By some strange twist of conversational fate, arcades have been coming up a lot in my everyday life. There is a new retro-arcade opening the next town over from me in a couple of months, my friend just had a birthday at a Dave and Buster’s nearby, and I have been running into a lot of articles outlining old arcade games or interesting information about the entertainment complexes of yore. Not that there aren’t still plenty around to spend your hard earned quarters at, but people certainly don’t run into arcades as often as I remember. In fact, there used to be one (or two) at every mall I used to spend time at growing up. Recently, I ran into a couple of games that really showed me how far arcades have come, even if they are pretty far and few between, and reminded me of the games I used to waste more money than I’m comfortable thinking about back in the day.
Dream Machine. The 1990s- I was a little too young to remember exactly what year it was now. I remember standing by the X-Men arcade machine in the back left corner of the room, other kids a bit older than me cycling through their quarters as they tried to beat up the villains of their comic book counterparts. Even then, I knew that the cabinet, an elongated version of all of the machines buzzing and beeping around it, was a rarity. Unlike plenty of other machines around it, it housed enough spaces for six people to crowd around, a character for each player. The two usually empty spots were for Storm and the lesser known Dazzler. These spots would usually be filled by my mother and I respectively. We held our own as best we could at the game’s quarter gulping tactics, but even in my early years, I knew the machine was designed to win, either by bankrupting us or defeating us. This tradition carried on pretty much until Dream Machine no longer existed at that mall- and stopped existing pretty much altogether.
In high school, I got a call from my friend while she was at the beach about half an hour from my house. She urged me to get down there as soon as I could, and when I did, my infatuation with a little game called Dance Dance Revolution. It was different, moving around to win at a game. The game pretty much determined my musical and gaming tastes for a few years, at least until college. Then, it became a game of playing in groups in dorm lounges and less about arcades. All in all, though, arcades have played a large part of my gaming history- and they’ve come a long way.
Arcades today tend to be one of two things: museums of now ancient and rare technologies or a surprising collection of games that no one knew existed. This may not be the case in other countries or locales, but in the States, this tends to be the case, at least where I’ve frequented. I’ve run into some rare and unique games, to be sure. Para Para Paradise, a rhythm game that uses sensors around the player that act like the dance arrows in Dance Dance Revolution. Arm Champs II, a game where you physically arm wrestle with a cyborg looking forearm sticking out of the cabinet to simulate your on-screen opponent. Many innovations have come around to keep the arcade dream alive.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the birthday party that I mentioned earlier. While the environment was a little busy for my tastes that day- I know, I know, it’s an arcade- I got to see a few neat arcade novelties. The one that left the biggest impression on me, given my love of the survival horror genre, is Dark Escape 4D. While the title shows very little in the way of creativity, the game itself was a fun experience. The ‘plot’ of the revolves around your character waking up in a strange place with a girl who acts as your guide and is suitably freaking out at the foreign situation. On a monitor, a man in a mask appears, letting you know that you’re a part of his game and, should you make your way out of where you are and to his inner chambers, he’ll set you free. You get a gun and are sent into a maze of zombies and other abominations.
The plot is about what you’d expect from an arcade shooter, and it blatantly draws from House of the Dead and the Saw movies. The game cabinet itself is the experience. You, and a friend should you choose, sit in a curtained off cabinet, and there is the option for 2D or 3D play. The 3D visuals are accompanied by a pair of glasses for each played, and the 3D effects are honestly pretty effective. When enemies pop out of hidden nooks or doors shudder open, the seat shakes beneath the players. The part that really knocked me out of my seat, though, was that during one sequence, the player is placed in front of a door that is cracked open. A gust of wind can be heard and as it is, wind blows from the front of the cabinet. At another point, you are leaning to peer around a corner, and suddenly, a soft wind blows on the back of your neck. In that moment, you know you are about to spin around into danger. The game gave me a legitimate sense of foreboding, despite the presentation feeling straight out of the 90s. Should you get the chance to check it out and you’re a fan of the survival genre, you should take a shot at it.
Some of the other games surprised me, even having seen them in passing before. People gathered around a Mario Kart GP machine, a full blown driving game that has a place right alongside the other entries in the prolific series. Four players could race against each other, pick their favorite character, and go chuck items around a map for a race. Admittedly, only going around for one race felt like a cheap experience, but it was pure Mario Kart, through and through, and it felt a lot like playing a new game that was somewhat familiar.
While the generations of arcades in every mall and on every boardwalk are over and done, it still seems that certain innovations are being put together and into the ring of cabinet video gaming. I’ve personally had a lot of milestones that revolved around arcades. I’ve met friends that I became immeasurably close with for years after at the three-story arcade I mentioned earlier, and I had my first date with my now husband of almost six years at an arcade on a boardwalk the next town over (asking each other out over The Simpsons even!). Whenever I visit my best friend from the days of middle and high school, we tend to visit an arcade that hails as the oldest in New England. Come new or old innovations, arcades have a place in most gamers’ histories, one way or another. I love running into new and inventive games almost as much as I enjoy stumbling into an old Donkey Kong or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles machine. Hopefully, my little ramble here has jogged some memories for anyone reading about arcade experiences they’ve had in the past, and if not, maybe finding an arcade near you can spark some.
Any games that you remember fondly (or even not as fondly)? Feel free to let me know and discuss! I’d love to do more on arcades, including pinball, gaming tables, and other fun features, and honestly- I love researching these things, so hit me with your favorite quarter hoarders!