Just about every once-communal activity in the U.S. is turning into a solitary, indoors pursuit as we all slowly morph into the human cast of Wall-E. But believe it or not, in the not-very-distant past, kids used to actually leave the fortress of their bedrooms to waste hours and quarters at arcades, social hubs that formed around games (and probably teenage groping, or something). Arcades still exist, scattered around the country’s malls, but they’re often a bummer mix of gambling-style ticket-hoarding games and a few attractions you could play on your iPad.
But, this is the U.S., so there is, naturally, a convention circuit for those missing the golden age of arcade gaming. And one of the largest of its kind hit South Florida this past weekend for its fourth annual turn. The Florida Arcade and Pinball Expo is a wonderland for grown-up kids. You pay a flat entrance fee and descend into a maze, of hot, dark, loud rooms that all look like this.
Florida APE is usually super pinball-heavy, perhaps because its founder, Marcel Gonzalez, is a pinball collector himself, and the machines get organized into rooms roughly by decade, starting with about the 1940s. Moving through the rooms, you can see the mechanics, electronics, and even artwork get more complicated over time, culminating with those of everyone’s current favorite decade, the 1990s.
While the 1970s and 1980s showed some seriously psychedelic action, the world of 1990s pinball reached a unique pinnacle of marketing tie-ins, advanced art, and even video and special effects. The field of play got even more complicated, full of moving sculptures and then-cutting-edge gaming doo-dads, all mixed up with pop culture icons of the era. Let’s take a look at some of the most 1990s pinball games we found at the Florida APE.
Royal Rumble, 1990
Before World Wrestling Entertainment was the WWE, it was the WWF, the World Wrestling Federation. (A name change came in 2002 following a dispute with the World Wildlife Fund). This baby dates from back then, featuring classic wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991
For some extra flair, the trigger to shoot the ball into the game on this thing looks like the barrel of a silver gun. Fancy! Also, check out the amazing light-up head inside.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1993
This seems like it was a peak year in the decade for excellent pinball. Star Trek: TNG enjoyed the height of its popularity then, as did the franchises featured in the next two games on this list.
Jurassic Park, 1993
The inside of this one features a moving dino head that chomps its mouth menacingly.
Tales From the Crypt, 1993
Naturally, skeleton/corpse-type artwork and spooky sound effects abound on this one.
Demolition Man, 1994
The movie upon which this one is based is one of the most underrated sci-fi/futurist flicks of its time. The game, as well, is also one of the most beautiful of its era. Check out the trance-inducing rainbow lights and metal tubes that reflect the movie’s aesthetic.
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.