Sunday, March 25, 2007

Coin-Opining 4: Cool Crest

It's been kind of hard to think of what to write about the final arcade on our tour. It's probably due to the short amount of time we spent there. Ah, well. Next time, we do this, I'm gonna have a schedule all worked out for the whole week. You know how structure makes everything fun.

Detour Down E(Z) Street
I guess the most memorable part of the trip to Cool Crest was, well, the trip to Cool Crest. I momentarily forgot how badly Google Maps for Treo can screw directions up. Because of the applications weird way of finding directions, Google Maps managed to get the address for Cool Crest on East US Highway 40 (E US Highway 40), mistake it for E Street and lead us from Ameristar to a trailer park.

Oldies But Happies
Regardless of the detour, we still got to Cool Crest and put in some time on some of the machines. We were cutting it pretty close, but I got in a game of House of the Dead III, OutRun 2 and (of course) SuperNOVA. Like Northern Lights Arcade, it even had a Star Wars Arcade cabinet, which I'm sure Brent would have beaten if they didn't cut the power halfway through the last level.

It's kind of hard to pin down exactly how much I enjoyed Cool Crest. On the one hand, it's cheap, I like the atmosphere (couldn't tell you why) and it's the only place in town that I know of with OutRun. Unfortunately, it's kind of out of the way. Still it was pretty fun, and a definite return for the next Arcade Tour.

Coin-Opining 3: Ameristar's Hi-Vi Arcade

It's been awhile since I've been to Ameristar and it's Namco-based video hall. Even though it seemed to have the newest machines out of all the arcades, I still felt a bit ripped off at first.

Almost every game I played at the Hi-Vi was a whopping four tokens. Granted, it was a bit of my own fault. The only attractions I partook of were the big ones like Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA and Mario Kart Arcade GP. Still it was no excuse, as it seemed you only get one race out of all the driving games there, regardless of how you place.

I guess Dave and Buster's is a bit smart, perhaps even nefarious in its way. Their proprietary credit system obscures the true cost of each game behind decimal points and Gold Status. You know I don't have time for math when all I wanna do is hurt someone.

No End to NOVA
I have this weird problem with DDR. It's weird in the sense that I'm totally aware of the situation, yet I'm powerless to do anything about it. You see, I tend to only play 8 or 9 foot songs throughout, and after the standard three songs, I'm usually quite tired. I say the standard three songs because the number of songs per round can be configured to more. Such is the case with the Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA machine at Ameristar. The slightly higher (four token) cost should have tipped me off, but I just assumed that they had overpriced the game along with all the others.

Three songs is the sweet spot for me, so you can imagine my enervation after the four stages of SuperNOVA. The extra stage I got afterwards didn't help matters either.

The Soul Ignites
Brent was playing the arcade version of Soul Calibur III when a girl with a PSP walks up. She couldn't have been out of elementary school since her stature put her eye level with the controls. The amusing part was her play-style. A fevered procession of joystick-twirling and button-mashing from the girl and Brent's generosity and lax play took him down to a fifth of his life. However, a few lucky hits brought him down to nearly the end of his health. It would have been funny to see him lose, but it was just as entertaining watching him win from his near-death situation. Truly that girl is a tournament player in the making.

The new games were a pleasant surprise for our third outing. It would be nice to hit the arcade after a film in the adjacent theater, or before hitting the $11 lunch buffet. Like Dave & Buster's Midway, Hi-Vi Arcade is another nice complement to an overall outing, just not the big show.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Coin-Opining 2: Great Wolf Lodge's Northern Lights Arcade

I guess I should be thankful that The Midway didn't have a DDR machine. With the amount of credits I had and the fatigue I felt after Great Wolf Lodge, I would imagine I'd be dead right now.

The Frozen Desert
It's kind of hard to compare to Dave & Buster's sprawling display of lights and sound, even if half of it's redemption games. Still, Northern Lights just felt like a arcade, more so than D & B. Justin and Brent say that the ratio of video-to-redemption games was higher, which I guess I could believe. The comparison is blurred by the mixture of each type throughout the arcade as opposed to The Midway's half-and-half approach.

Slot-Loaded Samurai
One game that I tried for the first time was Mazan, a motion-sensing sword game. It's an interesting experience, but a bit hard to control. Subtle movements seem to be the key, as quick swipes caused my in-game sword to disappear from the screen. Once I got that down though, it was pretty fun. Parrying incoming attacks and countering really made the game. Still, there were times when wiggling the katana from side to side got me through.

It kind of makes me wonder how the swordplay in Red Steel pans out. It would be nice to see a game that plays like Mazan on the Wii. I know Dragon Quest Swords is coming out, but it doesn't look like it will have that parrying ability. Maybe No More Heroes will present some of the same swordplay elements.

Makes me think about trying Blade of Honor out and seeing how it compares.

"The rhythm's hard to ignore…"
Of course I spent most of my time on the dance stage, regardless of the health risks it presented to me. I think that I have an addiction. I just forgot how much fun DDR is with a crowd, and how out of practice I am. It's an interesting situation when you have to stretch before playing a game.

I remember when Dance Dance Revolution used to be the main attraction of every arcade around here. Now, it just doesn't seem to draw the same numbers anymore. It's a shame, since I use to think that if anything was gonna keep arcades going, it would be DDR.

