I’ve never been to a real arcade, as far as I can remember. By which I mean I’ve never been to one that ran exclusively on quarters and only featured arcade and pinball machines. As a child of the 90’s I grew up thinking video games were a one time buy. A fixture of the home that every kid had and enjoyed. Back then I had no clue arcades used to rule the gaming scene.
Slowly throughout the years I accumulated a large amount of Nintendo games and products and one day I decided I had enough to consider it a collection. Then I actually began collecting, which is a different beast entirely. Last summer as I browsed through the Nintendo sections of eBay I saw that a Donkey Kong arcade machine was for sale not far from where I lived. I called up the owner and made him an offer. Four hours later I sat in the dining room of my small apartment and played my very first game of Donkey Kong on a restored 1981 machine. Every time I look at the big blue cabinet I get a goofy grin on my face. It's kind of an honor to have a large piece of Nintendo history sitting in my house. The man who sold me the machine, one Travis Sims, did so out of his garage. When I arrived the garage was full of cabinets and other parts that I had never seen or even heard of. I guess there wasn’t enough space because he started up his own little repair store down the road and dubbed it Arcade Rescue 911.
Today I went to the Arcade Rescue 911 open house. Here’s my investigative report (with pictures!).
The first thing I saw as I came through the door was a Ms. Pacman machine. Since every game was on free play I decided to give it a whack, but was soon mobbed by ghosts. So I played it again. And again. It's hard not to get addicting to out maneuvering ghosts, especially when it's not coasting you anything. Directly to the right of Ms. Pacman was Dragon’s Lair, or as I like to call it “Try Not to Die for Four Seconds!” Seriously. That game was insanely hard. Even after I asked one of the arcade veterans to show me the ropes I couldn’t get far without dying a grisly death. I drank poison, walked off ledges, got electrocuted, got strangled by swamp monsters - the torment was never ending. But hey, it was on free play, so I kept at it.
I made my way around to many different parts of the little repair shop and played almost all of the arcade games available. There were plenty of other folks around playing games and many kids playing arcade games for the first time, which is a funny sight because they don't care if they win or lose, they just want to play. In one corner there were three pinball machines (Arena, X-Files, and Taxi) that were all in wonderful working order. If only I had the cash (and space) to get one of those bad boys. Also Hydro Thunder... I need that in my life. I mean it basically doubles as a massage chair, what with it's ridiculously rumbly seat. I think that's the pith I'll stick with when I casually suggest we get one to my wife.
Along the middle of the wall I found an Atari Asteroids machine, in great condition no less. I’d never played the original Asteroids either, so I set my sights on destroying some of the more jagged space rocks as well as some zippy spaceships. The game was also hard, mostly due to the lack of a joystick, but I found it much more satisfying than Dragon's Lair. Dragon's Lair! *Shakes fist*
In the back of the shop were games that had been sold or had yet to be fixed. Artwork for games, circuit boards, buttons, control panels, and screens were all present and accounted for. You can see all the different circuit boards down below, my favorites being "Dead Frogger" and "Tekken 2". The owner was kind enough to give me a tour and show me how they acquire and fix the machines. It's very apparent that a lot of time and money goes into a jobby (job + hobby = jobby) like this, and I could tell that he did it more for fun than for a profit. After all, you’re buying, selling and fixing arcade machines, and it seems like a very enjoyable activity.
If you have the money, the space and the chance I highly recommend you pick up an arcade machine sometime in the future. Sure they cost hundreds and can break down, but these mammoths of gaming history deserve good homes with dedicated owners. They're always great conversation pieces and just about everyone who walks through my door wants to try their hand at rescuing Paulina.
If you live in the Midwest (especially the Indiana, Illinois, Ohio area) you should look up Arcade Rescue 911, it’s a great little shop with some dedicated owners.