80’s arcade games were a big highlight for Gen-X kids. Arcades were a place to meet friends, hang out, have fun, and play games. There were no online games back then. You had to go in person, play either a sit-down game or a stand-up game, and test your skills. You could play by yourself, with a friend, or against an opponent depending on the game you chose. Most arcades also had some interactive games where you played against other players such as pool tables or foosball tables. I recently visited three arcade-style venues in Vancouver and New Westminster, BC. To my delight, I was able to find some of the top arcade games of the 80’s in each of them while having a very different experience every time. I will get into more detail about each arcade and what makes each one special.
There were several factors that helped you decide what a good arcade was back in the 80’s. You can still find those components in each arcade today. Being a girl in an arcade in the 80’s, there were elements you looked for beyond what boys would be looking for. Some of those factors still exist today so let’s go through the various factors and discuss each one.
Game selection ranks high in importance. You want to be able to find the top arcade games, but also games you and your friends like to play. There needs to be a variety of types of games with at least a few from each of the main categories. The main categories are:
Space-style shooting game
Mazes and puzzles
Defender, Galaga, Galaxian
Tekken, Mortal Kombat
Pac Man, Ms. Pac Man, Tetris
Out Run, Super Sprint, Turbo
1942, 1943, Missile Command
Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong
Basketball toss, pinball, foosball
Duplicates of popular games
The top arcade games in the 80’s had kids lining up to play them. Sometimes it was just one person, but it could be up to four or five kids waiting to play. That can create some issues. Arcades have several machines sitting next to each other for long rows. There isn’t always room to maneuver around if someone is playing a game and you want to get to the game on the other side. Add spectators watching someone racking up a high score, friends cheering them on, and then other arcaders waiting for their turn to play. Now you have a traffic jam in the middle of the arcade blocking everything. Popular games need to have duplicate machines placed throughout the arcade.
The duplicate machine should not be placed beside the same game. Each arcade game has its own unique sounds, blips, beeps, and music. It becomes easy to drown out the sounds and immerse yourself in the game. You can listen to the sounds to hear how you are doing. It becomes very difficult to concentrate when your game’s sounds are coming to you from the exact same game placed beside you.
Logistics of game placement
For comfort and spacing, less popular games need to be placed beside popular games. Arcades are usually not elegant, spacious places with coat racks and high-top tables between each game for your coats, bags, and drinks. This is where the less popular games come in. Your friend can stand by a less popular game without interfering with gameplay. You have room to stretch between frames if you are a person who plays for a long period of time. It makes it easier for people wanting to walk around.
There are some games that tend to attract female gamers. I love seeing a place that has at least a couple of games that are appealing to girls. Some of the 80’s arcade games popular with female gamers were platform games such as Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., Mappy; maze games like Ms. Pac Man or the lesser known games such as Eyes, Ponpoko, Nibbler; and the unisex games that were unique such as Joust, and Centipede. In fact, Centipede was co-created by a female gamer, Dona Bailey.
Stools or Tables
In the days of the 80’s arcade, you could plug in one quarter and play a game for hours if you were really good. Even if you were not good, you may stand behind someone playing so you could learn how to defeat the game. It’s important to have small comforts when getting into a really long session. Having a stool nearby helps, sitting is great but not always advantageous to play so the option to sit or stand is awesome. It can get sweaty being wrapped up in a coat and stuck in the same standing position for hours. Kids used to hang jackets and bags off the surrounding games. This makes it awkward for someone coming up and wanting to play one of those games. Having a place to place your coat or bag when you are getting past 30 minutes in one session really helps.
An arcade with stools offers a variety of options for its patrons. You can place your coat or bags on the stool, or sit on your coat that is draped over the stool. Of course, too many stools make it really awkward, just a few make it great. Tables are another option, providing a home base for gamers to place their items, eat and drink, while venturing out to play the game of their choice.
Ease of Play
The 80’s arcade games had ease of play down to a science. There was only one game to be played on a machine and so all the buttons and joysticks matched how that game would best be played. The way a games dashboard console is put together affects everything. I will break them down individually:
Buttons to jump and fire need to be easy to hit, not sticky, and placement needs to be proficient. If the buttons are placed too close together, you may hit the jump button while you are firing which could cost you a life. Buttons too far apart slows down the ability to execute commands.
Most arcade games use joysticks. Arkanoid uses a knob you roll to the left or right. Centipede uses a roller ball. These controls significantly affect how well, and how long, you play the game. I love to play Centipede but my hand always hits the console dashboard when I am rolling too far making it uncomfortable for me to play the game for a long time. So I don’t choose to play Centipede too often. I love to play Arkanoid but the knob gets a bit tedious to use after a while. Similarly, even if I love to play a game, I won’t play if the joystick doesn’t move well.
Standing versus sitting
If you are going to sit at a table to play a game really well, you need to be able to maneuver your hand around well enough to play well. Most sitting games do not have the capacity to provide that comfort for really long hours. You end up more cramped in playing width and height so long sessions are not great. However, sitting games are really fun for shorter games, socializing, and general play. They are also good for games that do not require a lot of hand movement or quick button pressing. Sitting games are great for teenagers wanting to hang around in groups while chatting.
