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What was Chuck E. Cheese like back in the 1980s?


Syzygy1
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As you all know, Chuck E. Cheese is now a germ-infested, messy, unhealthy, redemption-game-and-kiddie-ride-filled little kids' romp. But back in the 1980s, it was arcade paradise. Except I've never seen those days.

 

So, I wanna know, what was Chuck E. Cheese like back in the early 1980s? The only things I've seen are commercials, a quick video from 1983 (You've got one of those camera things!), and Skee-Ball footage from 1985. From the '83 video I know they had Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Popeye, Donkey Kong, Pole Position, Moon Patrol, etc. but there might be more rare, obscure games like Cheeky Mouse, Mouse Trap, Mappy (see how I'm listing all the mice games?) and others.

 

I also know it opened up in 1977. What was this first California location like? I've seen a commercial for it, and Chuck E. was a rat back then. From what I've read, they had Puppy Pong on tables when you waited for your food. I wanna know what other games they had.

 

And you can share your late '70s-early '80s CEC memories here, too! Have fun!

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Back then, it was called Show Biz Pizza where I lived... Same theme, same characters... Chuck E Cheese was just one of many characters in the small stage show.

 

Played a ton of Pac Man, bunch of Missile Command... Tron for a brief period was in there, Robotron, and Outrun.

 

They had skee ball, air hockey, even a pin or two IIRC.

 

When it switched to Chuck E Cheese's, it sort of went downhill and the place kind of got junky. No more Missile Command or Pac Man... More claw machines and stuff like that.

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Back then, it was called Show Biz Pizza where I lived... Same theme, same characters... Chuck E Cheese was just one of many characters in the small stage show.

 

Played a ton of Pac Man, bunch of Missile Command... Tron for a brief period was in there, Robotron, and Outrun.

 

They had skee ball, air hockey, even a pin or two IIRC.

 

When it switched to Chuck E Cheese's, it sort of went downhill and the place kind of got junky. No more Missile Command or Pac Man... More claw machines and stuff like that.

 

Yeah, Show Biz and CEC were separate.

And then it all went downhill in the '90s.

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How was Chuck E. Cheese back in the 80's you ask? Two words: not ghetto. (unlike today) ;)

 

On a serious note, while it was better back then, still sucked compared to Showbiz. Chuck E. characters not as compelling and the atmosphere was geared toward a much younger crowd comparatively. Was great to have choices back then though and that's what I really miss about today. :(

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When it first opened in NE Philadelphia, it was arcade game paradise All the main areas were on the right of the entrance. There was a large main dining room with the animatronic stage show in the back (furthest from the entrance), a much smaller and quieter dining room in the front (which had some sit-down arcade games in place of a few of the tables), and in between was a gigantic game room filled with just about every early-80s arcade game you can imagine. There are games there I'd never seen before, and haven't seen since, including Mouse Trap, Baby Pac-Man, Cliff Hanger, Kick, Fire Truck, and Thief (still one of my favorite Pac-Man clones), in addition to more well-known games like Defender (and Stargate), Popeye, Pac-Man (and Ms. and Super), Centipede (and Millipede), Missile Command, Frogger, Q*Bert, Dragon's Lair, and so forth. It was frequently updated with the newest games. Name a game from that era (except, oddly, Space Invaders), and it was probably there. It was arcade heaven, and I loved every chance we got to go (which wasn't that often). I still rememeber that era fondly.

Then, one day (maybe 1984 or 1985?), they replaced the back area of the arcade room (which had some of the more obscure games - I remember Star Wars Arcade, Major Havoc, and Mouse Trap being back there) with a ball pit and removed some of the more obscure games (including all the laserdisc games - I guess they were too high-maintenance), and it was all downhill from there. The remainder of the arcade room remained for some time, but without updating any of the games anymore. Still, I considered it a "classic" arcade and still swung by every now and then over the next few years - by this point, I had more independence and could get there on my own on my bike. My trips were less and less frequent, though, and I eventually stopped going entirely.

The last time I was there was around a decade ago for my niece's birthday party, and by that point the middle room and the small dining room had been merged into a giant pit of redemption games (mostly skee-ball and claw games), with one or two generic-looking driving games, and the ball pit still in place from two decades before. I haven't been back since.

Edited by Raiu
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Back in the early 80s, the one in The Willows shopping center in Concord, CA was pretty nice. The video games were upstairs, the restaurant part downstairs. They had quite a lot of video games, and it was a nice place to spend several hours while your parents went shopping there and over the freeway at Sunvalley Mall. :)

 

The pizza has always been crap, though.

