Thursday, February 16, 2006

Worst arcade ever!

From X-entertainment, "Atlantic City is our setting, as it so often is. My friends and I stopped renting out rooms at the major hotels some time ago -- we only go on weekends, so the room rates are insanely high. You'll shell out 300 bucks just to sleep in a place that's going to take just as much cash for their slots and give nothing back but a few consolation cherries and a comp ticket for a free drink at some subterranean lounge that may or may not exist. Only Weekend Warriors with much cash to burn can stay at the big hotels without feeling like a total sucker, so instead, we hit the streets.

Sadly, even the crappier casino-side street motels have skyrocketed in price this past year. Even at a measly Comfort Inn, where every framed picture tilts at fun house angles and every pillow bears the territorial markings of some underpaid whore, the room rates topple dangerously close to the 300 dollar mark. Now, even if you don't gamble in AC, you go through shitloads of cash. You could probably get a small business venture going for the cost of getting half a load on down there. In that, every penny counts, and the last thing a bunch of overgrown kids want to do is spend half their casino allowance to put their bodies on semen-stained sheets in a hotel that likely doubles as a bordello for people who will pay to sleep with animals.

Finally, we found a few hotels that lowered the curve with semi-reasonable room rates. Not "cheap," but after splitting the price between the forty-six people we snuck up there, we still had enough leftover to get one of those misshapen novelty pennies that, ironically enough, cost 51 cents.

The Quality Inn! Nowhere near as terribly seedy as our last hotel in AC, but even with that distinction, it couldn't possibly be more than a one-star affair. The staff was nice enough, fitting our only criteria of not at all caring as we walked past them towards the elevators holding enough alcohol to drown the Trump Marina. The real issue my friends had was with the distance from our hotel to the fabled Atlantic City boardwalk. It wasn't much more than seven or eight blocks, but when you consider that every part of Atlantic City not literally attached to a casino is a slum filled with murderers and space aliens who moonlight as murderers, walking seven or eight blocks in the dark of night might cost you a lot more than 300 bucks.

It was I who foolishly pushed for Quality Inn to get our exclusive reservation. I came up with ten thousands reasons and excuses for it, but in truth, I just wanted a hotel that had a game room. According to the Quality Inn's promotional materials, they indeed had a game room. I envisioned a wonderful winding down after a night full of gambling and general debauchery, pumping quarters into video games without a care in the world. After all, during past trips I've spent hundreds on Bally's "Pac-Man" slots. Now I could play the real thing for hours and probably spend as much as it'd cost to get an expired Dr. Pepper out of the hotel's crusty vending machine. It all seemed so right, and after convincing my friends that this insipid hotel was clearly the perfect choice, I gleefully marched towards the game room and prepared to cash in on a selljob well done.

The good news: Quality Inn wasn't lying. They had a game room.

The bad news: At some point in the past, perhaps as long as a decade ago, a rogue bear attacked the game room and ate anything of worth.

What treasures are waiting to be found? Scroll and see...

In a small room near the lobby, the worst game room of all time patiently awaits its next victim. Perhaps, from a distance through dirty glasses, it doesn't seem too offensive. Indeed, there's plenty of sparse game rooms littering hotels across the world. What makes this one so much worse? It's not an easy thing to pinpoint, but the faint smell of rotting broccoli and dead fish may play a significant part.

The evil game room, save for two newer soda machines, doesn't seem to have had any renovations for nearly a decade. Hasn't been cleaned, either. In a place like Atlantic City, where every footprint is marked by residual puddle water and dog shit, the fact that the game room hadn't been vacuumed since 1971 puts it at the mound with one strike already against it. The walls, for their part, bore more filthy handprints than that idiot who got gang-raped in Showgirls.

Course, you're looking at that picture and might be thinking that it doesn't look too bad. It's got a few games...bitch even has a pinball machine. Let's delve deeper, because using the term "delve deeper" makes me feel accomplished.

The heart of Quality Inn's game room were these three machines, representing the industry's distant past and nearer past, but certainly not the present or future. Ehyuyh. If three games doesn't sound all that terrible, consider this: only one of them worked, and it's the least desirable of the three. Also the filthiest. Let's break it down...

"Ms. Pac-Man" was incredibly out of order -- in fact, it was so out of order that the hotel staff felt the need to cover the machine with not one, but several hand-drawn "out of order" signs. I love this game, and probably would've given the entire room a free pass had it worked. No such luck. Upon closer inspection, the joystick was covered in what appeared to be either kid snot or General Tso's chicken sauce. Perhaps the non-working Ms. Pac Man machine was a blessing in disguise.

