Ten Amazing American Arcades (That You Can Still Visit)

By Jason Helton in Daily Lists, Video Games
Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 6:00 am


There was nothing which excited me as a child as much as a trip to the video arcade. As a child of the '80s, I was surrounded by electronic media. I squealed in delight when my four year-old self found an Atari 2600 hidden in my parent's room. I spent hours copying code from books into my Commodore 64 in hopes of playing a new game, and convinced my parents to make pirated copies of the VHS series "How to Beat Home Video Games" we rented from the nearby video store. As entertaining as these at-home experiences were, it was at the arcade that my electronic fantasies (not of the Saya no Uta variety) were brought to fruition.

As much as I loved these video playgrounds, they were absolutely hated by my parents, who dreaded any time I was able to con some poor sap of a relative into giving me a quarter. They weren't alone; all throughout the period arcades were considered dens of iniquity, no better than the pool hall, laser tags or the skate park. As the industry shifted, the number of arcades diminished drastically, reduced to an endangered species. Once a staple of the shopping center, the concept of a mall arcade is practically gone, usually replaced with a small cluster of mechanical rides and the occasional Stacker machine. The arcade as we knew it seems to have been banished to amusement parks, the shore, and retro loving hipster establishments. Even big name facilities like Dave and Buster's have moved into the realm of redemption games (games that reward your playing with tickets or prizes) rather than the traditional video game.

Topless Robot reached out to two of the biggest names in arcade games, Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day and classic gaming phenom Billy Mitchell to find out what makes an arcade great, and which of the dwindling population of video arcades are ones you shouldn't miss. Billy told me that a great modern arcade needs to have a mix of old and new machines; the old to give it personality, the new to make money. While not all of the arcades on this list followed that model, none of them should be missed.

Of the arcades left in America, many of them deserve to be recognized for their continued operation in days when costs keep rising and profits keep falling. That being said, please feel free in the comments section to bring your favorite arcade to the attention of others.

Honorable Mentions:

Timeline Arcade - Hanover, PA

A classic arcade in a town known mainly for its pretzels, Timeline Arcade has a large selection of classic arcade games, pinball machines and even a nice selection of Atari 2600 games for play. While currently located in a comatose shopping mall, the arcade is slated to move to downtown Hanover later this year, and will include both live music and an art gallery.

Pinball Hall of Fame - Las Vegas, NV

Off the beaten track in Las Vegas is the Pinball Hall of Fame, home to 152 common and rare pinball machines. The machines are kept in immaculate condition, with all of the proceeds going to the maintenance of the machines and the Salvation Army. It may not have all of the bells and whistles (aside from the ones in the machines), but the Pinball Hall of Fame has endured while other similar ventures like Baltimore's National Pinball Museum have already shuttered.

Yestercades - Red Bank, NJ

Another excellent mix of new and old machines including some classic and more recent consoles. What makes this place badass is its location; just a few feet from Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash. The cast of Comic Book Men has been known to frequent the arcade. Yestercades can satisfy your jones for arcade fun faster than Walt Flanagan's Dog.

King of Kong Arcade - Orlando International Airport - Orlando, FL

The King of Kong arcade might be small, but what it lacks in size and selection it makes up in character. Walls are adorned with giant scenes of Donkey Kong, the signage looks straight out of the DVD cover of the documentary, and Billy's signature hot sauce is for sale behind the counter (hopefully in FAA approved containers). Also behind the counter is Billy Mitchell himself, who occasionally makes appearances and never shies away from a photo op with arcade fanatics.

10. PAPA World Headquarters - Pittsburgh, Pa

Ever since I was a young boy, I played the silverball. In fact, thanks to an antiquated and asinine law here in Baltimore, I was kicked out of a mall arcade for playing pinball while still a minor (That's right kids...playing pinball under 18 in Baltimore is a crime!). The game of pinball, while currently on an upswing with emulated versions like The Pinball Arcade and Zen Pinball and with manufacturers like Stern and Jersey Jack still creating new machines, was, until recently, on death's door. As hard as it is to find an arcade near you, it's next to impossible to find a pinball machine most places. The pinballs you do find are often in such disrepair they are often unplayable. But that's not the case at PAPA World Headquarters.

You can still find the occasional machine broken at PAPA, but that's hardly an issue seeing as how they have over 450 of them for you to play and compete on. What's amazing is that this collection, until 2012 belonged to internet entrepreneur Kevin Martin, who recently donated the entire collection to the Replay Foundation, an organization dedicated to community pinball outreach. Even more amazing is that in 2004, almost immediately after PAPA 7, the facility was flooded, destroying the interior of the facility along with the entire pinball collection.

If pinball isn't quite your thing, they also have an impressive collection of video games, including rare titles like one of the few working copies of the much maligned fighter Tattoo Assassins. Spectators are welcome for tournaments, with large HD TVs live streaming the action happening on some of the more impressive tables. So why is this Mecca of the Silverball so far down the list? Accessibility. PAPA World Headquarters is only open to the public twice a year: during the Pinball World Championships, and Pinbrawl, the pinball world match play championships.

9. Star Worlds Arcade - Dekalb, IL

In the '80s, every small town had an arcade of some sort. In my childhood hometown we had the impressive, two story Replay arcade, but in many small towns like ours, the arcade was a tiny hole in the wall. At first glance, Star Worlds Arcade is exactly that. The non-descript, khaki-brick building looks more like a convenience store or truck stop than an arcade. Of course, those preconceived notions are quickly whisked away when you open the front doors.

Packed into every single square inch of space are the great arcade games of yesteryear. You won't find a single new title in the place, which in this case is a good thing. The decor is straight out of the '80s, and pictures of the cramped space almost instantly elicit memories of arcade B.O. What Star Worlds lacks in space or technology, it makes up exponentially with character. The arcade, which started out 27 years ago as a place to store the ever-growing game collection of Pac-Man Pat, has truly been a labor of love. The fact that it has endured in the same location, over so many years is a testament to the pride Pat has for his arcade, and the amount of dedication he has given it. It may not have the same frills as new and more profitable arcades, but then again, none of them are quite the time travel experience that one gets walking into Star Worlds.

8. Barcade - Brooklyn, NY

Walter Day and Billy Mitchell have different opinions about Barcade, but here at Topless Robot, the idea of combining video games and alcohol sounds like one hell of a combination. Opened in 2004 by a group of four friends, Barcade currently features 43 video game classics, as well as an enormous selection of craft beers.

It would be easy to write off Barcade as just an ale house with a few video games to play, but it has attracted hardcore gamers from all walks. Notable world record holders like Hank Chien (Donkey Kong) and George Leutz (Q*Bert) are often seen practicing at their choice machines. As further proof of concept, Barcade has since opened three more locations in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, and dozens more pretenders have popped up across the country. If that wasn't enough to prove it's worth, Barcade Brooklyn was named the best bar in NYC by Foursquare. It's a great place to button mash while getting smashed.

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