Ground Kontrol is an arcade in Portland, Oregon, about 45 minutes from my house. Per Wikipedia:
"Ground Kontrol is a video game arcade and bar in Portland, Oregon, United States. Recognized as one of the best arcades in the US, it is known for preserving games from the Golden Age of Video Arcade Games. It also serves as a venue for DJs and live music. Also of note is its collection of 28 pinball tables.
Custom lighting systems featuring heavy use of LEDs and fiber optics were designed and constructed and added to the remodel. The new bathrooms feature Pacman tilework and translucent, backlit counter tops. Combined with hanging lamps in polyhedral shapes and fiber optic cable highlighting the edges of the interior arches a TRON inspired interior was realized."
I thought I had visited Ground Kontrol once a long time ago, but I must be mistaken, as I haven't set foot in an arcade since about 1993 and Ground Kontrol was born in 1999. I've heard good things about it and meant to visit, but just kept putting it off. Until yesterday, when for some reason it just popped into my head and I decided to go immediately after getting off work. After looking at their list of pins I was especially anxious to play a lot of Bally & Williams games from after 1993; Twilight Zone was probably the last game I played in an arcade, although I have played Medieval Madness, Attack From Mars, and various Sterns in bars and pizza parlors.
I arrived about 6:00 pm. My stomach had been doing flip flops from that Whopper I ate for lunch (stupid!), but it settled down by the time I arrived. I found a parking spot right across the street, but since you have to pay the meters until 6:30, and I had no change on me, I had to scrounge around through the car to find $1 for parking for 30 minutes! From the outside, Ground Kontrol barely stands out from any other building on the block during the day, but at night it lights up beautifully. I was stopped at the door and carded, which I was cool with. After 5 pm, no minors are allowed inside.
The place was neither full nor empty, a decent-sized crowd. The wait staff is extremely hard-working; the bartender took time out from making drinks and wiping down tables to change one of my $20s into $5s, as the change machine only accepts $1s and $5s. I looked around a bit and snapped a few photos. There are several games I remember fondly from my youth, especially Star Castle, one of their new additions. I love that game! No dingy carpets, nice lighting effects like the tabletops which light up and the stairs do too, and a full bar complements food from the kitchen. But who has time for food when there's pinball to play?
I quickly climbed the stairs and found myself in the pinball mezzanine (which does contain a few arcade games here and there). Ground Kontrol has all their machines set to three balls, with each credit worth $.50. However, if you pony up $2, you get 5 credits instead of 4. I would take advantage of this on several machines. I'm probably an average player; I have games good enough for a free play usually followed by a horrific game. I don't just bat the ball around, but I sometimes have trouble hitting the shot I want - I'm just a little too early or late on the flippers. I don't even come close to sniffing scores the the experts put up.
Terminator 2 (T2) (10 plays)
Since several of the other machines were being played and I wanted a little space, I gravitated to the end of the room and plunked the first quarters into Ahnold's machine. One thing Ground Kontrol lacks - AC for the upper area. Heck, any kind of air movement, even a fan, would be a plus. 40 minutes after I arrived, I finally walked away from T2 a sweaty, hot mess, where I had been against the wall with no air. I had forgotten how much fun (and how forgiving) this game is with its center post and left kickback. I kept racking up free games and having a lot of fun, all the while thinking I'd really like to add this one to the home collection.
The Shadow (TS) (5 plays)
I really hated this game. The shots were punishing, and the ball was so fast it was just a blur. I couldn't hear the game, and every game was over quickly. I'm not the only one; I glanced at all the tables throughout the night, and this was one of the least played. I could understand why the pros like it, as it is very challenging. Maybe it would be more fun at home where I could practice shots, but there's other games I'd much rather have.
Tales of the Arabian Nights (TOTAN) (8 plays)
What a beautiful machine! The theme is so well done, I love the ramps, and the sound is excellent. I could see how the tales would get repetitive, and several times my ball drained from the tales straight down the middle (or SDTM, as it is called for short). In fact, during one sequence the ball got stuck to the lamp, not breaking free until it was lined up perfectly with the center drain. After winning multiple free games on it and just being entranced, I wanted this game more than any other and I'd really like this to be the next game in my collection. I just can't afford it right now.
