For a full image gallery from my visit to The Heart of Gaming, please visit our Facebook page and give us a "Like" while you are there!
Since contributing for GoPlayThat and leaning into some retro coverage, there has been a hole in my heart that is difficult to fill here in Madrid. There are practically no arcade machines in sight. Granted, you may stumble upon a Sega Rally cabinet in a shopping centre, but since "Picadilly Arcade" closed down here, there is not a dedicated arcade around. (Side note, the Picadilly in Madrid was loosely modelled on the old Sega World/Trocadero in London).
During a short visit back in London recently, my wife and I made a concerted effort to visit as many arcades as we could, in knowledge that the joystick scene is still thriving in our old city. Alas, many of my old haunts were either a shadow of their former selves, or dead completely (RIP Goodge Street Casino).
Rather than mope and reminisce about arcades lost, I want to celebrate a few of the gems I did get the opportunity to enjoy. First up is The Heart of Gaming in North Acton, or "The HoG" as its fans call it. Yes, I said fans. The HoG's existence is a little hard to avoid on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Constantly alight with meetup plans and events, The HoG is a gaming Mecca for folks back home.
In truth, The HoG is less of an arcade and more of a gaming community. There are a range of finely maintained fighting, light-gun, racing and retro machines (my wife was excited to see Donkey Kong up and running). There were also some cult oddities such as Fighting Mania: Fist of the North Star.
While the variety and quality of the machines here are excellent, what really makes The HoG special are the people. A friendly greeting at the main entrance by a staff member makes you aware that in the back room, there is a console area and should you choose to take any game back there, you merely have to ask. Pretty much every mainstream console from the NES onwards is available to play, with a huge collection available to choose from.
Frequent visitors to The HoG seem more than happy to give you a few rounds on Street Fighter III: Third Strike, Street Fighter Alpha 3 or King of the Fighters '97, but in the back room, Street Fighter IV was clearly the order of the day. Delivered pizza boxes and bloodshot eyes were evidence of hardcore players anchoring down for the day and honing their craft among friends and fellow Londoners alike. There was some fierce Mario Kart 64 competition going on in the "Nintendo Lounge" too.
If I was to ever end up in London again, I'd definitely want to integrate myself into The HoG's community. There are some cool sounding events, such as Third Strike tournaments that I would love to take part in and it felt really cool to be surrounded by people who are so invested in this kind of gaming atmosphere.
Entry to Heart of Gaming varies day-to-day between £5-10 per person and all machines are free to play from that point onwards. If you wish to leave and come back, they will give you a wristband. For more information on The Heart of Gaming, visit their Facebook page now!