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  1. #1

    Chuck E Cheese... wow, it ain't like it used to be

    Took my daughter to Chuck E Cheese today for a friend's party, her first trip.

    Holy crap, that is not like the place I remember.

    Growing up in Charlotte, there was one Chuck E Cheese on Independence Blvd, right where Albemarle Road ends into it. (Or did, since Independence is now a freeway and it's an exit ramp where that shopping center and a rather cool-looking old Eckerd Drugs art deco building used to be.) We didn't go often, but it was an experience. They had a huge room for parties, three or four different themed video game rooms, tunnels under the stage to play in, and a separate, better-lit dining room adjacent to a section near the door with more kiddie games and the skeet ball. I went to a few birthday parties there, a couple my own. (I cannot think of Chuck E Cheese to this day without thinking of Zap from GIJoe, which is the only present I can remember for 100% certain getting at such a party.)

    Most importantly, there were at least 100 video games. I'm not romanticizing the past here. The place was awesome.

    Maybe it was too costly a model, since it closed down sometime around '84 or so. There was a Showbiz Pizza on the other side of town, which we only got to once or twice. (Charlotte is a massively spread-out city, which at the time had no quick routes from one end of the city to the other.) At some point, Showbiz bought out Chuck E Cheese, and changed the restaurants to Chuck E Cheese.

    The last time I'd eaten at one before today was in the late 80s, shortly after moving to Virginia. The restaurant was much smaller, but essentially the same, though with only one or two rooms of video games. We all remembered mainly that the food was awful. Sure, they'd never had great food, but it was so bad that this even stood out to kids. The pizza was like a cracker with garlic and tomato spread on it, then low-quality cheese substitute dropped on it.

    Still, I was unprepared for the crap zone I saw today.

    The pizza actually was a bit better. It was edible. That's the one thing I'll give them credit for. It was pricey and not at all worth the cost, though.

    The place was crowded, dirty, and full of crappy rides for very small kids. There were four video games total, two of them inferior versions of Mario Kart and Guitar Hero. Lots of games that would give tickets, most of which were the type of stupid game where you aim where your token will go and get tickets according to how many of the last players' tokens you make fall. Now, I didn't expect a cornucopia of 1980s games, but, dang, I figured they'd at least have one Super Mario Brothers or Galaga--something to occupy patrons over the age of 5 or 6. Nada.

    The party area had a stage with animatronics, which looked like they were falling apart. They didn't actually do anything the entire time. Instead, there were two screens showing a DVD loop of various stuff. I know it was a DVD, because, at one point, someone apparently accidentally stopped the DVD player and it displayed "DVD Input" for a few minutes.

    The "show" consisted of a guy in a threadbare Chuck costume walking around onstage and pretending to be saying some lines being piped in over the loudspeaker.

    The pizzas weren't cut properly, and the employees told us they did not have knives. At least not real ones. We had to use disposable plastic knives to cut the pizza. And for cutting the cake, well, we had the option of using the same plastic knives or allowing an employee to take it in the back and cut it, with the warning that they'd probably mess it up.

    The bathroom was a freakin' deathtrap. I took Chux Jr into a stall with a very short toilet (she's not old enough to use a public bathroom alone yet, and Mrs Chux was busy with Chux III). Trouble was, it was designed for a kid who's so small that s/he wouldn't be in there without a parent, but tiny. I actually bumped her in the face trying to get her up. While washing our hands, they announced the current parties going on... through a loudspeaker set to 11, about two feet from our heads. And then the cover from a light crashed down, less than five feet away from us. I told an employee when we got out, and he got on his radio to tell someone the light cover had fallen "again." Yeesh.

    In the end, we were stuck with lots of tickets. About 210. Even my four-year-old daughter couldn't find any crap for that amount. One crayon--not a small box, but one crayon--was 50 tickets. That part I always knew was a ripoff, but they at least used to have some small stuff for kids to spend tickets on. I guess the tradeoff of "a winner every game" is that it's next to impossible to save enough tickets to get even a Tootsie Roll. (Really. We couldn't "afford" a Tootsie Roll!)

    They had to stamp everyone on entry, even the 3-week-old baby, and we couldn't leave without verifying the numbers. Really, if their stupid stamp wore out, were they going to try to stop me from leaving with a little girl who's calling me Daddy? I know they're trying to protect kids from kidnappers, but that's overboard. Maybe not TSA overboard, but definitely a bit much.

    Weirdest of all, I thought: the place served beer. They didn't even say what brand (I'm assuming Miller Lite or Bud Light or some other American "brew" that should only be used to clean with), but their menu listed it, and a lot of folks had them. They can't accommodate the parents enough to stick one stinking game that might entertain someone old enough to spell their own name, but they can serve up alcohol in a place designed for and teeming with kids?

    Yeah, I know it seems like I'm just griping for no reason, but, really, I know for a fact the place used to be fairly nice--at least awesome for kids, and done well enough to be tolerated by parents. Is that model so cost-ineffective that future generations will be stuck with this sort of crap forever. I'm not so much waxing nostalgic for the old Chuck E Cheese as I am for the concept of a fun, kid-oriented pizza place that doesn't blow goats.
    Tommy, close your eyes.

  2. #2
    Did they at least have skee-ball?!

    I remember going to a Chuck-E-Cheese what had to have been over 15 years ago and remember it just as you've said. I can even picture it all in my head with all of the arcade games and the giant ball pit.

