The city of Two Rivers, Wisconsin is a smallish town with a population just shy of 12,000. Only an hour’s drive east from Retro Game SuperHyper HQ, “T’rivers” (as we ‘Sconnies call it) is a popular beach destination in the summer, with its location on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan. It also lays claim to being the birthplace of the ice cream sundae — a claim which is disputed by Ithaca, New York, which makes the same bold statement.
Two Rivers also happens to be the place where I saw 13 goddamn Atomiswave cabinets in a row. THIRTEEN.
Today we’re visiting Heroes Venture Retro Arcade, a combination arcade and skatepark at 2022 Washington St., Two Rivers, Wisconsin, right smack in between the town’s namesake East and West Twin Rivers and not far from the beach area.
Heroes Venture has been in business for a couple years and is currently undergoing an expansion into the space next to the main arcade, giving it the entire corner of the block it sits upon.
I talked my wife into coming along with me on this rainy day. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that while she’s not a particularly avid video gamer, she does love her some pinball, Skee-Ball, and electromechanical games, so the opportunity to kick my ass at some air hockey was enough to cajole her into being my arcade buddy for the afternoon.
Heroes Venture is divided into two main arcades: the admission side and the pay-to-play side. There’s also a LAN gaming area, which isn’t really my jam so I didn’t check it out, but it’s great that they offer it. You enter the facility on the PTP side, which is the new expansion, so it’s still sort of a work-in-progress with just a couple pinball machines, some redemption games, a couple multicades, and some other novelties that run on coin drops, old-school style. It’s here where the attendant’s station is — replete with snacks and blasting 80s rock — where you can pay $15 per adult to get into the admission side, which is where the real action is.
The admission side is another two rooms of 80s-to-2000s classics and obscurities. This side is lit like an arcade should be, and is festooned with banners featuring arcade artwork, game sprites on the floor that glow under the blacklights, and projectors showing anime and tokusatsu movies. The small skatepark is also located in the second room.
With about 100 games on the floor, HV has a decent mix of standards and rarities, with a few unusual oddities as well. Stone-cold classics like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac, and Donkey Kong Junior are here, and there’s a nice Nintendo red tent near the entrance to the second room.
Three Neo-Geo MVS machines — a two-slot and two one-slots — offered Bust-A-Move and Neo Bomberman, Double Dragon, and a 161-in-1, respectively. Some welcome ’90s titles like Magic Sword (I frickin’ LOVE this game), Super Hang-On (two of ’em!), and Mortal Kombat II (my favorite MK) were a sight for sore eyes.
Some machines were grouped by theme. Gun games and racing games dominate almost half of the first room. In the second room, the 80s classics ran along one wall, ranging from the aforementioned DK Jr to Time Pilot ’84 and Toobin’; this turned into the wrestling corner, featuring WWF WrestleFest, WWF Superstars, and Mania Challenge.
Speaking of groupings, this is where the Atomiswave madness comes in. The two walls of the first room opposite the racing and gun games are lined with no less than 13 upright Atomiswave cabinets, a sight I have never seen — nor would have expected to see — anywhere else in Wisconsin.
The reason I was excited about this is because there are a few Atomiswave games that I have always wanted to experience in the arcade, and I was super stoked that I had the opportunity to spend all the time I wanted with them. Fist of the North Star and Samurai Shodown VI were two such titles, although I only made it a few rounds into each before getting pounded into the sand (I like fighting games but I’m not great at them). Knights of Valor was an interesting 2D/3D beat-em-up by IGS that I’ve never played.
But my real aim here — in fact, one of the main reasons I wanted to make the hour-long drive to visit Heroes Venture — was Dolphin Blue.
Dolphin Blue is just one of those games I have a THING for, like I do with Time Gal or Cannon Dancer. A game that nails all the right notes for me: fun action, super appealing art and design, a certain measure of obscurity, and just an overall vibe that hits just right. I’ve played the arcade PCB on a supergun, and I have a physical copy of the fan conversion for Dreamcast, but this was the first time I’ve gotten to roll up on an arcade game and just jam on Dolphin Blue the way it’s meant to be played. And being on free play, I spent plenty of time on it, though I didn’t finish it.
