Is Portland, Maine the geekiest city in America?
This year Portland hosted several comic cons, an anime festival and the city got a new arcade bar. That doesn’t account for the people in Bramhall mumbling their D&D games, beer geeks babbling about brettanomyces or bibliophiles chatting about the newest Murakami novel. Geeks come in all forms here in Portland, Maine. We have foodies, birders, historians, tech geeks …
Recently I’ve gone around the area exploring games. I’m talking pinball, Centipede and Halo. I went to four venues in Southern Maine and although I expected one to come out on top and the others to follow in a neat list, but that’s not the case. Each place is great for different people — or the same people for different occasions. Let’s break it down in no particular order:
Some of the computers at HUD.
A few of the 30+ games on this computer, which is connected to all the other computers. That way you and your friends can be on the same team in the same game (or not).
2 Main Street, Biddeford (Building 18, suite 118) | Open 2 p.m.-midnight Mon-Thurs, 2 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays, noon to 2 a.m. Saturdays, noon to midnight Sundays |$3 an hour or $5 for two | hudgaming.com
PRO: You can play games against/with your friends, cheap
CON: Teen-boy vibe
GO IF: You love computer games and have two or more friends in your carpool
The basement of this mill building glows blue. It’s a gamer’s dreamland. HUD Gaming Lounge opened in April and now has two PlayStation 4s, two Xbox Ones, 10 normal LAN-connected computers and two triple-screen computers. In the center of the room is a maybe 15-foot-wide projection screen where you and your friends can play Super Mario Brothers — or about 40 other games on your choice of consoles (including a Wii, a GameCube, an Xbox 360s, a PlayStation 2 and more). The huge screen is in front of a massive leather couch that could easily seat four, but could squeeze six. On the other side of the room, loveseats sit in front of large TV screens hooked up to various consoles.
Each console has a bunch of games, including high-school-boy-oriented shooters like Halo, but also games like Wii Party, Spyro the Dragon, Zelda, Sims, Madden … and each computer has at least 30 games. HUD has a lot of games.
I’ll admit it: I don’t play computer video games. 15 minutes into the shooter game Team Fortress 2 — just long enough to get killed by Royal Kitten, Kami Kaze, Larry The Lobster and Bunny#i<3U — I wanted to vomit everywhere. I got motion sick. The monitors are crisp. The headphones have a better suspension system than my car. Those two things combined make it easy to get sucked into another world. But at HUD, your friends are next to you playing the same game at the same time … and, if you’re like me, laughing at you for dying yet again.
Because I’m such an amateur, I brought two gamer fiends with me to help assess the place. They said it’s a good place to check out games that you might want to buy, before you commit the $50+. Another said she was upset they didn’t have Lego games and that the intended audience is clearly younger men. They agreed it’s a good place to go if you have some buddies who like the same game(s) you do. The snacks are $2 or less and they have sodas and water, but don’t expect anything special, just Doritos and Mountain Dew.
If you go: The man at the counter said Monday and Tuesday nights are almost always dead, so if you’re going to bring your own friends for a take-over, go then. If you want to make friends, go on the weekends. Bring cash.
22 Cottage Road in South Portland | Open 3-8 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays; 3-10 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays | $5 for the first hour and $2 for each additional hour | www.facebook.com/portlandarcade
PRO: Great value
CON: “I think I’m in someone’s home?” atmosphere
GO IF: You and a buddy want some time to hang out; or a date with someone you already know (go to Taco Trio first, perhaps)
Portland Arcade, in South Portland, has great vintage games and at $5 for an hour, it’s a steal. I loved an old timey carnival game with a rifle pointed at flying carpets and genies. This is the place to go to hang out with a couple good friends or your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/whomever. You can bring your own food, if you want.
This place has the best variety of games of all the places on this list. The white-walled apartment-turned-arcade holds pinball, pachinko, arcade games, air hockey, foosball, board games, an Atari … It’s like what every 13-year-old wished their basement had. You’ll probably say, “I remember this game!” a few times. The Nintendo alone could keep you entertained for hours. And one benefit of this arcade is that it doesn’t tend to get busy, so no one will be staring at you from across the room waiting for you to wrap up your game.
If you go: It’s cash-only.
634 Congress St., Portland | Open 11 a.m.-8 a.m. Thursdays through Mondays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays | coastcitycomics.com
PRO: Quiet, downtown
GO IF: You want to have a serious talk with someone, but want to disguise it as “just hanging out” at a place where they can have a tantrum and not embarrass you, plus maybe get distracted by all the flashing lights and loud noises
The comic store on Congress Street has a cozy nook in the back where there are about a dozen pinball games and a few old arcade games. Aside from the computer voice of the Fish Tales pinball narrator asking players, “how big was it?!” the back part of the comic store is pretty quiet. You can bring your own snacks and buy soda up front. It’s open every day, so this is a good place to burn some time while you wait for a show or dinner.
The older games are the standard price, 50 cents, but Coast City also has new machines, which cost $1 per play. The man at the counter said he paid $6,000 for the newer machines. “I have to make my money back eventually,” he said. The newer games have more features — if you can keep the ball alive long enough to see them (I couldn’t). Features include a mini-pinball game within the Family Guy pinball game. The bright and shiny Walking Dead game has a zombie blob figurine inside and a house with locked doors. A narrator tells you at the beginning that you need to open the doors somehow.
If you go: Try the Crypt Keeper game if only because to launch the ball you have to shove your hand into the Crypt Keeper’s cold metal mouth.
24 Preble St., Portland | 5 p.m.-midnight Mondays through Thursdays, 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 10 p.m. Sundays – check the Facebook page for changes | facebook.com/ArcadiaNationalBar
CON: Small space, crowded on weekends
GO IF: You’re bored on Friday night and want to meet new people. Try everyone’s favorite Friday night line, “wow, it’s crowded here!”
Enthusiasm for this new bar-arcade hasn’t waned since it opened in September. The place is packed on weekends even as the snow comes down. The beer selection is stellar and cheap ($3 and $5 cans, plus craft brews on tap) and the crowd is fun and young. Arcadia has several pinball machines, table-style Centipede and Frogger games, several vintage arcade games, some board games and a Nintendo.
The bar also has special “learn to play” nights (I’m personally waiting for the next “learn to play Settlers of Catan” session). On weekdays and Sunday, the crowd clears and it’s a fun place to play Cards Against Humanity with friends and new craft beers from Maine.
If you go: Wear pants with pockets or bring a messenger bag because there’s not much space to put your stuff and you’ll probably want your wallet, quarters and phone on you.