Ten Favorite Arcades in Metro Phoenix
Photos by Benjamin Leatherman
How's that new-fangled Wii U that you found waiting underneath the Christmas tree? Maybe a tad disappointing perhaps, especially when it comes to game selection? We're willing to bet that after giving launch titles like ZombiU and Assassin's Creed III a try and ultimately busting out a rage quit in frustration, you're likely to head down Castles and Coasters, Golfland-Sunsplash, or another local arcade for a far more fulfilling gaming experience.
Despite all the attention that's heaped upon the latest high-tech systems and peripherals, there's something to be said for the thrill of heaping the pwnage on friends and your fellow gamers in public at an arcade. Plus, you can play old school titles on bonafide arcade cabinets instead of downloading ROMs into the latest version of MAME on your PC.
In another lifetime (read: The 1980s), the Valley landscape used to be dotted with arcades aplenty -- including such bygone spots as Video Roundup in Scottsdale or the Wonderland Nickel Palace in Mesa (where you could actually get your game on for only a five cents per play) - as well as practically every nearby convenience store, laundromat, or pizza joint. Times have changed, however, and while the number of video game hangouts has dwindled, there are still several dedicated arcades and a few other businesses stocked with games where you can show off your talents as a joystick Jedi.
10. Burger Mania Weston Henry, the local gaming fiend and proprietor of now-defunct Cade Gallery, recommended we check out this kitschy, North Phoenix grease factory for its selection of games and it didn't disappoint. Amongst the ten games available for play in the dining area are such retro gems as Data East's old school beat 'em up Bad Dudes, along with fellow '80s favorites Galaga and the rarely-seen shooter XX Mission. Sadly, they didn't have the quarter-pumping classic Burger Time, which would've been pretty fitting. Although, oddly enough, if you're skilled enough to rescue the president at the end of Bad Dudes, the pixeled version of the Commander-in-Chief states "Let's go get a burger," which creates something of a meta experience.
Courtesy of Cracker Jax
9. Cracker Jax There's no shortage of entertaining distractions at this amusement emporium and family fun center, which boasts everything from batting cages and driving ranges to volleyball courts and bungee jumps. But if driving a go-kart or bumper boat leaves you filled with an overwhelming desire to pilot something a bit more thrilling (or a bit swifter), head for Cyber City inside Cracker Jax's main building, where a 5,500 square foot arcade offering dozens of driving, fighting, and shooting games. Satisfy your itchy trigger finger on the latest edition of the Time Crisis series or put the pedal to the medal on Fast and Furious: Super Cars. Despite the fact you're in Scottsdale (where the fuzz dish out tickets for even the most minor of infractions), you needn't worry about any potential reckless driving citations after thrashing the RPMs in your high-end hoopty, since its an entirely virtual experience.
8. Super Saver Cinemas 8 Like many theatre throughout Metro Phoenix, this North Phoenix discount movie house - where all flicks are $3 per person, and $1.50 on Tuesdays - features a collection of games in its lobby for patrons to play both before watching the latest blockbusters. The thing that separates the Super Saver Cinemas from the other cineplexes, however, is the fact it boasts more arcade units than any other theatre, a few of which we haven't seen elsewhere. While the sound (and smell) of popcorn wafts through the air, folks can play such rarities as the three-player racer Ironman Ivan Stewart's Super Off Road or the epic fighting games as SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos and the origial Tekken. Best of all, the games still take quarters, so be sure to raid the couch for some spare change.
7. 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.
6. Gypsy Bar Since opening earlier this year, 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 Fruit Ninja, Sega's Big Bass Wheel, or Deal or No Deal located in one room compete for attention with DJs like Tricky T and Soulman spinning up epic tracks in the adjacent danceteria. 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.
5. Gameworks Plenty of changes have taken place at the Valley's entry location of the Gameworks chain, which has been around since Arizona Mills Mall first opened in 1997. The ginormous, two story arcade and nightspot no longer has a separate room devoted to racing/driving titles and its focus seems to have shifted more towards redemption-oriented experiences. It's still a spot that features unique gaming experiences unlike any other local arcade, like the chance to blast away at life-sized cyborgs via a projection screen version of Terminator: Salvation or its collection of virtual reality simulators. There's also close to a dozen different variants from the Dance Dance Revolution series dotting the place, as well as practically every single Sega game created in the last decade, ranging from Let's Go Jungle!: Lost on the Island of Spice to Mushiking: King of the Beetles.
4. Pizza Mart Once upon a time, mom-and-pop pizzerias across the Valley hosted arcade games aplenty for patrons to tackle after hastily wiping excess grease of their mitts while cheesy rock hits blared over a boombox. Such a scene has sadly become a product of the past, which is one of the reasons why we did 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 its definitely one of our favorites.
3. Golfland-Sunspash 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 and take up most of its floor space, 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.
2. 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?
1. Castles and Coasters Setting aside the fact that it features such thrilling experiences as the Desert Storm roller coaster, a freefall dropper, a three-story obstacle course, and other amusement park-like attractions, the reason Castles and Coasters tops our list is because of the magnificent two-story arcade located withing its Tah Mahal-inspired palace. It offers 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 such competitive racers as Mario Kart 2 and Initial D Arcade Stage 4. 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. While we've heard a few rumors that Castles and Coasters may have ditched their old school games in favor of more up-to-date technology, that most certainly ain't the case.
There's a collection of blockbuster Bally/Williams machines adjacent to one another, including Defender, Joust, and even Moon Patrol. 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.
Before exhausting your game cards, be sure to check out the rather curious Robin Hood-themed shooting gallery downstairs, where one can fire crossbow-like light guns at effigies resembling Barrack Obama, George W. Bush, and Hillary Clinton. Seriously.
2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway
Tempe, AZ 85281
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