We smashed buildings as we stalked monstrous adversaries; --ed across the sand machine-gunning turban-clad bad guys; used a flame-throwing sword to fend off chain-wielding galoots and flying dragons.
We also carefully rotated blocks into open spaces and locked in our targets before firing and obeying orders to return to base.
Armed with rolls of quarters, we were on a Magic Fantasy Quest -- me, a one-time pinball wizard, and my 13-year-old son, Aaron, a certified Nintendo Power Player. Our mission: to find the hot new video arcade games of summer (see accompanying story) and, more importantly, the best places to play them.
Our expectations were not extravagant. We didn't figure to find anything on the order of, say, the Fiesta Fun Center Arcade in Disney World's Contemporary Resort Hotel, which has 160 games and is open round-the-clock, or even the Funcade and Ocean casinos on the boardwalk between 9th and 10th streets in Ocean City. And we didn't.
What we were looking for were places with a pleasant environment in which to play a variety of well-tuned games. We looked for places that, in addition to video and pinball, had games like Skee-Ball and Pop-A-Ball that spew out coupons that
can be turned in for prizes. (Somewhere, there's a psychologist about to make a name for him or herself by claiming such games contribute to desires for instant gratification in later life, but that's another story).
We put a premium on maintenance: there are few things more frustrating than to put your money in a game with a defective buttons, flippers or joysticks, or -- even worse -- to have 10 seconds in which to "continue" playing a game only to have to the machine keep rejecting your next quarter. We looked with favor on places that had attendants who were visible and helpful and frowned on those whose games required tokens instead of coins.
We rated eight arcades on a scale of 1 (awful) to 5 (superior), based on the atmosphere, selection, size and quality. Here, from best to worst, is what we found.
Time Out Family Amusement Center, Golden Ring Mall, Essex. 574-9277. Open 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Our choice as the area's top arcade. Well worth going out of youway for the best selection of new games around. Forty-five games range from Whac-A-Mole for the little kids to F-15 Strike Eagle, the arcade version of the PC flight simulation game from Hunt Valley-based Microprose. Coupons from Championship Basketball, which electronically records your shots through a real hoop, and Skee-ball. Well-lit and well-attended. Lengthy hours, especially on weekends, are a particular plus.
Champion Amusement Center, Columbia Mall, Columbia. 730-8840. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5:30 p.m. Sundays.
Good selection among the 50 games in an attractive corner othe upper level of the mall. Coupon-giving Pop-A-Ball (an electronic poker-based game) and Skee-Ball. Arcade won points from us when an attendant chased down an errant shot in Championship Basketball. Glare makes some video games difficult to play. No pinball game for less than 50 cents, an unfortunate sign of things to come.
Sports, Halesworth Road, Cockeysville. 666-2227. Open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Not strictly an arcade -- it also has an indoor miniature golcourse and row of batting cages -- this nonetheless has as many video, pinball and coupon games as any place around. The games are well-spaced and in good shape and range from the sports-minded Air Hockey to state-of-the-art-video Neo-Geo. Snack bar in the facility offers nachos, soft pretzels and sodas at prices that let you save most of your money for the games. A big drawback is that on a hot day the former tennis barn can seem more like an oven than an arcade.
Dream Machine, Cranberry Mall, Westminster. (301) 848-5166. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Airy and well-lit, this is an attractive place to play. Selection is noquite as wide as at some of the other arcades, and some of the more current games are not available. But there's a good balance between coupon-giving games, older and newer video games, and a pair of pinball games.
Space Port, Hunt Valley Mall, Hunt Valley. 785-7212. Open 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.
No coupon games and the narrow, dark room makes thatmosphere less than appealing. But the 50 games include many of the most current ones. And for video nostalgia freaks, there is a smattering of vintage games, including Karate Champ, Galaga and that old standby, Ms. Pac-Man, all in surprisingly good shape.
Video Village, Harundale Mall, Glen Burnie. 761-0929. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
The selection among the 40-odd games is average, and rangefrom Desert Assualt to Dr. Mario. But the ones that are there seem to be in good working order. No coupon games.
Fun 'N Games, Security Square Mall, Woodlawn. 265-5546. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.
The 50 games make this as big as any arcade aroundUnfortunately, the selection leaves something to be desired. They are also crammed into a dark narrow space that is so over air-conditioned our fingers were turning numb from the cold instead of punching buttons. And not all the pounding occurs on screen; there are a fair number of people pummeling malfunctioning machines, trying to get their tokens out.
Video Mania, Towson Marketplace, Towson. 825-8199. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Not only was this arcade the smallest we visited, with 32 gamesit also had none of the most recent arcade attractions. Coupons: no; tokens: yes.