In the middle of the summer, in the middle of California, in the middle of a draught, a small gathering of gamers come together for the greatest classic arcade convention on the west coast.
In this, my third year of attendance, I played conquered more games than past years, played more pinball than ever before in my collected lifetime, and discovered some unique and fun games I’d never heard of before. If you fancy yourself a classic/retro arcade game fan, and you live close to Santa Clara, California or can make the trip, I highly recommend checking out this little convention. Here’s a link to the show’s page, so you can plan for next year’s visit.
This year’s show was extra special to me because my brother Phil and I were able to secure a special surprise birthday present for our eldest brother: a plane ticket and pass to this year’s show! Seeing as he’s the one among us who appreciates arcade games and (especially) pinball machines most, we owed it to him to make sure he was here to check out the show. And certainly, he was impressed.
Pinball and classic arcade games all set to free play as far as the eye can see. Enthusiastic old game fans lining up to play their childhood favorites like Ms. Pac-Man and Robotron. Excited gamers trying out Gauntlet and Street Fighter II for the very first time. Arcade kings reminiscing about the good ol’ days of classic style pinball machines compared to their new-fangled and flashy counterparts. Young kids discovering how their parents entertained themselves in an age without the internet or portable gaming systems. A magical haven of nerd culture and discovery. And a kind of funky smell.
What would an arcade convention be without some great games? This year was absolutely no exception, with some new additions and returning favorites to make me and many others nostalgic and happy. X-Men Arcade and Captain America and the Avengers were two new games this year that I was pleased to sink an hour into and see through to the end. Midway game Cosmo Gang was constantly entertaining guests from young kids to eager adults. New and improved Killer Queen had a fully dedicated space to play the 5-on-5 multiplayer romp, with new levels and playable class. Dozens of pinball machines ranging from licensed machines like Metallica and Superman to the old classics with wooden cabinets and a Hercules machine that was easily the size of two machines combined.
Some new highlights for me were Tron Video Pinball, which was an amalgamation of physical pinball flipper buttons to press and a video screen displaying all the action. Another spin on pinball was Varkon, which was a vertical pinball machine; the ball moved fast and you had to react even faster. Both were really fun and unique!
Night Stocker was this weird driving and shooting game: you had to steer a vehicle with one hand while shooting down enemies with a light gun in the other. Really challenging but really fun. Blaster was a vector graphics gem that had multiple stages and goals, ranging from shooting space vampires to rescuing floating spacemen, to navigating through a veritable maze of pillars and enemy ships. And while I’ve played and enjoyed both Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. in the past, it wasn’t until this year that I really got to play Donkey Kong 3 and enjoy it. Uniquely different than the previous games but still a fun title!
In pinball land I got my hands on so many machines I was actually able to narrow down which pinball variant was my favorite: The fast and action packed games. Retro pinball games like Middle Earth (which has nothing to do with Hobbits) and The Hulk were fun and classic, but weren’t fast and flashy. Newer pinball machines like Super Mario Bros. and Terminator 2 were more fun but weren’t fast enough. Machines like Cyclone, which were incredibly fast in pinball speed and really dynamic on the board, ended up being my favorites. I also enjoyed some of the more “experimental” machines, like the gigantic aforementioned Hercules machines, as well as the dual-flipper game Roller Disco.
And that’s just scratching the surface of what California Extreme had to offer. An entire room dedicated to smaller console games was available. If you thought you were skilled enough to win a tournament and take home a sweet trophy you could sing up. Heck, I didn’t even mention how there was an entire section (with a truly dedicated fanbase) of rhythm games like Pop’n Music and Dance Dance Revolution, or how I started playing the original House of the Dead and after making it to the third level before finally dying only to turn around and see a small crowd gathered around me like it was a decade ago at the bowling alley. Single player games, two player games, six player games, even ten player games were there, ensuring everyone met someone new and enjoyed a common interest all through the night.
Chalk up California Extreme 2015 as another huge success. With next year being the 20th anniversary of the show, I’m hoping it’ll be bigger and better than ever. Honestly though, they can (and probably will) do the same thing year after year and I’ll happily attend and get my nostalgic gaming fix. For the hundreds of gamers who enjoyed the show this year and can’t wait until next year, game on.