Some time ago, my friend Jimmy tipped me off to an intriguing destination in McLean, Illinois about 50 minutes from Peoria, called “Arcadia: America’s Playable Arcade Museum.” And it’s exactly what it sounds like; not just an arcade, and not just a museum.
Opened in 2009, it carries a vision of transporting visitors into the past to once again experience the feeling from being in a fully-stocked arcade, circa 1983. “Arcadia” has managed to assemble in one place practically every game from the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s that you can possibly think to remember-all restored and ready to play.
Now, I am not a modern video game guy at all; it’s a habit that sucks up way too much time and money for my taste. However, I AM a nut for all things retro, and the chance to visit a place whose website promises a chance to “Step Back in Time to 1983 and Relive Some of the Best Moments of Your Life” sounds like too good an offer to pass up. Where do I sign up?
The hours that this place is open are quite limited—it’s only open Friday nights from 5:30 to 9pm and all day Saturday from 9am to 9pm (also by appointment). A freezing cold Saturday afternoon seems like the perfect opportunity to stay inside and play video games, so away we go!
Arcadia is located just off historic Route 66 in downtown McLean. Having never been there previously, I was shocked when we pulled up to find something like this in such a barren place straight out of “The Last Picture Show.” Admission to Arcadia is free (donations are accepted to keep the place going), but there’s no point to just staring at a bunch of old arcade games—we are here to play!
And almost all the games here are set at 1983 prices: Only 25 cents per play, pinball is fifty cents or three for a buck and some of the cockpit games are just fifty cents. The place is open strictly for the love of the games, and virtually no profit is made off its existence.
As Jimmy and I stand outside in the cold with several pounds of quarters burning through my pocket and Pac-Man himself beckoning us from the window, I realize it’s time to stop talking and start playing!
Take this all in, will you? No, I’ve not stepped into Flynn’s Arcade, but I’m pretty sure this is the closest thing you can find to it—there has got to be a TRON game around here somewhere, but before we search let’s look around. The raw exposed brick and duct work, not to mention the whirling dervish of lights and cacophony of sounds pouring from this old place make it a perfect location for this “play-seum” (I completely made that word up by the way).
Neon art illuminates the place. Somebody cue up Pinball Wizard!
And speaking of pinball, an impressive row of machines lines one entire wall—I was warned by one of the other guests playing that the tilt is set pretty tight on them. Better wait to warm up from the cold before I start playing...don’t want to screw up my game from shivering too much.
Since we’ve taken a trip back in time today, it makes perfect sense too that the first game I fire up is the “Back to the Future” pinball machine, which based on looking at the graphics, seems they were not authorized to use Michael J Fox’s likeness on it.
50 cents goes into the machine...and nothing happens. Great Scott, what a bust! Hit the coin return, and three quarters come back. I’m actually making money, but not for long...soon, Dig-Dug shall claim that extra quarter...
I spent some time on the Addams Family machine from 1992 (which has a “Thank You” to the late Raul Julia in its credits). It turns out that—thanks largely in part to its film theming as well as innovations happening at the time of its development—this is the best selling pinball machine of all time. I believe it, as I feel like despite its age, I see this machine in a lot of places that still have pinball.
Many of the pinball machines at Arcadia are electronic 90’s models, but they do have a few earlier electromechanical models full of delightfully loud and clunky sounding buzzers and bells, like this 1976 Target Alpha game.
Here’s my attempt at playing pinball Tommy style…ain’t got no distractions, can’t hear no buzzers and bells, don’t see no lights a flashing, plays by sense of smell...
But in reality, it just looks like I’m humping the machine. Has anyone made a website yet for “Awkward Arcade Photos?”
This row of All-Stars lining the wall opposite from the Pinball machines is where I spent most of my day (and quarters).
I’m not sure what it was, but I could not get enough of BurgerTime that day. Ironically, the most time I ever spent playing BurgerTime in my youth (prior to today) was at a Taco John’s. Running down the row, behind BurgerTime, was the Pac-Man family of games, fan favorite GALAGA and a few other heavyweights as well.
