Game Room is a blast from the past....and an unsavory hole in your wallet.
The Game Room starts off as merely a budding, empty shell---in which you are given the sole responsibility to build into an actual arcade. As of this writing, the companies lending their backlog are Activision, Atari, Konami and Intellivision. You might be scratching your head as to why Activision and Intellivision are suddenly writing their own arcade histories, as they have no such experience in the coin-op reverie; only home consoles. But for those who enjoyed the Intellivision's archaic number keypad and/or the Atari 2600's one-button joystick (which hosts the Activision software), it's a fairly nice touch anyhow. Many of the selections found therein are mostly games you've probably never heard of (i.e. Major Havoc, Liberator and Scooter Shooter) while others are more of the popular offerings (i.e. Asteroids, Shaolin's Road, Centipede and Scramble). A decent mix to be sure, but it could have been more meaningful if game companies that have had experience in the arcade market (i.e. Capcom, Taito, Sega and Namco) signed on to lend their backlogs.
And building your perfect arcade will put a not-so-perfect damper on your wallet. The Game Room application itself is a free download, but each game cabinet costs roughly $3 (240 points each), and there are some games included in the deal that you might already be able to play on your 360 Dashboard (i.e. Time Pilot, Scramble and Ye Ar Kung Fu are available in the Marketplace). You don't even get a free arcade game to start you off. What's worse, purchasing arcade cabinets are the only means to progress in your personal player level and earn achievements. Furthermore, if you have the Game Room software on your Windows-based PC, you can spend even more Microsoft points to upgrade games to be played on both your PC and Xbox 360, which is rather pointless. If you want to try these games before you buy, you're able to do so, but you only get one free chance and a limited window of time; afterwards, you'll have to spend tokens for bonus plays. (Tokens are earned through specific fulfillments like friends visiting your arcade, etc.) Having to spend money in such a frequency is disheartening, but if you insist on a fully stocked arcade, you will at least take some comfort in knowing that these purchases are relatively cheaper than the offerings found in the Marketplace---even though it doesn't really change the fact that you're still using points.
The Game Room itself has got three floors with four rooms each---the rooms themselves can hold up to eight arcade cabinets; for a grand total of 96 different arcade games. Each room can be retrofitted with a different theme; ranging from a Wild West theme, to a haunted house and even an icy arctic field. You can place decorative items in these rooms like mock soda machines, a radio, lamps and ghost props; among other things. By fulfilling the three conditions required of each game that you purchase (ranked by bronze, silver and gold medals) you will earn points towards a personal player Level that, needless to say, grows for as long as you spend time in your arcade and play the games skillfully, but only if you get as high as Gold for each category (i.e., garnering a specific number of points, surviving as long as possible and spending a certain amount of time with a game) The higher your level goes, the more exclusive items and themes you can unlock and the greater your chances at those much-coveted, retro master bragging rights.
For each and every game you purchase for your Game Room, there are two modes of play. The Classic Mode is pretty self-explanatory; giving you the opportunity to play the games as is---right down to inserting a virtual token (or two, or three). DIP Switches and video options can be played around with as well. However, if you're looking to earn the Survival and Score medals in addition to nabbing a place in the Online Leaderboards, Ranked Mode is the way to go, but you only get one credit and cannot configure game options. Unfortunately, at this point in time, none of the games offer any sort of online two-player (co-op or otherwise), which is disappointing seeing how its inclusion would have greatly benefitted the package further. What you can do instead is send challenges to your buddies (those who also have Game Rooms) to see if they can beat a score in a particular game (both participants must have the same game), or accept their challenges and have your Avatar perform a cute little taunt to rub it in their faces when you beat it. It's not really a well-enough substitute for competitive two player skirmishes, but to some degree, it's a nice enough feature regardless.
The visual style of Game Room is a vibrant colorful showcase with all the noisy sounds of a traditional arcade (and none of the popcorn smell and busted buttons) And if you've got a lot of Xbox Live Friends, you'll see some of their Avatars carousing around in your personal retro castle, playing games for a few seconds before moving on to another machine. If you don't, you'll see generic Avatars that represent the likenesses of Game Room's development team (Krome Studios). It's a pretty interesting kick to watch your Avatar buddies taking a gander at the machines; even if their real-life counterparts aren't necessarily into stuff like that. And what's more; if you are playing an intense game of Asteroids and you're getting good with the digits, Avatars will start crowding around you and cheering you on; implicating the feel of actually being in an arcade.
The overlying concept of Game Room is an interesting and unique one, but its execution could have used more time to develop. Only the purest of retro gamers stand to benefit the most out of the deal, but those unfamiliar with these games (or were not around during their initial run) might not embrace the package readily. It's safe to assume that both said categories will balk at the idea of having to dig into their wallets and coin purses to either architecturalize their dream arcade or simply fill the room with a healthy library of playable classics. Would it be worth the investment? That's for you and your wallet to decide.