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Life is a Cabaret: Why Collectors Love Mini Arcade Cabinets

Updated: Oct 9, 2023


I came in to buy Crest for tooth decay but now I have the Pac-Man Fever

Arcade games are big, not just culturally speaking but as a physical object. As collectables, their sheer mass can make owning more than just a few difficult. These are large heavy objects for a good reason. Purpose designed as commercial machines, arcade video games need to withstand abuse from the public and be visible enough to passing patrons to garner attention. Titles allowing for co-op play, special controllers, or more elaborate design elements can require more real estate than the average title.


During the Arcade Golden Age (1978-1984), manufactures mostly offered titles in the basic cabinet configuration commonly known as an “full-size upright cabinet”. This is the standard gaming cabinet layout that most people will think of when picturing an arcade game in their minds. An upright is usually around six feet tall and roughly two feet wide, with a 19-inch a CRT monitor for viewing the action. Some titles were also offered in sit-down or cockpit versions for more emersion, or in a cocktail cabinet format allowing patrons to play Pac-Man (or whatever title) while eating pizza (or whatever) sitting in comfort. But a slightly more elusive cabinet style often spikes higher interest from collectors over these other styles, the mini or cabaret cabinet.

Phoenix mini by Centuri

What is a Mini or Cabaret Arcade Cabinet?

A mini (sometimes referred to as a cabaret) arcade game cabinet is just that, a smaller version of the full-sized upright cabinet release. A side-by-side comparison of a mini and upright of the same dedicated cabinet game title reveals a mini cabinet to be about 20%-35% smaller and about 75-125 pounds lighter. Some of the other ways a mini cabinet can differ from the standard upright release include:


- Mini cabinets on average tend to be about 18 to 24 inches shorter than an upright

- They are often also narrower in depth.

- Monitors are commonly smaller (but not always), with 13-inch CRT monitors being seen most often over a standard 19-inch CRTs in full size uprights.

- Cabinet artwork tends to be more subdued; many mini cabinets will have woodgrain sides instead of traditional side art.

- Mini’s often do not have top marquees (cabinets from Bally-Midway being the major exception), but marquees under the control panel.

- Some companies did not make marquees on mini cabinets light up like full size versions.

- Controllers or control panel layouts may be modified to accommodate their smaller size.

- Some more exotic cabinet elements such as mirrored monitor effects or elaborate bezels from the full-size upright versions will be missing or heavily simplified.


Many manufactures have their own name for mini cabinets (Cabaret, Trimline, etc.), but for simplicity we will refer to them all as minis for this article. Let’s take a gander at three examples of mini cabinets from three different companies during the Golden Age. Comparing these minis we can see how some manufactured modified features, the design of a game cabinet, or artwork to accommodate the smaller sizing of the mini over a full sized upright.

 

Is it "Quix" , "Kicks" or "Quicks" ?

Example 1: Taito’s Qix Mini

Full Size Game Size: 67x24x30 / 280 pounds Mini Size: 54x20x24 / 180 pounds

Rarity: Hard to find, collectors estimate about 150-250 were originally manufactured.


Our little mini Qix is a good example of how some mini cabinets don’t have to sacrifice too much to “go small”. Taito referred to their mini cabinet line as “Trimlines” and offered a decent number of their early 1980’s titles in this mini format. Taito’s Space Invaders in a mini form is rather common, but all other Taito titles offered as mini’s are scarce. Taito appears to have dropped the mini cabinet style after the release of Jungle King/Jungle Hunt.


The control panel changes very little for the mini in design or function

The upright cabinet version of Qix is a typical upright design, without any highly unique controllers or features. The sides on a full-size upright are adorned with generic Taito logos and some artistic striping. For the mini this is changed to a more subdued woodgrain veneer and no side artwork. The marquee is placed under the monitor on the mini, but the control layout pretty much remains the same with similar artwork to the full-sized upright cabinet. From a dimensional standpoint, the mini cab is about 20% smaller overall and over 100 pounds lighter.


The smaller monitor in the mini (a 13-inch compared to the full-sized cabinet’s 19-inch) probably is a decent amount of the weight savings. Qix still looks graphically fine on the smaller monitor. Overall, Qix translates well to the smaller cabinet and isn’t vastly different than the upright in overall presentation. Is it worth noting that Taito’s dedicated cocktail cabinets were adorned with some rather unusual top glass art unlike any of their other products.

 

Turbo's mini cab retains the upright's unique features

Example #2: Sega’s Turbo Mini

Full Size Game Size: 72x26x36 / 330 pounds. Mini Size: 60x21x24 / 190 pounds

Rarity: Very common, probably more than 2500 built


Turbo was a huge hit for Sega, so much that the mini cabinet design appeared after the initial release of the full-size upright and the cockpit cabinets to capitalize on its success. With the mini version of Turbo, Sega was able to take several of the unique features of the full-size upright and translate them into a smaller package with great success.


The upright version of Turbo is a beast of a cabinet, weighting over 300 pounds and standing 6 feet tall. The mini is a foot shorter, foot less deep, and 140 pounds lighter. Turbo uses a unique LCD numeric scoring which is moved to above the monitor on the mini, from the side of the monitor on both the upright and cockpit. Like most mini’s the monitor is smaller than the upright, along with a smaller steering wheel controller.

Turbo-Tastic!

Internally, Turbo has 3 printed circuit boards, large power supply, audio amplifier, along with a wiring harness that could be mistaken for spaghetti. Opening up the back of a mini Turbo cabinet one is easily struck by how cramped everything is inside of the smaller space compared to the upright or cockpit cabinet versions. This highlights one of the other challenges with going smaller from a technological standpoint. PCB’s can create a good bit of heat along with the power supply and CRT monitor. A cooling fan is in the top of this small cabinet, but compared to other mini cabinets internally Turbo is overall pretty crowded. Despite this, Sega was able to translate most of the unique upright cabinet design elements into a smaller package without too much sacrifice.

