Zaps: Retro Arcade Bar
Retro Arcade Bar | Coming to Bournemouth in 2018

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Pitching up with Nintendo's Unique 'Red Tent' Cab

Nintendo’s ‘thinking outside the box’ approach to design is what makes the company so, well.. Nintendo. It’s an ethos that has lead to runaway success stories such as the Wii and the Switch. Conversely it has also created misfires like the Virtual Boy and the Wii U (ooh controversial),

This maverick approach is nothing new for Nintendo. Back in the eighties they designed an arcade cab called the 'Red Tent' which looked like nothing else around at the time. We were quite confident with our cumulative knowledge of all things retro arcade gaming but the Red Tent was a new and unique discovery for us, we had to check it out further.

Following the success of Donkey Kong and Mario Bros, Nintendo released a new arcade machine format called the VS System. It was an arcade cab that worked like a home console. A library of games were available that could be swapped out by arcade operators with minimal cost and fuss. The VS system came in two flavours, the VS. Unisystem and the VS. Dualsystem. The Unisystem consisted of one monitor and two controllers for 2 player games. Far more interesting was the Dualsystem setup which featured dual monitors and four sets of controls allowing up to four players to take part. The two screens could run two seperate games or make use of the titles that allowed for four player matches eg. VS. Tennis or VS. Basketball. To add more variety to the mix the Dualsystem was also available in a 'traditional' upright model and a unique sit down variant where players would sit either side of the unit with their own screen to play from. Thanks to the eye catching colour and design of this unit it would over time adopt the name of ‘Red Tent’.

Whilst it was squarely aimed at the arcades the VS system was actually a cunning ploy by Nintendo to sow the seeds for their upcoming NES home console (due for release in 1985).  The video game crash of 1983 had resulted in a saturated market point for home consoles. Nintendo was prepped to release the NES but the potential lack of customer uptake was a concern. The titles available for the VS system were essentially pre-NES games. Arcade gamers became familiar with titles such as Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt prior to their home release on the NES. The ability to play arcade quality games at home sealed the deal for consumers across America and the NES went on to become a huge success.  

With the games on the Red Tent predating their NES counterparts there are differences to note between the two versions. A key example is Super Mario Bros (which features in our very own Red Tent unit), the Red Tent version is MUCH harder when compared to the NES port thanks to fewer power ups and more enemies. It also features what Nintendo aficionados refers to as ‘The Lost Levels’.

In recent years the Red Tent has become a hot find for hardcore collectors. The games themselves have also become extremely collectible with some proving to be very elusive. Our own unit will feature 'VS. Super Mario Bros' and 'Vs. Castlevania', a line up that we are very happy with. We can't wait for you guys to come check it out once we are open. 

The images above are not our own Red Tent, at the time of writing we are waiting for it to arrive in the Zaps workshop. A big thanks to 'Captain96' who allowed us to use the images above from his fantastic gallery on Reddit

Paul Carr