Antstream Arcade review: affordable arcade game streaming

Retro gaming for less

Banner art for Antstream Arcade.
(Image: © Antstream)

TechRadar Verdict

Antsream Arcade is a robust option for those seeking an affordable way to dive into a wide variety of retro games from a range of different systems. Although its vast library has its ups and downs, it’s still a real joy to discover everything on offer.

Pros

  • +

    True arcade versions of games

  • +

    Absolutely massive library

  • +

    Lifetime subscription option

  • +

    Solid performance

Cons

  • -

    Crowded UI

  • -

    Lots of filler titles

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Two-minute review

Antstream Arcade is a cloud gaming service geared entirely towards retro titles. It offers an extensive library of more than 1,300 games from across a wide variety of genres and many of the best retro games consoles including arcade classics like Pac-Man, Galaga, and Dig Dug. Unlike many modern retro collections that you can find on the Nintendo Switch or cheap retro handhelds, a lot of these iconic titles are available in their rare original arcade versions, which is a huge selling point for serious retro enthusiasts.

The vast majority of the games that I tested performed very well over cloud streaming, presumably due to their simplicity, and are perfect for the kind of pick-up-and-play sessions that cloud gaming services encourage. Being able to instantly boot up Antstream Arcade for a cheeky game of Space Invaders or Metal Slug X on almost any device is super convenient and a brilliant way to kill time. I did find, however, that more complex titles like the PlayStation version of Worms suffered from substantially longer loading times and so lost some of the appeal. 

While unlimited solo play is included with the premium subscription, you can spend and earn bonus gems in a range of optional challenges, online tournaments, and even a score-based player vs player duel mode. Trying to beat Pac-Man without eating any dots or having to survive five bosses from Gunbird 2 in as few lives as possible can be a refreshing diversion every now and again and is an interesting way to recontextualize these old games. 

The main menu of Antstream Arcade.

(Image credit: Antstream)

Unfortunately, the cumbersome UI detracts from the overall experience. It's an overwhelming mix of game cover art, multiple tabs, and huge banners that is functional enough to get you into the most popular titles without much hassle but makes navigating through the wider catalog a pain. There’s also the fact that a lot of the library’s titles are, to put it bluntly, not really worth your time. The likes of The Official Father Christmas or Operation Fireball are great inclusions for the sake of presentation but aren’t likely to become anyone’s new favorites.

Still, there are enough big hitters to justify the price of admission, and, considering the fact that simply no other cloud gaming service offers the breadth and variety of old titles that you can find here, it’s easy to recommend Antstream Arcade to those interested in retro gaming.

Launching a challenge in Antstream Arcade.

(Image credit: Antstream)

Price and availability

  • Free tier to access challenge modes
  • Upgrade to premium for $3.99 / roughly £3 per month 
  • Available on Xbox, PC, or mobile in the US and UK 

A basic version of Antstream Arcade can be accessed free of charge. It allows you to try a rotating selection of timed challenges and earn gems. These gems are then spent unlocking and playing other challenges. You can collect a small daily allowance of gems, with most challenges costing around 50 to unlock and 30 to play.

Although I found this tier to be very limited on the whole, offering just enough free gems to experience one or two titles each day, it does offer a taste of the service and should be enough to work out whether it’s for you. Some storefronts, such as the Epic Games Store, allow you to purchase additional gems if you’re running low. This starts at $0.99 / £0.99 for a pack of 60 - though the cost of these will begin to add up quickly so I would not recommend it.

Instead, you should consider upgrading to the premium membership for unlimited access to all of the service’s games for solo play, plus extra free gems for unlocking challenges. Though the exact price varies somewhat depending on your choice of platform, premium membership costs $3.99 / roughly £3 per month or $39.99 / roughly £30 per year on PC.

Those playing on Xbox also have the additional option to purchase a lifetime membership for $79.99 / £79.99. Although a little expensive up front, this is comfortably the best value choice for committed players as it effectively pays for itself if you intend to maintain a subscription for more than two years.

Features and interface

Antstream Arcade uses a grid-like interface, with rows of games grouped into multiple categories. There are recommended games, a list of games with challenges, recently added games, an assortment of multiplayer games, and so on. These all sit below a giant banner, which highlights any major new titles or upcoming online events. Some rows are also dedicated entirely to trending games or specific challenges, with various color-coded icons to denote difficulty and the time remaining to complete them. 

