The video game arcade is more or less a relic of a bygone era. As home consoles become more and more popular, arcades are harder and harder to come across. However, there is a small group of enthusiasts who are keeping these old machines alive, and barcades are more popular now than ever. Every year, ZapCon is held in Mesa, Arizona, as a way to celebrate and relive the days of the old arcade. The convention features hundreds of arcade games and pinball tables, all of which are set to free play. Due to the global pandemic, the event had to be canceled in 2020 and 2021. From April 30th to May 1st 2022, ZapCon made its nostalgia-filled return.
The ZapCon Arcade
When you arrive at Zapcon and reach the main floor, you are immediately transported to the past. The convention looks like the arcade scene from the beginning of Wargames (1983), only much, much bigger. Arcade games from the 90’s, 80’s, and even the 70’s fill the floor as far as the eye can see. Right alongside these games are just as many pinball tables both modern and classic. The best part of all is that no quarters or tokens are required to play any of them.
One of the most impressive aspects of the ZapCon arcade is the sheer variety available. It’s not very often that you come across an actual arcade cabinet for a game like Asteroids, which was first released in 1972. That is a game that looks very different in the arcade than any of the home console conversions. The vector line graphics used in this cabinet still look good 40 years later. However, due to the age of some of these machines, not all of them were in perfect condition. There was an original Mario Bros. arcade cabinet where Mario wouldn’t stop running left, and an old Star Wars pinball table where the right flipper didn’t work. Thankfully, there were knowledgeable volunteers on the floor and available for any maintenance.
Retro Games at ZapCon
Arcade cabinets weren’t the only video games at ZapCon. The convention also featured a retro lounge where people could try out games for the Atari 2600, NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis. All consoles are hooked up to old school CRT TVs, and there were multiples of each console. There was even an NES with oversized controllers. The retro lounge also held a collection of cocktail arcade cabinets. If you wanted to play something that doesn’t require any electricity, there were also board games that could be checked out.
Of course, there were also vendors there who were selling retro video games. Ever since the pandemic started, retro game prices have increased exponentially. This remains true for the prices of retro games at conventions. The selection of games and consoles available was good, and some were even complete in box. However, they were also all very expensive.
Competitions and Concert
ZapCon wasn’t all fun and games for some people. Some were there to compete. Every year the convention holds multiple pinball and arcade game competitions throughout the weekend. For those that possess a high level of skill for these games, this is a great chance to put those skills to the test. For those who don’t possess a high level of skill for these games, all we can do is watch the scoreboards.
The first day of ZapCon finished off with a concert by a local band called The Minibosses. They are an instrumental band playing heavy metal versions of music that appeared in NES games. Their set featured music from Megaman, Zelda, Duck Tales, Castlevania, and many more 8-bit classics. The band performed in the retro lounge, and not even the music could stop the gaming. Some people in that room who were lucky enough to have a live band provide the soundtrack for the game that they’re playing. Click here to check out the Miniboss’ bandcamp page.
32, living in Arizona with a passion for video games, music and movies.