A Journey Into Dave & Buster's Dystopian Arcade Hellscape

STARTING SCREEN | Friends don't let friends go to Dave & Buster's. But we went anyway.

Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite obscure RPGs, game music, and more.

I should have been a better friend and sounded the warning. But when the invite went out, I held my tongue because I didn't want to be a killjoy. After all, how bad could Dave & Buster's be?

And so it was that I found myself in one of the last bastions of the modern day arcade chain—the unholy union of Buffalo Wild Wings and Chuck E. Cheese's that is Dave & Busters.

If you've ever been to Dave & Busters, you'll know that it's only an "arcade" in the loosest sense of the word. Rather, it's a space that mostly serves to pack in as many games as possible from Raw Thrills—the developer best-known for all the ugly light gun shooters and racers at your local movie theater. They make games like The Walking Dead, a light gun shooter that is only a tiny step up from what you might find on the Dreamcast.

Nestled between The Walking Dead, Cruis'n Blast, and the World's Largest Pac-Man are the likes of Crossy Road and Flappy Bird—free-to-play mobile games blown up into arcade games. For free-to-play apologists, this is a natural evolution. After all, what are modern free-to-play arcade games if not quarter munchers?

Of course, the difference is that arcade games were technical marvels back in their day—graphical showcases that offered a taste of the next generation for 25 cents. They also brought with them a sense of community, whether in chasing high scores in Defender or battling it out in Street Fighter.

Free-to-play mobile games, on the other hand, are designed entirely around being as addictive as humanly possible. They're cheap sugar rushes in multiple senses of the word, and seeing them in an arcade is especially strange given that you can play them literally any time on your phone.

Why.

Anyway, I felt bad for my friends as we looped around the floor looking for something to play, pausing to play some Skee-Ball and shoot basketballs. I think they were hoping for something more akin to the traditional arcade experience, but there was nothing like that to be found in Dave & Busters.

We were about to leave when we came upon its one saving grace, the oasis in the middle of their arcade desert, what Steve Jobs might have called a glass of ice water in hell: a Dance Dance Revolution Ace machine.

With Konami being so resolutely set on abandoning their traditional franchises, it was kind of remarkable to see a relatively new DDR machine in the midst of it all, but there it was. One of my friends even broke out some of his old moves and managed to complete several songs on the highest difficulty level while a small group of onlookers gathered around. That, at least, made it so the trip wasn't a total bust.

Later though, when I asked my friend how they liked Dave & Buster's, they told me, "Eh, it was a pretty overwhelming environment that I thought was flashy at the expense of fun. Now I know that."

A pretty succinct summary, I'd say.

I should say that I seem to be in the minority when it comes to disliking Dave & Busters. We were at a relatively new Bay Area location, and it was absolutely packed with kids and parents as late as 10pm. They were playing the lousy shoot 'em ups and mobile games and having a blast. Arcades are generally considered to be dead as a doornail in the U.S., but the Dave & Buster's model seems to be working.

Still, it's hard to see it as anything but a reanimated corpse, a kind of mockery of what arcades used to mean to people. It's appropriate that it has so many arcade mobile games, as the whole establishment is really a free-to-play mobile game come to life—a business designed to load you up with junk food and junk games that can be enjoyed for an hour or two and forgotten the next day.

Thankfully, old-school arcade culture does still exist, even if it's a shadow of its former self. Classic arcades like Portland's Ground Kontrol are helping to keep the old spirit alive, and hobbyists are even starting private arcades of their own. These arcades still retain the sense of community that has been lost elsewhere, even if their games aren't the technical showpieces they once were.

So while it's hard to find a good arcade experience in the U.S. these days, they do exist. Just remember the golden rule: Friends don't let friends go to Dave & Busters.

Kat's Obscure RPG of the Week

This week's Obscure RPG is a game that literally just came out—Tokyo Xanadu for the PlayStation Vita. Xanadu doesn't get the same love in the west as Ys or Legend of Heroes, but it has a similar pedigree, with roots that extend all the way back to the early 1980s. Its progenitor, Dragon Slayer, was one of the earliest examples of the action RPG genre, subsequently spawning a long-running series that included cult favorite Faxanadu for the NES.

Tokyo Xanadu takes a somewhat similar approach, but eschews fantasy for a modern setting with a distinct anime aesthetic. Its most natural point of comparison is Persona 5, as it weaves in a school setting, mini-games, and other Persona-ish elements. But its strength is arguably the combat, which is an enjoyable bit of hack and slash action. It's fun enough, but keep one thing in mind if you're planning to run out and buy it—the arguably superior version Tokyo Xanadu eX+ will be out on PlayStation 4 later this year. If a more traditional console experience is more your jam, then you might want to wait.

Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Nighttime Town Theme (Ever Oasis)

I'm in the midst of Ever Oasis for the Nintendo 3DS, and I'm really enjoying it. While I wouldn't classify it as action-RPG perfection by a long shot, it has a sweet, light flavor that's pleasant and restful.

It also has a magnificent soundtrack by Sebastian Schwartz, who composed some tunes for Resident Evil 6 and the Monster Hunter series. Whenever I play Ever Oasis, I look forward to night falling so I can listen to the nighttime town theme descend on the oasis. It's a fresh, cool, and peaceful tune—fitting stuff for the single spot of life located in the midst of a burning desert.

Ever Oasis isn't everyone's cup of tea; it can admittedly be a grind at times. Still, I think all RPG fans ought to give it a try. If nothing else, I'd like the game to become popular enough to turn some more ears in the direction of Schwartz's compositions. They're good stuff.

