10 Best Arcades in Metro Phoenix
Classic arcade games at Castles 'n' Coasters.
The more things change, as the saying goes, the more they stay the same. It’s an axiom that certainly applies to arcades, given the renewed popularity in recent years of both vintage games and the retro establishments that house ‘em.
To wit: The games that your parents dropped tons of quarters into back in the ‘80s when the nation was gripped with Pac Man fever are trendy again and have been since the dawn of the decade. Since 2010, everything involving old-school arcades has surged in popularity, whether it’s the hullabaloo that ensued after the Internet Archive made hundreds of retro quarter-muncher titles available for play online in 2014 or the rise of game bars across the country like Eighty Two in Los Angeles or the Emporium in Chicago.
And while it may have taken a while, the trend eventually reached the Valley, giving us the annual ZapCon every April and vintage-oriented arcades like StarFighters in Mesa. Just last month, Cobra Arcade Bar opened to rave reviews in downtown Phoenix.
That’s not to say that new-fangled entertainment centers or family-friendly arcades like Dave & Busters, which boasts state-of-the-art games, haven’t also been doing well. Despite the recent closure of GameWorks in Tempe, the high-end joints are still drawing crowds. Just ask the proprietors of The Main Event in Tempe, which opened in 2014 and proved to be a big hit. Old favorites like Golfland-Sunsplash in Mesa or Castles ‘n’ Coasters, both offering a mix of old and new, have also stuck around for several decades.
Needless to say, there are more arcades around the Valley than ever where one can engage in virtual heroism for the price of some quarters or the swipe of a cash card. As such, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best arcades to be found in metro Phoenix.
First, a caveat: This list is focused on places with straight-up arcade games instead of console-based gaming systems. In other words, we’re excluding spots like Endgame in Tempe, 8-Bit Brewery in Avondale, or The Pig's Meow. Wonderful choices all – and worthy of a visit — but decidedly oriented more towards gamepads than joysticks.
So hit the one-player button, and let the games begin.
While this cozy boutique located in Mesa’s historic downtown area is first and foremost a memorabilia shop, it also happens to contain a modest collection of a dozen different vintage arcade and pinball games available for customers to play. Stop by the spot and you’ll see such titles as Guerrilla War, Donkey Kong, Tempest, the original Street Fighter II, and Frogger peeking out from Power Pill’s floor-to-ceiling selection of Captain Power starfighters, A-Team action figures, Darth Vader masks, Shogun Warriors, and other treasured playthings of yesteryear. Plus, they’ve also got such silver ball classics as 1977’s Wonder Wizard CB Charlie and an expertly restored version of the old Williams pinball machine Blast Off.
If nothing else, the place gives old-school gamers the unique opportunity to go a few rounds on Ms. Pac Man and buy a vintage lunchbox featuring the character afterwards.
Once upon a time, mom-and-pop pizzerias across the Valley hosted arcade games aplenty for patrons to play after hastily wiping all the excess grease from their hands while a cheesy rock soundtrack blared from the sound system. Such a scene has sadly become a thing of the past, except at this for the game room at this uniquely shaped throwback pizza place in Mesa.
The back room of the A-frame structure (which was built the '70s as an old Village Inn Pizzeria) contains more than a dozen vintage arcade units like Choplifter, Galaga '88, and Asteroids. The owners have also decorated the room with various bits of Pac-Man memorabilia and other video game ephemera. It may not be as flashy or frenetic as other places around town, but it's definitely one of our favorites.
Play 'n' Win Arcade
Per the religious-themed Kevin Smith comedy flick Dogma, the almighty God supposedly travels from the realm of the hereafter to engage numerous games of skeeball for fun. And while this (somewhat) blasphemous claim is likely untrue, we're willing to bet that if Heavenly Father somehow, in fact, descend to earth to get in some skeeball shenanigans, he'd probably head for this glitzy arcade located inside the newly opened UltraStar Multi-tainment Center adjacent to Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino in Maricopa. Around a half-dozen versions of the ball-tossing hallmark of arcades everywhere are amongst the various electronic distractions housed inside the Play 'n' Win, each spewing streams of tickets. Things skew more towards the redemption variety (including such popular titles as Bejeweled, Haunted Manor, and Go Go Grand Prix), but there's also plenty of other games ready to suck down your dollars, like Deadstorm Pirates and the adrenaline-inducing Super Bikes 2.
Gypsy Bar has earned a unique distinction among other local arcades: It's the only one with a full-on dance club attached to it. Stop by on a weekend night and witness the colorful cacophony that ensues when such flamboyant redemption games as Sega's Big Bass Wheel or Deal or No Deal located in one room compete for attention with DJs like Pickster One spinning up epic tracks in the adjacent danceteria or burlesque queens doing a striptease onstage. And if you tire of shooting hoops at either of the pair of basketball machines or raking in the tickets from skeeball, the u-shaped bar in the main room offers plenty of liquid refreshment of the spirituous kind.
Boredom is probably a rarity at The Grid, considering the fact that the Mesa game bar is packed wall-to-wall with distractions aplenty. There’s an IKEA-brand bookcase full of board games, bands and DJs on the weekends, a full bar, pool table, and a dozen gaming stations loaded with emulated versions of old-school consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis. The centerpiece of the establishment is its quirky collection of 18 arcade games that take up most of the floor space.
The Grid’s selection includes both old favorites (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Moon Patrol, Tron) and new-fangled titles (Initial D Third Stage) alike, not to mention many curiosities. For instance, you can play Emergency Call Ambulance, an ultra-rare driving game produced by that’s a cross between Crazy Taxi and Trauma Center, or the homebrewed Asteroids clone Gravitrex Plus. There’s also custom Neo Geo cabinet with more than 160 different SNK games and a pair of digital pinball machines. The crown jewel, however, is Killer Queen, the massively addictive and action-packed indie arcade title that can be played by up to 10 people and is like a cross between Joust and Contra. You’ll probably have to wait a bit before getting a go on it, as it’s the most popular game in the joint.Next Page
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Phoenix art and theater scene.