I'll never understand why Ms. Pac's pineapple bonuses were worth more than the cherries. The only people who'd pick pineapples over cherries are native Zimbabweans who still think fruit pits are gods who dictate the weather. You can see why this is a moot point, since Zimbabwe is the only country in the entire world that doesn't have a grizzled Ms. Pac-Man machine on every other street corner.

The second game -- and the only one that worked -- was called "Sharpshooter." I'm not very familiar with it, mostly because of a lifelong neurosis that precludes me from playing any video game that requires gun-shooting pantomimes in a public setting. Everyone will look at me, I just know it. From what I could tell, players aim their pistols at an eclectic combination of circus clowns and big flowers wearing sunglasses. I dunno, though...could've been the glare.

The guns were, of course, so absolutely covered in grime that I couldn't be completely sure some varmin' hiding behind the soda machines wasn't going to pop out and claim victory at gluing my hand to a video game pistol immediately after putting my coins in the slot. And that was a best case scenario kind of vision -- it could've been covered in substances much worse than glue. Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed the Eye of Sauron lurking precisely between each player's gun and color coordinated button, to the South. I keep waiting for the two tiny buttons to make out.

Finally, Capcom's "X-Men Vs. Street Fighter." I had "Street Fighter II" for the Super Nintendo, and was pretty good at it. The arcade versions were a different story. All of the SF games always seemed to have a crowd around 'em. If you were going to throw quarters in those machines, your skills had to be at least passably adequate enough to show off in front of 55 strangers of all sorts of cultural backgrounds. Mine weren't. I'd pick Blanka and be all confused when the 110-pound Chinese chick managed to kick the shit out of him. I chose the safer path of standing amongst the crowd, cheering and pretending that I knew what the fuck was going on.

Yet, I'd always plop my quarters in on the rare occasions when an SF game had no such surrounding crowd. I would've done the same for "X-Men Vs. Street Fighter." I picture using the sumo guy to kick Colossus in the crotch just a split second before protective mutant metal could grow over it. Alas, it doesn't work. Since the game had only broken in the past five years as opposed to Ms. Pac-Man's fifteen, nobody had gotten around to putting those "out of order" signs up yet. Its death is a surprise of the worst kind. Inside the corpse, a family of raccoons bring three more babies into the fold. They too are rabid.

Say, how do you feel about ice cream? Fan of the ice cream? Maybe it'll help soften the punch of Quality Inn's video game assortment. You've got three different kinds of ice cream bars to choose from, and they'll only cost you a buck and a half each. Finally, Atlantic City has a stereotypical bargain to match Vegas' gamut of three dollar all-you-can-eat buffets. There's just one little problem...

It's filled with crap, and I know what you're thinking. It's just gooey melted ice cream. Gross, but not too gross. You don't want to touch it, but even if you were unable to keep the ice cream wrapper from touching it, it wouldn't be a dealbreaker.

No, no no no. Even if you want to believe it's ice cream -- and it's not -- please scroll back up and check out the photo of the dreaded machine. See that poster thing depicting all the assorted cones and sundaes a person could conceivably get if the machine suddenly morphed into a better model that actually sold cones and sundaes? Posters like that haven't been produced in at least, what, fifty years? If those are just ice cream stains inside the love tunnel, they're stains that have been fermenting and cultivating other stains for decades. If they've somehow attained sentience, they might grab your hand and eat it.

Sadly, it isn't ice cream. We thought it was, too. The smell suggested otherwise, but what else could it be? Upon closer inspection and several debates, we hadn't solved the case, but we universally agreed that the substance inside was definitely not ice cream. My personal theory, illustrated by a crudely drawn storyboard, involved a large, old, dirty man hopping up and down with his ass exposed, desperately trying to hit what the crazy men call "hundred point targets." It got a few nods of agreement from my cohorts. So yeah, the ice cream machine has shit all over it.

Feeling winded? Take an imaginary seat. This table, the only table, was thrown in a corner by the soda machines and seems to have taken on the new identity of a trash receptacle, what with all the ice cream wrappers and half-empty cans of Pepsi Lite strewn around it. Conventional wisdom paints it as a convenient baby-changing table for gambling parents on the go. That's even worse than the shit in the ice cream machine.

Hey hey! "World Cup Soccer '94 Pinball!" A cute puppy holding a trophy! Lights that were actually blinking and whistles we could really hear! Maybe this would be the game room's unlikely avenger!

Nah, sorry, it didn't work. Lights were flashing and assorted noises blasted through and through, but all I got for my fifty cents was the right to tell people that a pinball machine stole fifty cents from me. I took this right to the front desk and demanded a refund. They gave me a quarter and said they couldn't be held responsible for me being an idiot by putting fifty cents into what was clearly marked as a quarter machine. We gave each other cold stares, at least until some hobo waddled in and wondered loudly if anyone had a quarter to spare. Then we laughed. It all fit together so well.