Champion Pub (CP) (5 plays)
A very solid machine...you can tell it's a late model Bally as it just feels really solid from the flippers to the flow of the ball to the toy features. My problem was even though I was hitting shots, I couldn't stop the outside drains. The jump rope and speed bag were cool toys, and the first time the fighter turned to face me I had a big grin on my face. I just couldn't get anywhere with it. Trying to move the spittoon was almost useless as it wouldn't respond to flipper presses. I think back to how flawless flipper presses were for DMD games on my Junk Yard machine...there's no reason it should be that bad here. Despite the solid feel and cool toys, I don't think I'd want this one.
Spiderman (SM) (8 plays)
Though I was there to play mostly Bally/Williams games, there were a few Sterns I wanted to play, and this was one of them. It basically lived up to my expectations too, as I racked up a couple of free games despite never having played it before. The shots are doable and make sense, and I was able to achieve both black suit multiball and some other multiball mode that I don't recall (maybe Fusion Malfunction?). There was no shaker motor but I really didn't miss it. Being a Stern it doesn't feel quite as solid as a Bally/Williams, but still very cool; I could definitely feel the Attack From Mars influence. Got my first match of the night on this machine, too. I like it but I'd rather have TOTAN for that price.
Bram Stoker's Dracula (BSD) (5 plays)
I really wanted to like this game, and my jaw dropped when I saw the ball wiggle across the playfield in video mode. This thing, however, was a side drain monster that I had trouble hitting shots on. The ball got up in the air more than a few times; a couple of times it bounced over everything and down the drain. I did do pretty well killing wolves on the DMD. I think I need more time on it to be sure, but right now I'm leaning towards disliking it.
Twilight Zone (TZ) (7 plays)
Just as much fun as I remember it to be. I racked up a great score on the first game and earned a free one, then later matched for another freebie. One thing I didn't remember was how clunky and cheap the flippers felt. I didn't like them at all. Despite so much going on I was reluctant to look away from the ball, which means I missed some cool stuff. I still had a lot of fun playing this game and wouldn't mind owning one someday.
Star Wars Episode 1 (SWEP1???) (1 play)
One play is all it took to remind me that I hated the Pinball 2000 concept. The less said about this game, the better.
The Simpsons Pinball Party (TSPP) (7 plays)
Like T2, I had a blast playing this game and was on it a good 30 minutes, earning 2 free games. I mastered the skill shot pretty easily, but could only get 1 one ball up on the couch, and that blasted right flipper kept getting in my way. Still, I had a blast and loved how the reactor towers glow and how Homer turns his head and talks. I really couldn't hear what he was saying but it didn't hinder the game experience. When some people say this is the best Stern ever made, I'd have a hard time disagreeing. What a great game!
Theater of Magic (TOM) (5 plays)
Color me unimpressed by this game. The spinning trunk gets old, quick, and this one had suffered damage with a piece of it completely missing. I was actually bored with this game despite the fast speed and number of ramp shots. It seemed like every time I was set up for a great shot, the ball would drain. I walked away feeling that this was one I'd be taking off my wishlist.
Note: By now I've had a couple of drinks, and the pinball area, as well as the whole place, is really getting crowded. I must say I'm surprised there's this much interest in pinball among the younger generation. There's several cute girls, but most of them are there with guys - and are young enough to be my daughter. Ouch. I think it might be getting hotter and more stuffy...the heat from all those video games rises to the mezzanine, there's still heat trapped from the afternoon sun, and now there's more bodies. Why isn't there any damn AC in here? I look at the time: 9:30. I could probably make it to Noodles Incorporated for dinner, up on 10th street if I haul ass, but I'm reluctant to tear myself away, especially now that Circus Voltaire is free (it's been getting a ton of play). I soldier on...
Circus Voltaire (5 plays)
I was initially hooked by the gorgeous lights, the DMD down by the playfield where I could see it better, and the solid feel, similar to Champion Pub. As time went on however, the luster wore off. The third time the Ringmaster popped up and announced who he was I had had enough. The cannon in the backglass seemed ridiculous to me, and like TOM this is a one-trick pony with the Ringmaster. I'm not sure why this is so highly rated and sought after. The lights were pretty, and I liked the solid feel. Bally's engineering at this point was top-notch. But for the big price this game commands, I couldn't see myself owing it.
