For the serious consumer only, The Pac-Man Smash 4-Person Arcade Air Hockey Table clocks in at a jaw-dropping £15,997 putting it firmly in the company of products routinely classed as elite. Minor price-induced palpitations aside though, this beast of an air hockey table has a lot to offer, provided you enjoy a bit of conspicuous consumption.
Designed for four players, Pac-Man Smash is all about redefining the boundaries of air hockey. Although the game starts with a single puck and classic rules, the table periodically scatters dozens of mini-pucks across the gaming area, worth ten points each sparking a frantic battle for points among the players which is either enjoyable or confusing, depending on how much attention you’ve been paying. Basically, it’s a form of air hockey plus a high-octane barrage of entertainment probably designed with college students in mind, that trades in our cultural ADD to create something almost guaranteed to leave your head spinning.
On a machine this complex, there seems little point in going into the technical specs, as almost no-one reading this will understand them. So, from a purely practical perspective, what does the price include? Four bats, a complete set of pucks, a complex electronic scoring system and speakers designed to make as much noise as physically possible are all part of the deal, along with free mainland UK delivery and installation. A word on the free delivery: north of Glasgow, West Wales and Devon and Cornwall sit outside the free delivery zone, despite being indisputably part of mainland UK. Having just shelled out a minimum wage worker’s entire annual salary on what is, essentially, a toy, you might be forgiven for thinking you were entitled to free delivery even if you lived in Outer Mongolia; however, looked at another way, an extra £100 or so is unlikely to mean very much to you anyway. The table also comes backed by a manufacturer’s guarantee, meaning no additional warranty costs.
At the end of the day then, we have a loud, noisy and expensive slice of arcade fun that very few will be able to afford, at least for home use. We suspect that the majority of customers will be owners of pool halls, arcades, entertainment complexes and bowling alleys for whom the product doubtless represents a worthwhile investment. There’s no denying that the video of gameplay is fun, or that sugar-hyped kids and buzzing college students will be drawn to it with a kind of ecstatic inevitability. For those few who are planning to install it in their rec-room or in the kids play area, the initial outlay is so monumental that we suspect you’re already used to this kind of conspicuous consumption, and won’t be fazed by other considerations. To put it another way: this is a product with an in-built and very-exclusive market; and we doubt anything we say will shape their decision one way or another.
For the rest of us, The Pac-Man Smash 4-Person Arcade Air Hockey Table looks like a fun way to while away an afternoon one we can imagine with the same earnestness that our parents used to picture themselves inhabiting the expensive houses featured in fantasy-fulfilling property programmes on TV. Because that’s all it will ever represent: a distant, harmless fantasy. Still, it’s nice to pretend, even for a second, that we could afford something as fundamentally playful as this game to end all other kids games.