ZapCon 2022

I spent yesterday, April 30, 2022, at ZapCon, Arizona’s arcade & pinball convention. All the local arcades and independent machine owners bring their machines together at the Mesa Convention Center. You pay your entry fee, and all the machines are set to free play.

This was my 5th ZapCon, and the first one held after the COVID-19 pandemic. I felt it was safe enough to brave the situation, but still took some precautions. I stayed masked up and used a ton of hand sanitizer. Fingers crossed that I was correct!

I didn’t take photos of everything there, or even all of the games that I played. But below is a small sampling of what the event had to offer:

Pinball machines galore. From classic favorites like The Addams Family and The Twilight Zone, to forgotten tables like Black Knight and F-14 Tomcat, to more contemporary tables with the LED screens produced by Stern, such as the new Godzilla machine, there were at least 100 different pinball games scattered throughout.

The Polybius machine is always at ZapCon, but it never seems to work. Hmmm.

Mario Bros. and Rolling Thunder are two favorites of my friend Danny Duoshade (arms pictured). When I ran into him at the show, we spent some time playing both games.

I discovered this Road Runner arcade game that I’d never seen before. You play as the classic Looney Tunes bird and try to escape the clutches of Wile E. Coyote. I failed and became dinner, but it was rad to discover an entirely new game.

I did manage to complete both Golden Axe and NARC, two late-80s classics that are notoriously difficult. The challenge of both games is certainly mitigated when the machine is set to free play and I don’t have to pump in a new quarter every few minutes, but both were still challenging in their own right.

I also played Gauntlet II with members of the band Wurmfur, Revolution X, Shadow Dancer (the sequel to Shinobi), Sega’s classic Super Scroller game After Burner (the standup unit; Sadly, the cockpit version wasn’t there), X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, A.P.B., and just a ton of other games. Minus about an hour each for lunch and dinner breaks, I was there for something like 11 hours. There’s no way I can remember every single thing I played throughout the day.

And as if that wasn’t enough, there was also a console & cocktail lounge on the other side of the convention center, with plenty of old CRT televisions set up each with a classic 8- or 16-bit console, including the Atari 2600, NES, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis.

One of the NES decks had these six-foot controllers hooked up to it. I attempted playing Contra with these, and got game over in the first level. You don’t appreciate how versatile your thumbs can be on standard controllers until you feel like a character from Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

The night ended with a concert in the lounge by local video game cover band, The Minibosses. I think they’ve played every ZapCon that I’ve been to.

Overall, it was a fun time, and I’m hopeful to go back again next year. But today, I’m going to relax — I feel like I’ve got wet spaghetti for legs after all that standing!

If you’re reading this on the day I posted it — May 1, 2022 — Zapcon is going on RIGHT NOW until 6pm! So get yourself over to the Mesa Convention Center in beautiful downtown Mesa, AZ, and play yourself some classic video games!