Somewhere in my archives I believe I still have a custom-minted token or two from "The Wizard," a video game arcade that flourished, or existed at least, in my old home town of Menominee, Michigan back in the early 1980s. (Note to curious Google-seekers: This post has nothing to do with the Fred Savage/Nintendo movie of the same name that came along later.)
My memories of the place are fading now, but my recollection is that The Wizard was crammed into a couple of conjoined mall storefronts, an odd hockey-stick shaped space with doors at both ends. It was usually fairly dark inside, and the logo painted on the wall featured a rather stoned-looking long-haired dude in a Vaughn Bode Cheech Wizard-style cap, which probably accounted for the persistent rumors that if you wanted to buy drugs, The Wizard was the place to ask around.
What I remember about The Wizard, mostly, are the arcade cabinets that I've yet to encounter elsewhere, even after years of actively seeking these things out. I recall Rock-Ola's Fantasy, a multi-screen rescue-the-girl adventure; Sega's Space Fury, an Asteroids-inspired color vector game with an entertaining, voice synthesis-supported alien enemy-slash-host; and Stern's Cliff Hanger, a laserdisc game based on the Lupin III anime feature The Castle of Cagliostro. I remember playing Cinematronics' Star Castle and Rip Off in their original coin-op forms at The Wizard, before the Vectrex brought them home. And it's the only place I ever encountered Midway's 1980 Extra Bases, a video baseball game that my brother and I took to calling Extra Credits, inspired by its eagerness to dole out free games at every opportunity.
There were many of the enduring classics too, of course -- Rally-X, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Zoo Keeper, Omega Race -- all the usual suspects -- but it's easier to remember the unusual games, my memories undiluted by play in multiple venues over the past 25-plus years. I remember crowded Friday nights when The Wizard was overflowing with patrons, primarily male. And I have a treasured memory of a quiet Saturday morning when we got inside right at opening time and were privileged to see all the machines' "secret" power-up and self-test modes in action.
I don't recall exactly when The Wizard packed up his spells, sold off his machines and closed his doors. I'm sure it was during the mid-1980s crash era, but I really can't remember if it was before I graduated from high school (in 1985) or afterwards. Its main competition, The Circus, stationed in a more prosperous mall across the river in Marinette, Wisconsin, survived for quite a while longer. But neither is around today. The arcade era has passed.