I wasn’t alive in the heyday of arcades. Back in the 80’s when arcades were the place to be, where kids and adults alike would line up to play the newest game and try to set the high score. After the crash of ’82 arcades were the only place where many people COULD play video games. Parents weren’t keen on buying new consoles after the crash so arcades were the go to place for many gamers. The machines had more power, more processing capabilities, they were just stronger machines sucking up quarters left and right. So what happened to arcades? Well the future happened. Home consoles started getting better and better until arcades became fewer and fewer. Sure there were still “arcades” in pizza parlors and you’ll be hard pressed to NOT find one in a Las Vegas casino with kids playing games while their parents gamble. It’s true that arcades (and when I say arcades I mean places that have retro video games as their main draw) have taken a giant dip in the past few decades but luckily all is not lost.
With the recent surge of nostalgia that’s been very popular lately, some have started up business that not only double as used video game stores, but also full functioning arcades. There are even some arcades that also house small microbreweries and the term “Barcade” has now become a thing. Granted these arcades are few in-between, but the fact that they are standing and thriving means that retro arcades are not completely dead. Of course it also depends on where you live. I live in Southern California, specifically in the Inland Empire and there are quite a few places where I can go to to get my retro arcade fix that are within a reasonable driving distance, more on that later. Of course other places throughout the country may not be so lucky. They may have a large restaurant chain like Dave and Buster’s somewhat close to fill the void but retro arcades specifically may be a littler harder to come by.
Even if an actual brick and mortar arcade store isn’t close, at least there are options to bring the arcade home to you. I know I’ve talked about how we’re currently living in a new ‘Golden Age’ of retro gaming, and companies like Arcade 1Up are making it easier to own your own arcade cabinet. I don’t know the going price for full size cabinets these days (mostly because I’m scared to look and don’t have the space for a Street Fighter II machine), but with Arcade 1Up they sell smaller cabinets with multiple games. Think those multi-cade machines but officially licensed. They can range between around $200-$500 depending on which one you’re getting, but they even have smaller ones with fewer games. I was at Target the other day and saw a table top arcade cabinet for Pac-Man and Pac-Pals from Arcade 1Up, and it took everything I had, and a very stern look from my girlfriend, to not buy it. It was about $200, it looked great and it was big enough to show off but small enough to move around the house. Perfect for those who can’t get to an arcade closer to home. There are of course other options, such as plug-n-plays and the classic game collections for modern consoles, but if you DO live close to a major U.S. city chances are there’s a retro arcade close to you.
Arcades being around is a great thing, not because they are keeping old school games alive and well, but because the way these newer arcades operate. There are 2 arcades (in the Los Angeles area) that I want to point out specifically, Neon Retro Arcade (with locations in Northridge and Pasadena CA) and Lost Levels (with locations in Fullerton and Claremont CA) that I’ve been to multiple times. Now these arcades do something that most arcades probably do, especially in today’s climate. These set all the games to “Free Play” and charge by the hour, half hour, or all day. No more carrying quarters or making sure you have enough to get to Shredder in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cabinet, now you can play as long or as little as you like. For me this is a great way to kill a Saturday afternoon with one of my best friends, especially when we go for multiple hours and are glued to Galaga, Pac-Man, and of course, TMNT. We don’t have to worry about spending all of our quarters and leaving when we don’t want to. As a side note I recently celebrated my birthday at the Claremont Lost Levels location and had a blast playing games with my friends. Both arcades do offer something the other doesn’t. Neon has a HUGE selection of games at both their locations with couches for Smash Bros. and Mario Kart. Lost Levels’ collection isn’t anything to sneeze at but they have the added draw of also being a used game store. I’ve found quite a few treasures at both Lost Levels locations and I’ve always LOVED the variety of multiple arcade machines at Neon. With these two places it really boils down to which is closer to you if you live close to or in the LA/OC area of Southern California. To be clear this is just my personal opinion but it does reinforce the fact that retro arcades are still kicking. Even when there aren’t arcades close by 24/7 they pop up every now and again. This past year Lost Levels hosted an arcade for patrons of the LA County Fair, and we also have events like Retro City Festival (fun fact that’s where I was acquainted with Old School Gamer Magazine) which not only have vendors for retro games, but also a giant selection of arcade and pinball machines set to Free Play. The point being if you look hard enough, you can find a great arcade to play in. Be it a brick and mortar store, a brewery that doubles as an arcade, or even if you turn your own basement into an arcade with a bunch of machines, retro arcades are still here, and they aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future.