Even though I have a home arcade, I never pass up the opportunity to visit a retail location. I've got a fascination for arcades, or more accurately, an obsession. They're symbolic of the '80s like nothing else. Ironically, many of them died off quickly in a one-two punch: The public lost confidence in the industry due to a glut of poor titles, resulting in the video game crash of 1983, and the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 proved to be a major blow for pay-for-play game rooms. The arcade business model was for decades thought to be archaic, and finding one was rare. Most remaining arcades turned to redemption games (think, "tickets for prizes") to survive. Within the remaining pockets of fandom, the spirit of the arcade was long thought to be lost. As it turns out, it was just in hibernation. Yes, vintage arcades are in the process of making a resurgence, fueled by pure nostalgia. People are once again eager to pump coinage into an arcade cabinet for fleeting moments of pure joy.
Upstate New York is home to some great arcades, and I consider Moonwalker Arcade to be among them. It's in a little plaza right along a highway, between a pizza joint and two doors down from a huge comic book/vintage video game console store. The whole setup makes for a nerd's dream road trip. Because Moonwalker sits a little back from the road, if you blink you'll miss it. Here's what to look for:
My first trip to Moonwalker was on my birthday in 2016. I didn't know it was there; my wife had heard about the arcade, and treated me as a surprise. (She also made me a dynamite blueberry pie.) Since then, they've expanded to include a black light room with several '80s classics, and also a room specifically for birthday parties. However, Moonwalker Arcade is probably best known in the area for their wide variety of pinball machines: Everything from electromechanical '70s tables to new releases from Stern and Spooky Pinball line the walls. Moonwalker hosts pinball tournaments from local leagues, and the place is open every day, with a 10:00 P.M. close on Saturdays.
Let's take a look at some of Moonwalker Arcade's retro offerings!
Here's the cocktail table version of Konami/Centuri's classic button-masher Track and Field. Notice the guards on the "Run" buttons, installed by arcade operators to combat the epidemic of patrons slamming on the ends of a pencil to move faster! (Those '80s kids were so innovative.) As a promotional for Track and Field, Konami once offered arcades a box of trophies to be given away for weekly and monthly high scores. Today, these trophies are valuable collector's items. Moonwalker's Track and Field has some great patina from decades of punishment.
The arcade's Deluxe Space Invaders machine has a multi-game board installed, to add some variety to the classic gameplay. The cabinet's 3-D display effect, created with a mirror and a reversed picture on the monitor, is something that still can't be perfectly mimicked on a home system. (You can see the monitor reflecting up to the mirror in the photo.)
What's an arcade without Ms. Pac-Man and/or Galaga? Moonwalker's Namco 20 Year Reunion cabinet combines two indisputable gaming staples, and looks great under black light!
I'll share with you a cool trick for the Reunion cabinet, which I learned while working at a Time-Out arcade. Insert your credit and input this code with the joystick at the menu screen: up, up, up, down, down, down, left, right, left, right, left. If you do the sequence correctly, you will hear the Pac-Man extra life sound, and the Pinky ghost will change into Blinky (Red) on the game select menu. Press start for Ms. Pac-Man, and you'll play the original Pac-Man, a secret game on the cabinet! As an added bonus, you'll probably hold the high score for quite some time.
One of the most difficult games ever conceived, Bally/Midway's 1982 release of Data East's BurgerTime has the player assume the role of Peter Pepper, a chef who must avoid some unruly foodstuffs while assembling (you guessed it) burgers. You can ward off Mr. Pickle and company temporarily with a shake of pepper, but you never seem to have enough! I can't get past the third stage of BurgerTime, but I love it anyway. The protagonist also starred in a little-known arcade game called Peter Pepper's Ice Cream Factory, released in 1984.
Believe it or not, BurgerTime was once offered as an arcade cabinet which loaded the game's program from a micro cassette tape. The format was designed as a cost-saving alternative to circuit boards, and an easier way for operators to swap out games. It was known as the DECO (Data East Corporation) Cassette System, and was notoriously unreliable due to the inherently fragile nature of tape. While the Cassette System was fairly popular for a brief time in Japan, it never gained much of a foothold elsewhere. Very few Cassette System cabinets are still in operation (they're mainly in Japan), and you can safely bet that any BurgerTime you see in the wild is running on a standard circuit board.
