Vintage video game arcade unveiled in East Valley

Steve Thomas and Mike Lovato, owners of StarFighters Arcade
Steve Thomas and Mike Lovato, owners of StarFighters Arcade

Get your left hand on the joystick and your right hand on the hyperspace drive, vintage video game enthusiasts, Michael Lovato and Steve Thomas, are set to unveil their “StarFighters Arcade” in the East Valley, with a free soft opening scheduled for November 1st.

These two video game devotees dream in rasterized and vector colors and they are going into business for the love of the games. Steve said, “We took our private collections and stuck them all into one building — and we’re crazy enough to let people come play them.”

There is a thriving vintage video game community in the valley that Steve and Mike have been a part of for a few years now, working with other local aficionados like Captain Cutaneum’s Arcade ’85, ZapCon and Power Pill in downtown Mesa. StarFighters hopes to appeal to both hardcore collectors looking to buy, sell and trade machines, and to fans who simply love playing the old video games.

Michael Lovato, co-owner of StarFighters Arcade
Michael Lovato, co-owner of StarFighters Arcade

The business partners are modeling their shop off of “The Game Preserve” arcade in Texas and they envision StarFighters as a social gaming mecca to promote the collectors community, talk about collecting and technical issues, and, of course, get in some treasured playing time.

StarFighters is tucked away in a low-key industrial strip-mall warehouse that gives it a secret underground vibe, kind of like a really cool Batcave, packed with old school video game goodness.

Lovato said, “Our goal is to be a destination spot and a community resource for the genre, and a place for enthusiasts who just want to come and play vintage games.”

As you enter the venue it is like going ‘back to the future’ of the 1980’s. You are welcomed by the old familiar flashing lights and comforting electronic beeps and noises, and some not-so-comforting taunts like, “Is there no warrior mightier than I?”

Steve Thomas, co-owner of StarFighters Arcade
Steve Thomas, co-owner of StarFighters Arcade

Do they have a sweet assortment of classic games? You bet your ‘Asteroids’ they do! StarFighters will be the largest public vintage arcade in the valley, with a hundred games ranging from old standards like Donkey Kong, Jr. and Pac-Man to rare machines like the highly sought after Mad Planets. They even have a handful of pinball machines for the really old school gamers.

These self-taught ‘space-age whiz-kids’ refurbish and maintain their own games and “have just enough knowledge to not to kill themselves,” joked Steve. Both men have extensive backgrounds in automotive testing and electronics.

Lovato and Thomas are Arizona natives, and Mike grew up playing Space Fury and Red Baron at the small arcade in his hometown of Whiteriver, while Steve, who is from Gilbert, enjoyed playing Star Wars and Star Trek: Strategic Operations at the arcade that was located inside of Skateland in Mesa. These days Mike still likes playing Space Fury, while Steve enjoys hunting submarines in Midway’s Sea Wolf.

Rob Lovato at StarFighters Arcade
Rob Lovato at StarFighters Arcade

StarFighters Arcade is located at 4811 E. Julep St., Suite #124, in Mesa, and their Saturday, Nov. 1st “soft opening” event has free admission with unlimited game play.

After its inaugural event the arcade will be open during its normal hours, Friday and Saturday evenings from 6:00 – 11:00 p.m.

The arcade will offer three different types of PACC (Phoenix Arcade Collectors Club) memberships: $14 for single day with a guest; $30 for a month with two guests and the opportunity to have a private event party; and $120 for a year with two guests and two private event parties. Each package includes unlimited game play on their plethora of machines. You can get the latest information and updates on their opening event by following StarFighters Arcade on Facebook HERE.

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.