Since I was exiled to the chilly East Coast for work for the past couple of months, I decided I’d make use of my free time during the long, boring weekends to check out an item on my Buttonmashing Bucket List — the Funspot Family Entertainment Center, home of the “American Classic Arcade Museum” in New Hampshire. If you’ve seen The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (the documentary of Steve Weibe’s attempt to break the Donkey Kong world record), you’ve seen Funspot, as it’s the arcade where he makes his record breaking attempt.
When I first arrived, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it was big and I knew I would find more than arcade games (the place has to make money, so I knew there would be skee ball and the ticket machines) but what I found was pretty much like any other arcade I’ve been to. It was dark, loud, had the presence of a slightly off-putting smell and arcade games. Tons of aracde games.
I thought it would feel like stepping into the way-back machine, a trip to memory lane but the arcades I went to (and worked at) were never this big and never had this many classic games. I decided that I had to play some of the games I remember from my childhood/teen-age years and also some of the classics.
Hands-down, my favorite upright arcade game of all-time is Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road. I pop in a token and hearing the familiar rev of the video game engine, the honk of the upgrades and seeing the cheesy bikini glad girls takes me back to 1990. Unfortunately, nostalgia does funny things, like make you forget how punishing and unforgiving the controls are or how often the stupid nitro button sticks or doesn’t respond at all and above everything else — how terribly floaty the physics are in this game. Frustration could have set in quickly, and if this game was released in 2015 it would be eviscerated.
But that funny nostalgia still prevails and I have a blast. I remember every track, every configuration, every shortcut and I still try to ruin the silver truck’s (that’d be the CPU-controlled Stewarts truck) race when I find myself in last place with no hope of surviving. Nitro-ing into his front-end will never get old.
I played Offroad first and probably dumped more tokens in it than any other game. After maxing out all the upgrades on my truck, I decided to move on and explore other areas of the arcade.
The majority of the games in the “Arcade Museum” are pre-1988, which meant a few of my favorites weren’t found in the main drag. I went with express purpose of playing some of my favorites along with some classics. I headed downstairs from the Arcade Museum area, in search of a few modern games and found exactly what I was looking for, all lined up in a row:
This basically encapsulates my formative arcade game playing years — NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat I and II (and III, but I didn’t spend nearly as much time playing III as I did I and II). I written about it before, but Mortal Kombat II was both my jam and my introduction to the nascent internet. I was attending classes at Cleveland State University at the time and had access to Usenet groups, including the alt.games.mk2 group which had daily updates to the fatalities and rumors of babalities, nudalities and something called a “friendship”. I would show up every afternoon with freshly printed out move lists that we would all pore over. When I read about the secret way to get to fight Smoke on the Portal level, I waited patiently as others played over and over again, waiting for the “Toasty” to pop up. I reached over and hit the start button and everyone in the room had their minds BLOWN.
Jax and Scorpion were my dudes, so I spent some time reliving the glory days of MKII and then threw a few tokens in NBA Jam. Hearing “IS IT THE SHOES” as my guy cannon ball dunks from the free-throw line, spitting fire, was a great moment.
I headed back upstairs to play some of the classics. Unfortunately, the lighting there was not conducive to taking pictures so I didn’t get many up there. Because I really didn’t play these games as obssessively as I did newer games, I don’t have the same memories of loving Donkey Kong or Centipede or Robotron 2084. But because I was at Mecca, I had to play some of them. Spy Hunter was a favorite so I sat down to play a few minutes of that but Holy Lord that game is hard. I have these beautiful memories of jamming through levels of Spy Hunter like it was my job and 20 years later it felt like I was driving a red wagon, out of control, down a giant hill. It was not fun.
Ditto can be said about Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior and Zaxxon. These games did not age well. I tip my hat to guy’s like Weibe that have taken the time to master these games. It was painful.
So painful that when I saw this Pong machine, I couldn’t do it. This is history and I couldn’t bring myself to relive the pain. We lived with games that had this brutal difficulty and we liked it! What was wrong with us?
So to end the trip on a high note, I emptied out the rest of my tokens into the Smash TV machine. It was mindless fun and was just as ridiculously hard as I remembered it. I would like to meet the guys who could get through the first level of Smash on one credit. I maintain it can’t be done, but I’m sure it has. One day I’ll have to do a deep dive into Smash TV YouTube runs to see if I’m right.
The trip down memory lane was great and the chance to visit an American Treasure. Not sure if you’ll ever find yourself near Lake Winnipesaukee, but if you do, you owe it to yourself to visit The Funspot.