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Forbidden Planet stokes gamers' nostalgia

BY CONOR MCBRIEN | APRIL 30, 2015 3:30 PM

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How easy it is to can nostalgia and sell it back to those who long for the days when video games cost a quarter per play.

The appeal of Forbidden Planet for most people is twofold: It is an arcade and a pizza place. In a college town flooded with so-called “millennials,” this is a valuable commodity. Forbidden Planet is a nice little time capsule for University of Iowa faculty who grew up in the ’80s and older students who lived in the ’90s — a time before the dawn of iPhones and Angry Birds.

Sure, smart phones are capable of pinball, Centipede, Street Fighter, and even ordering pizza. However, smart phones cannot replicate human experience. Arcades such as Forbidden Planet can do something very few human devices are capable of: make you and your parents nostalgic about the same things at the same time.

That being said, the era of arcade cabinets featured at Forbidden Planet ranges from the early ’80s to around the early ’90s. Well-established legends from my father’s time such as Tetris, Centipede, and Burger Time rub elbows with Street Fighter II, Bust-A-Move, and Smash TV. These are flanked by pinball machines with themes around Doctor Who, Twilight Zone, and Judge Dredd.

All of this is cheap entertainment — everything is 25 or 50 cents per play. The one exception is the Wizard of the Oz pinball machine, which is a flat buck for one go. Why bother with Wizard of Oz when you could have FOUR plays at Street Fighter 2?

Speaking of Street Fighter, the competitive games are well-picked. Fellow fighting game Samurai Showdown is a classic, and Tetris is Tetris. All of these can be played single-player, too. The problem is that high scores are reset on many of the machines.

I believe resetting high scores should be made a venial sin among all of the dioceses of the Catholic Church. Doing so invalidates every smidgen of progress players have made on their path to mastering a game. I think back to the arcade cabinets in movie theaters or Laundromats of my childhood: acquiring the right, nay, the honor to digitally engrave your three initials into a game was something to be proud of. What is my worth as a person if I can’t prove to others that I’m “good” at Street Fighter II?

I’d trample children at Street Fighter to reform my self-worth, but I prefer to work with other players. The cooperative games include the original Mario Bros, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which supports four players), Smash TV, and Jr Pac-man. I’m cool with making an outing to Forbidden Planet a party (or date-night), because the customizable pizza is great and the drinks have such great names as “Konkey Dong.”

Overall, the establishment is a good place to play games or get pizza day or night. Some new machines could be brought in at some point, and resetting the machines could deter “older” customers who remember the high-score pride of yesteryear.


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