Friday, August 12, 2016

The Legendary Galloping Ghost Arcade in Brookfield, IL


The arcade is a relic of times gone by.  An institution that once was as common as a Starbucks is now a footnote in pop culture history.  I don't mean the modern re-inventions that include ski ball and ticket reclamation.  The arcades I'm talking about were dark, dingy, and cramped.  They were a means of socialization, a hangout, a place to loiter, and a place to see how your skills fared with other. Competition was either direct, facing off against an opponent that you may or may not know, or indirect, as you chase the high score on your game.

When I first heard of the Galloping Ghost arcade in Brookfield, Illinois I was intrigued.  It is about forty-five minutes from where I live, and literally down the street from one of my good buds from college.  We first ventured here about four years ago.  Since then, we have gone at least once a year and watched it expand each time.  They are reported to have over 400 games on the floor, and I don't doubt it.  There are so many games, that you will have to circle the maze-like floor plan just to see all that they have.

The admission fee is $15 for entry, and all games are set to free play.  They have nearly everything that you could possibly remember from the old arcades, and then some.  There will no doubt be games that you haven't ever seen before.  In some cases, cabinets will have two games available, and a toggle switch will change the game that you want to play.  The combinations of games make sense, as they are sequels, spiritual successors, spin offs, and the like.    

Upon entering, the initial impression is overwhelming.  You don't know where to start.  After some closer inspection, you realize that the layout is themed.  One section is dedicated to early classics like Donkey Kong, Robotron 2084, Pac-Man, and so on.  Another features beat'em ups like Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Another hosts run'n gun games like Robocop and Contra.  There is a section for 2-D fighting games, namely Street Fighter and the Marvel spin-offs.  Against the wall are the 3-D fighters.  The back right corner is where you'll find light gun games like Silent Scope and Terminator 2: Judgement Day.  An annexed room in the back left is dedicated to shoot'em ups.  This is my favorite room, as it is my favorite genre.

One of the coolest games present is the sit-down version of F-Zero, known as F-Zero AX.  It is essentially the same game as the Gamecube version, except that it is a ride with hydraulics, shaking, and seat belt!  It has a slot for a Gamecube memory card, so you can transfer your saves to it and save to it as well.  I love the home version, and this was truly a riveting take on a modern classic.
The last time I was there there were three fellows trying to top each other's score on Donpachi.  The game was roped off, and there was a laptop and camera running.  I asked the clerk what was going on, and he said the three guys were the world record holders for the game, from first to third respectively.  They were live streaming their games and competition.  This was pretty cool to see.
The Galloping Ghost has score placards for every game, listing the world records as well as local in-house records.

So if you want to experience arcades as they once lived and breathed (sans the smoke and ash trays),
where you can play nearly everything you ever wanted, you should check out the Galloping Ghost in Brookfield, IL.  Plan on staying a long time.  You can even leave to eat at the diner across the street and return the same day as long as you have your receipt.  It's open until 2 am.  Every game should check it out.  
Check out their website for more information.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Scaling Back the Collection


I have been retro gamer/collector for over ten years now, my collection has grown beyond what I thought it ever would, perhaps beyond what it should have. As new consoles are acquired, new libraries of games open up as does potential for growth. Like most retro gamers, I started out collecting for a specific console or two.  I would pick up games for these systems at flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores, and online.

The next thing I knew,  I was finding deals on a consoles that I didn't necessarily grow up with, but had some fond memories of playing its games at friends houses.  A friend was cleaning out his parents' basement and gave me another console.  I watched "hidden gems" videos online and sought out a specific game based on the review.  This happened repeatedly and now have more gaming material than I ever did as a kid.

 I have all the games that I have nostalgia for, and so finally my rate of accumulation has slowed to only the exceptional or niche. Even still, I had a minor epiphany the other day, that I will probably not play all of the games that I own.  I have too many to reasonably sit down with, given that I have a full time job and a family.  So I took a hard look at exactly what my intentions are at this point.  After putting up additional shelves in the game room, I took notice of what I re-shelved.  I do not have strong connections to many of my games.  I just have too many games.  If I am am scanning through my collection to find something to play, and I have no idea after five minutes, a change needs to be made.  I started to make some restrictions for my collection, and here's what I came up with.

1- No unnecessary doubles of ports
This occurred to me as I was re-shelving my SNES collection.  I have all four Street Fighter games released for the SNES, yet I never play those versions.  My go to are the Saturn versions, as they are Arcade perfect, and the Virtua Stick gives it the authentic arcade feel.  Same goes for my Genesis Street Fighter games.  As much as I love the Street Fighter Series, I don't need this many copies of essentially the same game.

