Arcade bars are the new thing, a bubble we hope never bursts. And while we’re probably a couple of Trump presidential terms away from a drunken coin-operated paradise, we can live out that ideal fantasy right now at one of the best arcade hangouts in Phoenix.
Cobra Arcade Bar packs in a surprising amount of classics under its roof. And while places like Bonus Round in Phoenix and Endgame in Tempe might have some arcade offerings, the amount of games at Cobra can easily befuddle the steeliest player.
If you were deprived of a proper, healthy childhood in which these games got more attention than some of your relatives, it can be a bit overwhelming to know which games are worth playing and which games are Q*Bert.
We’ve played all* the games at Cobra and have brought you a definitive ranking. Below you'll find them ranked from our least favorites to the very best.
Now as always, the amount of time, manpower, money, and booze exhausted in our search to bring you this information is infallible and unsusceptible to debate. Should you find yourself disagreeing with these rankings, please consult the nearest emergency room and hope your diagnosis is easily treatable.
*Note: Cobra management frequently changes out the arcade selection, though a few mainstays might stick around longer than others. These are the games that were there on the occasions we went, pinball tables excluded.
Don’t let the isometric, borderless play area fool you. Q*Bert is a crappier version of Pac-Man. Contrarians may attempt to extol the quirks and unforgiving play of this game, but give it no thought.
Our two cents: Save your quarters and tokens for something you’ll enjoy playing.
Let’s get this out of the way first. Some of the games you'll find in the section of this list might be considered "classic." That’s all well and good, and while some of their qualities probably informed the mechanics of games that come later on the list, some of these are just dated and out-classed.
But not Centipede because this game, simply put, sucks.
Another antiquated fixed shooter. It’s pretty much the same damn game as Centipede but with different enemy configurations and movement speeds.
The precursors to the shoot-em-up genre might hold some merit in the annals of video game history. But when it’s sitting between Bubble Bobble and Ms. Pac-Man, what the hell would you play?
This game ranks just above those classic shooters because of its inherent multiplayer aspect, but only barely. Lame combat mechanics dictate the victor in a match, making it easy for someone who has never played Joust to dominate someone with a decent handle on the game.
The Simpsons Bowling
Oh, The Simpsons Bowling. You can’t bowl as Otto, and you don't you see him in the background trying to get a lobster harmonica or Harvard diploma from a claw machine.
Even worse, it’s easy. Really easy. A first-time player could easily roll constant strikes. And while it might be redeemed by the voice-acting and one-liners in the game, you can’t exactly hear it all while Cobra’s DJ spins.
This on-again, off-again cooperative arena beat 'em up is pretty decent. But Cobra has better offerings in the genre. The game’s sluggish and weird, and you have to kill your friends before you can fight the final boss.
The occasionally competitive brawls are all right, but that doesn’t redeem the boring nature of it all. Pit-Fighter’s nowhere near the likes of Final Fight or Battletoads.
Surprisingly, it's the only multiplayer racer in the building, but a classic nonetheless. It occupies a small footprint near a corner in the bar, providing ample space for all three players to get involved.
Super Off-Road is worth a play with enough people for the ability to screw your friends over a la Mario Kart.
The best part of Spy Hunter is the badass soundtrack, but that’s not all it has going for it. Finally passing a level is a rewarding feeling only heightened by the game’s difficulty. Don’t be surprised if you waste a couple quarters learning the roads.
Frogger is pretty fun. At first, we ranked it lower. But then we realized that it’s essentially the herald of procedural platform-hell games like Spelunky. And while it may have only jumped up a few spots, it’s still better than Simpsons Bowling. And that says something.
1943: The Battle of Midway
It’s still a half-decent shooter, but 1943 — more than many classic arcade games — had an epic sense of scale, and the feeling of being the lone gunner in the air against squadrons of rival fighters, fleets of watercraft, carriers, and battleships against the backdrop of World War II.
It’s weird to say now that the historic theme was a refreshing change of pace, considering the abundance of Calls of Duty and Medals of Honor we’ve played since, but 1943 was an early hallmark among Capcom's historic output.
Metal Slug 3
Sometimes it’s just fun to blow shit up. While these games take the Contra dial and crank it past the limit, they tend to lack the heart of the original. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun.
The amount of weapons, gadgets, branching paths, and big-ass tanks make it a fun run-and-gun platformer, emphasizing the term “platformer.”
VS. Super Mario Bros.
Sure, it's fun, but this game is the opposite of Donkey Kong in that it's worse on a cabinet. While DK practically necessitates playing on an arcade, SMB requires a Nintendo d-pad. The novelty of playing classic Mario at an arcade wears off the second that quarter slides in the slot. The OG game is better for an arcade.
