When Japanese video game manufacturer Taito first released Double Dragon in the U.S. around 25 years ago, the legendary urban brawling game wound up one of the signature arcade titles of the '80s with its pimp pixilated graphics and intense "beat 'em up" action. According to Ariel Bracamonte, however, the artwork adorning its wooden cabinet was neither eye-catching nor action-packed.
"The original decal on the side of the game was plain gray with red triangles and just said 'Taito' on it," Bracamonte says. After renowned ink-slingers Chris Rupp and Luis Keys each created tattoo-style dragons on either side of the cabinet, however, the game has a more wicked-looking appearance befitting its intense nature.
Such is one of the many purposes of The Artcade Show, which debuts tonight at Parazol Studios, which features 25 different games that renowned creative types from Arizona and throughout the U.S. have transformed into playable pieces of art.
Bracamonte, who organized the exhibition along with business partner Nico Paredes, have been pretty swamped this past week getting the show ready for tonight, including fetching the finished arcade games from each of the artists.
"Basically, we knew going in that there were people who were going to need extra time, so we've been patiently waiting to pickup their games," Bracamonte says.
It's been hectic, he says, especially since a few artists have been waiting up until the last minute to complete their creations, but he admits such consternation is worth it, considering the quality of the artwork they've seen.
"There's really some great stuff coming from each of the artists," Bracamonte says. "We've got graffiti artists, street artists, tattoers, and graphic designers all making these games look good. We wanted to incorporate every kind of art possible and see what everybody could come up with."
That's been one of the main focuses of Artcade, Paredes says. The pair wanted to spruce up their collection of more than 50 games, which they began collecting and restoring more than two years ago with the intent of opening an arcade in Phoenix.
"We were thinking, 'Why would we want to have the games look like they did back in the day?" Most of our friends that are artists could play this machine and get some great ideas off of it," he says.
Most of the redesigned cabinets reflect a hybrid of the game itself with an individual artist's chosen medium and particular aesthetic, Paredes says.
Local muralist Sekoia, for example, amped up the '90s basketball game NBA Jam with a depiction of onetime Phoenix Suns superstar Charles Barkley dunking on top of former L.A. Lakers center Vlade Divac. Pablo Luna, on the other hand, covered the sides of the World War II-themed shooter 1943 with some of his signature skeletons flying fighter planes in an airborne dogfight. And Spencer Hibert, adorned the 1982 Williams Electronics classic Robotron 2084 with an "an amazing design" that was digitally created.
Some of the artwork, however, has little to do with the game, like when Sierra Joy decked out a sit-down version of Tetris with a series of kinky, twisted lines and a dreamy mural of clouds and mountains.
JJ Horner, however, kept his artwork grounded within the context of his particular game Altered Beast. The painter chose the 1988 Sega hit when when Paredes and Bracamonte approached him for the project since was a childhood favorite.
"I remember the exact position where it was at in the old arcade I used to go to as a kid in Flagstaff," Horner says. "My mom used to have a framing shop right next to it, so whenever I was stuck at work with her I'd bum quarters and walk over to the arcade and Altered Beast awaited."
Horner says he played the game multiple times to come up with what he wanted to paint on its cabinet, which he estimates has taken close to 90 hours of work.
"I've beaten it several times, now that I've got it on free play," he says. "It's easily a $25 game. It's pretty hard."
The result is two epic-looking works boasting a very painterly style that cover both sides of the cabinet. One is a layered mural of all of the different levels in the game -- which involves two gladiators battling scores of evil creatures from Grecian and Roman mythology -- while the other is a totem-like painting of all the anthropomorphized beasts like werewolves and dragons that the player can transform into.
"I've been working with layers and hole in particular, so revisiting this game it maybe influenced me on a subconscious level because in Altered Beast, you're going layer to layer, level to level through a hole or portal. So I just wanted to highlight that."
Urban artist Adam Dumper's work on a Ninja Gaiden cabinet is equally epic-looking, as he created a close up of the main character Ryu Hayabusa.
"I was going for the ninja crouching scene [in the game] with the raindrops. [I] thought that was a powerful image," Dumper says. "I want something that draws you in to play."
Those in attendance at the exhibition will definitely be getting in some joystick time on each of the games, which will be set to "free play" mode. Paredes and Bracamonte are also hoping that some Artcade patrons will also be in the mood to buy.
All of the artistically redesigned cabinets can be purchased, and while a small portion of the money from each sale will go to help fund El Barcade -- the old school gaming hangout and nightspot they're hoping to open somewhere in downtown in the coming year - a majority of the cash will be going to each artist.
"Everything that's painted by an artist is going to be for sale, because the artists are also going to get their money and its up to them how much they want," Bracamonte says. "These are big, collectible pieces of artwork, not only with entertainment and nostalgic value as arcade machines, but as a big, two-sided painting. So we want 'em to get some cash out of this show."
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One of the other goals of Artcade, he adds, is to help get people interested in El Barcade.
"We're not getting any profit off of [Artcade]," Bracamonte says. "We want to raise awareness of what we're doing. And we wanted to do something different that's never been done before."
The Artcade Show runs from 5 p.m. to midnight this evening at Parazol Studios. Admission is free.