Remember when a pinball was more than just a pinball? It could be anything, a spaceship, a hero running through a dungeon, or a battering ram, bashing through castle gates to rescue the princess. It came with a soundtrack, lights, and a thoroughly addictive dose of adrenaline. Every number on the score chart was another victory. We had to keep trying, keep pushing, keep digging into our pockets.
Slowly tilted tabletops were replaced by vibrant screens, better sound, and more scenarios. The arcade came alive. We could sit in a racecar, shoot at monsters with a plastic gun, and directly interact with our favorite movies. Over time the graphics became astounding, from basic pixelated art to coherent, almost realistic scenes–fields of zombies, dinosaurs–anything we could dream of, we couldn’t just see it, we could take part in it, and we didn’t mind spending a few extra bucks to do so, especially if it meant proving that we were the best.
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A day at the arcade was like a day at the theme park. Now it’s a place of nostalgia, something to show our children. It’s the way things used to be.
It hardly seems possible. We’re talking about an unrivaled showcase of cutting-edge technology dwarfed by tiny rectangles you hold in your hand. Surely our grandiose visions of something bigger and better couldn’t have been replaced by that.
It’s hard not to think back about the way things were, those magical darkened halls, the thrill of trying a new game or coming back again and again to beat our old score.
Things might never be the way they were, but pinball machines and arcade games are enjoying a renaissance. Beercades, restaurants, and children’s arcades are all popping up, filling what has become a gaping hole in a once saturated market.
Next Level Pinball Shop & Museum in Hillsboro is a haven for those who refuse to forget. With more than 440 titles, they’re one of the world’s largest arcades, and most of their games are free to play.
Next Level Pinball carries both classic and new titles. The Mario Kart above is a more recent edition, capable of accommodating multiple players, each with their own race car seat. That’s something many of today’s gamers don’t understand. Arcade games were immersive. We would sit in themed booths, Jurassic Park safari cars, or on New York city benches with ectoplasm pooling up at our feet. Our battlefield was more than just the same old computer we use day after day, or our living room couch. It took place in a simulated environment built to make us feel as though we were taking part in our fantasies.
Next Level was given its name for a reason. It’s not a dusty hall with rows of old games. It’s a custom-designed gaming paradise, built for children looking for a unique experience and adults who simply will not grow up. They play to both sides, offering revamped classics, like the World’s Largest Pac-Man, and arcade versions of modern titles, like Minecraft Dungeons, the franchise’s first arcade cabinet.
In 2021 they won Twipy’s World’s Favorite Pinball Tournament for their neck-in-neck pinball challenge, pitting the state’s best against one another. They also won World’s Favorite Pinball location, a distinct honor, which they thoroughly deserve.
The aesthetic of the arcade is perhaps the most interesting part about it. It’s decorated floor to ceiling with collectibles, figurines, and action figures. It seems unfathomable. They must’ve spent years scouring the internet, spending God knows how much just to display them in the arcade.
The arcade also features hand-painted artwork, like this door (pictured above) covered in characters from ‘The Simpsons’. There’s also one with a stylized portrait of Slimer from the Ghostbusters, using glow-in-the-dark paint.
They don’t stop at in-house gaming. Next Level Pinball is an authorized dealer of Jersey Jack Pinball, American Pinball, Chicago Gaming Company, and Stern Pinball–all of which are famous for fueling a new trend: at-home arcade gaming.
For a premium, customers can take home one of their very own pinball or arcade machines. Many are based off of popular franchises like Star Wars, popular 70s and 80s bands like Rush and Led Zeppelin, kids cartoons, and comic book characters. It’s hard not to see the allure.
If you’re interested in visiting Next Level Gaming, check out their website. Admission is just $20, which is pretty awesome considering their free-to-play model. It’s definitely worth the trip.