Recently I was blabbing on Google+ about my inexplicable drive to start collecting character toothbrushes. Steve chimed in and said that he has a hankering for arcade tokens. I thought that was a great idea! I spent a lot of time in arcades as a youth, both as a micro-dork in the early 80's during the first arcade mania driven by Pac-Man and its ilk, and as a teen-dork in the early 90's during the resurgence with games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. Collecting arcade tokens are the only way to capture a part of that arcade-rat culture without forking over the dough for full-size arcade cabinets. Thanks to Steve for the idea for this new feature! To start off, let's take a look at this token from Aladdin's Castle!
The token is the size of a nickel, substantially smaller than the quarter-sized tokens I remember. The logo on the front and the lamp on the back look exactly the same, though. Maybe this version was utilized before I started frequenting Aladdin's Castle in the early 90's.
And frequent it I did. Aladdin's Castle in Manassas Mall (hailing from northern Virginia) was my primary arcade destination at the time. It was there that I "honed" my admittedly pathetic Street Fighter II skills, munched the heads off my opponents as Reptile in MKII, and slashed my way through Foot Soldiers in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That place was packed with arcade classics. I remember listening to the T2 soundtrack in my Walkman as I gyrated around playing G-LOC. Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Off-Road was not only fun but also had a good deal of longevity for your token. A pack of kids always conglomerated around the giant projection-screen Neo Geo machine playing World Heroes 2 (where I fared much better than in Street Fighter). There were some really cool then-older games too, like Superman. And after you blew all your money in the arcade, some delicious Asian steak noodles were waiting for you in the food court.
Just recently, I dropped by Manassas Mall after a business trip in northern Virginia. I hadn't been back for nearly 20 years and I was eager to see how it had changed. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the old Aladdin's Castle arcade was still there! I walked as fast as I could without appearing like a frantic weirdo to the arcade entrance. But as I stepped inside, I realized that the glory days of the arcade were over. Aladdin's Castle was a shell of its former self, with a scarce few arcade cabinets stuffed into less than half the room. Almost all of the games were gone, the wonderful smell of burning electronics mixed with body odor had dissipated, and the blaring klaxon of random video game noises was silenced. At least the carpet was the same... which is kind of gross now that I think about it.
I played a few of the games that were there (sadly, the awesome games that I mentioned above were nowhere to be seen) and decided to see if I could score those delicious noodles I used to get after a serious arcade session. Strangely enough, the noodle place in the food court was still there too! I grabbed an order of noodles and began scarfing. Hm... too salty and just plain odd. Maybe the recipe had changed, or maybe my palate had evolved.
I guess you really can't go back to the good old days. But at least I have the memories... and a Playstation 3 loaded up with perfect replicas of vintage arcade classics that I can play whenever I choose. Not too shabby a consolation prize, if you ask me. And there's always YouTube if I want to play vicariously.