And now for a travel tale of a different type.
For my regular readers, you know that I was once a serious video gamer and that I’ve occasionally visited retro arcades to revisit that aspect of my childhood. A few months ago, I read of a place in Brookfield, IL called Galloping Ghost that claimed to be the world’s biggest retro arcade. I told my old friend, Jeff Bevirt, about it. Jeff is still a serious gamer and he was intrigued, so we decided to take a weekend road trip to visit this arcade.
It had been a really long time since I had a true buddy road trip. Having a friend along not only makes the time go faster, but it also helps to have someone with whom to share the driving duties so neither of us gets overly fatigued.
We got an early start, leaving Omaha around 8:30am. I took the first leg of the drive and took us to Walcott, IA where we took a lunch break at Gramma’s Kitchen at the world’s largest truck stop.
Gramma’s Kitchen serves old-fashioned comfort food (and some not so old-fashioned, as well), includes a gift shop, and just has the feeling of yesteryear with its vintage signs and knickknacks. Jeff ordered a meat loaf dinner which included a trip to the tiny salad bar where he got some prime rib and mushroom soup. For myself, I decided to try the Frisco Burger. My burger was delicious with its crispy bacon, vegetables, Swiss cheese, and toasted sourdough bun. Should I ever eat here again and get a burger, I’ll be certain to get it medium well, as my choice of medium was just a bit underdone for my tastes, though tasty. I ate half of my burger and saved the rest for my evening meal and Jeff took over the drive from this point.
A few hours later found us in Chicagoland where I had a premium king suite reserved at Embassy Suites in Naperville, IL.
This Embassy Suites was a bit different from others in its construction. Embassy Suites tend to be built in an atrium style, but this one was actually designed like a regular hotel. Our room wasn’t quite ready when we arrived, but we got it about 10 minutes after our arrival. We deposited our gear and Jeff ordered some bedding for the hide-a-bed and we left for Galloping Ghost.
About 40 minutes later, we arrived and managed to get a spot in the parking lot. A few minutes later, we entered a place I can only describe as arcade nirvana.
Galloping Ghost is owned by Doc Mack who co-founded the business back in 2010. Originally the arcade boasted 130 games, but Mack has multiplied that many times over and, today, the arcade contains over 700 video games and a separate venue contains 75 pinball machines.
For $20 you can play all day and that’s a bargain as you will play an equivalent amount in about an hour or so and you’ll need far more time to truly get a feel for this place.
Jeff and I spent the first half hour just wandering through the rooms admiring the games and marveling at the variety. Not only did I see games that I see at nearly every retro arcade, but I also saw rare treasures, games imported from Japan, prototypes that never had a formal release, plus some originals. In the second to last room we explored, we found a roped off area consisting of numerous games being prepped for future release as the arcade features a new release each week.
Interestingly, some of the games actually share a cabinet and a switch is available so you can toggle between them. From watching various interviews online, I’ve learned that Mack and his crew hope to get each game its own cabinet. But it’s a painstaking process as they try to get an original cabinet and, failing that, they create a similar one for the game. Truly these are people who appreciate classic games.
Then it was game time!
I made a point of mostly avoiding games that I have played at other retro arcades to focus on the ones I had never played. Jeff and I teamed up to defeat Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, and Contra: Evolution (an updated version of Contra released in 2011). Later Jeff would join me to help me finish off Two-Face in Batman Forever, a prototype game.
Then we split and I wandered about and was stunned to find either limited release or never released sequels to Joust (Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest) and Mappy (Hopping Mappy). Then I started playing long missed favorites such as Crime Patrol and Mad Dog II: The Lost Gold from American Laser Games. I also enjoyed Biohazard: Code Veronica, an import shoot em up from Japan better known as Resident Evil in America. I also dabbled in Timber, a spin-off of Tapper where you chop down trees while avoiding obstacles. I took a crack at Super Burgertime which beat me to a pulp. I also rescued the children and stopped Mr. Big in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker; played a Dragon’s Lair II cabinet for the first time since a video game convention in 2010; came within 2 Sinibombs of destroying Sinistar; got creamed in Cliff Hanger, a diabolically difficult Dragon’s Lair style game based off two Lupin III movies; experimented with Hologram Time Traveler, but threw in the towel as I had trouble viewing the screen.
But the most interesting game I played was an interactive movie called The Spectre Files: Deathstalkers. In this game, you take the role of a private eye searching for a missing heiress in a haunted institution. Whenever the game stops, you have to make a choice. Choose correctly and the game continues. Choose wrong and you will come to a premature end. I really dug the mash-up of cheesy horror film and choose your own adventure.
Not every game works at peak capacity which is to be expected given the age and rarity of these machines, but that number was shockingly small and most worked like a dream. The games are also packed tightly together so gaming could get a bit snug when the arcade is super busy.
After 6 ½ hours of gaming, my feet were done in and Jeff was a bit tired so we headed back to Embassy Suites. Jeff’s bedding hadn’t been delivered so both of us ended up having to call the front desk to finally get some sheets and a blanket for him before finally retiring about midnight.
The next morning, we enjoyed Embassy Suites’ famed cooked to order breakfast before heading back to Omaha, planning to possibly return next year to enjoy Galloping Ghost once more and explore Chicago a bit.
But if you’re in the Chicago area and you are a video gamer, visit Galloping Ghost (9415 Ogden Ave in Brookfield, IL). Once you visit this retro arcade, you’ll be hard pressed to want to visit another.