It’s ‘Game On’ in Riverhead now that a new arcade has opened for button-mashers of all generations to play classic games on vintage terminals.
Tristan Whitworth’s Game On retro arcade, which boasts 92 arcade games, plus various console gaming areas, opened in the Tanger Outlets on Sept. 3 between Polo Ralph Lauren Children and Francesca’s in Tanger 1.
“I just love sharing games with people that you can’t really experience at home,” Whitworth said. “Like the racing games like the Mario Karts with the gas pedals and the wheels, it’s just a different experience in the arcade, or like Crystal Castles with the trackball. I kind of cater towards games that need to be experienced next to friends in the arcade, [such as] Police Trainer [with guns] and Lunar Lander [with a thruster]. Every game has original hardware and original monitors.”
The new Riverhead arcade marks Whitworth’s fifth venture under his Game On brand. His first location — a vintage video game store, not an arcade — opened in Miller Place in 2015. The shop buys and sells video games, systems and collectibles of various eras, and also boasts several free-play arcade terminals and TV game consoles queued up with classics for customers to play. In the years that followed, he opened two similar shops in Smithtown and Patchogue before unveiling his first full-blown retro arcade in the Smith Haven Mall in 2022.
“The 10-year plan did involve something big for the community to experience like we did in the 80s and 90s,” he explained of his vision for Game On. “I wasn’t sure if that was … a retro game center with tournaments, but arcade just fit so perfect.”
“I’d say 60% of the games no one has seen yet at any [Game On] location,” he added of the new location. “About 40% are doubles that you have to open an arcade with — ‘Pac Man;’ ‘Donkey Kong;’ ‘Centipede;’ ‘Space Invaders,’ — those are at every location at all times.”
To Whitworth, the shop is not a nostalgia-fueled novelty; it’s a chance to carry on his own family’s tradition and help families make memories. Like the heroes in a half shell he watched and played, Whitworth grew up one of four brothers whose childhoods were seeped in ’80s and ’90s cartoons and video games, from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” to “Mike Tyson’s Punch-out.” But in 2000, his passion for gaming plummeted after he lost one of his brothers, Wesley, who he described as “the rock of our family.”
After racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans he took out in the pursuit of becoming a physical therapist, Whitworth took to eBay selling old games and action figures he procured through yard and thrift sales. This trip down memory lane became ignited his journey towards a career that granted him the gift of sharing the joys of his and his brothers’ childhoods with his peers and a whole new generation.
“I think that any kid that’s coming in is coming with parents, which is amazing,” he said. “That’s one of my favorite parts, moms and dads walking around, telling their kids about those times.”
At his Riverhead arcade, guests pay $15 for a day pass to play all the games they want all day long. Every terminal has been set to free-play, meaning today’s gamers will not need to rummage through couch cushions for quarters like those of yesteryear.
“We had to, like really choose back in the day, like what we want to put our money into,” Whitworth recalled. “I think I got like, $4 or $5 when I used to get dropped at the arcade, maybe $10 between the four boys. [Now] you don’t have to commit to a game and stick with it and learn it.”
Growing up, one game Whitworth never beat was “Spider-Man,” a single or multiplayer action game that sees the webhead and other Marvel heroes punch and kick the likes of Venom and the Scorpion.
“It’s like a hidden gem,” he said of the game. “It was in a Burger King that I used to go to, and I remember pumping quarters into that thing with my brothers and we never beat it. That’s why I had to find one of those.”
Now, with a sidekick of his own, he may emerge victorious.
“I want to beat it with my son,” he added. “I think that would be really cool.”