Pac-Man fever was running rampant at the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel over the weekend, as was a serious case of retro video game mania (and maybe even a few sprained wrists, to boot) as ZapCon took place on Saturday, April 6, and Sunday, April 7, offering up more than a hundred old-school arcade games and vintage pinball machines available for play.
No quarters were necessary (since every machine was set to "free play" mode") as hundreds of local gamers and joystick Jedi went through a warp zone into the arcades of yesteryear while either going full-tilt boogie on more than 65 pinball titles or mashing the buttons on such legendary pixilated classics as Space Harrier, Tutankham, A.P.B., the original Mario Bros. and various other video hits from the '70s and '80s. Here's a rundown of the games we spent the most time playing at the event.
NARC Old-school gamers remember the period in the late '80s and early '90s when practically every arcade unit featured the FBI-approved message "Winners don't use drugs," which would pop up onscreen before you started pumping in quarters. This 1988 shoot-'em-up took things a step further and allowed players to clean up the streets from a narcotics-peddling drug syndicate via a pair of uzi-toting cops. As is the norm for Midway/Williams games of this era (like Smash TV, Total Carnage, and Mortal Kombat), it's an ultra-violent experience filled with blood and boobs. One can fill the screen with flaming body parts after firing a volley of rocket-propelled grenades at enemies while buxom prostitutes vamp it up in the background.
Spy Hunter While one can find ports and emulated versions of this 1982 classic on everything from the old NES and Atari 2600 to modern-day systems like the Xbox and PlayStation -- each utilizing Henry Mancini's memorable theme to Peter Gunn as background music -- nothing beats playing the original arcade version of Spy Hunter, especially when it's a rare cockpit version of the game. Though the pixilated graphics are practically Stone Age in comparison to today's hits, being able to sit down behind the futuristic yoke of the driving game helps one imagine he's actually a secret agent at the controls of the souped up G-6155 Interceptor and evading helicopters and dastardly villains.
Skateball Other than the chance to relive our childhoods, one of the man joys of ZapCon was getting to encounter both hard-to-find title or rare variants of vintage games, such as this customized version of the Bally pinball classic Skateball, from 1980. This skateboard-themed throwback is a relic of its groovy era, complete with back glass adorned with totally tubular artwork depicting shaggin' wagon, cats wearing aviator shades, and flowing locks. Plus, this particular machine had been customized with foot pedals that operated the bumpers, a la a skateboard. Rad!
Centaur Among the dozens of pinball machines populating ZapCon was this rare 1981 gem produced by Bally. Its safe to say that you'd be hard-pressed to find many versions of this particular pinball game at the few arcades that are left in the Valley, as only 3,700 were made back in the day. Rarer still are Centaur machines that are in good condition as this well-maintained one, which showed little -- if any -- signs of age. It got plenty of use over the course of the weekend, as attendees battled with the seemingly malevolent droid A.I. that powered the game and flummoxed them with taunts like, "Bad move, human" in a disembodied and droning robotic voice. This infernal machine probably caused a few folks to consider pulling the plug after losing a game, showing Centaur who's boss.
Rolling Thunder Nestled among other classics, like BurgerTime and Nintendo's Super Punch Out, near the end of one of the many rows of games at ZapCon was this side-scrolling adventure, which -- admittedly -- was a favorite of our youth and claimed more than its fair share of our allowance back in those days. Involving the standard arcade plot of battling baddies to rescue your kidnapped girlfriend, RRolling Thunderis a bit of a challenge, to say the least (probably why we dropped plenty of change into its coin slot). This particular version of the game was made even better due to its custom cabinet art created by renowned muralist El Mac, which depicted a pair of white-colored hands in prayer amid a red-drenched background, for the recent Artcade show. Thankfully, the organizers of said exhibition provided it for play at ZapCon and if we'd had a forklift, a pickup truck, and some knockout gas, we would've made off with it.