Retro Arcade Gaming

  • by Gitabushi

This weekend, I took my kid back to college in Huntsville, Alabama.  While there, we stumbled across the Rocket City Arcade, where they offer a host of classic arcade games that you can play all day for just $10.

It had been a long day of driving, and so we only played for about an hour. But it felt like even that hour was well worth the money spent.

One precondition was they had to have Joust, and they did.


It took me a little time to get the game skills back, but by the fourth game, I got 64k points and set the high score for the game. I’m really not sure why no one plays it, because 64k points wasn’t that tough to get.  I think in my heyday I must have broken 100k points, because 64k points included making it past just one survival wave and one egg wave, and I think i can remember making it to at least 3 egg waves previously.

The thing I love about Joust is there are no patterns to learn at all. No way to memorize a method or route that lets you beat the AI, or even puts you in a good position, like you can with games like Pac Man or Super Mario Brothers.  Your flapping works against gravity based on your rate of taps, and it is impossible to hold a perfectly rock-steady altitude.  Left and right are possible, but it often takes some finesse to zero out your lateral motion.

There are some places where you can hang out that make it more likely to kill the bad guys, but holding position there is tough, and if you camp there, they’ll get you.

Great game. Highly recommended.  Probably my favorite game of all time, although Karate Champ is also very good.

The arcade also had a great old Star Wars game, where you shot tie fighters before making a trench run. As the game got tougher and faster, with more defending fire directed at you, the trick was to use your blasters to hit the defending fire and stay alive; shooting the enemy was only a secondary goal.

I got to try Donkey Kong, and made it to the 3rd level pretty easily. Got to do a few driving games, which are always fun.  One game I loved, but only saw once, was a stunt driving game.  You did jumps, loops, etc., and the game had some feedback that helped you feel you were actually driving the car doing the stunts. I’d pay good money for an original game in good condition to have the chance to play that and get good at it, but that is apparently not my fate.  It might have been Atari’s “Hard Drivin'”, now that I’ve taken a moment to search.  I thought I remembered green vector graphics, rather than the CRT graphics of “Hard Drivin'”…but the description of showing a replay of your crash sounds familiar, and the gameplay sure seems familiar, too.  Memory is a funny thing.

But that wasn’t one of the games they had.  They did have, however, The Simpsons, and Crystal Castles (boring) and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Several shooting games, but those weren’t as fun.  I usually died in seconds, and only got anywhere by hitting “continue”.  My kid and I had some bonding/fun on one of those for about 10 minutes.

They had a modern update to Rampage, which sucked. Different versions of Street Fighter, which was always best in the original Street Fighter 2 edition, before all the special moves just got stupidly complex and powerful. They had some Galaga types. They had Commando, and I died too quickly to want to try to get back any of that game’s muscle memory skills.

All in all, it was a fun trip down memory lane for me, and a chance for my kid to understand what gaming used to be like.

Doing a quick search, I’m seeing that several places combine retro games with bars. I didn’t look deeply enough to see if you still have to pay for the games. If you pay bar/pub prices for drinks, plus a quarter per game, it doesn’t seem worth it to me.  There’s one in the DC area; I might try it.

But playing the game has convinced me that I will probably will purchase an Arcade1UP Rampage machine, as it includes Joust and Gauntlet. Rampage is okay. Gauntlet is actually kind of fun.  I’ve played a pretty good Gauntlet emulation with my kid on the PS2, and the ability to just hit “continue”, with the loss of limitation of needing to drop a quarter in, makes the game much less fun.  “Red Warrior Needs Food, Badly” is a sentence that sends chills down your spine if you have already given the machine your last quarter.

The system also has Defender, which is perhaps the most masochistic game Williams ever invented.  But that is a game that might be enhanced by eliminating the necessity of quarters: it might actually now be feasible to practice to the point of actually getting good at it.

What classic arcade game was your favorite? Which do you miss? If you missed out on the era, which do you wish you’d gotten to try?

17 thoughts on “Retro Arcade Gaming

    1. I don’t think there are any places with $10/all day gaming, but there are some game-based places:
      seems to have good games, but you still pay for each game with quarters.
      The Atlas Arcade apparently charges quarters for most games, but has some console games (like N64) for a dollar an hour. But fits only 4 people? Dunno.
      This is a PC game center, so not the same.

      But maybe this is a fad that will sweep the nation and end up reaching DC someday?

      Or maybe I’ll make finding and refurbuishing old games my hobby, and open up a place like that myself someday.

