Nothing compares to the euphoria gamers feel when they walk into a world-class arcade. The frenetic visual and aural stimuli coming from the speakers and illuminated marquees of the game cabinets; the intensity of the players focused on their monitors and the weight of pockets packed with tokens all help create an alternate reality – one in which the natural world recedes to that of a digital universe with only a control panel tethering the player to reality.
There’s no replacement for coin-op video game arcades — that’s not romanticism of a bygone era, but a truism, similar to the difference between an e-reader and a paperback or hardcover book; both contain the same content but in different formats.
Several factors led to the decline of arcades as a viable gaming entity. The introduction of high-powered, home-gaming rigs and the diminished social appeal of leaving the house to compete against a limited number of players as opposed to staying home and competing against opponents on a global scale, as well as technological stagnation, all contributed to the diminished popularity of arcades.
But arcades haven’t gone entirely extinct yet. You could argue a type of digital natural selection occurred, allowing only the fittest, or world-class, arcades to survive and thrive. Here are five of the best still in play to this day.
1. SEGA Ge-Sen (SEGA Game Center)
Location: Akihabara District, Tokyo, Japan
SEGA Ge-Sen is to arcades what the Holy Grail was to Arthurian knights. SEGA operates arcades worldwide, but its flagship arcade, Ge-Sen, comprises six floors of thousands of cabinet arcade games, enclosed-group arcade games, music games and arcade-level Xbox 360 games and pinball games, as well as medal games (think casino games like video poker without the payouts), anime cafes and many cosplay maids.
Naturally, Ge-Sen features the newest in arcade releases, including Target Bravo: Operation Ghost, Luigi’s Mansion Arcade and Let’s Go Island: Dream Adventure. As of 2017, Ge-Sen is elevating arcade gaming to the next technological level by adding a dedicated VR section, likely to employ HTC’s VIVE headsets.
Location: Laconia, New Hampshire
Named the “Largest Arcade in the World” in 2008 by Guinness World Records, Funspot has a storied history, one that includes American gamer Harry Hong setting the record for most lines cleared in Tetris with a line tally of 4,988, and Donkey Kong virtuoso Steve Wiebe scoring over 1,000,000 points and reaching the game’s kill screen.
Owned and operated since 1952 by now-82-year-old Bob Lawton, Funspot has over 600 arcade games in a three-story facility that also houses the American Classic Arcade Museum, referred to by BostonGlobe.com as the “Louvre of the 8-bit world.” With other attractions — including an 18-hole miniature golf course, a 20-lane bowling center and a private meeting space that holds 400 people — Funspot has a lot of fun to work with should video arcades experience a highly unlikely second “mass extinction event.”
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Barcade offers what Gen Xers couldn’t get at arcades during their prime, at least not legally — booze. Based in the hipster bastion of gentrification, Brooklyn, Barcade has all the classics from a 40-something’s youth: Asteroids, Centipede, Joust, Contra, 1943: Battle of the Midway, Castlevania — basically, if it was cool in the ‘late ’70s and ’80s, they have it.
Add a full bar, a formidable selection of regional craft beers and a kitchen serving well-made pub fare like roasted duck nachos, barbecue pork sliders and bacon mac and cheese, and Barcade has just about everything an arcade fan needs to survive. Barcade has seven locations through the Northeast and shows no signs of slowing down its retro-arcade redux anytime soon.
4. Galloping Ghost Arcade
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Galloping Ghost Arcade ranks below Barcade only for the simple fact they don’t offer the one thing Barcade does — again, booze. Guinness World Records might have granted Funspot the title of “Largest Arcade in the World,” but Galloping Ghost has just about as many games, 613 as of October 2017.
Galloping Ghost might not serve craft beer, but they do have the arcade gamer’s dream: all games are set to free play! Upon entry, gamers purchase an all-you-can-play day pass for $20 valid until the 2 a.m. closing time.
Galloping Ghost singlehandedly kept the Chicago arcade scene alive when it opened with just 140 games on Friday the 13th of August, 2010. Most Chicago arcades had only rundown, poorly kept games on hand with no opportunities for organized competitive play, but the Ghost turned that around by hosting tournaments with pay-outs and a general professional attitude toward the industry never before seen in Chi-Town.
With rare titles such as Godzilla, Primal Rage II and Hammer Away, and scheduled tournaments such as Kombat Kon 2017 and T20 Arcade Tournament 2017, it’s likely Chicago’s one-stop shop for all things arcade is here to stay.
5. Castles ‘n Coasters
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Castles ‘n Coasters covers 10 acres of land, with its arcade taking up three floors and approximately 12,000 square feet of its indoor space. With over 150 games including Pacman, Ms. Pacman, Galaga, Donkey Kong and Tetris, and newer offerings like Walking Dead Arcade and Space Invaders Frenzy DLX, Castles ‘n Coasters is not only current but thriving.
Other attractions, such as the Desert Storm and Patriot coasters, a Skywire zipline and Skydiver freefall ride, and an 18-hole miniature golf course and Triotech’s XD Dark Ride, helps ensure the C ‘n C arcade’s longevity just in case this whole video-game fad goes belly up.