The Bad Enough Dudes in the Underground Retrocade

By Brian • 2 November 2022

If you happened to listen to Episode 84 of A Cure for the Common Craig featuring video game movies, you already know that the Bad Enough Dudes were recently in the same place at the same time! I spent some time at the Common Craig Compound for a long-overdue visit, to record the podcast, and to take in a LIVE All Elite Wrestling show!

Even with all of those fun activities, we still had some time to spare, so we visited The Underground Retrocade, an arcade in West Dundee, Illinois. As of this writing, admission is $15 for two floors of all-you-can-play classic arcade and pinball machines.

Oh man, even Beetlejuice loves the Underground Retrocade!

Stepping inside, I was immediately overcome with warm feelings of nostalgia, the crunchy beeps and boops of leaping Marios and gluttonous Pac-Men humming in my ears. Like a moth to a flame, I felt the pull of rows upon rows of screens come to life with colorful characters and enticing demos. I love arcades. I’m young enough that I missed their heyday by just a handful of years. However, their Atari 2600 counterparts birthed my first gaming experiences, which meant I still got to play the games, but perhaps not in their purest forms. I remember spending a lot of weekends longingly walking past the Gold Mine Arcade (later known as Tilt) at West Park Mall in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I would have loved to have spent more time in there, but I was really young, much too young to actually play any of the games with any semblance of skill. In fact, I couldn’t even reach the controls of most of them, at least not without a stool. Ours was a thrifty family, as well, never one to allow too many quarters to find their way into the slots of hungry arcade cabinets.

As such, the Gold Mine became something of a forbidden city, a curiosity filed away next to the McDonald’s with the big playland that I was strategically kept away from, or the exits on the interstate we never took. Where did those roads go, anyway? Likewise, mystery spilled from the Gold Mine, a mix of digital bleeps and jingles amidst the hypnotizing glow of dozens of screens. Every now and then, I might get to step inside, if only for a moment, as Mom pulled Craig away from a game of Tutankham or whatever, because it was time to go. My memories are too faded to pick out any particular games, but I know the sights and sounds of the inside of the arcade dazzled me. I’m sure I even recognized some of the character art on the marquees of games we had at home, like Pac-Man, Dig Dug, or Frogger. Oh, I wished I could join in on all that fun at the Gold Mine, even if it was just to put in a quarter and die immediately.

Sadly, even at my advanced age, dying immediately at the arcade still happens more often than I’d care to admit. My gaming experience at the Retrocade saw an inauspicious start at the controls of a nasty Popeye machine, where I suffered a Game Over on the first level on my first credit, and on the second level on my second attempt. The sailor man just wasn’t having it this particular evening. I moved on to Dig Dug, then Moon Patrol, and had roughly the same result. In fact, I stunk at just about everything I played. Q*Bert went pretty well, as did Zoo Keeper, but possibly only because nobody else cares about Zoo Keeper and the machine didn’t have any other recent high scores. The rest? Buh. I proved an embarrassment to my alleged classic gaming cred.

The evil Popeye machine blends in with its surroundings, lying in wait for its next victim.

However, that, too, is one of the thrills of the arcade. Playing games in a live arena, outside the comfort of my own home, putting my high(?) scores up against others who have left their marks on the same machines. There’s an unpredictability and an excitement to it, with many variables influencing whether or not I perform well. For instance, the controls might be too loose or too sticky—by that, I mean they may not be responsive enough, or they might literally be sticky from spilled beer or another foreign substance. If the arcade is crowded, I might get distracted by the mingling and conversations around me, or by the expletive-laced rant of somebody whose game of Robotron 2084 just went south in a hurry. And, while I know in reality it’s all random number generation, arcade games can get mean. I might be able to swiftly scale the first level of Donkey Kong nine times out of ten, but on that tenth time, geez, watch out! Barrels will be bouncing all over the screen, defying all common patterns I’ve observed and learned to avoid, and I can’t make it out alive. Again, it’s all part of the programming, but arcade machines have a distinctive way of feeling like they’re out for blood—my blood—and will do anything they can to ensure they get more of my money, or that I don’t make the high scores table. Not only do I have to overcome my own anxieties and idiosyncrasies to set a high score in a live environment, I have to contend with psychotic arcade machines, as well. Yikes.

Ultimately, in spite of all the intangibles and unpredictability of skill-based gaming in an arcade, it’s all part of the fun—the idea of competing and proving myself against other seasoned nerds on real arcade machines. It doesn’t happen often, but when I can manage even a fourth or fifth-place score on the table, it’s exhilarating. Look upon my accomplishments, ye mighty, and despair! Will it impress Steve Wiebe? Eh, probably not. But, I have to start somewhere.

Another favorite we didn't have time to play—Konami's 6-player X-Men machine.

Lastly, there’s a magic to moving from machine to machine, getting to experience everything that makes each one unique. Multitudes of configurations, button combinations, and attractive cabinet art await in any arcade. While a home video game console brings a wide variety of games to life, it provides a consistent button configuration and similar level of technology for each one. It’s not bad, or a detriment, just a different experience from an arcade. A good arcade provides the opportunity to, without running an emulator or taking the time to hook up a bunch of different game consoles, experience decades of eclectic fun and authentic game evolution within the distance of just a few steps. A Space Invaders machine, with its left and right movement buttons and its fire button, might sit next to an Ikari Warriors machine and its peculiar joystick that not only moves the player by being pushed in different directions, but can also rotate the direction in which the player faces by being rotated, itself. Fascinating! A multi-use joystick! Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the room, here’s Crystal Castles and its trackball-based movement. Three games among many, each with a wholly distinct control configuration, and each with its own cabinet, brimming with character and iconic artwork. It’s an experience one can only get in an arcade. What a delight to the senses, both visual and tactile. Assuming beer hasn’t been spilled all over them. I don’t think the Retrocade serves food or drink, so at least you don’t have to worry about it there.

Two floors! And, a glimpse of Craig just after he lost to Arkanoid 2.

While Craig and I didn’t get to spend as much time at the Retrocade as we would have liked (because, honestly, we both could have spent an entire day there and not gotten bored), we departed having played a slew of games of the golden age. We both find a great deal of fun and nostalgia-fueled comfort in arcades, even when we stink at the games. If you like arcades and find yourself in the West Dundee, Illinois, area, stop in and get your fill of classic arcade action. Just watch out for that nasty Popeye machine, and give Bluto a swift, spinach-powered kick to the teeth from me!