It was another fun outing, but not something to do on a weekly basis.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Coin-Opining 1: Dave & Buster's Midway

Yesterday started our week-long plan for this spring break. It's not been since high school that my friends and I have made arcades a regular part of our routine, which shouldn't be a surprise. The consensus of the video game community states that the arcade is a dying breed, something I sorely wish wasn't the case.

It's not that I'm a fan of the ticket-dispensing redemption games or the MAME-based Ultracade cabinets. The best arcade games are the ones that present an experience that's difficult to reproduce at home. The Virtual Ons. The After Burners. The Out Runs. And even gun games like House of the Dead and Time Crisis could theoretically be played on a home console, it's just so much more enjoyable with a widescreen display ahead or a pedal underfoot. It's not just gun games, either. Dance games like DDR, which can be played enjoyably at home with a good dance pad, are much better in a public area because of the crowds they draw.

That's another aspect of the arcade; the people. While online services like Xbox Live are making it easier to connect to strangers for a quick game of Uno, it just feels better when the stranger's there at your side. Plus, the absence of anonymity seems to prevent the onslaught of jackass comments that are coupled with most online affairs. One of my most memorable arcade experiences happened when I was around 10. It was a game of The Simpsons with three teens unacquainted to me, and that sticks in my mind more than most other video game memories.

It's for those reasons and more that we are setting out to explore what's become of arcades in the immediate area. I've decided it would be fun to write about each experience. At the very least, it would finally give me something interesting to put in this blog.

Dave & Buster's: The Future of the Arcade?
Brent coined an interesting term; barcade. At least, I heard it from him first. It's the perfect word to describe Dave & Buster's.

I hate to admit it, but I fear that the time of stand-alone arcades like Aladdin's Castle has passed. It would be nice to go to a place where only gamers dwell, but I fear that relying on that audience of the hardcore is killing the arcade today. I just don't see many people trekking to the mall just to get in a game of Tekken.

It looks like "family fun" centers, where the kids vid-out and the adults enjoy a beer while watching the ballgame, are the best bet. It makes sense, though. You want to make sure that everybody in the group is having fun, and that includes the ones doing the driving. You go in, put your name down for a table and kill the hour-long wait with a few games of Daytona USA or Virtua Tennis 3. So how does The Midway, Dave & Buster's arcade, wear the mantle of Video Arcade Savior?

Power Up
Gone are the tokens of old. In their stead stands the future of arcade operation; the Power Card. You charge your Power Card with money to get a number of "chips", which in turn are deducted in varying amounts each time you add a credit to a game. The ones I played cost anywhere from 3 to 10 chips, but I am sure the range is greater than that. The economy of the affair didn't affect us too much, since I had a bunch of free cards given as reparations for the less-than-optimal experience my family had during Dave & Buster's opening months.

Now this seems like a cool idea, as long as you have a Power Card. If you have a Power Combo Card, your experience won't be as enjoyable. Power Combo Cards are non-transferable and non-rechargeable, so if you get stuck with a fraction of a chip, you're out of luck. You can't help but feel a little cheated, but I guess it's more incentive to purchase a Power Card.

House of the Sega
I never realized how big Sega was in the arcade. The Midway features a number of SEGA offerings, from the more recent House of the Dead 4 and Ghost Squad to the relative classics like The Lost World. With their massive screens and custom light guns, it's hard to imagine getting the same enjoyment out of home conversions of these games. Ghost Squad was an interesting change of pace with its submachine armaments, and though House of the Dead 4 was more of the same, I'm a sucker for a machine gun and grenades. Now if they'd only release a new Virtual On, I'd claim Sega the Kings of the Cabinet.

Joy Without the Joystick
One thing that Ben and Brent pointed out is that Dave & Buster's has a scarcity of a certain gaming icon; the joystick. Out of all the machines there, I counted only six with joysticks. Four of them were classic game compilations, one was Virtua Tennis 3 and the last was, a kid you not, a conversion of Madden for the arcade. This was a bit of a disappointment when I first realized it, but I think it's for the best.

Now when I make my arcade, a floor is going to be devoted to classic cabinets from the golden age, but new arcade games should be varied in their control schemes; different light guns, full enclosures and motion-capture cameras. These machines need to give me a reason not to try and play the same game at home. If they're going to spend the money on dedicated machines, they should be dedicated for a reason.

Eat, Drink, Play
Our romp through The Midway wasn't the most thrilling of affairs. I'm not in any hurry to return, though I did have fun. I think the problem is that no one part of Dave & Busters should be taken by itself. My own personal dilemma stems from who the arcade is truly meant for. It's there for restaurant patrons. It's there for kids. It's there for drinking buddies. It isn't there for gamers. They might have a wealth of new arcade offerings, but where are the classics? The vintage game selection left me wanting, and there wasn't a single fighting game in the joint. It's a great place to go if you want something to do while you wait for your table, but it's no main event. Where can a gamer go to face down a hover tank à la Cyber Sled, or join forces with five other mutants in X-Men. I want to Finish Him. I want to Shoot the Food.

It's a great idea and a great attempt, but it's probably not what those who would call themselves gamers want. I know I was left needing something more.

One thing's still true about the arcade, though; the redemption counter sucks.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Habit Building

Yea for free time.

Next week is spring break, so I consider the sudden relief in workload a pleasant preview. Maybe I'll take the extra time to post more. Then again, I'd need something to happen that's worth writing about.

300 was a pretty good movie. Even though I knew how it would ultimately resolve, I still enjoyed the film, especially the ending. I'm just glad I didn't (or ever) listen to David Edelstein