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There was a Showbiz Pizza in my area during the mid 80s. The aroma of cooking pizza mixed with the electrified air of all those arcade games was definitely amazing.

 

Classic arcade upright cabinets were arranged back to back in clusters of three and four and the sound was always turned up LOUD! Sit down version games were also there, like Pole Position II and Star Wars.

 

I remember a game called Reactor blasting it's attract mode theme music down front as you walked in. Showbiz had all of my favorites including the Pacman games, Tron, Frogger, Donkey Kong....many more. I also saw laser disc games for the first time at Showbiz, Dragon's Lair, Space Ace and M.A.C.H. 3. I remember playing M.A.C.H. 3 (fully enclosed sit down model) and how the jet engine sound vibrated the whole cabinet!

 

The non-video ball toss and skill games were present and spitting out prize tickets, but those were overshadowed by all the coin-op arcade machines. I remember a fenced off area with nothing but cocktail cabinets. The main dining area was in a second, equally large back room by the stage show. I brought my pizza up front to a cocktail Defender cabinet and played a game after I was done eating. That same night at home, I played 2600 Defender and it wasn't quite the same. :)

 

One other thing I remember about Showbiz is that they wouldn't allow kids inside without an adult. I was denied entry more than once when my parents were shopping at the K-Mart next door. That was disappointing, but in those days, every store had at least one or two coin-op arcade games setup. I could walk into most other places and play whatever they offered. I don't think I realized how good kids had it back then. Those were good times to be young with a few quarters in your pocket! I never had that many coins, but enough for a fun time. :)

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I remember when I was 5 years old in my first year of tee-ball, the coaches took the team out for pizza at Chuck E. Cheese. At the time video games were very new to me and Atari 2600 was all I really knew, aside from the odd arcade machine I'd see out and about when arcade machines used to be in all kinds of random places.

 

After pizza, I remember strolling back into the arcade area and just being blown away. I have this vision of staring down a long aisle of games that all looked so big, tall, and intimidating with all the older kids intently playing them. As for titles, the only thing I remember is looking to my right and seeing 4 Pac-Man games in a row: the original, Ms. Pac, Super Pac, and Jr. Pac. I had VCS Pac-Man at the time so I knew the name, but I remember thinking how cool it was that there was actually a Pac-Man family. I also remember seeing the "giant" pac-man on Super Pac-Man and thinking it looked so weird and cool compared to what I was used to. I didn't play any games that day, but it always stuck with me.

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In Mentor Ohio in the early-to-mid 80's it was a giant arcade - One large room that was dark with the games (50+) turned up loud. There was another separate room/area with the young kids stuff (ball crawl/tubes) and different areas with the different animatronic characters. There was a "night club" setup with an Elvis-like character, another room with the "stage show". It was a great experience as a child. They even gave you tokens for A's on your report card which I took advantage of...

 

We moved to Augusta Georgia in the mid 80's and they had a Showbiz. It was a much smaller place with only a half-dozen arcade machines. It still exists today, but is all 100% redemption machines. They don't even have the Pac-Man/Galaga or Space Invaders/Qix machines anymore, and only have one broken Pinball machine. And yes, it is now "ghetto" as you say. :)

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I think there was only one location in 1977!

 

It was said to be a "dive" with bad food and bad atmosphere. I mean look at the original Chuck E. - He had a cigar in his mouth. Different times, different world... :)

 

Remember, Nolan bankrupted the company by the early 80's and it was all sold to Showbiz, even though the names and locations were kept separate.

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I think there was only one location in 1977!

 

It was said to be a "dive" with bad food and bad atmosphere. I mean look at the original Chuck E. - He had a cigar in his mouth. Different times, different world... :)

 

Remember, Nolan bankrupted the company by the early 80's and it was all sold to Showbiz, even though the names and locations were kept separate.

 

I know. It was in California.

 

Does any Californians who were lucky enough to visit the first CEC remember what games were there? There are no YouTube videos of it besides commercials.

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Yea... I remember a sit-down racer but I cannot recall which one it was... So epic.

 

Showbiz has a special place in my memories... CEC, not so much. But I remember being a kid when it all started to switch to CEC branding and I couldnt figure out why they chose THAT particular character from the stage show to represent the franchise... I remember thinking, "He wasnt even the coolest one!!"

