Saturday, September 13, 2014

You belong in a museum!

Chicago and I do not get along. Specifically, I do not understand how traffic there works. My travels yesterday took me as far as Gary, Indiana. With my mission accomplished I plugged Galloping Ghost's address into my GPS and the trip should have taken about an hour.

It took three. I was not happy when I finally arrived, even less so when I found that the large piece of Sinistar art behind the counter was not for sale. I put down my seventeen dollars for admissions and a Coke explored. The arcade was overwhelming, at least initially. Row upon row of vintage arcade machines, grouped by genre and then by title. There was a row of Mortal Kombat games going all the way back to the original, three or four Street Fighter machines, even Primal Rage 2, which I did not think actually existed.

A few rows down were four or five Neo Geo kiosks in a row, each with multiple titles to choose from. All the Metal Slugs, Art of Fighting, Samurai Showdown and King of Fighter games were represented. There was the original Haunted Castle, the forerunner to Castlevania, which was impossible difficult. Castlevania Vs, which was just the NES version, only somehow more difficult. Every corner I turned revealed something I remembered (Rolling Thunder!)  and something I had never seen before (Rolling Thunder 2?!).

There was a niche dedicated to shmups, most of which I had never heard of before, but there was a vertical Ikaruga cabinet, and it was beautiful. It would have been better if there was someone there who knew how to play it. As it was most customers pulled up a stool their favorite game and played it much as they would at home. Even the fighting games had very little actual competition happening. When I strolled up to the Xbox One Killer Instinct I discovered why.

When the spectacle wore off and I started to play the games instead of gawk at them it was a bittersweet experience. The arcades of my youth were marred by games in disrepair, joysticks that did not respond or monitors that were difficult to see. This was exactly as I remembered but due to my advanced age my patience for fighting bad hardware quickly ran thin. Down right on the movement stick of Smash TC didn't work. Buttons were sticking on the Neo Geo cabinets. The aim on what few light guns games they had was significantly off. Non-functional cabinets were everywhere and there were a lot of parts just lying around on the floor. The enter back of the shump section was filled with pieces of games. It just looked messy.

Even the new games were not immune. The diagonals on the one player side of Killer Instinct didn't work rendering it unplayable. The one and two player sides of the Ultra Street Fighter 4 machine were switched. The dead zone for the Super Turbo stick was so large I could barely do fireballs. Hardware problems quickly sucked the fun out of the evening.

Galloping Ghost was a museum, a memorial, but it was not maintained well enough to be a great arcade. There was a donation box at the register, something about a renovation, so I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt that the current state of disarray was due to other circumstances. It is clear that the owner loves the games but I am not sold on his ability to actually run the arcade. It survives on nostalgia and the fact that there really are no other arcades around anymore.

If I happen to be in Chicago again, something that I will try to avoid, I will stop by a second time, I really hope that I caught them in an off period, when time or money or lack of help kept the place from running as well as it should. Old arcade game deserve a home, but it should be patterned after how arcades were run in there heyday, not a place for the old machines to go and die.

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