Building an arcade cabinet brought up a lot of game-playing memories. I am very surprised that I remember so much about the first arcades I went to. I remember walking through the doors and seeing all the flashing lights and hearing all the sounds of an arcade for the first time.
I’ve been working the Google machine pretty hard trying to find details about these arcades. There is surprisingly little information floating around the web. The only mention I found of my first arcade was two or three short sentences in the middle of a thread on a forum. At least Top Dog once had a page on Wikipedia, even if it has since been deleted.
Aladdin’s Castle, Dickson City, PA
This is most definitely the first arcade I ever frequented; I was probably around five or six years old when my father started taking me here. I was definitely small when we first started going there because I remember standing on one of those metal step stools as I pumped tokens (they were five for a dollar here!) into the Bagman machine. I also remember doing a terrible job playing the odd pinball/video game mashup Baby Pac Man there (I was probably standing on that same step stool).
I know they closed their doors a very long time ago, but they must have been open at least until I was in the second or third grade. I definitely remember playing Excitebike and Pac Land here. Both games were released in 1984.
Barrel of Fun, Pyramid Mall, Saratoga Springs, NY
We used to take a trip up this way every summer. The front of this was covered in wood and the doorway was most of a circle. It was made up to look like you were walking in to the top of a huge barrel. It was right near a Papa Gino’s pizzeria; it may have been right next-door but I’m not entirely sure about that. I remember eating my pizza and running to the arcade as fast as I could, where I would wait for my parents to finish their meal.
Many of the games I played here probably overlapped with the games I played at home. The only game thing that really stands out in my mind at this arcade is playing Mr. Do with my father. Mr. Do was definitely one of my favorites while growing up. It is one of the games we had at home on our Coleco Vision.
Chuck E. Cheese / Zack Perrywinkle’s, Dickson City, PA
Our local Chuck E. Cheese closed down and someone must have reopened it and called it “Zack Perrywinkle’s.” I’m not sure how long it was a Chuck E. Cheese, and I’m not really sure why it closed. What I do know is that the only real difference after it reopened was that they replaced the mouse with a panda bear named “Zack Perrywinkle.” I definitely remember attending a birthday party of two here.
I enjoyed this place more when I was younger. The selection of games wasn’t very good and it wasn’t as modern. I assume the new owners weren’t buying many new games. I remember them having a weird Noah’s Ark game in a short cabinet.
Top Dog, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, PA
Top Dog was definitely my favorite arcade. Both of them have been closed for almost ten years now. The one in Wilkes-Barre was still open in the late nineties. I used to work a few miles down the road and we used to go there to eat and play some games for lunch sometimes.
There was a section up near the front that had those little rides that you pump quarters into. One of them played a strange rendition of a song that sounded a bit like Old McDonald Had a Farm, maybe. When I think of Top Dog, that is the sound I hear in my head. In fact, I have been hearing it the whole time I have been writing this section.
South Side Bowl arcade, Scranton, PA
This one is probably still there, and it is the closest to “home.” It is easily in walking distance of my parents’ house. During fall and winter, when the leaves are off the trees, you can easily see the building directly across the river from my parents’ house. This arcade was just two rows of video games running down the walls of a room in the back of a bowling alley.
When I was younger, I remember playing Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tetris, and S.T.U.N. Runner here. I also dropped quite a few tokens into Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II in this arcade during high school.
Dave and Busters, Dallas, TX
For a while there we were probably hitting Dave and Busters once, or sometimes even twice, a week after work. “My” Dave and Busters is the one in Dallas right behind their corporate office. I used to have a gold card, but I don’t know what happened to it.
I don’t live near a Dave and Busters anymore. It just isn’t as much fun going when they aren’t nearby. When I travel two hours and end up at a Dave and Busters, I just don’t enjoy myself nearly as much. I think I feel like I HAVE to have fun, so I don’t.
Dave and Busters is both way better and a lot worse than the old school arcades. They have better food and drinks than Chuck E. Cheese or Top Dog ever did but the games just aren’t as much fun. It isn’t just Dave and Busters that has that problem, though. Every arcade I wander into today is mostly full of light gun games (I know they aren’t light guns anymore) and racing games. I can play better light gun style games at home on my Wii, and the racing games sure don’t measure up to the Gran Turismo series.