Finding myself in Des Moines, Iowa, I discovered Up-Down arcade! But what was I doing right smack in the middle of Iowa?
I live in Wisconsin. My son goes to college in Kansas. So, dropping him off and picking him up at the beginning and end of each school year is a pretty long slog. Luckily, my wife and I love road trips, and traveling in general, so it’s no big deal.
Des Moines is a nice stopping point on the 10-hour drive. So last week, on my way back from helping him move into his new place, I stayed in Des Moines overnight. I rolled into town around 7:30 pm, which actually left me with a good chunk of time to kill. I didn’t want to just sit at the hotel all evening.
Anytime I find myself in a city I haven’t been, I have to see if there’s an arcade. With arcade/barcade culture on the rise, they’re becoming more plentiful than you may expect! And it just so happened that in downtown Des Moines, only a 15-minute shot up the highway from my hotel, was an Up-Down.
Up-Down is a barcade with multiple locations here in the midwest. Ironically, there’s one right in Milwaukee, which is much closer to my home, but I have actually not been to that one.
Anyway, off I went. It was easy to find, and the parking gods even bestowed upon me the rockstar spot directly in front of the arcade!
The place is plastered in black and white Space Invaders wall art, with neon signs of famous ’80s movie quotes, and flatscreen TVs which on this night were showing the ’90s Mega Man cartoon, American Gladiators, and one of the Rambo movies (I dunno which one it was).
Up-Down has no cover charge to get in, and the machines run on tokens. Luckily it was Thursday night, when tokens are only 10 cents if you get ’em at the bar, so after walking around the arcade’s two floors for a bit, I sat down at the downstairs bar and ordered a brown ale and two bucks’ worth of coinage, which got me 20 games.
You can take your drink around the arcade with you, as there are platforms between all the games, but I don’t like to have to keep an eye on my beer and my cup of tokens while I’m playing. So I drained my brew pretty quickly, tipped my bartender because I am a decent human being, and started my prowl.
Up-Down was bigger than I expected, with several rooms and a wide variety of games, including not just video games, but also pinball and skeeball too. Things are more or less organized, with all the fighting games grouped together, a wall of Nintendo cabs, a whole section of golden age classics, scrolling beat-’em-ups, drivers, gun shooters, etc. There’s also a huge screen for multiplayer N64 games like Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and Goldeneye, which seems to be a fixture at barcade everywhere these days.
Machines were well-maintained and in good condition, with only one or two of them O3 (out of order) at the time I was there. A couple of the vintage games were using LCD monitors rather than CRTs, which is never ideal, but it’s always better to have a game running and making money than not!
I was surprised to see some fairly rare machines in their collection. The Midway Sea Wolf was especially cool.
There was also a Circus Charlie, a GI Joe, and a tabletop Track & Field. Somebody at Up-Down sure likes their Konami games!
Konami’s Mystic Warriors was also a cool treat to find. If you haven’t played it, it’s basically a ninja version of Sunset Riders (which is actually referenced in the game).
Their Space Invaders machine looked especially great. The monitor and inner cabinet graphics appeared pristine.
The Neo Geo appeared to have a good selection of titles, but I couldn’t get it to select anything but Metal Slug X.
A few newer multiplayer games, such as Pac Man Battle Royal and Killer Queen, always make for a good time at a barcade. I was surprised when I descended the stairs to see a full 8-player game of KQ in progress.
Speaking of indie games, they had a game called Switch ‘n’ Shoot, which is a one-button game by English developer Matt Glanville, but the arcade cabinet was built locally in Des Moines by DSM Arcades.
As far as I can determine, this Up-Down might be the only place you can find it. It’s a fun and fast-paced game that takes a few rounds to get the hang of, perfect for arcade play.
Anyway, I made the rounds, got some high scores, sucked at pinball as usual, and decided I’d had enough for the evening and headed out. Up-Down is just a few blocks down the street from the Iowa state capitol building, which is gorgeous when lit up at night. It made for a nice parting shot before my quick drive back to the hotel.
I’m happy to see arcades coming back in this new form, and even happier to see them nice and busy, as this place was on a Thursday night. I definitely recommend popping into Up-Down for a good time in Des Moines or any of the other cities they can be found in.
500 E Locust St, Des Moines, IA 50309