The cover art of most games displays a small colorful triangle labeled with its original platform, though those with challenges are adorned with a small pink rocket icon instead. It’s quite an overwhelming interface, with so much going on that it can be quite hard to navigate at first. The fact that many games have multiple icons, one denoting each available system, only exacerbates this issue and lends the entire UI a very jumbled look.

Searching for a game in Antstream Arcade.

(Image credit: Antstream)

Once you manage to find a game that you want to play, you can select it to open a small panel that displays some further information like the publisher and original launch date. From there, you can either jump straight into the game or quickly resume one of your four most recent sessions - which is especially convenient if you find yourself having to frequently swap between platforms or quickly exiting a game. You’re then shown a brief overview of the game’s controls before it begins.

While playing, you can access a basic menu that offers the ability to save, view the controls, change a handful of settings like the overall volume, or exit the session. It’s not particularly slick or exciting, but it is functional.

Elsewhere, you can collect a small handful of achievements (all largely based on completing challenges or playing a certain number of sessions) and level up your account - though doing this doesn't seem to accomplish much beyond giving you bragging rights. The option to see where other players fall in an online leaderboard is a neat addition, however, and acts as a neat way of translating arcade high scores to the modern age.

In addition to keyboard support while playing on PC, Antstream Arcade is compatible with a wide range of controllers such as the Xbox Wireless Controller and the GameSir Nova. You can also take advantage of dedicated touch controls while playing on mobile.

Playing a game with Antstream Arcade.

(Image credit: Antstream)

Game library

Antstream Arcade offers a pretty huge library featuring over 1,300 games. There are a lot of worthwhile arcade classics to play, but the bulk of the library is comprised of smaller titles that you likely won’t have heard of before. While I’m sure that there are some hidden gems to discover here, a lot of them seem like filler. Still, the volume of games on offer here is substantially more than most compilations (or even other cloud gaming services) which easily justifies the cost.

In terms of systems represented by the service, the vast majority of the games on offer are arcade or Commodore 64 titles. That said, there are plenty of Amiga games, lots of ZX Spectrum games, a handful of Sega Genesis / Mega Drive and Super Nintendo Entertainment System games, and a few Nintendo Entertainment System games. You can also find the odd titles from the original PlayStation, Game Boy, Amstrad, plus a few Atari systems. That’s an awful lot of variety and means that, no matter your choice of retro platform, there’s likely going to be at least a few titles that are of interest to you here.

Surprisingly, a few of the games are actually modern indie titles that were released for retro platforms which adds some pleasant variety to the overall package. The Castlevania-inspired action platformer Demons of Asteborg and the nightmarish space shooter Reshoot R are particular highlights in this regard. 

Playing Gunbird 2 in Anstream Arcade.

(Image credit: Antstream)

Should I use Antstream Arcade?

 Use it if…

You love, or are interested in, retro gaming
Antsream Arcade is hands down the best cloud gaming service if you love retro games. It spans a wide range of retro platforms and will work out far cheaper than buying compilations, retro systems, or even some individual titles.

You want a huge library to explore
Antstream Arcade offers over 1,300 titles, which is far more than you would find in any conventional retro compilation. Although the games can be rather hit or miss, it’s still a blast to give everything a go.

 Don’t use it if…

You want more modern games
Although there are a handful of recent indie releases like Millie & Molly or Witch N’ Wiz, not to mention a few PlayStation titles, Antstream Arcade is clearly focused on older arcade games. 

You only want a few specific titles
If you only want to play a handful of titles from a specific publisher, you might be better off cutting out the monthly subscription and purchasing an offline compilation like the Capcom Fighting Collection or SNK 40th Anniversary Collection instead.  

How I tested Antstream Arcade

I tested Antstream Arcade for a few hours each week over the course of a month. In addition to testing the service on PC, where I used a Turtle Beach Recon Cloud Controller and my keyboard, I tried it out on mobile using a Samsung S23 Plus and a Razer Kishi Ultra mobile controller. During my time with the service, I endeavored to test a wide variety of games across a number of different systems in order to gain a good understanding of everything on offer. In addition to using a complimentary premium membership, I created a separate account in order to fully try out the service's free offering. 

Dashiell Wood
Hardware Writer

Dash is a technology journalist who covers gaming hardware at TechRadar. Before joining the TechRadar team, he was a print journalist writing articles for some of the UK's biggest gaming magazines such as PLAY, Edge, PC Gamer, and SFX. Now, when he's not getting his greasy little mitts on the newest hardware or gaming gadget, he can be found feverishly devouring the latest Nintendo Switch otome.