White Water (WH2O) (2 plays)
Yes I have this at home, but mine hasn't worked properly since 2005 (the year after I bought it)...I play it occasionally but give up when it resets. I wanted to get a game in at Ground Kontrol to compare their machine to mine. I did okay on my single game, hitting some great shots, racking up a decent score and winning a free game, although I still felt I should have done better. Like my home game, I had very few side drains. Trying to light the ball capture by hitting the green targets resulted in some SDTM shots. The Lost Mine kickout was set to kick down to the right flipper and worked flawlessly. Also, in this setting, playing so many machines, I'm reminded why I love the right flipper on WH2O - being on the upper playfield, it never interferes with shots from the main flippers (which was a constant problem with other 3 flipper games like TSPP and BSD). Despite my playing, which wasn't up to my standards for this game (I guess I'm a little rusty), it did nothing to diminish my love for it, and my pin at home will need a good clean and wax, as well as the Lost Mine kickout fix, to match Ground Kontrol's.
Red and Ted's Roadshow (RTRS) (7 plays)
Putting 5 credits into this machine was a mistake. I did not like it at all. I wanted to, as I love Carlene Carter (the voice of Red) and her song "Every Little Thing". But I couldn't hear the game at all. The shaker motor was working, but there was a slingshot that had come loose and was hanging out into the playfield. To make matters worse I won 2 free games, which I didn't really want. Oh well.
Funhouse (FH) (1 play)
Back in the 80s I played this a bit, mostly due to Rudy's taunting. But here, like with Red & Ted's, I couldn't hear him at all, which killed the fun. I basically let my last ball drain so that I could move on.
Star Trek The Next Generation (STTNG) (6 plays)
This is a pretty good game, once you figure out that the trigger launches the ball and not the flippers (I had 3 SDTM before I realized this). I'm not sure that it's worthy of the #2 spot on IPDB's ratings, but I have a feeling if I spent more time on it that it would grow on me. I loved the 6 ball multiball but man those things drain fast and get in each others' way!
Indiana Jones (IJ) (1 play)
I've played this game once or twice before and as fan of the movies I really like the game. I'd love to add this to collection. I cut out after one game because I was low on quarters and wanted to hit Addams Family.
The Addams Family (TAF) (2 plays)
The last game of the night ended up being pretty awesome. Like IJ, I've played this once or twice. But this was by far the best game I've had, earning 3 ball multiball immediately followed by Thing 2 ball multiball, and as a result a free game. I can see how this could be considered one of the best games ever made. The only thing I didn't like was The Power which caused my ball to drain twice. But this was a really fun way to end the night...I'll have to add it to the wish list.
Below are the games I did not play and the reason why...
Attack From Mars (ATM)
I played this game to death in a local pizza parlor. Although I love it, I wanted to try machines I had never played before or played very little of.
Doctor Who (DW)
Not high on my list to try but I would have got to it if I hadn't run out of time.
Eight Ball Champ (EBC)
I was never a fan of the Eight Ball games.
Lord of the Rings (LOTR)
I've played this one a lot too, at one point it seemed to be everywhere.
Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC)
I played this game a lot at the arcade in the Chinook Winds Casino in Lincoln City on the Oregon coast.
Scared Stiff (SS)
Like White Water, I wanted to play one game and compare to mine, but it was having stuck ball issues all night. At least mine isn't having those issues!
I played this one a lot since it was right next to POTC (see above).
The Sopranos (??)
I have zero interest due to theme.
South Park (SP)
Again, zero interest.
Games I'm surprised I didn't see:
No Data East, SEGA, Gottlieb, or Capcom machines (they used to have some)
Not one EM machine (although for maintenance I can understand why) (they used to have some)
No Wizard of Oz
No late model Sterns (again for maintenance I understand why), although the absence of Tron in an arcade with a Tron influence seems strange...
No Fish Tales, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Monster Bash, Medieval Madness, or Judge Dredd (all top 20 games on IPDB)
I was really tired and hungry when I left at 11:30 pm, but I had a great time, and I'm looking forward to another trip. Final stats on the night:
Hours played: 5.5
Credits played: 86
Drinks consumed: 2
Cost: games = $40, drinks = $15 (with tips), parking = $1, total = $56