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How Much You'll Pay for a Retro Arcade Game

Q: I've long dreamed of owning one of those old coin-op arcade games from the '80s—hopefully Galaga, though I'd settle for Zaxxon. I realize they don't come cheap, but how much dough are we talking about exactly? Is there a budget option?

The coin-op gaming market is pretty similar to the auto-sales racket: A fixer-upper goes for a lot less than something fresh off the assembly line, but a sharp eye's required to avoid getting stuck with an unsalvageable lemon. You'll also need some rudimentary electronics skills, as used games generally need tweaking before they're ready for the rec room. So unless you're the type of bloke who feels handy with a soldering iron, expect to pay top dollar.

How top are we talking? Illinois-based Eagle Distributing (GamesForSale.biz) sells a brand-new, tabletop version of Galaga for $2400, plus shipping and handling. For that kind of dough, you might as well splurge and get the two-in-one Galaga plus Ms. Pac-Man, which'll run you an additional $700. If only a stand-up version will do, ArcadeGames.com has a "reconditioned" Galaga for $1700. Just make sure you're getting a true coin-op version, not one of the scaled-down models for the home market.

"But Mr. Roboto!" you're probably wailing, "if I spent $1700-plus on a game, I'd have to eat it, too!" Understood, which is why the penny pincher's route to game ownership is to peruse the online classifieds. Aside from eBay, be sure to visit the Web site for GameRoom Magazine (GameRoomMagazine.com), a bible for suburbanites wealthy enough to own air hockey tables and love testers. The Power Ads section is updated twice a month; it's a little heavy on jukebox sales, but there are usually some going-out-of-business notices, too. Bankrupt arcades are potential gold mines for bargain hunters.

Also worth checking out is Super Auctions (SuperAuctions.com), the "nation's largest coin-operated amusement auctioneers," according to their tagline. Mr. Roboto can't verify this claim, but does know there are deals to be had at their frequent sales (about five a month, though most seem to take place in the Sun Belt). A vintage Galaga can be had from Super Auctions for as low as $250, depending on condition and interest from other bidders.

"Condition" is the real wild card. If the Fates have taken a liking to you, perhaps you'll come across a unit that merely needs some repaneling, new glass, and fluorescent bulbs. But the more likely scenario is that the game was dumped for being seriously on the fritz. We're not talking rocket science here, and a good bit of the maintenance work would be no trickier than fine-tuning a Hyundai—a drop of WD-40 here, a fresh screw there. But you might also have to go all A-Team on your machine and muck around with wires. Don't risk it if you're the sort who blanches at the phrase "box splicer."

Brave souls should proceed directly to the Arcade Restoration Workshop (ArcadeRestoration.com), a clearinghouse complete with photo tutorials, parts lists, and links to every other restoration site in existence. Also check out the Events section, featuring up-close-and-personal JPEGs of world Donkey Kong champ Billy Mitchell, who sports the sickest feather mullet this side of Alex Lifeson. A role model for our times, to be sure.

Should finances and a lack of technical acumen conspire against your Galaga ownership, take solace in an online substitute. SmilieGames has a Java version out (SmilieGames.com/galaga) that's a quarter-way decent. Yeah, the sound's all wrong, the enemy ships behave all funky, and the "fire" key sticks. But you gotta love the zero-dollar price tag. And your clumsiness with a soldering iron doesn't matter in the least.


Faithful readers will recall a column from a few weeks back in which Mr. Roboto offered tips for beating the polygraph, or lie detector. (Example: Clench that sphincter!) If Paul M. Menges had his druthers, Mr. Roboto'd be sitting in the pokey for sharing that info. Menges, who teaches polygraphy for the Department of Defense, recently called for the criminalization of speech regarding polygraph "counter-measures." Laughable, until you consider the current Beltway attitude toward civil liberties. Then it's just downright spooky.


Input questions at bkoerner@villagevoice.com.

 
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