Arcade sign

Like Transformers, skinny jeans and Donald Trump, something else that was popular in the 1980s is making a big comeback: the arcade. And the new arcades — often in the form of games-and-beer “barcades” — are bringing back the neighborhood feel of the original urban video game centers.

The barcade concept isn’t entirely new, even to Columbus. Though GameWorks closed its Easton location years ago, there are still two Dave & Buster’s in town. But their big-box chain style is a far cry from the genuine arcade experience, less of a bar-cade than a TGI Friday’s-cade, and inflation has made per-play arcade games ridiculously expensive.

The latest stop on the local arcade scene is Gotcha Gachapon, which just spun off into its own Italian Village space after starting last fall as a pop-up shop in Maotef Gifts. Their focus is on modern Japanese arcade games rather than retro offerings. The space also includes a store with anime- and video game-inspired figures, plush toys, key chains and other things you’d otherwise have to wait for Ohayocon or Matsuricon to buy. Gotcha Gachapon stands out as the only arcade in Columbus without a bar, and the most family- (and teenager-) friendly. Patrons are invited to bring their own food and drinks. But rather than charge for drinks or for each game played, the arcade charges $10 for all-day open play, including console games.

16-Bit Bar+Arcade, located downtown on South 4th St., was the first neighborhood barcade in Columbus, expanding here from Cleveland and now also boasting a location in Cincinnati. The strictly 21+ bar has plenty of classics, including arcade greats like the four-player X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games, 80s icons like Pac-Man and Space Invaders, and a good selection of old and new fighting games. It’s also got that perfect dimly-lit, slightly cramped classic arcade feel. Games are free to play with purchase of a drink. They hold weekly retro game tournaments and offer a free draft on Sundays for anyone who can beat a standing high score.

A little farther north, specifically in the Old North Campus neighborhood, the Old North Arcade is another cozy spot to get in some drinks and retro games. This barcade is also 21+. As part of the thriving Old North Campus nightlife scene, it features the trivia nights, football and drink specials you’d expect from a neighborhood bar, but free gaming comes with the drinks.

And over in Olde Town East beside Yellow Brick Pizza, Arcade Super Awesome is family-friendly until 9pm and focuses on old and new pinball machines as well as video games, including the tournament-friendly indie arcade platformer Killer Queen.

As those of us who grew up with video games have aged, we’ve kept our appreciation of them, and that appreciation can no longer be contained in our living rooms. Console games played at home just don’t rival the experience of trash-talking friends and strangers over Street Fighter, and no plastic pad over a carpet floor can give the same experience as a real Dance Dance Revolution machine. And like so many other geek businesses, the arcades that have popped up to fill that need are the kinds of small, independent businesses that need our support. So grab a beer or non-alcoholic beverage of your choice and check out some of the new generation of arcades.

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