There were several versions of TAPPER made (alcoholic and non, literally) by Bally/Midway. First released in 1983, this of course is the “leaded” version, which was followed by “Root Beer Tapper” in 1984 specifically for locations in which the game would be played by minors. TAPPER even comes outfitted with a brass rail, presumably to make playing, like actual “tapping”, more comfortable. With that Budweiser branding, this could quite possibly become the Official Video Game of MBIP.
Ah! And there it is, the last game in this row of All-Stars: From Bally/Midway (or is it ENCOM?) we finally have TRON. I’m not really a Sci-Fi guy either, but I could sit through either TRON movie all day, any day.
Released alongside the original movie in 1982, Arcadia hosts a full cabinet version of the TRON videogame. The concept behind it involves playing several subgames similar to those played by the programs in the movie (a sort of virtual Olympics) and is controlled with the game’s trademark blue glowing 8-way joystick (there’s a joke in there somewhere).
Yeah, I wore the shirt to the show. You got a problem with that?
Then there’s this magnificent bastard: The 1983 Star Wars ATARI cockpit game, which is one of the most popular games of all time and has enthralled me since I first played it at Show-Biz Pizza decades ago. This one is “Out of Order” today, but simply being in its presence definitely blasts me to the past and I still have to sit in it, despite no chance of anything happening.
While the “Star Wars” game is inoperable today, the “Empire Strikes Back” cabinet is good to go! A marvel of 3-D vector graphics like its earlier counterpart, Empire proves a good time and I even manage to make it onto the board!
When visiting Arcadia, one of course must pay tribute to Donkey Kong. I didn’t do very well—my skills were a bit rusty and I didn’t have much luck on its neighbor either, a game I’d never heard of called “Circus Charlie” where you play a clown and jump over animals while walking a tightrope. I totally sucked at it. This seems like a perfect opportunity to wander further back into Arcadia and see what’s lurking there…
The arcade promised a trip back to 1983, but this section towards the back, hinges a bit on the anachronistic side. Many of these games here are from the 90’s, when shooting, driving, and sports seemed to be the dominant video game genres. I dropped a few quarters into that Simpsons machine, and also Terminator 2 just around the corner from it.
Heading into this back room, you’ll find some of the oldest machines and more obscure titles—many of the games back here are housed in smaller cabaret cabinets and represent the earliest and some of the simplest titles. Other games back here include VidKidz’ Robotron: 2084 and Moon Patrol from 1982.
If you ever loved Zaxxon, then you can find its sequel, Super Zaxxon right here next to Arcadia’s Space Invaders cabinet. I did not play Super Zaxxon, as it warned you outright that it would be difficult-so difficult in fact that you get three plays for only one quarter. Apparently this game was a flop in its original day—maybe this is why...I just found its warning sign amusing.
While many of the games in this room are older and lesser known titles, you can also find what have proven to be the two most popular fighter games ever in here, born in the 90’s and definite catalysts in the “Are Video Games Too Violent?” debate—Mortal Kombat II and Street Fighter 2.
Finally, in what was literally the deepest, darkest corner of the whole place I found this terror: Satan’s Hollow, released in 1982 by Bally Midway. I was shooting at demons and crying to cross some bridge of fire (I think) in what seemed to be some form of Hell. It was bizarre and a bit frightening. I think we’ve all had a weird dream that was very much patterned after the plot of “Satan’s Hollow.”
We decided to cut our time at Arcadia short to go check out the second Arcadia, located a few miles away in Atlanta, IL. Dubbed “The Route 66 Arcade Museum,” it focuses specifically on games crafted between 1935 and 1980. Sounds like a perfect “prequel” to the day!
At Arcadia: America’s Playable Arcade Museum, you can have a full afternoon of fun and nostalgia for just a handful of quarters (and I suppose the gas it takes to get there). So “come bust a move where the games are played” and support this place to ensure its continuation!
EPILOGUE: We got to the Route 66 Museum, and it was mysteriously closed...doors locked, no hours posted. So here’s a bonus picture of Paul Bunyan holding a giant frozen wiener, located right across the street from it…
The upside to this wild goose chase is it gave me a chance to see Atlanta, which looks like a really cool place. I’ll come back when its warmer. And while I’m at it, probably stop off in McLean to play with the blue glowing 8-way joystick a bit…
Arcadia: America’s Playable Arcade Museum
107 S. Hamilton Street