In the industry, "converting" an arcade cabinet means to gut an existing machine and replace the circuit boards and external artwork with that of a different game. This was a way for arcade operators to save money on buying an expensive new cabinet, which had often not yet proved profitable. By the late '80s, conversions had become commonplace, due to an industry-standardized wiring system. These days, converted cabinets are generally de-converted to their original games, which have become desirable again with the passage of time.
The first title to be offered as an all-in-one conversion kit, a revolutionary concept in 1982, was Mr. Do! by a company called Universal. (The game was also offered as an original, or "dedicated" machine. I once had one, but it gave me nothing but trouble for years, so I eventually sold it to someone with more ambition.) Mr. Do! is one of the few arcade games in the collector community to be accepted and even valued as a conversion, due to its place in gaming history. Moonwalker Arcade's Mr. Do! is housed in a Centuri Phoenix cabinet.
Before the lawsuit which made "WWF" synonymous with boring pandas, the acronym stood for non-stop, scripted action! 1991's WWF WrestleFest by Technos uses the licensed likenesses of classic wrestling characters, and was instrumental in keeping untold numbers of preteen boys out of trouble for a few minutes.
Who could forget the early '90s controversy surrounding the Mortal Kombat games? (The franchise is still going strong and is gorier than ever, but politicians have since found other sources for their outrage.) You can play Mortal Kombat II, a fan favorite, at Moonwalker Arcade.
Video games have long since made the transition from arcades to home consoles. But the visceral experience of pinball is something that can't be fully appreciated without the actual tables. Unfortunately, pinball machines require constant upkeep, take up a lot of space, and generally come with a hefty price tag. These factors make an arcade the ideal environment for playing pinball, and Moonwalker has an impressive selection of pins.
Let's start with the oldest machines. These electromechanical, or "EM," tables play at a much slower pace than their contemporaries. They're quaint and relaxing. Here, we see a Williams Space Odyssey and Bally's Delta Queen. Vying for attention on the right side of the photo is another Williams EM release, 1972's Spanish Eyes. (It's sporting a custom paint job.)
While neither film set the world on fire, Barb Wire and Hook each got a themed pinball from Gottlieb and Data East, respectively. Moonwalker's Barb Wire may be your only chance to ever experience the machine, as only 1,000 units were produced. (I decided I could live without playing it.)
Now, we get into the high-end stuff. Moonwalker has a great selection of Stern's modern tables. If you take your pinball seriously (or even if you don't), you won't be disappointed.
Williams Midieval Madness from 1997 is one of the most desirable tables ever released. Moonwalker has the Chicago Coin 2015 remake of the game, which included brighter LED lighting on the playfield.
Stern's Spider-Man is a contemporary classic. In the immortal words of Stan Lee: "'Nuff said!"
I was a Domino's delivery driver for years, so I had put a few plays on Spooky Pinball's tribute to aggressive driving!
We'll wrap up this feature with my all-time favorite pinball machine, Williams FunHouse, released in 1990.
I remember at nines years old seeing this game at the arcade where I later worked, and being genuinely terrified of Rudy. He's a wisecracking, decapitated ventriloquist dummy head, whose eyes follow the ball! If that's not creepy enough, my wife's iPhone recognized him as a face.
If you're ever in the upstate NY area, and have even a fleeting interest in coin-operated games, check out Moonwalker Arcade at 253 Vestal Parkway East, Vestal, NY 13850. (They also have air hockey, a pool table and an Internet jukebox.) I'll be writing about other awesome arcades (Like Robot City Games, just a few minutes from Moonwalker), so if you know about one that you'd like to see covered on the site, drop me a line in the box below. I'll also profile private game rooms, so don't be shy! UPDATE: You've got to see this incredible home arcade in Arizona!