Retrovolt Arcade: Calimesa, CA

I’ve been following Retrovolt Arcade on Instagram for some time now, and had a feeling that the place might be worth visiting one day. The pictures showed an intimate arcade that was running with some success. As luck would have it, I realised I was going to be in the area, as I was travelling to visit the Arcade Expo 4.0 event – which according to Google Maps was literally just down the road. Opportunity knocks!

Retrovolt Arcade Logo

After a quick message to Retrovolt, a date was set for our visit. The owner said he’d try to be there to say hello and show us around which was cool.

It’s pretty easy to find Retrovolt. It’s located in a strip mall off the main road through the town of Calimesa, about an hour east of Los Angeles. The store front tells the story of what’s inside:

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The frontage of Retrovolt Arcade

And walking through the doors, we received a warm welcome and an explanation of how things worked.

Retrovolt Arcade
The reception desk is a pair of repurposed pinball playfields!

For just $10, we got a full hour to play whatever we liked. Full day passes can purchased by the true hardcore gamer if that’s your thing. Everything is set to free play, and we could immediately see a great selection of pinballs and video games:

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The place is compact, but still a good size, with a great and varied selection of games

The best thing about the place is the atmosphere. Retrovolt has nailed this perfectly – 80s music pounding away in the background, great lighting, and some of the best wall murals I think I’ve ever seen in an arcade – every visible surface was full of colour and detail – clearly a great deal of work has been put in to get the right feel into the place. So many places get this wrong, either trying too damned hard, or doing a cheesy poor effort:

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Retrovolt’s logo is based on the marquee artwork of Atari’s Gravitar

As we played and checked out the machines, we were approached by the owner, Bob Elson, who was at lunch when we arrived. Bob was kind enough to give us a tour of the place, and talked us through the various machines, and described where they came from and how they were bulletproofed for modern arcade use. Really cool to finally meet Bob in person. Our interactions to date had been entirely through Instagram posts!

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Donkey Kong, Mario Bros, Stargate & my buddy James playing Defender

Bob had an interesting story – a former IT consultant, he decided to set up the business with a friend a couple of years ago. What’s more, he’s from my home country here in the UK (which is always a great ice-breaker).

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Space Invaders, Asteroids, Joust. The list goes on

We had a great chat about the business, the prices of arcade cabinets over here in the UK vs USA (Bob nearly had a heart attack when we told him how much a Tempest could command on these shores) and his future plans for Retrovolt.

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A decent number of pinballs – more than enough to get a fix if you’re casual or enthusiast.
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In fact, as a curated lineup of pinballs using the space available, it was pretty much perfect. Notice Stern’s Guardians of the Galaxy on the left

Despite only being open a few months, Bob told us that he has been pleased with the initial success he’s enjoyed:

What we wanted to do was to get people back into that sense of how cool arcades were. Obviously, we’re not exactly what an ’80s arcade was. This is more family oriented, which looks to also capture the fun and magic of what we remember arcades being. People come and play, and that’s all what we’re looking for.

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Atari Kangaroo, Gravitar, Pengo, Millipede, Centipede, Black Widow & Tempest.  All playable, working and on freeplay!

The litmus test for me when visiting any arcade, is to look at the percentage of things not working – and Retrovolt passes with flying colours. I could only see a Konami driving game not working during our visit, and Bob told me that was his job for the afternoon – to get the thing up and running again. Clearly a great deal of effort is put into making sure machines are working and maintained well. Great to see.

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Newer titles along this end of the row – The Zaxxon was cool, and a dedicated 1943 isn’t something seen very often!

This dual monitor cabinet was for me the most interesting find at Retrovolt. I’ve never seen one in the flesh before:

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Tournament Cyberball. Released by Atari in 1989. Notice the mirror mounted above the monitor so you can see the expression on the face of your opponent!

Of course no arcade would be complete without multiplayer shenanigans available. This nice looking Gauntlet received plenty of play while we were there:

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Still a fun game to play today. Atari’s Gauntlet

So what can we say about Retrovolt Arcade? I’d go for quality over quantity. This isn’t the biggest arcade you’ll visit, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in terms of atmosphere, an impressive lineup of curated video arcade games from across all eras, a great selection of pinballs, and on top of all that, you get excellent value for money. For just ten bucks, you won’t find a better way to spend a fun hour.

Bob has done a great job here. The arcade is welcoming and there’s plenty to keep kids, adults, casual visitors and seasoned arcade hacks like me more than amused.

Many thanks to Bob and his team for making us so welcome – I’m still wearing my cool Retrovolt Arcade t-shirt, and hope to be back again soon.

Do pay Retrovolt Arcade a visit if you’re in the area!

Thanks for reading this week.

Tony

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