Joining an ever-growing list of dating sims for the Switch, Arcade Spirits is a visual novel that imagines a world in which the video game crash of 1983 never happened. Arcades are more popular now than they’ve ever been, and technology has come on leaps and bounds. Despite this, the protagonist makes a point to mention that nothing else has changed all that much; internet trolls are still annoyingly prevalent, pro-gamer celebs are abundant, and flying cars sadly don't exist.
You play as a new starter in the popular Funplex arcade, where you’ll be meeting a handful of unique characters, all of which are completely viable romantic partners. Everything from your character’s pronoun to hair colour is customisable when you start your story, which is a nice addition to a genre that rarely features custom characters. We’d have liked a few more options here such as different clothing items and accessories, but we’ll take it as it is.
At the start of the story, you’re prompted by your roommate to download a mobile app called Iris, a life coach in the form of a fully-3D woman that pops right out of your phone’s screen. Iris convinces your character to take the plunge and apply for the role at Funplex, but in terms of how it works in the game as a whole, Iris allows you to pick from multiple dialogue choices as you’re interacting with the various characters, with each choice linked to a specific character trait. These are clearly displayed, so you'll always know what kind of response you'll be giving.
The game is fairly lighthearted overall, so there’s never really any danger of picking the ‘wrong’ dialogue option when you're interacting with the characters, and you can quite deliberately curate the interactions in order to achieve your own desired outcome. What’s nice as well is that you don’t have to pursue anyone romantically in the game at all if you don’t want to - you can just go with the flow and make some fairly eccentric friends as you get to grips with working in the arcade.
The game naturally funnels you along its narrative, so there’s rarely any opportunity to deviate from its given path, but there are plenty of instances where you can pick which of the available characters you’d like to interact with. All in all, you’re looking at good 5 or 6 hours worth of gameplay, and there are of course multiple endings to encounter along with varying choices throughout the experience, if you wish to play through it again.
There are plenty of characters to get to know during your time in Funplex; a couple of our favourites include the bubbly technician Naomi and competitive gamer QueenBee. The writing and dialogue is decent for the most part, and there are plenty of lines that will bring a smile to your face. The story leans more into comedy territory than it does the romance genre, which will no doubt help lure in those who might enjoy visual novels, but perhaps aren’t quite as keen on dating sims.
It’s a shame, then, that the voice acting isn’t up to scratch in comparison to the writing. Certain characters, like Iris, sound great, but there are others that really pull you out of the experience with their over-the-top tone and delivery. In addition, the audio in general - if playing in handheld mode - is really quiet, even when you crank up the volume to maximum. We’re hoping a patch comes in to solve this, because we really like the calm, ambient music and would love to be able to actually hear it.
Visually though, Arcade Spirits is a treat. The cartoon characters are incredibly unique and are absolutely bursting with visual quirks; you’ll very quickly gravitate towards your favourites in no time. These contrast nicely with the more painterly quality of the environments which, while static, convey the atmosphere of the time period perfectly. Some design decisions are a bit odd; so for example, given that the setting imagines a world in which video game arcades are thriving and holographic phone screens are a thing, we would’ve liked to have seen a more bold sci-fi vision to accompany this. Instead, the arcade looks very much like one from your own childhood, and the game frequently leans into these more nostalgic elements a little too heavily.
Arcade Spirits is a niche title that will nevertheless find its audience thanks to some great writing and a very inclusive selection of diverse characters to interact with. While there are a few flaws in the sound design area, including some poor voice work and an overall low volume output, the gameplay is engaging and the plot intriguing, making this the perfect choice if you're after a fun, lighthearted experience or a well-written gaming nostalgia trip.