I walked through the front door just as Charles Barkley was dropping a thunderous dunk over the top of Horace Grant.
"BOOM SHAKALAKA!!!" roared the machine.
Welcome to 1993, courtesy of the Galloping Ghost Arcade in Brookfield.
Yes. Video arcade.
Running squarely against the tide of video gaming in this country, the arcade is part nostalgia trip and part catnip for hard-core gamers who want to play in a more social setting.
A lot of favorites are here. "NBA Jam"? It greets you when you come in. "Tron"? Second row in the middle. "BurgerTime"? Right by the front window. "Mortal Kombat"? Sure. Would you prefer the original or Version II or IV?
In fact, the Ghost has created such a buzz among lovers of fighting games that groups have organized meet-ups and tournaments there. It's easy to see why. Walk down the aisles and you'll see "Samurai Shodown," three different "Fatal Furys" and eight different versions of the classic "Street Fighter."
This is what co-owner Doc Mack had in mind when he and Gerry Cantu opened the place last year.
"People have told us, 'God must have made this place for us,'" Mack said.
Mack and Cantu want to make the arcade a destination, someplace where people can spend a few hours (or more) losing themselves in their favorite games.
Hearing the two pitch their idea of a video game utopia on Ogden Avenue, of "gamer education" and building their own games (they're closer than you might think), it's hard to believe that a year ago most of the games in the arcade were in junkyards in Tennessee and Iowa. Some had been abandoned for years. Some had rotted-out cabinets. Some were covered in insects.
Cantu recalls clambering around in the back of a dark semitrailer near Memphis last year. He spotted spiders. And couches. And mountains of junk as he crawled on top of it all to get to a game. He put his arm down on something to brace himself and it got warm. When he pulled it back, it was covered in a swarm of ants.
The good news: The games Cantu and Mack were finding still had the motherboards, the guts of the games. And as long as they had that, Mack probably could bring them back to life. Monitors could be salvaged and cabinets could be repaired or replaced.
In all, they pulled more than 200 games from the trash and got them up and running. Take a look at the salvaged "Ms. Pac Man" on the Galloping Ghost floor right now and it gleams.
In the meantime, they had begun gutting an old pool hall that had been sitting empty for a year and a half. They hauled out six Dumpsters of junk before the building was clean enough for the massive rewiring job necessary to power hundreds of games. By last fall, they had the place up and running.
They built out two rooms in addition to the main floor, one for private gaming and another that would act as a shop for the seemingly constant repair and restoration of the games. The party room is stocked with four 42-inch flat screens and connected to an array of home systems vintage and modern — from the Atari 2600 to Sega Genesis to Super NES to Xbox.
Ask Mack and Cantu about whether the home systems fit with the coin-ops and they just look at you like you've got two heads. They made this place for gamers of all stripes.
Join those gamers at the Ghost and you'll hear a soundtrack not emanating from the games. It's the buzz created when happily engaged players start humming, a sing-along featuring the interludes on "Ms. Pac-Man" or a challenging stage on "Galaga." Sometimes you catch someone humming during the beginning of "Donkey Kong" and get a foot stomp as the ape knocks down girders on the screen.
Come April, Patrick McCarron, of Carpentersville, likely will be one of those happily engaged players.
Shall we play a game?
Those voices of the past you hear are coming from the Galloping Ghost arcade
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