      Who knows?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One of the Penny Arcade guys built an arcade in his garage. Watching the episode(s) about that was really cool. If you’ve got the space and money, I can think of worse investments.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I used to have Karate Champ. The one time I decided to try and find it on eBay, someone in the town I lived in had it for sale for $200, which seemed reasonable, so I bought it.

        One of the controllers stopped working, and it sat unused for over a year. Then I plugged it in and the screen wasn’t working. It might have been something simple, but I sold it for cheap.
        From one perspective, I didn’t get my money’s worth. From the perspective of actually *having* it and playing against my friends and against my son (when he was *really* young) a dozen times or so, it was absolutely worth it.

        I think I’m going to get that Joust/Rampage/Defender/Gauntlet game. They have a few others in the series that didn’t excite me, but might be worth forming the core of a Neo-Retro Gaming Hall.

        I’d have to run the numbers.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Just spitballing numbers.
        I got Karate Champ for $200, but that was 15 years ago. Games are more rare today (they break down) and probably with an additional 15 years of use, in worse condition when you can find them.

        So let’s assume $300/game. That’s the price of the Arcade1Up games. Basically, that would be a good standard to decide if a game was worth it. Start with 4 of those, and if people team up, you can have 8 people playing at once. Not everyone would pay and play for the same time. Some might do 2-3 hours early, and someone else might do 2-3 hours before closing time. Some would just do 1 hour. Others would show up when you opened and play right up until you close.

        So if we were open from 5pm to mdnight, 4 games could accomodate/satisfy 20 people/night.

        At $10 for all you can play, that would be $200/night. 4 games for $300 each is $1200 cost. With the rate of people assumed, it would take 6 nights, or 3 weekends, to pay it off.

        …which doesn’t include rent or electricity.

        The Rocket City Arcade also had some old consoles, like an N64, PS2, SNES, etc., with games loaded. I probably could pick up a bunch of old X-Boxes, PS 2/3s, etc., and have those available, as well, with some flat screen TVs. Old systems, bundled with some games, and small used flat screen TVs would be another $200 each, but I’d have to have plenty of replacements ready (since they are old). That would just give me extra game cartridges/discs for people to play, tho, so that’d be all right.

        But then I’d need a few higher-end, more popular games, and a quick look on eBay showed that an original Joust game can cost $1200 or more. There are some other mega-combo-consoles that can cost $900 or so, those might make some nice extras.

        I’m sure you’d eventually get a critical mass where you’d get regulars coming in (maybe a monthly pass?) enough to pay all this off within 12-15 months. But no guarantee. So probably the main thing would be to have an arcade like this just to defray the costs of being able to play them yourself.

        Probably just best to buy the Arcade1Up console, and maybe build a raspberry pi setup like you already have.


  1. I was supposed to meet up with Oghma at an arcade bar in Cincinnati. He didn’t make it out but I did swing by. You had to pay for the games and your beer. I played a little Gauntlet, but I could really have used Oghma for that one.

    My arcade heyday was a little later. The Mortal Kombat games, the original Tekken, and a tank game I was really good at. Double Dragon, Golden Axe, and Altered Beast a little earlier.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I went with the elf this time, but that wound up being a mistake because the auto-spawning cancels out the speed advantage. I think I used to play as the wizard back in the day.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. No one can get very far in that solo.

        One friend helps, but it is really best in a group of 3 or 4, so you can complement each other.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This place sounds fantastic!

    I was always partial to the beat ‘em ups like the Turtles, X-Men, and Double Dragon, and the tournament fighters like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. I also played tons of pinball and Super Chexx bubble hockey. Gotta go the USA vs. USSR edition, not the weak-ass USA vs. Canada.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Well, I like Crystal Castles :)

    My favorites include Donkey Kong, Joust, Mappy, Star Wars, Asteroids, Robotron and Smash TV…quite a few. I definitely like Defender and I appreciate that the game includes so many extra buttons just to screw with players’ heads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think I ever played Mappy.
      Except for the Crystal Castles, good list.

      Maybe Defender wasn’t brutal if you had enough quarters to learn the basics, but when I spent money on it, I never felt like I was getting anywhere, so I stopped feeding it.

      Since it is in the console with Joust, and I won’t be wasting quarters trying to achieve competency, perhaps I will find a love for it.


    1. When we went to the Big City of Billings, Montana (only 80k population, but had two malls), I would hang out in the book store of the smaller mall that lacked an arcade. Then when we went to the larger mall, I would get a dollar to play in the arcade. I usually had to make that dollar stretch for 2-3 hours. Watched a lot of other people play games deciding which game I’d play.

      Liked by 1 person

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