Going Old School


A few months back I caught an article about the return of an old-school arcade to a mall not too far from where I live. I made a mental note to check it out at an opportune time, but hadn’t found a good block to get over there until yesterday. Rain clouds on a staycation day are an excellent time to check out an arcade.

The Colonial Soldier Arcade at the Deptford Mall isn’t one of the huge multi-room arcades of the past 1, but it is a wonderful step back in time to a noisy coin-op past. There are four banks of old-school machines, from a variety of genres, as well as a few more modern consoles for some different multi-player experiences. It’s all original hardware, restored to working condition, and includes some games I’ve not seen for ages. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Donkey Kong Jr. machine in an arcade, and they had a Popeye machine in near mint condition 2. In addition to these the arcade had an Aliens machine that I’d only ever before seen in the movie theatre at which I’d worked in high school.

It was cool being able to play Gauntlet with my son and his two friends, and the gentleman working there was happy to chat about old games and the story of the arcade 3. We talked about hard to find games, and he explained how they managed to create a full-sized Fix It Felix Jr. cabinet. It was a pretty cool time.

And yet, there was something missing.

The Colonial Soldier is a “all you can play” arcade. You pay $10 for the entire day and can play on the machines as much as you want. This makes sense, given the economics of the day 4, but it also meant I didn’t feel any of the anxiety I used to experience in the arcades of my youth. Back then I had a finite number of coins to spend, and so when I got to a tough boss or twitched at the wrong time on a level there was a certain level of misapprehension which added to the experience. It felt like there was something, even if it was only a couple of bucks, at stake. I never knew, after all, if I’d be able to return to a particular spot in a game. So if I died that journey ended. With all the machines on “free to play,” however, nothing was a big deal. I just hit continue and played on. It was still fun, and I’ll head back at some point, but it was different.

I do recommend a visit if you’re in the Philadelphia area. There aren’t many places like this left, and it’s a great way to take a step back into the past for an hour or two.

  1. The greatest one of these I ever encountered was in Avalon, NJ on the 29th Street boardwalk. 
  2. And I have discovered that I’m still terrible at it. 
  3. He wasn’t the owner, but had worked with the owner for a while by how it sounded. 
  4. The arcade pays for itself, but isn’t a huge money maker. It seems the owner just wanted to make sure people were able to have the experience of playing these old machines. 

One Comment

  1. Jamison says:

    You’d like Galloping Ghost in Chicago. It’s free to play, but the anxiety is that you can NEVER play everything they have in one day. It’s SO huge

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