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.


  1. Barcade? Do you mean this Barcade - www.barcadebrooklyn.com?

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.