Ah, Valentine’s Day is in the air tomorrow, and I plan to be celebrating with my downloaded Kid Icarus on the Virtual Console… before the girlfriend gets off work.

I was thinking a lot about arcades this past week, especially as I past one of the few mall-based arcades that I know of in San Diego last Sunday. Most arcades now are regulated to Dave & Busters, Boomers, or assorted beach boardwalks (though the selection on the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz is top notch).

Arcades today aren’t the same. They are mostly gun games, a few fighters, and Konami’s Bemani line-up, which pretty much is all that passes for arcades now. The music, lighting, ambiance… it’s all different. I remember when arcades looked more like Flynn’s from the TRON movie. This giant, backlight neon-lit cave filled with rows upon rows of an infinite variety of games, beeping little tunes while Journey plays in the background and lukewarm pizza could be bought for two bucks. I’ve shown this link in the past, but this is the right idea, or even here. Granted, it’s not the ’80’s anymore, but it is too much to ask for a decent Ms. Pac-Man game, or Mr. Do, or even a Crazy Climber?

When I was a kid, arcade were pretty much magic wonderlands where my parents would let me play for a few hours. They were dark and exciting and very rarely multiple copies of the same game. Today, arcades are a bunch of cabinets shoved into a big room where Dance Dance Revolution seems to be the highlighted game no matter where you go.

I know the past few generations of systems have pretty much brought the complete arcade experience home with nigh-perfect emulations that never require you to leave your room, but what about the “hangout” aspect of it? Those times when Mom would drag you at the mall, and rather than trudge through the dress sales, you could pump a few quarters into Gauntlet? I still remember Satan’s Hollow and Tempest huddled in a corner of a Florida arcade, eerily lit by the glow of a blacklight, or that singular Pac-Man machine in Zayre’s. My Mom and Grandmother could compare sale prices all day if they left me enough quarters. Arcades were so packed back in the day, it was like navigating a maze. Now, you can just see the emptiness, while wondering how much fun Golden Tee Golf could be in comparison to Centipede or Donkey Kong.

When the arcades started dying in the late ’90’s, and companies like Midway yanked some of the final plugs, it was the end of an era. And even then it wasn’t the same. Not like the ’80’s. Now, those arcades seem more of a moment frozen in history, a childhood memory long-since passed by, and nostalgically waxed over in the pages of my Supercade book.

Someone really needs to bring the “glory days” back for the arcades….

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Filed under: arcade gaming