Mike's Media Minute

This is isn't what I was originally intending to write about, but it's cool enough that I figure my Starting Screen entry should be about it. Over on Rakuten's Viki site, folks can now watch Aoi Honoo (Blue Fire).

Aoi Honoo is a live-action adaptation of the manga of the same name. That manga was actually akin to a biography, as it's a heavily-fictionalized version the early years of mangaka Kazuhiko Shimamoto during his time at Osaka University of Arts. This is an important period of history because Shimamoto attended school with Hideaki Anno, Hiroyuki Yamaga,Takami Akai, Toshio Okada, Masahiko Minami, and Kentaro Yano. If those names don't mean much, the first four went on to found Gainax, Minami became a producer at Sunrise, and Yaro is a mangaka himself.

It's basically a look into the lives of a lot of talented people, but more importantly it's a tale of the realities of being creative. Moyuru Honoo, Shimamoto's avatar, spends his time jumping from project to project, and medium to medium, always thinking that this is the thing that will take off for him. He starts and stops. Honoo spends more time preparing rather than doing. He definitely spends more time comparing himself to his classmates instead of focusing on his own passions.

If you care about the creative life at all, Aoi Honoo is a funny, compelling, and heartfelt look at a specific point in Japanese history. I've been told that the subs aren't up to snuff with an earlier fansub release, but it's well worth watching regardless.

Caty’s AltGame Corner

Devil's Flower is a dungeon crawler, but not in the ways you expect. Aftr all, there is no combat in this dungeon crawler. If anything, it has the most in common with a Zero Escape game: there's conversations you navigate in a visual novel style, with puzzles to solve thrown into the mix. But even then, those similarities are bare, their similarities come in their heavy dialogue. The entire "dungeon" is a series of corridors and rooms; the ones with simple puzzles typically plain-colored, the magical ones anything but plain.

Devil's Flower was developed by Namada, an independent designer. The game's atmosphere, writing, and ideas are all haunting, and intriguing, accented by the game's eerie pixel art. Devil's Flower has three endings—and I'll be honest, I haven't gotten any of them yet—but its start is so enriching that it's hard for me not to recommend it. Especially as it comes at the low, low cost of free on itch.io for PC.

Matt’s Monday Mornings

This weekend was surprisingly busy for me in terms of gaming. I restarted my subscription for Final Fantasy XIV, but I’m actually still only part way through the base game content. Which means it will be 200 hours before I get to see actual Stormblood content. Whoops.

Also started to dig into some of my Steam sale purchases which were surprisingly indie-heavy. Started Darkest Dungeon, which has been on my indie to-play list for what feels like forever. I also bought 140 from former Limbo and Inside level designer Jeppe Carlsen based on a press release I got about the game’s soundtrack coming on vinyl. I didn’t buy the vinyl, but the game was 5 bucks, so there’s that. I haven’t gotten that far in either game to offer an opinion other than I just have so many indie games I have still yet to play. It’s the best, worst problem to have.

Lastly, I played a bunch of Crash Bandicoot, which I hear had a stellar sales weekend in the U.K. I actually went full Naughty Dog nostalgia mode and dusted off my PS Vita to revisit the Jack and Daxter collection. Remember how weird those Rare-inspired 3D platformers used to be? Simpler times for sure.

This Week's News and Notes

  • Pour one out for Glixel, which officially closed its San Francisco offices today. Glixel had some really nice interviews and a pretty strong podcast, and I was really pulling for them to succeed. Unfortunately, it seems as Rolling Stone ultimately hung them out to dry, which probably meant that their days were numbered in this incredibly competitive gaming media environment. Regardless, it's always tough to see another website go down, especially one that launched so recently.
  • Watch live video from GamesDoneQuick on www.twitch.tv
  • On a happier note, Summer Games Done Quick is going on right now. You can watch it above, then read our profile from last year.
  • In the wake of last week's Super NES Classic announcement, we couldn't resist ranking all the games. But that was just the beginning. Starting this week, we're going to review every single game on the Super NES Classic, which will hopefully kick off a broader retro initiative that will take us through the rest of the year and into 2018. Keep an eye on the site!
  • Speaking of favorites, here are our picks for the best games of 2017 (so far). My favorite games so far? Breath of the Wild. Second favorite? Yakuza 0. Both are just so much fun. What a great first half for fans of Japanese gaming.
  • Breath of the Wild's DLC will kick you in the teeth, Mike writes in his review. Given that the core game doesn't exactly pull its punches, I believe it. Speaking of Breath of the Wild, I picked it up again for the first time in a while over the weekend. I can't think of another game that incentivizes simple wandering quite like Breath of the Wild. It's really a remarkable feat of design.
  • Crash Bandicoot is now available in HD, and it's apparently soared to the top of the charts in the UK. I'll admit to being surprised: I only really remember it for its rather weird (but amusing) commercials.
  • Axe of the Blood God: In this week's episode of the RPG podcast, we delve into the Super NES Classic's RPG lineup, Episode Prompto, and Valkyria Revolution. Valkyria Revolution is, sadly, not very good.
  • And with that, we're now officially in the dog days of the gaming calendar. What are you playing to keep busy? Heaven knows that there have been plenty of great games to start the year. As always, thanks for reading, and please look forward to another week of coverage here at USgamer.

Tagged with dave & buster's, Feature, Starting Screen, USgamer.

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