Hey Harvey!

Posted on Apr 16th 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Legends Gamer Pro

For us gamers who grew up between the 70s and the 90s, arcade machines often have a special place in our hearts.  Fast forward to now, and there's never been a better time for fans of retro arcade games!  For years (in some cases, even decades) some of these were only accessible to a few surviving arcades and those with decent computer know-how.  As a teen, I couldn't imagine that my adult self would be able to literally go to a Walmart and buy a slightly scaled-down version of the four-player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cab.

Naturally there are purists who will only tolerate original or as close as possible reproductions, but for most of us that is simply not practical, if indeed even possible.  Custom PC arcade builds have largely transformed into custom Raspberry Pi builds, and for the DIY person with the time and resources this is generally considered the best option.  There is also the ever-growing community effort to hack previous generation consoles into emulation machines to run a variety of older consoles including arcade machines.

But what about folks who do not have the tech savvy for these options?  What about those of us who do not live in a warehouse or single-story living space and thus could not house arcade cabs or custom setups even if we could afford them?  What about those who may have the ability but just not the time to delve too far into such things?  For those folks, as well as the younger gamers caught in the enthusiasm of retro-arcade options, a new market in gaming has blossomed over the last several years.

There are relevant criticisms of the modern wave of arcade-at-home options, yet it is still difficult to overemphasize how amazing it is to be living in a time where there is even a competitive market for such at all.  From Arcade1Up's cabinets, to Dreamcade's bartop mini-cabs, to all-in-one joystick builds such as the Capcom Home Arcade and the NeoGeo Arcade Stick Pro, there are dozens of options beyond downloading a rom on a computer or gaming console.

As a physical game collector, my interest in these devices is a bit of a mixed bag. I'm a gamer first and foremost, so any way to play more games is generally a good thing in my book.  The main reasons I prefer physical copies rather than digital downloads is the ability to preserve games as long as possible, to be able to loan them, display them, and (perish the thought) even sell them if necessary.  (As a side note the recent discussion of Sony's discontinuing PS3, PSP, and Vita online stores, as well as the discovery of dead PS3 and PS4 CMOS batteries effectively bricking the system, is really hurting the "collect physical" vibe and I'll likely dive into this in later articles.)

Since most of these aforementioned arcade-game playing devices are basically emulation machines running roms, they fit into a weird in-between category for me.  I don't consider any of them part of "The Collection" per se, but simply fun toys with which to play around.  Accordingly, I don't spend much on them; my neat Arcade1Up Tempest (er, actually Asteroids) cab with an upgraded spinner cost me less than the collector's edition of Halo 3.  I'm not saying some of these arcade-at-home options aren't worth the original asking price, but like any video game their value is subjective.

For the last few years I'd had my eye out for a Pandora's Box kit.  If found for the right price, it seemed a perfect fit for me; thousands of old arcade games I'd enjoy, a two-player setup, upgradeable buttons and sticks, and easy mobility.  I knew several inferior clones could fool the unaware, and every time I almost bit the bullet something kept me from grabbing one.

Then I learned of this interesting contraption:

Pretty much everyone was skeptical at first given AtGames' prior record of abysmal hardware and emulation attempts, but in a bit of a bizarre twist these arcade units are generally highly praised.  For a more casual arcade-type guy like me this seems perfect; a decent build quality, a reasonable price, two sets of six buttons, two spinners, a trackball, hundreds of built-in games, and the ability to add more!  Honestly I still do pine for one.   However, between recent fiscal realities and a current lack of a good place to put an arcade cab, this will have to wait.

And then I learned of the subject of this article; an all-in-one joystick version of the Legends Ultimate Arcade, called the Legends Gamer Pro. 

This mostly removed two of the bigger obstacles for me; it is much cheaper and much easer to put somewhere in the house.  (It also removes the spinners, so my Tempest cab is not completely obsolete.)  Some research confirmed this alternative looked pretty much like what I wanted, so I kept an eye out.  Low and behold, through patience and vigilance I snagged one for under a hundred bucks and free shipping, and after a few weeks it arrived.  By now I've sunk some time into it and let some friends and family have a go, and here are my overall thoughts:

As far as first impressions, this is still not a small device and considering it has pinball buttons on each side (and I use the USB on the back) and thus three sides that shouldn't bump into things, it isn't the easiest thing to set aside and store safely; you really need a dedicated space.  It is important to create a comfortable place to set or mount it, unless you are as fortunate as I am and have a cute girl to sit next to you while the Legends Gamer Pro rests on your laps.  For the solo player or less intimate second player, having a table or stand is important.  The heft of the thing feels about right to me; not crushingly heavy but not ultra-cheap feeling.  The sticks feel good and the buttons responsive and clicky.  The trackball feels... ok.  Not the smoothest, but fairly responsive.  I'm a Centipede fan and it feels better than the older home accessories I have, but certainly not as good as a well-maintained official cab.  I was thrilled to see that light gun arcade games such as Space Gun support the trackball, so while it isn't the same as a light gun it is much better than trying to use the joystick.  I plan on picking up a third-party shim kit for the trackball when I'm brave enough to open it up.  Rounding out the build discussion, literally, involves a small plastic puck that actually has the guts of the thing and is designed to be plugged into the controller via USB or wirelessly with bluetooth.  It has a nifty glow ring I'd have instantly traded for an on/off feature (the only option is to unplug the thing.)  The puck is an extra annoyance and frankly I'd have preferred the whole kit in one piece, but c'est le vie.

One of my biggest concerns, and one that pre-purchase research yielded little information on, was the input lag.  I'm happy to report that it seems present but minimal.  While the stick itself can run on a built-in battery and use bluetooth to be completely wireless, to reduce lag and not worry about charging I opted to use a USB cord to connect the stick to the puck.  While I don't have actual arcade cabs to compare or a way to test frames, my off-the-cuff impression is much like the modern mini-consoles; a slight input lag that can be generally compensated for and often is even forgotten after awhile.  So not perfect, but since no-one who will be playing ours (except me) would probably even know to look for it, and and at this point I'm not exactly leaderboard-chasing material, overall I think it's fine.

As for setup, if you just want to play the included 150 or so games out of the box everything is super simple  (although the included one-foot HDMI cable is rather laughable.)  A firmware update is highly recommended and even necessary for some advanced features such as streaming and the online services, and putting in a WiFi password with a joystick is as annoying as it sounds.  There are a ton of future-proofing features involving a paid-download gaming service, virtual pinball, linking to a PC, and other stuff I personally have no interest in but will make this system more attractive to those who do.

The most important feature for me is the BYOG expandability.  Using the CoinX interface, we now have about 1,700 arcade games loaded up and so far and almost all of them we've tried work great!  It has been a blast playing some old favorites that never had a console release, eclectic titles we never heard of, or games we always wanted to try.  This really is what I hoped for; an easy solution to play a bunch of arcade games with friends without spending a fortune or taking up another room of the house.  For our purposes the Legends Gamer Pro is close to perfect.

Do I recommend it to anyone else?  Depends.  First, as mentioned I managed to snag the Pro version for less than what the single-stick Mini version goes for, and for that price it was hard to go wrong.  At full MSRP (over $200) it is a bit less enticing as there are many other competitive options.  If you are not planning on adding games, the value is mostly tied to the built-in 150 games, and that list will completely determine if it would be worth it.  If you are wanting a hardcore competitive setup to 1CC arcade shmups, this may not be the best option.  If you are like us and want an easy way to enjoy pre-2000 arcade games alone, co-op, or as a party machine, if you catch a good sale I'd say it's well worth it.  I have a feeling ours will see lots of time sunk into it, not to mention our intention to bring it to our upcoming Autism and Gaming Convention.

Speaking of which, that seems a perfect reason to pick up that full-on Legends Ultimate Arcade Cab.  For the convention, of course...


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This is the kind of thing that is a hard sell for me. At this point, I don't have room for a unit like this, so it's a non-starter, as long as I'm living in an apartment. If I got into another house, it would make more sense to me, as someone with the technical savvy you mentioned, to go the MiSTer or Pi route (or both), or possibly a combination of that, and a PC/MAME type of setup. But I appreciate the dive into it, and I think it could be useful for someone on the fence.
Yeah, I understand where you're coming from. The price I snagged ours for was worthwhile as an already put-together setup, especially with a decent controller set.  I still love the techie-tinkering element, but just so little time for it these days...

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