Here's another Classic Still Playing with Toys article from January 7, 2010, celebrating how awesome Colorado Springs and Aurora, Colorado's Boardwalk USA arcades were… enjoy!
Dave and Busters, ESPN Zone, they all owe their existence (in my non-professional opinion, of course) to a small chain of arcades that were ground zero for some of my fondest memories as a kid with the guys. Boardwalk USA was a dream come true... video games and pinball machines old and new as far as the eye can see - and all you had to do was swipe a card to play. Listen to me weep like Glenn Beck about how simple life used to be after the jump...
There were three Boardwalk USA arcades (to my knowledge without looking it up) in the Colorado area, one in Aurora, one in Colorado Springs, and another one somewhere out in Arvada if memory serves. The premise of Boardwalk USA was simple: show up, pay $20 for an "all-day" pass which was a Boardwalk USA themed credit card that you swiped on a reader where the arcade game coin slot would ordinarily be, and then play video games until your fingers bleed. I know that this doesn't exactly sound revolutionary given today's technology (he says as CES is currently unveiling arcade games in Las Vegas that do everything but punch you in the face "for reals"), but at the time it was bigger than the microchip.
It was genius, not just because it was an excuse for our parents to drop us off in the morning and not have to think about us until closing time at 6pm, but because as a kid the thought of unlimited and "free" arcade games was as appealing of a fantasy as Tom Hanks' loft apartment in Big. Yes, of course I realize that this was before the opposite of sex while hormones were spiraling out of control took priority over such things.
I can still, to this day, remember vividly the car rides both with my parents and with Nate Wright's mom out to the Boardwalk USA in Colorado Springs, which was like Mecca. Not only did it have the appeal of the unlimited video games which was the trademark of Boardwalk USA, but it also had go-karts, a mini-golf course, and laser tag which were included in the all day fee that you paid (in moderation and with a catch, of course). Birthday parties, random Saturdays, it didn't matter what the occasion was, you were always excited and looking for an excuse to beg the parental units to drive you out to Boardwalk USA...
The first and hardest question was always: where do you start?
There were hundreds upon hundred of arcade games, all lined up like the warehouse in Raiders of the Lost Ark, of course it was difficult to map a plan of attack... inevitably, I usually ended up at the sit-down Atari Star Wars arcade game. The vector-based game mixed with the appeal of sitting down in an enclosed (kinda) X-Wing-like cabinet was just too cool to pass up each and every time that you went to Boardwalk. Sometimes you'd have a system on which games to hit and when. Sometimes you'd just jump from Blades of Steel over to Robocop then join up with the guys on the Simpsons Arcade game, tackling each and every game until completion. And why not, any time you'd die and hit a "Continue?" screen, all you had to do was swipe your Boardwalk USA card and you were back in action.
Next, you'd head outside for mini golf with the guys. Usually by the sixth or seventh hole boredom would set in and it would turn into a contest of who can bounce the golf ball off the outside building wall, back onto the green, and maybe into the running stream that followed the course. Such activities usually led to one of the poor miserable Boardwalk employees coming over to politely ask you to leave the golf course.
And then, by the end of the day when you realized that you were frantically swiping your card to beat Cowboys of Moo Mesa, that you were pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel and it was okay that whichever parent had graciously agreed to be your ride was itching to get back on the road to Franktown.
Understandably, I think it became difficult for Boardwalk to turn a profit in its later days (especially as the home consoles became more elaborate and everyone started owning an NES or a Genesis) as they would introduce new pricing schemes like "Premium" and "Classic" games, where you'd be able to play the older arcade games on an unlimited basis but you would have to buy "credits" on your card to play the newer games (which is currently how our good friends Dave and Busters and ESPN Zone are structured). Shortly after that, I remember Boardwalk then going to a strictly credit based system where you'd get the equivalent of five quarters for a buck... and then without warning overnight, Nate's mom drove us to the Boardwalk in Aurora only to find that they had shuttered the windows and locked the doors for good.
Since that time, such establishments have all but disappeared in this 2010 Xbox-Wii-Mom What's an Arcade-world that we currently live in. Staples of Colorado childhood like Boardwalk USA, Celebrity Sports Center, and FunPlex are gone for good and, unlike the weirdos on Fox News, I'm not going to sit here and weep and tell everyone that times were much better back then, because I'm pretty envious of all the awesome stuff that kids have available to them today. They're making new memories and fifteen years from now will probably be lamenting at how cool Wii Golf was.
But the ten-year old still inside me would love to go and spend a day at a Boardwalk USA that remains intact as it was back in 1987/1988, with Nate, Ian, Ben, and the guys... and to pay $20 for an unlimited free-play card... and to find myself bored and playing Cowboys of Moo Mesa by 7 or 8 at night...
Just one last time.