Video games and nostalgia collide at the Louisville Arcade Expo, as hundreds of vintage arcade cabinets, home consoles and pinball machines will all be set to free play. This year’s event — which takes place March 1-3 at Triple Crown Pavilion — will lean heavily into childhood memories: Previous Louisville Arcade Expos incorporated rare home consoles into the mix, but this year’s Expo doubles down on familiar, popular games.
“Historically, we’ve had something called the museum, which was obscure, very unique consoles, and while it was neat, it really wasn’t approachable to the general public,” said Corey Stup, who owns and operates the Expo and is a Louisville-based pinball game designer. “Most people couldn’t figure out how to play some of them. The instructions are kind of lost to time. This year, we decided to do consoles and games that everybody knows and remembers.”
That means patrons can expect several games from the most known consoles — all set up at the same time. For example, “Punch Out,” “Contra,” “Super Mario Brothers,” “Excitebike,” and “Blades of Steel” will all be playable for the Nintendo NES. Favorites like “Pitfall” from Atari, “Halo” from Xbox and “Oregon Trail” from the Apple II will also be there.
And that just covers the home console part of the event.
Rows and rows of arcade cabinets and pinball machines, brought by collectors from all over the country, will also be set to free play. For those, the number and variety will depend on who shows up with what, but there’s always a solid mix.
It’s Stup’s first year as owner of the Expo, but he has been involved since the event’s debut in 2011. After last year’s event, he purchased it from the original three founders — Joe Stith and brothers Matt and Jeremy Fleitz. Stup said we can expect a similar event to last year, but he has made a few tweaks this year, other than the console change-up. There will be an expanded vendor area, a childhood corner — featuring smaller scaled games and machines — as well as more of an open concept floor plan, where people can enter and exit from multiple doors. Other than that, expect the same easygoing concept. “I believe in it, and I believe it’s something that people really enjoy,” Stup said.
Below, we reminisce about 15 of our favorite, iconic video games that will be at the Arcade Expo and placed them in a timeline to show the evolution of gaming.
Graphics get better. Worlds get bigger. Gameplay gets more intricate. And storylines add depth. That’s just the nature of how video games evolve. And it always will be. But certain games are still equally as fun and important decades later. “Pitfall!” — an early and innovative side-scrolling platformer — had an incredible impact on the video game world, selling more than 4 million copies and helping to define the direction of video games for the next decade. As Pitfall Harry, players venture through the jungle in search of 32 treasures in a 20-minute time period, dodging pits, quicksand, crocodiles and a barrage of other things that want to kill you. “Pitfall!” has been a little lost to time, as it never had a successful lineage, but it’s still a game that can suck you in. —Scott Recker
‘Star Wars’ (1983)
I was a kid when “Star Wars” the film came out during the magical summer of 1977. When “Star Wars,” the arcade video game based on the film, was released in 1983, I was a high schooler who got to relive that summer. For just a quarter, you got to fly an X-Wing Fighter, picking off TIE Fighters as you made your way toward destroying the dreaded Death Star. The game, produced by Atari Inc., featured slick (for the time) 3D vector graphics, although the explosions and much of the action tended to disappoint as being not far removed from the early “Asteroids” game (also produced by Atari.) Still, decades later, the sound of Harrison Ford telling you, “You’re all clear, kid!” just before you blow the bejeezus out of that murderous space station, will forever thrill that kid inside. —Kevin Gibson
‘Oregon Trail’ (1985)
Starting off as a text-based game in 1971, the game was fully realized in 1985 with a graphics-enhanced narrative designed for the Apple II/ColecoVision generation of gaming, just prior to the advent of the original Nintendo system, the NES. Somehow, the game became a staple of early computing in educational environments. Based on 19-century pioneer life, it was an instant classic for nerd kids in the mid-‘80s. I spent my formative years learning that one of my kids died of dysentery or trying to figure out how to manage resources for my family. It makes sense in retrospect how a resource-management game was given new life as an educational supplement, but at the time I was just stoked to get to play video games in elementary school, making “Oregon Trail” an indispensable part of my childhood. —Syd Bishop
‘Ghosts ‘n Goblins’ (1985)
At its heart, “Ghosts ‘n Goblins” is a basic, straightforward game with serviceable graphics and gameplay mechanics that a even caveman could decipher. In fact, to the uninitiated, “Ghosts ‘n Goblins” would appear no different to any of the other bajillion ‘80s-era side-scrollers. Assuming the role of the knight, Sir Arthur, you make your way across the land, defeating a host of supernatural bad guys in order to save Princess Prin Prin, and your only assistance is a fragile suit of armor, a handful of various weapons and a pair of boxer shorts. But, the true legacy of “Ghosts ‘n Goblins” is its hope-murdering level of difficulty. Ten minutes in, and it’s “you’re dead, now start all over” motif frustrated even the most seasoned players. It was impossible to beat. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. —Tyrel Kessinger