 

Took my kid to CEC in South Denver a year or two ago... All claw and ticket games with the exception of some glitter racing game and one solitary stand-up classic... Asteroids.

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I remember it from '80 or '81 onwards. It was the best place on earth. Huge arcade, robots.. mazes.. pizza. You couldn't ask for a better time.

 

Although you have to remember during the Arcade boom there were machines everywhere. If you had space and people, you put in a game. We're talking arcades in the back of gas stations, in department stores.. in walkways at the mall, even malls that had dedicated arcades. It was nuts.

 

But there was always something special about chuck-e-cheeses. The atmosphere helped alot. The one near me had these big green swampy looking tree decorations that made it look like degobah.

 

The same place is still in business, it downsized in the 90s but never closed. Unfortunately now as others have noted its just a casino for 6 year olds. :(

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Cool thread!

 

I remember when I was 5 years old in my first year of tee-ball, the coaches took the team out for pizza at Chuck E. Cheese. At the time video games were very new to me and Atari 2600 was all I really knew, aside from the odd arcade machine I'd see out and about when arcade machines used to be in all kinds of random places.

 

After pizza, I remember strolling back into the arcade area and just being blown away. I have this vision of staring down a long aisle of games that all looked so big, tall, and intimidating with all the older kids intently playing them. As for titles, the only thing I remember is looking to my right and seeing 4 Pac-Man games in a row: the original, Ms. Pac, Super Pac, and Jr. Pac. I had VCS Pac-Man at the time so I knew the name, but I remember thinking how cool it was that there was actually a Pac-Man family. I also remember seeing the "giant" pac-man on Super Pac-Man and thinking it looked so weird and cool compared to what I was used to. I didn't play any games that day, but it always stuck with me.

 

 

My story is similar. I can remember being there when I was very young (born in '76) and too young to really play the arcade games. I think we were there with my soccer team. I watched the show , ate pizza, did whatever the little kids did (ball pit etc), and I watched others play games. I remember watching my older sister's boyfriend play the original Punch Out. The sound of the announcer saying Body Blow is still stuck in my head, and you could see what was going on with the dual screen of the play choice. There were games everywhere though. I'm sure that someone held me up to waste a quarter on Pac Man or something, but I don't remember.

 

It was a complete overload for a kid as young as me, and pretty much all my childhood memories of the arcade are formed around it. I don't even know if we had our 2600 yet at home, but my interest in home games was certainly piqued. I spent the next few years growing as the arcade machines kinda disappeared. I'd beg for quarters to play games in the grocery store and manage to drag my parents into the arcade with me at the mall after a movie, but it was never long enough to get serious. TBH, the games I remember from that later era were quarter stealing profit makers like Karate Champ and Dragon's Lair. Your parents only give you $.75 so many times before they realize it only lasts 90 seconds (or less). I sorta learned that arcade games were rip-offs, and by the time I was making my own buying decisions, I stayed away from them. As an adult, I've had to re-learn to appreciate arcade games, and I am sure glad that I did. I really wish I could go back as an adult and visit that same Chuck E Cheese again . . .

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Chuckee Cheeses wasn't too much different back in the mid 80s than what it is today.

 

They used to do some stage show thing, which is pretty rare... (only some of the franchises still have it working), but it was basically a place that was perfect for kids to eat pizza, run around, and play video games and prize games.

 

As with anything during the time, it was heavily influenced by the products that were popular at the time. So... whenever they had promotions, it was always something like GiJoe, or Pac Man, or He Man related. The Chuckee Cheese guy would walk around from time to time, and the kids would take pictures with him. It was a fun place to hang out, and I remember it vividly. Of course, we used tokens... which MOST CCs still use, but many are switching over to the rewards cards, since it's cheaper.

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so nobody remembers the San Jose location from 1977...huh.

 

There might have been Pong, Night Driver, Sprint, Death Race, Robot Bowl, Sea Wolf, all that black and white stuff. Lots of Atari like Gotcha. I think Chuck E. Cheese was an Atari brand. Did they have 2600 demos?

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so nobody remembers the San Jose location from 1977...huh.

 

There might have been Pong, Night Driver, Sprint, Death Race, Robot Bowl, Sea Wolf, all that black and white stuff. Lots of Atari like Gotcha. I think Chuck E. Cheese was an Atari brand. Did they have 2600 demos?

Not an Atari brand, but started by Nolan B.

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