A new arcade in Okotoks is stoking up some major nostalgia.
Steve and Gina Smith opened up Retro Oasis Escape Rooms and Arcade earlier this month.
At the moment, only their arcade and event room are open, but they seem to already be filling a niche in town.
"We're not full of people all the time or anything like that, but people who come in are really excited, they have a lot of fun, and generally say they're gonna be back. Or you get a few looky-loos that are passing by and say, 'I saw your open sign, I just want to look, I don't have time, but I'll be back on the weekend.' The first day we had a pair of brothers in and the next day they came back and brought a friend, and later that first week we had a teenager come in with three friends and then the next day he came in with three new friends, and then the next day he came in with more!"
Their 17 arcade machines run the gamut, from arcade staples like Frogger, Ms. Pacman, and Gauntlet, to classic beat 'em ups like Ninja Gaiden and The Simpsons, and legendary fighters like Street Fighter 2 and Tekken 2.
The Smiths' first arcade cabinet purchase was Konami's The Simpsons, and from there, they were hooked and were always looking for auctions and deals.
The decision to share that joy with others came during the pandemic.
"I came to the point where I was working in the basement during COVID, and if I was having a really unhappy day, I'd turn on the machines in the other room. I wouldn't play them very much anymore, but I sure got a kick out of just hearing them make noise and light up. It always takes you back. I thought it'd be awesome for people my age to come in for the nostalgia, and for kids to come in and say, 'this is what an arcade used to be like.' They were a little bigger and cramped with machines, but this is it, you guys have some noises and lights, and just have fun."
Retro Oasis' all-ages admittance was a key factor for the Smiths when planning it out.
They have a lot of love for retro hotspots in Calgary like GRETA, Revival Brewcade, and Pin-Bar, but only the latter is open to minors, and only at certain times.
Being parents, they wanted to create a space for people of all ages to play in person, something that's becoming less and less common nowadays.
"When you look at video games these days, companies are moving away from great couch co-op titles. Since Halo 4, they don't do proper couch co-op games, so the experience of sitting down with your buddies and gaming is disappearing on consoles. Our most popular games in here are your Gauntlets, Simpsons, Sunset Riders, because they're all team based. This is today's couch co-op in a sense, only no couches."
Maintenance is a common issue in arcades, and something Steve intends to stay on top of.
"One thing I hated going into an arcade was half the machines would be down or the monitors would be virtually unusable, they just needed a lot of repairs, and they just left them on the floor. If it doesn't work, we turn it off."
He doesn't think that'll be too hard, given his passion for repairing and kitbashing arcade cabinets.
The escape room portion of the business is still a work in progress, and their main focus in the next few weeks.
In the longer term, they've also got a few other arcade cabinets they're hoping to bring up to snuff.