‘Bad Dudes’ (1988)
Quite reasonably, “Bad Dudes” is clumped in with the wave of imitators that followed in the wake of “Double Dragon’” success. Like “DD,” “Bad Dudes” is a straight-ahead, co-op, button-masher where players choose between one of two bad hombres to kick ass and take names. The resident “bad dudes” here are Blade and Striker, two “street-smart brawlers” recruited by the Secret Service to fight their way through a large — and impressively well-organized — network of evil ninjas in order to rescue the president. While never accepted as a usurper of the beat ‘em up throne, “Bad Dudes” still managed to stand apart with its graphical superiority, its more “realistic” gameplay and its embrace of ‘80s entertainment aesthetics (ninjas crawling up the sides of moving semis, people!). Sure, it never achieved name-brand recognition, but “Bad Dudes” still holds a fond spot in many an old gamer’s heart. —Tyrel Kessinger
‘Golden Axe’ (1989)
“Golden Axe” was a beacon in game designer Makoto Uchida’s catalog. Uchida was also responsible for the much-adored “Altered Beast,” but it was “Golden Axe,” with its playable female character — the barely dressed Tyris Flare — who drew me in and made me a gaming geek for life. Modeled after beat ‘em up games such as “Double Dragon” and movies such as “Conan the Barbarian,” “Golden Axe” stands apart in this genre with its fantasy style. There were actual dragons, as well as Tyris’ companions, Ax Battler and Gilius Thunderhead. The game was playable as a duo, collaborating to defeat the minor enemies and ultimately the boss villain, Death Adder. It was the game that bonded my best friend and I forever. It was heaven in 16-bit. —Erica Rucker
‘WWF Wrestlefest’ (1991)
My obsession with professional wrestling began in 1991. I had two role models at the time: Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Billy Idol. To be like Billy Idol, I had to spike my hair and dye it blonde, but to be Jake “The Snake” all I had to do was go to the arcade. “WWF Wrestlefest” was essentially a “Double Dragon”-style beat’em up that took place in the World Wrestling Federation’s ring. It boasted a roster stacked with pop culture icons such as Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior. The unique set of moves each character wielded along with the outside-of-ring combat was way ahead of its time. The proverbial cherry on top is announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund doing promos with Legion of Doom. WWF Wrestlefest is all the pageantry and larger-than-life experience of the WWF at the drop of a quarter. —Jake Hellman
In the ‘90s, “The Simpsons” were everywhere, and in the form of just about any type of merchandise you could imagine — toys, comic books, bubble gum cards, board games and even a slew of catchy pop singles including “Do the Bartman.” While I’ve always been a consumer of anything related to the TV show, my favorite offshoot has always been the eponymous 1991 beat ‘em up arcade cabinet. The story, while not entirely important, revolves around Mr. Burns (accompanied by Smithers) and their plan to hold Maggie hostage, while the Simpsons family fights through hordes of Springfieldian henchman to get her back. Like most games like this, anyone can play right away as it doesn’t take much skill. Just pop in a quarter, pick your favorite Simpson, and get to button mashing. —Phillip Olympia
‘Mega Man X’ (1993)
Long before Chris Nolan gave the cinematic Batman universe a “dark, gritty” reboot, Capcom reimagined a toughened-up Blue Bomber to take its series into the 16-bit graphics era. “Mega Man X” repositions the cutesy robot hero as an anime-ish tough guy in a Blade Runner-ish future timeline. The gameplay in “X” is mostly unchanged from the NES classics, but with the new look comes a few new powers: Mega Man can charge up his weapons, but more importantly he can wall jump. It’s tough to describe just how fundamentally this changes the stakes in “X” — or just how fun mashing the jump button to dodge huge boss attacks is. It’s such a game changer, in fact, that it reduces the mind-boggling difficulty of previous “Mega Man” games by half or more. “X” is probably the easiest game in the entire franchise, but one of the most entertaining. —Joseph Schafer
‘Crash Bandicoot’ (1996)
“Crash Bandicoot,” the crazed face of his own franchise, debuted in 1996 on Sony PlayStation as an answer to Nintendo’s golden mascot, Mario. The mildly insane marsupial has since earned mass appeal with the game’s colorful gang of characters and simple gameplay — in most cases, players move Crash through a wide range of worlds, utilizing whatever skills, vehicles, animals and means of time travel that are available in order to trump the evil Doctor Neo Cortex’s relentless attempts at world domination. “Crash” remained exclusive to PlayStation from 1996 to 2000 and boasted two more sequels in that run (“Cortex Strikes Back,” “Warped”), a four-player kart racing game (“Crash Team Racing”) and a party game (“Crash Bash”). By 2001, the adventure saga ported onto other competing consoles, however, it’s the original that will be playable at the Louisville Arcade Expo. —Lara Kinne