"World Cup Soccer '94 Pinball" looked like it would've been fun, though. I bet, if you got the right bonus, that cartoon dog on the teaser art would pop out of the giant half-soccer ball, bachelor party style. If he doesn't, they blew a great opportunity there.

A "Big Choice" crane machine! A classic! And it works! Nothing could stop the game room from rocking now. My love for crane machines is outmatched only by my love for the Cosby Show episode where Rudy and Olivia battled over who got to play with the leashed toy duck. Olivia won, because Rudy was going through puberty and nobody wanted to side with what she looked like.

Just one small issue, here. I've always preached about how it didn't matter what was inside a crane machine -- it was all about the thrill of winning. It's a Man Versus Machine tale, and if you think about it, that's a Hell of a lot more worthy than an X-Men Versus Street Fighter tale. I fought valiantly for this ideal, believing in it without flaw. You were paying for the joy of craning, and the prizes were terminally secondary. Only now do I realize the kink in my beliefs. Somehow, I've only ever played at crane machines where at least one of the prizes was negligibly interesting. Quality Inn's crane machine is something else entirely. It's a crane machine filled with the kind of stuff that creates a need for the stern government over one's own subconscious, because the unseen brain will never permit its shell to willfully expend efforts in winning such completely shitty, worthless prizes.

God, I'm in the card shop of a hospital in Taiwan. On second thought, I didn't notice that cool koala while at the hotel. I was too blinded by Generic Red Bear -- straight from a Coca-Cola Christmas photo shoot where Santa spills his sack of toys all over someone's roof. The machine clearly didn't deserve to carry the "Big Choice" moniker, and I'm going to start a petition about this real real soon.

It's not just a vending machine for snacks. It's also a vending machine for the unprepared hotel guest...

All of the basic grooming needs are covered. Razors, shaving cream, toothpaste, toothbrushes, aspirin, shampoo and Sour Skittles.

As is always the case with such dilapidated vending machines, adventurers are sure to find food of only the most foreign and outdated kind. This has become a little game for me -- it's an aboveground time capsule, constructed years ago by a family of well-doers from the candy industry. There were a couple of items of impressive age in the machine, but while this one seems to be perfectly recent, it's by far the most interesting...

Snyder's Hot Buffalo Wing Potato Chips. Holy Christ. It's like they took a bunch of regular ridged chips, wiped 'em along the sides of long discarded Domino's Pizza buffalo wing boxes, sacked 'em up and shipped 'em into the stomachs of unsuspecting chicken and potato fans nationwide. Most people would have a hard enough time picturing a chicken-flavored potato chip that sounds remotely palatable, but even if you can, it's not this. The chips have an aftertaste similar to that of stained glass flux, something I was admonished for experiencing early on during 7th grade shop class. They smell like an attic that's had a lot of creatures die in it.

From the back of the bag: "Imagine a plate of sizzling chicken wings smothered in tangy hot sauce. Snyder's of Hanover captures this flavor with Hot Buffalo Wing Potato Chips. If you love chicken wings, these chips are for you!" If that's the pitch they're going with, I think we need to call Don West in for this one.

And yet, buying the bag was all worth it. One of the potato chips was shaped just like Pac-Man.

I could not play his wife, but I could eat his chip. Can a buffalo wing potato chip shaped like Pac-Man save the reputation of an otherwise hideous Atlantic City game room?"


Octopunk said...

This is making me want to go to the Metreon, a big theater/high-end store complex in the city, and hit the vintage arcade. Play me some Joust.

There's a newer Ms. Pac-Man machine in one of the Berkeley theaters. It's one of those where you can choose either Ms. P. or Galaxian. Recently I was leaving the theater and my friend ran into someone he knew, so I threw in some change and played a game of Ms. Pac-Man. It turned out to be the highest-scoring Ms. Pac-Man game of my life. I don't even know what level I got to, but the maze kept changing configuration. I probably cleared six levels or so. I don't know for sure that I ever got past level 3 before.

I rule.

Summerisle said...

That was really funny and I completely sympathized with him. I'm really a Ms. Pacman grandmaster, by the way. You honestly wouldn't believe my accomplishments in the field. The real holy grail though is Pac Jr. I've never played it but it's the stuff you only dream about. And it doesn't exist on any home game system which makes it more mystique. Legend has it that when you go through a tunnel, you end up in an entirely different board so it's really 4 boards per level! I've looked for it everywhere. There's a place in Manhattan that has it and I just might make the pilgramage.

Octopunk said...

Careful! It might be like that Emelio Estevez movie where you get sucked in if you win.