Speaking of games you don’t see every day, I have to mention some of the less-common machines found at Heroes Venture. Anytime I go to an arcade, one of my goals is to play anything I’ve never played before; here at HV, I had the chance to play quite a few titles I had never gotten my hands on — for better or worse.
Aliens by Konami is a run-and-gun — okay, more of a walk-and-gun — full of xenomorphs to blast. HV’s Aliens machine was housed in a converted Midway/Namco cabinet, which looked nice enough. The game is okay, but do a 180 at this arcade and you can play the far superior Alien vs Predator by Capcom.
There are a few fine shmups to fly through, such as Life Force, UN Squadron, and Thundercade.
Next to Life Force is Space Gun, a Taito gun shooter I was unfamiliar with. The plastic molded facade and retro logo struck me as sort of vintage, and reminded me of an electromechanical machine at first, but the game came out in 1990 and is full of alien monsters for you to blast the limbs off.
Justice League: Heroes United and Konami’s Vendetta were a couple more beat-em-ups nestled together. I had zero experience with either, and unfortunately, I have to say that neither one impressed me terribly. The JL game is a lumbering cel-shaded 3D affair in which the camera is zoomed in too close during the main level when you’re surrounded by enemies and could use some aerial perspective, and zoomed out way too far during the boss fights when you’d prefer to see what you’re doing up close. It’s a really strange design decision. (Have you played this game? Am I right??) As for Vendetta, it’s a 4-player cabinet, much like Konami’s TMNT, Simpsons, Mystic Warriors, or Sunset Riders, but it’s much slower and clunkier than any of those. I’m not sure where Vendetta falls in Konami’s 4-player belt-fighter oeuvre — I’ll have to do some research — but it’s not nearly as refined or fun as any of those other titles. Luckily, Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom is right next to them to cleanse the palate.
Technos’ China Gate makes an appearance at Heroes Venture — a game that I actually saw for the first time at Aftershock in Madison just a few months ago — as does Gate of Doom, a Data East fantasy joint that was new to me. Gate of Doom plays a bit like the dungeon-crawling, enemy-hacking of Gauntlet mixed with the isometric view and item management of The Immortal.
A few games were not exactly what they seemed to be, such as the Galaga that appeared to be running Space Invaders, or the Shinobi that played Altered Beast. Maybe these were multi-games with the original titles selectable, but if so, I wasn’t sure how to do so.
(UPDATE: Since posting this article, the owner has let me know that the Galaga and Shinobi PCBs were out for repair, so rather than have completely out-of-order games on the floor, they prefer to replace them with something playable until the original games are back in action. Makes sense!)
And if playing just one game is too much of a commitment, there are some multicade options available. One of them, in fact, is a plethora of tate-mode games housed in a Polybius cabinet. …wait, what?
Or if you’re sick of standing and the games just aren’t big enough, why not have a seat at the 4-player bar and choose from a Pandora’s Box projected on a huge screen equipped with some thumpin’ speaker cabinets?
After making the rounds, it was a couple more games of air hockey with Mrs. SuperHyper (I won’t tell you who won but someone’s sleeping on the couch), and that just about wrapped up our afternoon.
All in all, Heroes Venture is a fun arcade with a good vibe. The games are loud and some of the rarities are worth making the trip for. I do feel the arcade still has a lot of growing to do. I know that they are in the process of filling out the newer pay-to-play side and actively adding to it constantly right now. However, I would love to see them add a few more of the old reliable standbys (e.g., Donkey Kong, Centipede, Dig Dug, Joust, or Robotron) to make the admission side feel more rounded-out. Of course we know that’s easier said than done these days, and I’m sure the owners are open to any and all classics that might come their way. More pinball would be a welcome sight as well, and again, I’m guessing that’s coming down the pipe too. I’m excited to see Heroes Venture continue to expand and improve, so if you’re in the area or looking for a new arcade road trip, please give them your support!
Side note: There’s nothing better after a day at the arcade than some ice cream, so in the spirit of supporting another local business that we’d been wanting to check out, we stopped by Scream’n Conuts just up the road. Scream’n Conuts is an adorable ice cream shop started a couple years ago by a young high school student which serves Cedar Creek ice cream (I highly recommend the Blueberry Waffle Cone flavor) in a unique donut-dough cone. OMNOMNOMNOM
December 3, 2022 at 11:28 pm