Abilene’s Retro World Arcade takes players on a journey to the 1980s
In the dimly lit wonderland of Abilene’s Retro World Arcade on a recent Friday night, David DeFoore guided the brave Nintendo plumber named Mario on a quest to rid the city’s pipes of pests.
After flipping turtles, crabs, and other creatures, DeFoore walked away from “Mario Bros.” from 1983. machine, one of dozens of classic arcade cabinets lining the Pine Street business owned and operated by Emmanuel and Candy Huerta.
“I love it,” he said of the classic ’80s-style arcade, reflecting a sentiment that seemed to resonate with just about everyone, young and old, who walked through the doors of the game. ‘company.
Visiting the company for the first time, DeFoore, 45, said it was a pleasure to revisit classic arcade titles such as the iconic space shooter “Galaga” while reminiscing about how he enjoyed visiting the Magic Door arcade that graced the Mall of Abilene in years past.
“I loved this place, and it reminds me of it,” he said.
Cynthia DeFoore, 36, and Paige Perez, 42, were also having fun enjoying Nintendo’s arcade version of ‘Super Mario Bros’, which took gamers home to the popular Nintendo Entertainment System, better known as NES in 1985.
“It brings back old memories,” Cynthia DeFoore said, her face lit up by the faint glow from the rows of CRT monitors. “I think it’s really cool that we can share these games with another generation, including our kids.”
Among the youngest, 14-year-old Ashley Henry was having fun with her North Park Baptist Church youth group.
The group was enjoying a night out as a reward for memorizing the books of the New Testament, Pastor Joe Grizzle said.
“I wanted them to see what I saw when I was young,” Grizzle said. “I remember all those games in the arcade.”
Henry said the precise appeal of the place was that whatever was available to play was decades older than her.
“They’re old and you don’t see them anymore,” she said of the collection, adding that her favorite game on the floor was the iconic Pac-Man from 1980, although she found the small arcade had “lots of good games.”
This is exactly the kind of stuff Emmanuel Huerta likes to hear.
“I now want to share my collection with others,” he said. “It’s not just about keeping them restoring and fixing them. It’s about wanting to see other people appreciate what I grew up with.”
All games are free play, which means new players like Henry will never experience the shame of having to ask mom and dad for money for a game of ‘Dig Dug’ or ‘Karate Champ’.
Players pay a one-time fee at the gate, based on age.
A look around reveals most, but not all, of the classic arcade-era big names available, from the power couple “Pac-Man” and “Ms. Pac-Man” to “Donkey Kong” (with Mario’s first appearance as single “Jumpman”).
A crew of creatures will be found, including the 1981 Atari trackball-equipped shooter “Centipede”, 1981’s Sega/Gremlin “Frogger”, which later inspired an episode of “Seinfeld”, and the “Kangaroo”. from 1982, a bit more obscure, with a kangaroo mother wielding boxing gloves whose joey was kidnapped by monkeys.
Fighting fans have plenty of options, including multiple versions of the bloody “Mortal Kombat” series of games and 1991’s iconic “Street Fighter II,” both of which launched their own multimedia juggernauts, as well as titles like than 1994’s “Primal Rage,” in which dinosaurs and giant apes battle for supremacy.
Pinball fans have several choices, while those looking to buy classic home games and systems also have an in-house option. Snacks and drinks flow freely as iconic 80s tunes blast through the speakers, mingling with often familiar blips and bloops.
Young players are often confused by all of this, Candy Huerta said.
“They just come and say, ‘What are you even doing? How do you play that? she said laughing.
But they learn fast, and for those more familiar with the scene, like Erricka Parker, 33, and Chad Parker, 46, it’s second nature.
“We’ve been here a few times, and it’s been so much fun for me,” Erricka Parker said, after celebrating an 1980s-themed day at her job. “It reminds me of the nostalgia of my childhood. … In the crazy, hectic everyday life we now live with cellphones and the internet, it’s nice to reset and go back to the good days.”
Born in 1986 and raised in Abilene, Emmanuel Huerta said video games have stayed with him since he was a kid – and he always wanted to own an arcade machine.
Home console video games were a big part of his development, but Huerta said his own forays into the hobby were a bit behind the times.
“All my other friends and family had the new gaming systems,” he recalls. “I’ve always had the Atari. I grew up, I guess, on second-hand clothes. Older stuff.
As he got older, he was able to hang out with neighborhood friends who had newer gaming systems.
But a miniature version of the original Donkey Kong arcade game was a big part of his life.
“That, to me, represented my childhood,” he said.
Like many formative tales, it ended in tragedy.
“Long story short, my brother broke it,” he said. “He was thrown away.”
But although his interest faded over the next few years, the game’s bug never really went away.
A dream emerges
Emmanuel Huerta remembers waking up in the middle of the night years later and telling his fiancée that he would like to own a game room.
She told him he had to go back to bed.
But Huerta used the relationship he had established with a friend in San Angelo, who had a small arcade, to buy his first game.
The following weekend he bought another. And then more. And more.
Eventually, her collection in the living room began to grow. Over time, machines began to sprout in the kitchen.
“It just started piling up in our living room, our kitchen, our bedroom,” Candy Huerta said of the new collection. “…I pretty much thought he was going crazy.”
After a few months, those game cabinets spilled into a storage unit. It filled up.
A few months later, the Huertas were to acquire a second unit.
Within a year, this unit was full.
“So we had to acquire a building, which is here,” said Emmanuel Huerta.
Now he estimates his collection weighs in at around 115 machines, with around 50 of them at the Pine Street location itself.
A new challenger
The business, which opened on October 31, has grown primarily through social media, whether that be posts on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok.
Huerta uses social media to give people insight into what it’s like to be an arcade game collector/business owner, including what it’s like to find and bring back new games at home.
“These games come from all over Texas,” he said. “I kind of give (people) an inside look at what it’s like.”
Word of mouth is also important, he said, and the company also works extensively with schools, churches and more.
He learned how to repair the internal components of classic machines, calling such knowledge a “must”.
Although there are alternatives, he likes to keep everything as original as possible, he said.
“Keeping CRT monitors alive is a task in itself,” he said, as all of his machines have the original arcade boards inside.
“If you were to emulate him, he just wouldn’t play well,” Huerta said. “It’s just not the same thing.”
Besides listening to customers and trying to find the games they want, Huerta tries to keep things interesting.
For the competitive spirits, and most gamers are, every month there is a high score contest on a particular game, with the winners receiving prizes.
“We do things like t-shirts, gift cards, things of that nature,” he said.
Every collector has a “holy grail,” and for Huerta that would be a copy of Williams’ infamous 1983 “Sinistar” space shoot-em-up.
A rarer title these days, it features a giant fanged space station built by worker aliens that roars and taunts the player once they wake up with a growl, always chilling, “WATCH OUT, I LIVE”.
Huerta said he loves introducing families and others to the world of classic arcade – and that Retro World’s current location is just the “tip of the iceberg”.
A second location in another part of Abilene is planned for next year, if all goes well.
“We definitely have the inventory to do that,” he said. “I wish I could share my entire collection. … We really want to continue bringing the classic arcade experience back to the Big Country.
“It’s for all ages, all families to come together,” he said. “We just wanted to bring the retro arcade experience back to the Big Country.”
Retro World Arcade
Where: 1109 Pine Street
Cost: Adult admission $12 plus tax; children 6 to 13 years old $10, plus tax; 5 and under free.
Hours: 7.30pm-11pm on Tuesdays; 11.30am-3pm, 7.30pm-11pm on Thursdays and Fridays; 7:30 p.m.-midnight on Saturday. Closed Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays.