10 Best Arcades in Metro Phoenix
Dave & Busters
Everything seems bigger at either of the two Dave & Busters locations in the Valley: Its ginormous floor space, its selection of high-end and high-tech games (including a towering, interactive edition of Connect Four and a ginormous version of that vexing merchandiser Stacker), and its drinks mixed up at multiple bars (top-shelf cocktails with heavy pour are in abundance). And then are the pimp prizes available for those patrons who can score a sufficient amount tickets, including gaming systems, cocktail ware, and even home appliances. Helpfully, there are paper buckets available to tote your winnings, which, along with all its swanky and flashy games, give D&B a casino-like feel. Besides, where else can go on an undersea roller coaster simulator like Typhoon or fight a knight with a virtual sword before getting in 12 frames of gutterball action via the upstairs bowling alley?
A longtime favorite for generations of local families and joystick Jedi, the iconic King Ben's Castle that dominates Golfland-Sunspash has housed arcade games since the early 1980s. And while you can still strive for a high score on such Reagan-era classics as Q-Bert, Ms. Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong for only 25-cents a play, the Mesa waterpark and miniature golf haven is known for the wealth of ultra-modern fighting, driving, and beat-matching variety that attract a slew of teenagers fill its first floor, along with numerous redemption games.
You can also find a few rare Japanese imports scattered around the joint, including Arcana Heart 2 and Guilty Gears XX. And if the kiddos ever want to have their birthday party up on the second floor of the castle, be sure to fulfill their wishes, since it will give you access to the collection of old-school games that are only available during private functions. Just don’t try sneaking up there like you’re Solid Snake, since they’ve plenty of motion detectors and alarms when not in use.
Castles and Coasters
One of the reasons that Castles and Coasters is ranked pretty high on our list is because of the magnificent two-story arcade located withing its Tah Mahal-inspired palace. It offers one of the most diverse selection of any other amusement destination in the Valley, hands down. Where do we start? Probably on the first floor, where teenyboppers flock to spend their disposable incomes trying to win huge stuffed animals on redemption games or attempting to best their friends on any number of high-end titles like Doodle Jump, Fruit Ninja FX, or that crazy Batman driving game that’s been popular the last few years.
The older crowd, however, heads up the stairs to the balcony, where classics from over the past 30 years of gaming history take up almost every inch of wall space. There's a collection of blockbuster Bally/Williams machines adjacent to one another, including Defender, Robotron 2084, and Sinistar. Fans of the epic Mortal Kombat series will dig the fact that the original hit and its three sequels are all arranged side by side. You'll even spy such vintage rarities as 1985's Arm Wrestling by Nintendo, back when the company made quarter-based games. Heck, you can even blow away a vector version of the Death Star via the original Star Wars made by Atari.
Cobra Arcade Bar
The recently opened Cobra Arcade Bar is a perfect illustration of that old chestnut about good things coming to those who wait. And co-owner Ariel Bracamonte did a lot waiting to make his dream of having a bar filled wall-to-wall with the games he’s been collecting since 2011. He endured false starts, cashflow problems, rezoning issues, failed partnerships, and other woes for years, but never lost sight of his goal. Last month, however, said goal became a reality when Cobra finally debuted. And it proved to be a smash success.
While we admittedly wish there were room for more than 40 games, what’s there is definitely choice. For instance, the Capcom hack ‘n’ slash favorite Strider, finds like Battletoads or the ultra-rare Simpsons Bowling, an original Punch-Out!, and the even legendary Mortal Kombat II in all its blood-soaked glory. And that’s just in the back room alone. Out front, there’s a pristine versions of 720°, Rolling Thunder, Ninja Gaiden, and Double Dragon. The good news is that Bracamonte is regularly switching out the selection for other ones from his expansive collection, like when he brought in Ninja Gaiden recently, in order to keep things fresh and Cobra's clientele happy. It shouldn't be too hard, seeing as everyone's pretty stoked about the place already.
Stepping through the front door of StarFighters is like falling through a warp zone into to the heyday of arcades. Pretty much everything at this 4,000-square-foot Mesa establishment is of throwback nature, from the array of circa 1980s plastic toys and vintage phone booth (remember those?) displayed in the foyer to the neon Pac Man on the wall and the retro jukebox blaring classic rock hits. And, of course, its voluminous selection of more than 100 joystick classics waiting inside, which were personally curated by the spot’s co-owners (and hardcore game collectors) Steve Thomas and Mike Lovato.
In many ways, StarFighters is a museum and shrine to arcade history. There are rather Paleolithic contraptions like Boot Hill or Space Invaders, old-school vector graphics games like Red Baron and Space Duel, and such legendary titles as Super Mario Bros. and Galaga, Centipede, and Spy Hunter. A host of rarities and gems are also afoot, including Sea Wolf, Crossbow, S.T.U.N. Runner, and even a old Dragon’s Lair that’s autographed by Don Bluth, the renowned animator who helped design it. True, the place is only open on the weekends and involves a long drive out to the far reaches of Mesa to get there. Both hassles are totally worth it, however, considering the quality and quantity of StarFighters’ collection.
2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ 85281
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