Arcade gaming returns to downtown Iowa City

Critical Hit Birthday Celebration and Arcade Grand Opening

Critical Hit — Saturday, Jan. 18 at 12 p.m.

Chance Kirchhof (left) and Kevin Shannon examine the inner workings of one of the machines at Critical Hit. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Dig Dug. Q*bert. Galaga. Asteroids. Centipede. For those of us “of a certain age,” these names resonate like the names of old friends. And like old friends, we never see them often enough. Sure, there’s the occasional bar-arcade combo at which to indulge (although none in Iowa City any longer). And let’s face it, pretty much everyone knows somebody who knows somebody who has an arcade cabinet at home.

But there’s something familiar and gratifying for a Gen Xer about holing up in a narrow basement space with atmospheric lighting, ruining your vision while simultaneously improving your hand-eye coordination, plugging in quarters like you’re king of the world.

It’s fun for kids, too, I hear.

For the past couple of months, Chance Kirchhof — the affable co-owner of Iowa City’s game shop, Critical Hit — has been amassing a collection of cabinets, with the help of collecting and repair hobbyist Kevin Shannon. Their goal is to create an authentic experience in the back hallway of the shop, which has expanded comfortably into its larger space downtown. It’s getting a full makeover, complete with a mural by artist and staff member Candace Weigand and period-appropriate lighting for a “very ’80s arcade,” Kirchhof said.

They’ll also have the name of the arcade on a vintage-style sign at the entrance to the area — once they decide on it.

Kevin Shannon works on that Zoo Keeper high score. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Voting on the five finalists is just one of the ways to dive in to the fun on Saturday. (The choices are Another Castle, The Bonus Level, The Grid, Lost Quarter and The Warpzone.) There will be tournaments and prizes for high scores, and all machines will be on free play for the afternoon.

The event also serves as a 14th birthday party for Critical Hit. There will be raffles and sales all day, and at 6 p.m., after the grand opening festivities for the arcade wrap, there will be cupcakes and Mesa pizza. As if that wasn’t busy enough, it’s also a Magic: the Gathering prerelease weekend (full schedule below) — a great test of the capacity of the space on South Linn Street that the store moved into last April.

As the games have slowly been moved into the space, Kirchhof has already been seeing a positive response. It will likely become a popular destination for enthusiasts in the region.

“Word has gotten out,” he said. “We’ve had people come in just for the arcade.”

Kirchhof loves having them there himself, too. At the end of the night, after he closes up, he said, he jumps in and takes advantage of the opportunity to play.

“I pop a quarter in like anyone else, and I play Asteroids once,” Kirchhof said.

And yes, the games cost a single quarter to play, part of the retro feel.

Kevin Shannon noodles around with the innards of a game. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Kirchhof and Shannon are dedicated to the preservation of the games and the history surrounding them as much as to the play. Shannon, who owns many of the cabinets in Critical Hit’s collection, said he’s enjoyed becoming a part of the local and nationwide restoration community, which he likened to that of classic car enthusiasts in its depth, breadth and overall supportiveness.

Shannon has been collecting and restoring games for about five or six years, he said.

“I was gifted a Galaga — the Galaga in there — from the in-laws,” Shannon said. And he hasn’t looked back.

Part of the expansion that Critical Hit plans for the future of their arcade is a classic Street Fighter unit that Shannon will be building from scratch. And this summer, Kirchhof and co-owner Wayne Hoover will be driving a four-player X-Men from North Carolina.

“We want it to be not just Critical Hit’s arcade, but Iowa City’s retro arcade,” Kirchhof said.

Their biggest challenge might be getting me off the Dig Dug.

Chance Kirchhof (standing) and Kevin Shannon with the arcade games debuting at Critical Hit on Saturday, Jan. 18. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Theros Beyond Death Prerelease Schedule

Friday, Jan. 17 at 6 p.m. — Three-round sealed
Saturday, Jan. 18 at 10 a.m. — Three-round sealed
Saturday, Jan. 18 at 2 p.m. — Pro-style
Saturday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. — Three-round sealed
Sunday, Jan. 19 at 11 a.m. — Magic Sunday Brunch
Sunday, Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. — Two-headed Giant

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