Light gun shooters are as much a staple of a '90s childhood as Gak, pogs, and bowl cuts. This one came at the tail end of the genre’s heyday but featured a tactile twist — a functional pump on the fake shotgun that enabled you to reload. Cobra doesn’t have the shotguns, but those were unwieldy in a tight space so the handguns are a welcome change.
The game’s aesthetic is batshit bonkers, going through a haunted/malfunctioning theme park complete with mutant dragon-gremlins, robotic milkmen, and a giant monster baby.
Tekken Tag Tournament
The perfect game for separating the button mashers from those who actually use fighting game techniques.
Nintendo’s first proper outing with Mario and Luigi maintains a legacy of being one of the first true multiplayer arena combat games, even if somewhat accidentally. Many elements of the game lend to their definitive stamp on the genre with Super Smash Bros.
Street Fighter 3: Third Strike
Eh, it's alright, we guess. Definitely the least appealing of Cobra's Street Fighter offerings. But it’s still a wonderful fighter. This is the one that brought back Chun-Li, so even if you suck at all the crazy new technical shit like parrying you can always spam her rapid kick move.
Nintendo's original platformer began a legacy of excellence maintained to this day. And despite improving and perfecting the formula over the last few decades, the classic Donkey King still holds up. Even among shooters and puzzlers that give much, much more bang for your quarter, Donkey Kong remains playable.
Ms. Pac Man
Another classic and always worth a play. Infinitely better than Q*Bert. Did you read that part about how much Q*Bert sucks already?
A cocktail might impair your ability to recall all of those classic patterns and tells from Punch-Out. The arcade version might not be as highly regarded as the NES version with Mike Tyson, but it’s still a good time all the same.
This wonderful puzzler is often overlooked but always satisfying and easy to handle. But like all arcade classics, "easy to handle" does not always equate to "easy to master."
While the game isn’t too difficult, the later levels get more and more difficult to progress, but players definitely get their money's worth.
How many quarters can you spend just figuring out how to play this damn game? Once you understand the bizarre rules and combat mechanics, Dig Dug is truly worth the time. It has the panic-inducing claustrophobic moments like Pac-Man but with more player agency.
Rare’s lone entry to the fighting genre kicks all sorts of asses. The character designs, move sets, soundtracks, and graphics embody the '90s in a way that hasn’t been done, except for maybe Primal Rage.
Get your combo on and mess up your friends in this classic fighting game.
Do you like Geometry Wars? Smash TV is among the all-time great twin-stick shooters. Trapped in a reality show where you must kill to survive, players team up to take on hordes of enemies on a single screen, progressing only when everything else is dead. Hell yeah.
Probably the most difficult of all the brawlers, possibly because of that goddamn hoverboard level that no one on the planet can beat. But impossible level design aside, the charm and intensity of Battletoads is rarely matched.
This brawler allows you to choose from three badass characters: Haggar, Cody, and Guy. But Haggar is the mayor of the town and a former pro wrestler so WHY WOULD YOU PICK ANYONE ELSE?
Team up with a couple friends to rescue Haggar’s daughter and grab-throw your way through a bunch of generic 1980s gang members.
Star Wars Trilogy: Arcade
Guess what! You get to re-enact the Battle of Hoth and/or Death Star trench run for the millionth time! Of course, that’s not to say it isn’t fun; in fact Star Wars Trilogy: Arcade has one of the more memorable renditions of these tried-and-true video game mainstays.
And if you beat a level, you get to duel Darth Vader or Boba Fett with a lightsaber — and isn’t that what we always wanted?
Gauntlet: Dark Legacy
Seriously, how long are these levels? Gauntlet is one of the few dungeon crawlers where players can get lost, despite all of the blinking red arrows showing them where to go. But that’s usually where to find the best loot.
Pick from a range of ridiculous characters, such as the bomb-wielding Jester, and take out thousands of enemies with a few friends.
One of the all-time classic side-scrolling beat ‘em up games tasks six X-Men to take on the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and rescue Professor X. While you can pick favorites such as Storm, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler, does it really matter when this is a game where you can play as Dazzler?
Dazzler is the greatest X-Men character ever, and the fact that you can kick a bunch of Sentinel robo-asses with her is something to be cherished.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time
The Ninja Turtles arcade games were all pretty good, but this second one improved on the first classic in all the best ways. Four players can take control of each Turtle as they attempt to save the Statue of Liberty from a time-traveling Shredder.
Like the X-Men game, the plot is serviceable only to give the Turtles a bunch of different locations to mess the Footclan up. A quick and mindless beat 'em up, TMNT can be easily beaten in under an hour.
Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition
This Capcom classic laid the foundation for every game that has followed. The diverse and unique cast of characters, special moves, bonus stages, and boss fights all combined to make a game still revered to this day.
And this version finally lets you play as Vega, and who wouldn't want to play as a Wolverine clone?
This game could be further down the list. By all counts, maybe it should be. But 20 years later, one glaring flaw remains in this game, and obviously it’s the lack of Michael Jordan. Sure, we can play as Shaq and Penny, or the nigh-infallible basketball duo of Payton and Kemp. Hell, even Malone and Stockton are formidable.
But screw that, we want Pippen and Jordan. Not Pippen and Horace Grant.
Pick up and throw Santa’s Little Helper, punch apples out of a tree, watch out for the angry gorilla, and make sure you slap the shit out of your buttons for the mini-games.
The Simpsons arcade game remains an all-time great brawler, having recently been re-released for consoles. The amount of fan-service in animation and voice-acting holds up among the best seasons of the cartoon, and it beats the hell out of its bowling counterpart.
Mortal Kombat II
The first MK applied that same batshit-crazy attitude that made NBA Jam so successful, viewed through a violent filter, to the fighting genre to great effect. And while MK 2 continued down that path, it also reeled things in and began a welcome veer into ridiculous territories.
What’s more fun than uppercutting someone into a pit of acid? How about turning them into a baby? Or starting to breakdance? Babalities and Friendship finishing moves were added to hilarious effect, making this one of the more interesting entries Ed Boon’s ever made in the series.
There are few feelings more satisfying than breaking a bunch of stuff. Rampage applies this maxim to a three-player arena brawler, only instead of taking on each other, the players destroy buildings and the U.S. military.
Few games have mechanics where one of your attacks consists of eating people, so live out your kaiju fantasies with this simulator.
This Western-themed side-scroller is harder than Battletoads but just as fun. Players die instantly from any attack, losing power-ups in the process. Enemies can attack from all sides, including on the balconies above.
The shoot-out style gunning makes for some platforming difficulty, but Sunset Riders is an underrated gem among the abundance of brawlers and shooters at Cobra.
It’s friggin’ Contra. The torch-bearer of difficult run-and-gun platformers. Fun mini-game alert: Count the amount of quarters (and booze) spent beating the first boss alone, then realize you might have a problem.
And don’t even waste your time with the Konami Code.
NFL Blitz '99
While lesser players might spam offensive plays like DA BOMB, true Blitz veterans know the key lies in defense in forcing turnovers. In which case, reliance on the most popular play in the game could be exploited for a player’s undoing.
And those scenarios lead to unlikely comebacks and down-to-the-wire, game-deciding plays quite often in NFL Blitz. The four-player cabinet is perfect for Cobra. Just make sure someone always rushes the weak side.
Strap on your jetpack and dance through the skies, taking on drone warriors and fire spitting dragons in an endless horizon of danger and perils.
It seems like the best games tend to give zero cares about things like plot and story, focusing more on crazy visuals and fun mechanics. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone with the ability think, because why the hell would anyone play a game but to have a good time?
Space Harrier is more than worth a few quarters because there aren’t any fun games quite like it. Contemporary classics like Star Fox owe a lot to this shooter.
Marvel Vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes
Fighting games, more than most other genres, can be a spectator sport. There’s just something satisfying about watching two evenly matched people vie over draining lifebars while exchanging blows and fireballs and laser projectiles.
The insanity of the Marvel Vs. Capcom franchise hasn’t been matched in a game since the second entry, quite possibly the greatest fighting game of all time (yeah, we said it).
Pick Tron Bonne or Psylocke or Dr. Doom or Jill Valentine, or maybe even all of them. The three-on-three tag-team style, combined with a chargeable attack meter, creates one of the most visually epic fighting aesthetics in an arcade cabinet.
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Watch a few matches, you’ll find yourself cheering along with everyone else. Plus, just listen to that sweet jazz soundtrack.
What is Satan’s Hollow? Only the best game you’ve never heard of. Shoot demon heads and gargoyles, build bridges, then advance to the next screen to kill Satan. How fucking metal is that shit?
Satan’s Hollow is easy to play but difficult to master. As the levels progress and the bridge to Satan requires more pieces, death is unavoidable. But the game’s shield mechanic provides enough defensive capabilities to survive an onslaught.
This one's a favorite among Cobra staff, with a couple of them vying for the top spot on the leaderboards. Some games are so ridiculous in concept yet perfect in execution, combining to make an experience that is, simply put, fun.