Recently, my family and I spent a weekend in the Asheville, North Carolina area. It was a fun and relaxing weekend where we hiked to see gorgeous waterfalls, made campfire s’mores, and went to our first Minor League Baseball game. Another highlight of the trip was when we visited the Asheville Pinball Museum.
For $15 you get to play every single pinball table and arcade game in there, with the exception of one that I’ll discuss later. The place is simply beautiful. The main pinball room has pinball tables against the walls and in the center of the room. They printed out the history of each table, including its launch year, number of units produced, and another piece of trivia about it. It made for an aesthetically pleasing appearance all-around.
As a museum dedicated to pinball, it was dang near perfect. Why wasn’t it absolutely 100% perfect? Because I feel that a key piece of pinball history was left out. It was a Windows XP computer with Space Cadet 3D Pinball on it. As the museum is, it’s a fantastic pinball tribute, and you can’t find another in this country that’s even close to being this faithful.
But I didn’t play pinball until a little later. My attention was earned by the arcade in the back. Two rooms stuffed with many classic arcade games are just bound to make me want to jump in and play. Of course they have the classics like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, and they also had some of my personal favorites, like Ms. Pac-Man (superior to the original IMO) and Dig Dug. After years of playing Dig Dug on my Namco TV Plug and Play system, this was the first time I’ve ever seen an original arcade cabinet of it. It made me a little emotional, honestly.
What I really liked about the arcade was that it had some games that I’d only heard of before and some that I had never heard of before that became some of my new favorite arcade games. One highlight that stuck out to me was Robotron: 2084. I’d describe it as a mix of Berzerk and Resogun; you use two joysticks to move and shoot robots to save the last human family. It’s great stuff.
Phoenix also deserves a mention. Sure, it’s a Space Invaders/Galaxian imitator, but it had really cool enemy designs. In addition, the simple use of buttons to move left and right instead of a joystick made it more rewarding to do well.
Commando was a really fun run ‘n gun game, and Crystal Castles took the satisfying trackball controls of Centipede and applied them to an isometric maze game, a la Pac-Man.
However, my favorite arcade game there had to be Star Wars. This is the exception that I teased earlier. It’s the only game there that requires an additional charge of 50 cents to play, due to maintenance costs. Trust me, it’s well worth it. It was the version where you sit down, which really immersed me into the experience. The controls were really satisfying, and I adore the music and graphics in it. Vector graphics always look really cool, and it’s a shame that outside Vib-Ribbon, games hardly ever used them again.
If I had one nitpick, it’d be that it would’ve been nice to see a retro beat ‘em up game like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Final Fight, or X-Men. However, I know space in these places is an issue, so I can’t complain too much. You get more than enough games to warrant the $15.
But hey, it’s named the PINBALL museum, right? Yes, it is, and now it’s time to tell you about my favorite tables there. My favorite was probably Aztec, as it’s one of the oldest ones there. The old scoreboard and colors on the table blend together really well.
Another highlight was a pinball table based on former Chicago White Sock Frank Thomas. I loved the Reebok product placement on the table, and the mechanic of avoiding the moving baseball glove added more strategy. There are many more fantastic tables for you to try there.
I can gush about this place all day. The staff was helpful and friendly, the pop culture decorations were a treat, and of course, the games were awesome. If you’re ever in the Asheville area or love retro arcades and pinball, you need to give the Asheville Pinball Museum a visit.
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