Play Time vs Cost
Most people are not at the level where they can play one credit for several hours. Most of the current arcades charge by the hour. This is great for those who want to pop into the arcade to have fun. This isn’t great for anyone who is very good at playing one game. There is a big difference between paying $1 and playing for an hour without losing because that is your skill level. Paying by the hour, that same game will cost you roughly $12. The hourly rate allows you to try games you may not usually try and get the arcade experience. For the more serious gamer, you may want to go to an arcade that you pay by the game instead of by the hour. Alternatively, you could just consider it the cost of entertainment and try to beat your own high score.
The old arcades were often in big malls. Sometimes you would find a super small arcade squeezed between stores at your local strip mall. Washrooms were often in the mall, not in the arcade. In today’s arcade, the washrooms are usually right in the arcade. There is also a range of service options. Some arcades offer no food and beverages, some offer beverages only and some liquor-based options, while others offer a full menu. The amenities really make the place. In today’s arcade era, often there are families coming into play, birthday parties and events, that require access to food, drinks, and washrooms.
I spent time at three arcades in the Lower Mainland. What a treat! Each one had a different feel and experience. They are all worth checking out!
The first arcade I went to was Capital City Classic Arcade in New Westminster, BC. This is an 80’s type of arcade where the main experience is playing the games. They have more than 75 games from the 70’s to the 90’s but do not have any pinball machines. The majority are the standup games with only one sit-down game when we went. I was delighted to find all my favourites:
Donkey Kong Jr.
Find their full list of games here
Ms. Pac Man
Wizard of War
The games were all maintained well. During our visit, my husband was playing Tron which blacked out partway through the game. Hubbie went to play a different game and right away the staff went about getting Tron back up within minutes without us having to mention it. I loved that attention to detail. Joust is a tough game to find but they do have it! I did not see it at first because it is not a stand-alone Joust game. It is part of a multi-game system, where the machine offers six games you can choose from and Joust is one of them.
Their bathrooms are awesome. The place was very comfortable and offered a very pleasant experience overall. I loved their drink holders! They give you a big holder with a large magnetic strip. You then place that drink holder on the coin drop area of the game you are playing. It keeps it out of way, and prevents spills. They also offer league play which sounds quite intriguing. There are the right amount of stools to make things comfortable. This arcade has a large amount of games and their selection of games would appeal to a wide range of players, guys, gals, and kiddos.
Also in New Westminster, Industry Arcade offered an unique playing experience. This is a bit difficult to find as it is not on a main road. It is about a five minute walk from Sapperton Sky Train Station. The area is pretty funky with a brewery next door. It felt like a neighborhood block party atmosphere. Industry is only open for drop-in playing on Thursdays. The rest of the time is reversed for private bookings for birthdays and events. I loved this place as it was just really casual with that old hole-in-the-wall arcade feel.
This place is old school. For food and drinks, you will need to go next door to the brewery. They had pinball, Pac-Man, Galaga, Frogger, Tetris, Centipede and more. This is a smaller arcade, they offer roughly 20 pinball machines and about the same amount of arcade games. The full game list is here. You pay by the hour here as well. The games here are high quality. The feel of play is the best of the three arcades. Games are very well-maintained and function well.
The place is a little bit cramped, there are no stools and no space in between games. There was an interesting sit-down game for four people, Pac-Man Battle Royale. They have one of the best driving games, Rush the Rock. They have foosball but this would be more recreational play. Foosball tables range in the caliber of players that will be attracted to the game. This table style is for recreational players.
Glitch on Broadway
Glitch is a retro arcade inspired party zone with just a few arcade games and pinball machines. It also offers console games such as Sega, PS2, Wii, Wii U with big screen TVs. Of the three arcades, their menu options are outstanding. Did I mention they offer milkshakes? Their smash burgers are tasty, it was a welcome meal to have at an arcade. They also have performance games with Skee Ball, basketball, and billiards for those who want more active games.
Glitch offers arcade games that you pay to play by coin! Woo hoo! That is a great feature for those that want to save on the arcade games and put their funds towards burgers and milkshakes. Check out their menu for food, beverages, and also their games and consoles list here. They have a multi-game sit down console that includes classics like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, 1942, and Galaga.
It is a pretty fun place to go and hang out. If you love Ryan Reynolds, you will love the women’s washroom. Overall, a great place to go and hang out with friends to have fun night out.
There was a good selection of games between all three arcades. The one stand-up machine I was looking for was not available in any of the arcades: the speedy version of Pac-Man. When Pac-Man first came out, it became so popular arcades were doing hacks to the game to alter it. They could then have the original game on some machines, and then a hacked version as another game to play on other machines. One of the hacks was to alter the computer chip to make the game go at a faster speed. Eventually, that hack became so popular throughout North America, that the manufacturer Bally Midway created a legitimate version of the speedy Pac-Man. This is the arcade game I got used to playing and was looking for but still have not found it.
Reflecting on my arcade adventures, I liked all three arcades for different reasons. I would go back to Industry Arcade to play the 80’s arcade games I love to play. The condition and maintenance of the games make it really nice to play. I would return to Capital City for the volume of games I could try in a short period of time. I would go to Glitch to order a burger while playing their sit-down games.
What are your thoughts? Which arcade would you prefer? What game would you be looking to play? Comment below and weigh in or chime in with some 80’s arcade nostalgia.