 

Pew pew!

Example #3: Atari’s Battlezone Mini

Full Size Game Size: 75 x 26 x 26 / 290 pounds. Mini Size: 55 x 21 x 24 / 185 pounds

Rarity: Atari made 2,000 mini cabinet versions and surviving examples are common


Compared to the first two mini cabinets we have discussed, Battlezone went through major design changes to fit into a smaller cabinet. First, the full-size upright is a large and heavy game, even when compared to other traditional upright cabinets of the era. Next, the large plastic periscope attached to the bezel on the full-sized cabinet (late in production full-sized uprights the periscope was axed) is missing, replaced with a simple piece of plexiglass. The upright also includes a boost step on the bottom front of the cabinet to help shorter players use the faux periscope. In addition, upright Battlezone machines use a mirrored monitor set up, so the monitor is facing up at the celling inside the cabinet. The mini version (Atari referred to all their mini cabinets as cabarets) have a slightly smaller (15-inch vs. 19-inch) black and white vector monitor facing straight towards the player, with color gel overlays (red and green) to mimic color, and a surrounding die-cut inner cardboard bezel with some illustrations.


Battlezone is a true classic

The two-axis joystick like grip controllers are the same as in the upright and operate the same as well. The cabinet sides are factory adorned with woodgrain laminate on the mini compared to the white sides with typical fantastic Atari artwork on the full-sized cabinet. However, side-art decals like the upright could be ordered from Atari of an operator chose. Despite the smaller cabinet, the interior isn’t particularly cramped for all the components. Vector monitor games such as Battlezone do have a repetition for getting a little hot inside, which might be why my personal example has an aftermarket fan someone installed well before my ownership. Regardless, Battlezone is a great example of how to transform titles with special features, sometimes major changes had to occur to work in a smaller cabinet size. I personally prefer the mini cabinet of Battlezone to the full-sized version due to its simplified presentation.


How Rare Are Minis?

Most major arcade game manufacturers offered mini cabinets during the Golden Age, but not for every title, and not for any predictable amount of time or production amount. The most often seen (or surviving) mini cabinets are those titles which had the largest production numbers. These are games such as Pac-Man (Bally-Midway), Centipede (Atari), and Space Invaders (Taito). It is possible for more obscure titles, say for example Blue Print by Bally-Midway or Polaris by Taito, mini cabinet examples where made specifically in an order on demand fashion.


Why Mini Cabinets Exist

A good debate could be had around both the origins and the reasonings behind these smaller cabinets. Before the first video arcade games (1971-1972-ish), many of the standardizations of video game arcade cabinet design can be traced back to electromechanical games. This includes the height, position of the playfield, positioning of the control panel, marquee, side art, and even the placement of the coin mechanism.


These folks are overdressed for this game

The standardization of video game cabinet design for the first decade was an evolutionary process. Cocktails became a predominate cabinet presentation with Pong clones from 1972-1975. Many non-Pong titles were housed in cabinets that could be considered to modern eyes as mini cabinets coming in at around 5 feet tall. Examples of these include Atari’s Trak 10 (54 inches tall), or an early Pong copy Rally by For-Play (46 inches tall) which has an appearance best described as laundry hamper like. On the opposite end some cabinets were immense like Allied Leisure’s Tennis Tourney or Atari’s Indy 800. This wild west approach to cabinet design started to calm down by the late 70’s when the more well-known upright full sized cabinet sizing and layout became the norm.

Trak 10 is a smaller release of Gran Trak 10, so technically it's a mini

Manufacturers started offering mini cabinets around 1979, designed simply because not every operator had space for a full-size game. Many of the sales ads for mini cabinets show the games in convenience stores, grocery stores, or other places where space would have been limited. The more subdued art design of mini cabinets were also a selling point for locations where the more garish artwork of a full-sized game would seem out of place, say like a nicer restaurant. Companies such as Atari, Midway, Williams, Centuri, Taito, Sega, and Nintendo at some point offered some of their titles in a mini cab format just to name a few.

Donkey Kong mini in period correct poop brown

Why Did They Go Away?

Mini cabs were never huge sellers in the USA compared to full sized upright cabinets, despite the savings of floor space for an operator. Both factory mini style cabinets and factory cocktail cabinets went away from the marketplace by 1984 with a few exceptions here and there. As the market rebounded from the crash of 1983, most manufacturers probably didn’t see the value in offering multiple cabinet styles. The expenses need for cabinet tooling and marketing these smaller cabinets in a post-videogame crash world just didn’t make financial sense.


Custom made Liberator mini next to a legit Battlezone mini

Why Collectors Love Them

Many arcade game collectors go nuts for mini cabinets, and it is not necessarily only due to their rarity. As we have seen above some mini’s offer unique appearance aspects, but it might be the smaller size that makes them so appealing. Collectors also commonly make tribute or recreation arcade cabinets in the mini cab format, often for titles that never officially had a mini version. Mini cabinet games often sell for much higher values compared to the more common upright cabinets of the same title as well due to this collector demand. So, although life might not actually be a “cabaret”, collectors will continue to seek out these smaller cabinet variants for their collections.

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Fantastic article with great history on a unique subject. Cabarets/minis are a collecting phenomenon to themselves. I believe it goes back quite a bit farther than 1979. There are EM games from 1970 (maybe earlier) that where offered in full size or mini version such as "red baron" or "ace" from MCI. I think another big selling point to the smaller versions that you briefly mentioned was that they where far less garish or tacky and therefore more acceptable in classy locations. Cabarets will remain a hot item for the simple reason that they are smaller which makes them appealing for the home collector.

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