Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Arcade Memories: The Wizard

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.

1 comment:

  1. That place was amazing!! They also had some of my favorites like Defender, Joust, and Qbert. The also had some cocktail style cabinet games like warlords and space zap. They also had great pinballs.