Whew, blogging consistently is difficult and so once again, my appreciation and thanks to those who write so that I can read a variety of thoughts about gaming.  I may lurk to the point that I hardly comment (work deadlines) but I am always reading.  It's a new year with a new attempt at blogging.  

Recently, I took a mega vacation to Las Vegas, Nevada based on my girlfriend buying concert tickets as an anniversary present to my all-time favorite recording artist, Shania Twain (we all have our favorites).  While in Las Vegas my girlfriend directed me to one of my other favorites, gaming.  She surprised me with the hotel Excalibur's "Fun Dungeon," an arcade that includes an adjacent Dairy Queen.  With an arcade and a banana split, my vacation was complete.  This Fun Dungeon featured two of my all-time favorite arcade games which by their mere presence challenged me to step up and play.  Part of the challenge is that I have never beaten either game, ever.  I have come close but in arcade gaming there is no second place, only first.   

All of Las Vegas and I preferred the arcade.

I did not grow up in the arcade heyday.  Sure, I begged for quarters when we came upon the wayward arcade in the mall, airport, or most often, the bowling alley.  We raced in car simulators revving towards checkpoints for additional seconds of gameplay but I didn't memorize the arcade layout or know the initials of those on the leader boards.  

Not to post my age but I am what society dubs a "twenty-something," specifically 27.  As a child, home consoles were still an expensive luxury and rather than in arcades, I grew up gaming at Chuck E. Cheese where "a kid can be a kid." 

My hometown Chuck E. Cheese and the Toys 'R Us I purchased my first console is across the street (not in the picture).  Strip mall joy. 

As the oldest of four siblings, I left my toddling younger siblings in the germ infested ball pit and happily roamed the arcade with a pocket full of tokens.  My youngest sister is 8 years younger than I so I remained in Chuck E. Cheese past the generally accepted age bracket.  I no longer hungered for tickets for the prize counter.  Instead I searched the arcade for a "game" experience.  I found that game, I would walk laps around the other machines waiting for the right head space so that I could sit, stack my tokens, and settle in for the complete gaming experience with...Star Wars Trilogy Arcade.  I am not a Star Wars fanatic, I appreciate the movies and a friend convinced me to read a few of the books but this arcade game made me feel like a true Jedi.

If I can ever afford an arcade game, this is the one I choose.

Star Wars Trilogy Arcade was one of my first experiences with enjoying gaming as a game rather than for a ticket payout to buy candy and a pinwheel.  The machine is huge with chair connected to a large and wide screen all accompanied with a flight simulator joystick. There are three levels that can be played in any order and each level is representative of a movie in the original trilogy.  Yavin featuring space battles in an X-Wing represents A New Hope, Empire Strikes back is in Hoth taking out AT-AT's, and Return of the Jedi takes place in Endor shooting down Stormtroopers while engaged in a speeder bike chase.   The gameplay is primarily an on the rails shooter that varies from vehicles to blasters to lightsabers.    

Ah, memories. 

Interspersed are two boss battles in which armed with a light saber the player blocks blaster shots from Boba Fett and later duels light saber versus light saber against Darth Vader.  The moment that the lightsaber appeared in the first person I was a Jedi in an iconic duel, not on a plastic chair playing an arcade game with a joystick.  Not even Star Wars Kinect has replicated this childhood dream brought to life of wielding a lightsaber in battle with the same finesse of a joystick and big screen. 

My nemesis.  At the end, he just flies away undefeated.  Lame.

However, the fights seemingly require a perfect score and I've always missed a shot even with onscreen prompts when to attack and when to block.  Win or lose the game progresses to the final segment of shooting down the Death Star.  However, without winning the duels my playthroughs remain uncompleted.  Finding the game is becoming more and more difficult as the aged arcade is removed in favor of new technology.

Sadly, over the years this game has been removed from the arcades I frequent.  At the Fun Dungeon I saw the game for the first time in a few years and I promptly sat down in its well-worn captain's chair.  However, the controller was also well worn and refused to register my movements so I played through my fifty cents and stopped after my first "Continue" screen while pining the game's heyday when I would stack every token I had to ensure I would not miss a single "Continue." 

