Outrun 2. Opposite these is the most important game in the place - Point Blank 2.

Moving towards the back of the building now, you’ll find a Dancing Stage Euromix 2, Asteroids, Wrestlefest (good) and a separate room for either Rock Band or Guitar Hero (we didn’t go in there as it was busy, apologies!).

As you can see from the above, there’s a nice mix of machines available and the free to play consoles have various brawlers, shooters and the like to cover off any genres that tickle your fancy. Each machine has a small table tucked next to/between them for drinks, so there’s always a place to pop down your pint as you have another crack at getting past the title screen on Robocop.

The Bar area is really nice and wide - with the booths being a nice touch. Most pints and bottles hover around the £5 mark which - whilst expensive - is good in my eyes, as it’ll hopefully price-out people just coming in to get booming drunk on the cheap - and not gaming, I’d rather pay a premium for a pint and be in a place that feels relaxed and surrounded by like-minded patrons, plus, these are craft lagers and ales, not Foster’s and Carling. There is a selection of quite unique cocktails available which are video-game themed but aren’t just re-named typical drinks. It’s clear that some thought has gone into these as well as some mixologist skills as the Blanka and Mad Max that I tried were well-made, unique and very tasty. The actual bar itself is made of hundreds of NQ64 tokens sealed under glass which looks awesome, quite frankly.

Now is a good time to talk tokens, actually. It’s £7 for 15 tokens, and the upright cabinets are 1 token each, whilst the light-gun games and sit-down racers are two tokens - again, the Everdrive consoles are free, so you could quite comfortably grab a drink and chill out there for a while, which is cool. We worked out that with three of us having 15 tokens each, pottering around, taking it in turns and sipping pints with some multiplayer action comfortably lasted us over 90 minutes of entertainment before we even got to the free play stuff, so it’s great value for money.

The vibe and decor of the place really live up to the pictures on Instagram that the NQ64 PR team have uploaded, the neon-splattered luminous paint, blacklight and gaming murals are gorgeous and the lighting, volume and choice of music feel perfect. Every picture you take on your phone looks great, it’s a fun atmosphere and the staff were friendly, knowledgeable and instantly on the case when issues arose such as the Outrun 2 machine needing an extra button press to get the credits present on one machine. 

From our visit, NQ64 looks to be a real high point for gamers in Cardiff and the only real concerns we had would have to be assessed down the line and relate to the speed of fixing mechanical faults, rotation of machines and the like.

It does feel like they are missing a vertical shooter - such as 1943 - to get some high score challenges going on between groups of friends and it’s quite plain that some machines such as The Simpsons, Terminator 2: Judgement Day or Robocop could be replaced with better – and more importantly, replayable - examples of the genre, but again - we would need to see how they deal with freshening things up in a year or so to keep the interest up for regular customers.

Right, I’m off to try and beat Rupert’s high score of 22950 on Pac-Man.


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