The money starts to flow out of your pockets from the moment you step inside. Getting away from the one-coin, one-play idea, GameWorks has several Play Card machines located around the premises. These machines look a lot like ATM machines, with one difference: They take your cash, transferring the balance to a credit-card-like Play Card. You can use your Play Card to pay for just about everything in GameWorks, including games, food, beverages and merchandise. There's no minimum balance, and you can combine balances easily.
The Loading Dock is where all the newest games are to be found, and the selection almost ensures that one can easily lose track of the unimportant things in life -- the time, the date, your date, your job, etc. Going up the stairs immediately to the right of the south entrance, you'll feel like you've stepped back into the Golden Age of Video Games. You'll find Frogger, PacMan, Galaxian, Ms. PacMan, Centipede, Asteroids and many more of your old favorites nicely packaged in antiqued wooden consoles. You can get reacquainted with a few electronic friends, or prove to your roommate that you are, in fact, a Centipede god.
If you want to make some moves on a date, Virtual Arena is a neat little machine that translates the physical motions of the players into the virtual fighters' attacks and defenses, making for engaging (and, at times, amusing) gameplay. Despite what you might think, physical ability is not a requirement to excel at the game. One sweet young co-ed, topping out at a modest 5-foot-1, kicked the virtual tar out of her bodybuilder date, to cheers from the crowd. Another good romantic spot is upstairs in the Grill and Bar. (Watch your step going between the two -- levels change with little warning at GameWorks.) The service is fast, friendly and knowledgeable, and the food and drink are competent without being pretentious, and almost worth the price.
Vertical Reality lets eight to 12 players compete in clearing a skyscraper of bad guys. Each player is strapped into the seat, and the main reward for good play is ascent into the heavens -- literally; the last level is 24 feet in the air. Runner-up for Best Place to Get High at GameWorks is the catwalk. This is a great vantage point from which to observe the crowd, watch the entrances for associates, and generally have an eagle-eyed view of all the action. As a bonus, the blue neon built into the bridge makes you feel like an extra in the film Tron.
All of the racing games have a strong following, especially Cruisin' World, which gives you a ton of options for your driving pleasure. Where else can you pilot everything from a five-speed Mustang to an automatic Hummer? Hydro Thunder, a powerboat-racing game, is a crowd pleaser, combining the novelty of water sports, the adrenaline rush of racing and great effects.
An entry from the Marquis de Sade School of Game Design is Steel Talons, a combat helicopter game that beats on your back and posterior if and when you fly into the line of enemy fire. This type of game is the Skinner box of modern interactive entertainment, and a lot of fun.
Handicap issues are one of the less-than-perfect aspects of GameWorks. While the entire venue is wheelchair accessible, thanks to ramps and elevators, it's not particularly wheelchair -friendly. From a company "dedicated to creating superior entertainment environments that enhance and complement game play and social interaction," GameWorks is missing the boat a little in a minor lack of consideration for a significant percentage of the population. With the success of the GameWorks project as a whole, this issue may be addressed in the newer locations.
In a nutshell, if you have some disposable income and some time to kill before your third viewing of Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace, head on in. You'll find something here that will make you glad you came. For more information about the GameWorks empire, call 602-839-4263, or check out the moderately nifty Web site at, you guessed it: www.gameworks.com
In the meantime, I'm holding out for Spielberg to open a chain of virtual-reality roller-coaster/car washes. If it ever happens, I'm gonna be the first in line. -- Owen S. Kerr
GameWorks is located at Arizona Mills mall in Tempe, I10 and the Superstition Freeway.