As a "young adult" I graduated to Dave and Buster's as the adult Chuck E. Cheese where those of the appropriate age can game but with beer.  Nowadays the new games are mobile tie-ins such as large HD screens featuring Fruit Ninja or Infinity Blade.  The busiest games are a gigantic wall sized Connect Four and a Deal Or No Deal simulation.  Funnily, my peers have returned to our Chuck E. Cheese roots gravitating towards games dispensing tickets resulting in new games such as a gigantic wheel to spin for obscene ticket amounts which replaced my beloved Star Wars Trilogy Arcade. 

The arcade of my adulthood and current hometown. 

However, I do like prizes.  I may complain of the prize machines replacing my beloved arcade games but I step up trying to win too.   Years ago I originally discovered the Stacker game in a local mall.  The Stacker featured actual prizes such as $50 Best Buy gift cards and I couldn't find a dollar in my wallet fast enough.  After I found the Stacker on a boardwalk with current generation consoles as prizes an obsession was born.  The Stacker is gaming at its simplest.  The game comes in various sizes but the premise is always a red (or blue) square grid divided into multiple rows of squares and one big button.  The game begins with one row of three squares moving across the bottom line and the player presses the big button stopping the squares in place.  Now the player must stack the second set of three squares directly atop the previous row and if a square is not directly lined up the square falls away.

The most common iteration of The Stacker, the coolness level of the prizes vary. 

Even with a perfect stack the rows are gradually reduced to two then one square that must be stacked to the top and the blocks move faster becoming more difficult to land squarely on the growing tower.  As the tower grows higher it hits the "Minor Prize" line that features typical arcade fare such as keychains or bouncy balls.  The player is given the choice of accepting the minor prize and ending the game or taking their chances to play for the "Major Prize" a few rows above.  The major prizes I have seen range from Ipads to Xbox 360's to Playstation 3's to $50-$100 gift cards to video cameras to 32 inch televisions.  Each attempt for a major prize is coupled with the eternal hope of an amazing return on my dollar, if I win.   

I have won the minor prize multiple times and gotten onto the major prize often but I have never won the major prize.  A quick internet search for images for this blog resulted in multiple accusations that the Stacker is a fixed game set to only allow a major prize winner once every few hundred plays.  Eh, what arcade game is not rigged to induce more money out of our wallets?    

At the Fun Dungeon the Stacker was huge from floor to ceiling with a platform for standing and a railing lean back on in order to properly view the full screen.  I was aiming for the 32 inch HD television even with no idea how I would fit the television in my already packed suitcase.  Casual or carnival-esque games may have a poor reputation for a lack of actual gameplay.  Yet, the Stacker recalls the arcade heyday.  As the blocks successfully stack higher and higher anyone walking by stops and watches until at a small crowd has unabashedly gathered more so than for any other game.  A winner is rewarded with claps and cheers while a losing game is mourned by the entire group.   

The super mega edition with prizes so big each are behind their own cubby and winning unlocks the door. 

The ongoing progress of technology has games at our fingertips, literally, from smartphones to tablets to consoles.  Not beating a game is due to a lack of commitment, not a lack of opportunity.  Even some arcade games are becoming available as downloadable titles for our personal devices.  Other games remain limited opportunities based on physically locating the game (in playable condition) and keeping a ready supply of quarters (or in this economy dollar bills) in my wallet just in case the chance to play pops up. 

Come Superbowl XLVII on February 3, 2013 (Let's go Washington DC and RG3!  First NFC East championship since 1999!) I will meet friends at my local Dave and Buster's.  We will eat and anticipate the football game then my interest will wane between the first and third quarters and I will wander the nearly empty arcade with no lines to deter my gameplay.  I will reminisce near the gigantic spinning wheel the loss of Star Wars Arcade Trilogy, perhaps try the wall sized Stacker (the major prize is merely 500 tickets, I want my first win to net me an unbelievably cool prize), and continue my search for a another "that" arcade game to challenge me for years on end. 

Do you have the unbeaten game that continues to taunt you merely by continuing to exist?

Have you ever beaten the "impossible" game?

What's the best arcade or carnival prize that you have won? 

Thanks for sticking around to the end of this blog!