“Goldeneye” turned video games upside down. If you would use the term pre-“Goldeneye” in a conversation about gaming eras, people would know what you meant, because not only did the game change the perception of what a first-person shooter could be, it changed the perception of what a multiplayer game could be. The single player mode — although actually really good — is such a minimal part of the game’s legacy. The four-player, split-screen mode inspired hours-long binge-battles among friends, skyrocketing replay value. It was more realistic than other games like it. It was easy to pick up and play, but tough to master. It sparked countless screaming matches and broken controllers. It was ubiquitous. And it was the future. —Scott Recker
‘Crazy Taxi’ (2000)
Reckless driving while blaring punk rock was synonymous behavior on “Crazy Taxi.” Released on the short-lived Dreamcast, it became the console’s third best-selling game in the United States. Besides providing a riot of fun, the game’s famous, patented gameplay formula — one that fueled a lawsuit against “The Simpsons: Road Rage” in 2003 — simulated that of the original arcade version as players navigate a chaotic cityscape, picking up and delivering passengers on a tight clock. — Lara Kinne
‘Halo: Combat Evolved’ (2001)
There are very few games that are as iconic as “Halo,” save for flagships such as “Mario,” “Sonic” and “Zelda.” “Halo: Combat Evolved,” the launch title for the original Xbox, revolutionized first-person shooters from straightforward dungeon crawls to an expansive and well-worn world — a major and innovative leap for action games. The plot was never heavy or in your face, putting fighting first and then building the story in small and digestible intervals. The most memorable feature of the game is the multi-player that pits teams of friends against each another. While the game lacked an online capacity, putting multiple systems and several people in a room for LAN parties was a fantastic experience — one lost to our current generation of gamers. The world of “Halo” felt visceral and lived in, and the action and play dynamics were user friendly, all stacked with cutting-edge graphics. —Syd Bishop
‘Katamari Damacy’ (2004)
The set up: The King Of All Cosmos goes on a binge-drinking bender and wrecks all the stars in the sky. You are his Ant-Man-sized son, and you have to have to use a sticky ball called a katamari to roll up anything smaller than you are, so that the King can condense that matter into a replacement star. That premise plays out even more ridiculous than it reads, as the King continues to ridicule and admonish you throughout the game if you don’t properly correct his drunken fuck-up. Not only is the game a blast to play and replay, but the soundtrack is great, with tracks that range from electronica to Neil Diamond-style lounge jazz. I even played some of these songs at my wedding. “Katamari Damacy” is the precursor to a lot of phone-based games, a simple premise that is loosely puzzle-based and all-the-way insane, which makes it as addictive as it is fun. —Syd Bishop
‘Super Mario Galaxy’ (2007)
Nintendo might not have better graphics than its competitors, but the company is known for redefining how people play video games. The Wii popularized motion controllers, making something so accessible that the system became popular in nursing homes. Wii Sports — which originally consisted of bowling, tennis, boxing and golf — became an all-ages smash hit, but what was really impressive about the system’s motion controls is how they applied them to their flagship series. “Super Mario Galaxy” was a sharp, inspired and fluid game that didn’t try to do too much with motion, but did just enough to make it like nothing else you ever played before. It took all of the positive elements of “Super Mario 64,” and blasted them into the unknown. —Scott Recker
The legend of ‘Polybius’
Maybe you scrolled through the list of expected games for the 2019 Louisville Arcade Expo and one stood out. That game was probably “Polybius,” the arcade machine that’s an urban legend. The running myth is that it showed up in Portland, Oregon, in 1981 as a government-run experiment. Some say it was to collect data. Some say it was to recruit soldiers. Some say it was a brainwashing tool. Then a month later, every “Polybius” machine — named after the Greek historian who championed primary sources and factual integrity — mysteriously disappeared. That’s the tall tale, at least. But, here it is on the list for the 2019 Arcade Expo. Will it actually be there? Collectors email the Expo to say what they’re going to bring, so it could be someone just fucking around. But, who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next “The Last Starfighter.” I mean, the government did announce Space Force, which seems like the perfect time to bring back “Polybius.” Really makes you think. —Scott Recker
How to go
Louisville Arcade Expo
Friday, March 1-3
Triple Crown Pavilion
1776 Plantside Dr.
Day Pass: $30 Friday and Saturday; $25 Sunday;
Weekend Pass: $65
Friday, 2 p.m. — midnight
Saturday, 10 a.m. — midnight
Sunday, 10 a.m. — 4 p.m.