Nerd Culture

Starfighters Arcade in Mesa Moves to Newer, Bigger Location

Starfighters Arcade in Mesa has found a new place to land. The popular vintage video game haven, which boasts more than 100 classic and retro arcade favorites, recently moved into a newer and bigger location earlier this month that offers even more room for local joystick junkies to get their game on.

Co-owners Steve Thomas and Mike Lovato, who opened Starfighters last fall in an office park near McKellips and Greenfield roads, said its original location was a bit small for not only their needs but also those of their loyal following of gamers and geeks who have flocked to the spot.

So when a bigger space a couple of doors down became available earlier this summer, they leapt at the chance to expand the arcade.

“We were kind of packed into the old place and we listened to what our customers were asking for, which was more room and a place to sit down.” Thomas says. “Those were the two biggest things that they were complaining about... other than the swamp cooler.”

Said concerns are no longer an issue at Starfighters' new location, which opened earlier this month. Measuring approximately 4,000 square feet, it's more than double the size of the arcade's original home as well as offering air conditioning and enough space for a kitchen, separate bathrooms, a lounge area with seating, and (thankfully) more games.

"We just kind of just went with what we knew we needed," Thomas says. "And it was an amazing thing that [the space] popped up two doors down from where we were. So it's not a giant move for us as far as distance, but it's a big leap forward for the arcade."

According to Thomas and Lovato, both of whom have collected and restored classic arcade titles for decades, Starfighters now hosts a total of 102 different games, 20 more than at its previous location. (The selection runs the gamut from standards like Pac-Man and Galaga to such throwbacks as Sea Wolf, Tutankham, Paperboy, After Burner, and Final Fight.)

Before they flipped the switch on any of the titles in the collection, however, the pair had a lot of work to do. After securing the spot, the former headquarters of a local construction company, Thomas and Lovato spent a good chunk of July renovating the property along with the assistance of several patrons and volunteers, including redoing some of the wiring to handle their power needs and replacing the carpeting.

"They used a ton of glue with the carpet that was in here,” Lovato says. “Scraping it off was probably one of the worst things I had to do. I could live a thousand more years and not have to do that one more time."

They also transformed a row of offices and rooms into five separate nooks for games. And in a neat touch, which O.G. gamers would undoubtedly appreciate, the arcade features clusters of games grouped together by the respective company that made 'em. It's something they did at the original location, Lovato says, and wanted to continue at Starfighters 2.0.

"What we've tried to do is to keep games from the same manufactures together he same with each nook,” he says. To wit: one of the nooks features such old-school Atari classics as Centipede and Crystal Castles side by side while another offers Williams classics like Sinistar, Moon Patrol, and Robotron 2084. There's also a row of circa-1980s Nintendo faves (Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Duck Hunt) by the entrance and a huddle of old vector graphics games (Space Duel, Omega Race, Battlezone) along one wall.

Thomas and Lovato have plans to add even more games into the mix in the near future, and not just those of a quarter-munching kind. Plans are in the works to turn a side room into a space with old-school consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis available for play, which was inspired by the similarly themed “Atari Lounge” at the annual ZapCon arcade game convention.

Starfighters' loyal crop of patrons have followed them to its new home during their normal operating hours on Friday and Saturday nights, Thomas says.

“People still find where we are that were coming before,” he says.

They're not the only ones who are finding their way to the arcade, as Lovato says new people discover the place all the time.

“It's fun to see how many people or how many different faces we're going to see every weekend,” he says.

The fun of geeking out with fellow gamers and old-school arcade fans harkens back to one of the reasons why they started the Starfighters in the first place.

“We've both collected games for years and always got a kick out of having family and friends over to play 'em,” Lovato says. “Then our collections finally got out of hand and we thought it would be cool to own a vintage arcade with all the stuff that's really not available anymore to the public.”

And now that they've got more room, they're constantly bringing more games from their stockpile, the most recent of which includes a vintage Goonies from the mid-'80s and Mortal Kombat 4.

"I've still got stuff in my garage, he's got stuff in his garage,” Thomas says. “We're always working on fixing up something we've got to bring in here.”
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.

Latest Stories