Remember Wizball? No? Well you can play it anyway.
The pachinko games were out of order, and the two out of three pinball machines were down, but the Ontario Science Centre's Game On 2.0 exhibit was hardly inactive.
Entering, you are greeted by echoing sounds of Space Invaders, Spy Hunter and crying children. The first room has your analogs, your standards: Pong and Spacewar, accompanied by wall-mounted summaries about their creation. Turn the corner and you'll be ambushed by a decade-spanning electro-wonderland that resembles the set of the old kids' game show Nick Arcade. Darkness falls across the sectioned hall, not entirely unlike older gaming dens, but it makes it all the more startling when a kid suddenly darts behind you.
"These are the games I used to play," Alana, a mother visiting from London, tells her son Noah, who's clinging to a pinball machine. Noah scurries around the cabinet, smacking his hands against the front and sides. Had he known there was a start button to bring the machine to life he could have stayed there indefinitely.
Alana can remember pumping quarters into these retro games growing up. But Noah and his father, now playing a par four hole on PlayStation Move golf together, appreciate the recent, technologically advanced stuff.
Game On has plenty of both. With 150+ games on the website, the sprawl is a lot more than I anticipated from a Toronto institution whose core demographic are glassy-eyed school kids.
Super Mario, Sonic, Angry Birds, Halo and Street Fighter I-IV, and other usual suspects reside on the exhibit floor, but so do odd oldies like Wizball on the Amstrad CPC or Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar. There's also contemporary curios like Deathsmiles, Warning Forever, Ian Bogost's Atari haiku backdrop A Slow Year, and a game I had been waiting to play for far too long, Vib-Ribbon, which, like Noah at the pinball machine, I could have clinged to forever.
There are parents sharing Soul Calibur with their daughters. One father, Zack, smiles as his son giggles in delight from high-kicking his father's face endlessly in Tekken. Grandma is also charmed as she watches on. "My kids don't have any interest in Atari," says Zack, but does admit his four-year-old has become enamoured with Minecraft.
Maki, there with her 12-year-old daughter, doesn't even allow video games in the house, so this day-trip-turned-cheat-day is a break from the embargo. Even Maki finds herself enjoying the old Atari game Adventure, though Super Monkey Ball leaves her a bit dizzy, startled and unsatisfied.
One couple gets into a quarrel about their childhood choice of entertainment. "Superman was so stupid," announces a husband hovering over the Atari 2600 display, which is currently loaded with Combat. "Defender, now that was cool." A few moments later I hear him follow-up with, "Only nerds had Commodore."
After magazine spreads on the wall and table of LCD handhelds (think Tiger Electronics), Game On ends with a mini arcade of genuine cabinets to play. Mappy, Tron, Centipede, OutRun, and the like. One father says he remembers when each of these games came out, while struggling to get his own daughter to focus on Galaga.
The decaled windows into the past are contrasted by the massive Virtusphere, a globe that invites the player walk around inside of it wearing a headset, wandering in their own VR bubble. It's visual ambitiousness is only brought down by the fact that, judging from the screen of what the player sees, it's more or less a walking-with-nausea simulator.
The Science Centre leaves a trail of glossing overviews and interesting items throughout each hall, reviewing key individuals, games, tech evolutions, concept art from Donkey Kong to Uncharted and even original paintings by Rodney Greenblat. And yes, a case full of PaRappa merchandise - one a more ruthless me would plot to burgle.
I have been to other game exhibits before, most notably Berlin's Computerspielemuseum, which had more academic elements but did more telling, courtesy videos and fact-mounted green blocks.
Game On is more interactive, acknowledging that if you invite school busses of kids to a room promising video game, they'd likely want to get to play them. Not to mention their parents.