Smash TV and Total Carnage are just okay for the SNES, but they are soooooo much better on the Midway Arcade Treasures collections for the Gamecube.  The analog stick works great for the eight-directional movement, and the c-stick works nicely for direction of fire, I much prefer it over the four face buttons on the SNES pad.  Not to mention that my introduction to these games were in the Arcade, and they are perfect ports on the Gamecube.

I have Super Mario World and Super Mario All-Stars, as well as the Super Mario World & Super Mario All-Stars combo cart.  I don't need all three (not to mention Super Mario All-Stars for the Wii). There are instances of this kind of redundancy all over my collection, and it is unnecessary.  Sonic is another culprit.

Raiden was huge during the 16-bit era; it was ported to nearly every system.  The Genesis port is ok, but suffers from a stale color palate.  The SNES version is stretched out.  The PC-Engine port is very good, but I don't care for the newly revised CD-quality audio.  My favorite port is the Playstation version, as it is arcade perfect and has a decent options menu.

Thunder Force III (Genesis) and Thunder Spirits (SNES) are often compared as ports, but Thunder Spirits is not a straight port; it contains stages from TF3 and Thunder Force AC, which was the arcade version of TF3.  Even so, my preference lies with the Genesis version as its gameplay is smoother and music has more "punch".

Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Captain America and the Avengers, etc, are all examples of multi-platform ports that should be weeded out.  Instances like this abound all over my collection, and I have started making decisions about the better ports so I can whittle down the ranks.

2 - Get rid of games that I have decided I don't like
Once I have decided that a game sucks, it is unlikely that I will return to it and give it another chance. I'm no completionist, so I don't need to have all games in a set just to have the set.  Street of Rage 3 is an example.  I have the vastly superior Japanese version of the game, Bare Knuckle 3.  I never play SOR3, as it feels broken.
I wrote a couple of posts about shooters on the NES.  In preparation for those, I replayed all the NES shooters that I had at the time, and I rediscovered some gems (Silk Worm, Recca) and some crap (1942, Xevious).  Time to trim the fat.

3 - Redundant controllers and systems
Everytime I go to a thrift store and see a SNES controller for four bucks, I generally pick it up.  I recently inventoried my controller bin, and realized I had ten SNES controllers.  This is a bit much. I will have two out by my system, and another two for back up/parts, and the rest are just adding to clutter.

I love arcade sticks, but how many do I really need?  Even though I have several for most major retro systems, I don't use them all.  I have several for the Saturn, but only really use my favorite, the Arcade Virtua Stick (the white one).  I have the official Sega driving wheel, but I realized that if I don't really like driving games by now, I'm not going to start.  I even have the limited-use Sega Mission Stick, which is only (and arguably) needed for After Burner and Space Harrier.  That this is pretty big accessory to have lying around for just two games, especially since the default Saturn pad (model 2) is nearly perfect on its own.
There was even a point when I have a double nearly every system, just in case.  Then I asked "why?". These systems are all at least 20 years old, and they work just fine now, so chances are they will still be fine since I take pretty good care of my stuff.  Optical drives might need replacing, so I will keep my backup Saturn and Dreamcast, but my extra SNES and Genesis consoles can go.

4 - Embrace the Everdrives
While I still prefer actual carts of games, the Everdrives can be a powerful ally in the quest to pare down the collection.  At one point I had a goal of collecting all the shooters for the PC-Engine.  This was foolhardy and expensive.  I can at least test out the rest of the games that I still don't have, and if I find one or two that really blow me away, I will buy them eventually.  I'm sure that they won't all be that good, so there is a huge benefit to the ability to try games out on the Everdrive.

Fringe and even bad games can be played from these and not take up real estate on your shelves.  I don't feel bad about letting go of the lower tier games.  This will eventually give my collection a curated feel to it as I strive for quality over quantity.

5 - Some Exceptions are OK
Even with these newly founded rules, I take license to make exceptions for truly exceptional instances:
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 for Dreamcast and PS2.
Ikaruga on the Dreamcast and Gamecube
Contra on the NES and Famicom
While the Famicom version is superior, the NES cart has high nostalgia value and I can't ever see me getting rid of it.
Strikers 1945 II is one of my favorite games, and I have both the Saturn (import) and Playstation (domestic) versions.
There are a few others.

This is a struggle that every retro gamer/collector will encounter here and there, and so I just wanted to share my perspective on it and my possible solution.  While this hobby is predicated on nostalgia and physical media, there is a slippery slope that can lead to some unchecked hoarding if one is not careful.  Its hard to take a step back and see this happening in real time, but I think it is necessary for one's health and well-being to be able to self evaluate.  Let me know your thoughts and what you do to help keep the collection under control.  Thanks for reading.