    As for the tokens I'm pretty sure they do it like that because they don't want some dumb retard child to play a game and not get tokens and feel like a "loser" so they make it so you win everytime regardless. I'm sure some lousy parents complained that it was bad for little Jimmy's self esteem to NOT win something.
    Up, up, and OKAAAAY!!!

  3. #3
    The one we took my daughter to in Virginia wasn't QUITE as bad as the one you went to, Chux, but it wasn't much better.

    The pizza was actualy preaty good, and as you said, better than I remembered it being. The show still used some anamatronic characters, but had much less of them than they did when I was a kid. However, they made up for this by having a blue screen that kids could run up to and pretend to be on TV, which Little Neuro hammed up for quite some time.

    It was actualy preaty clean and safe in appearance through out the entire building. The only mess I encountered was when another kid spilled their orange soda near us, but the staff quickly cleaned it up.

    The play area though was sevearly lacking compared to when I was a kid. They used to have a lot of preaty fun arcade games to entertain older people, as well as the ticket winning games, but they had maybe 3 raceing games, one of which was out of order, and that was it. Everything else was ticket games.

    They did have a large variety of games, though, so everyone (including adults) just decided we'd try to get as many tickets as we could possibly get so the kids could pick out some toys. We got a combined total of 600 tickets, which at first I thought was impressive. Unfortunately, it turned out that prises where lacking as you said, though not quite as bad. Yuna was able to get a small bag of pop rocks, a baloon, and an itty bitty neon rubber lizard with her share of the tickets. I wasn't impressed and thought their standards where just a touch high.

    It wasn't a bad experience for me though, as all of the kids really enjoyed it. It just wasn't set up to be as fun for most of the family as it used to, though.

  4. #4
    [QUOTE=Slicker;741106]Did they at least have skee-ball?!
    [QUOTE]

    They did have that, but they did not have a ball pit. I think that may be related to a study I read a few years ago about infections spreading in them. But I'm not really sure.

    In some ways I think that the world has sevearly gone overboard on safety. A lot of playgrounds I used to play in as a kid got ripped totaly out and now there's an empty field where they where due to no money to replace them. They where removed because the ground was too hard, so in the rare case a kid fell they may get hurt. Forget that I played on them as kids we survived. Stuff like that.

  5. #5
    It's just another case of people wanting someone else to take care of there children. Instead of letting your kid learn a lesson that the damn ground hurts when you hit it they just rip it out.

    Next thing you know they'll try and take a lesson from The Tick and make room temperature fire.
    Up, up, and OKAAAAY!!!

  6. #6
    Yes the chuck e cheese of the 80's has been dead since the 90's and a BDay party there cost me $400 just two years ago

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Slicker View Post
    Did they at least have skee-ball?!
    God I'd hope so, I know the two local Charles Cheese's both have it. (on a side note: I ROCK the skee ball!)

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter View Post
    Now, I didn't expect a cornucopia of 1980s games, but, dang, I figured they'd at least have one Super Mario Brothers or Galaga--something to occupy patrons over the age of 5 or 6. Nada.
    This shouldn't be much of a surprise. The Arcade market has been on the decline since the mid to late 80s and early to mid 90s. It is virtually a dead market today (like passengers travelling by train). Home consoles, due to both convenience and ever increasing technological advances, killed it off. Only a few new games are made anymore, mainly those that can't be easily replicated with home consoles (like dance games or light gun shooters). And older machines are difficult/expensive to maintain or replace due to a lack of parts, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter View Post
    The party area had a stage with animatronics, which looked like they were falling apart. They didn't actually do anything the entire time. Instead, there were two screens showing a DVD loop of various stuff. I know it was a DVD, because, at one point, someone apparently accidentally stopped the DVD player and it displayed "DVD Input" for a few minutes.

    The "show" consisted of a guy in a threadbare Chuck costume walking around onstage and pretending to be saying some lines being piped in over the loudspeaker.

    The pizzas weren't cut properly, and the employees told us they did not have knives. At least not real ones. We had to use disposable plastic knives to cut the pizza. And for cutting the cake, well, we had the option of using the same plastic knives or allowing an employee to take it in the back and cut it, with the warning that they'd probably mess it up.
    Sounds about right. Was that way throughout all the 90s and 00s when I went, though I do like the taste of their pizza.

    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter View Post
    In the end, we were stuck with lots of tickets. About 210. Even my four-year-old daughter couldn't find any crap for that amount. One crayon--not a small box, but one crayon--was 50 tickets. That part I always knew was a ripoff, but they at least used to have some small stuff for kids to spend tickets on. I guess the tradeoff of "a winner every game" is that it's next to impossible to save enough tickets to get even a Tootsie Roll. (Really. We couldn't "afford" a Tootsie Roll!)
    Also sounds about right. Usually they will let you get the higher up prizes, like exclusive Chuck E. Cheese themed Barbies or Hot Wheels through a combination of both tickets and money if you want. 1 ticket equals like a penny, so 210 tickets would be the equivalent of $2.10. So if they had a Barbie that cost $10 for example, you could of purchased it instead for $8.90 and 210 tickets.

    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter View Post
    They had to stamp everyone on entry, even the 3-week-old baby, and we couldn't leave without verifying the numbers. Really, if their stupid stamp wore out, were they going to try to stop me from leaving with a little girl who's calling me Daddy? I know they're trying to protect kids from kidnappers, but that's overboard. Maybe not TSA overboard, but definitely a bit much.
    Also sounds familiar, start doing that in the late 90s or early 00s. I don't think you have to worry to much about the stamp wearing out though unless you plan on living there for a week or two. I've tried to intentionally remove it by excessive force before and it takes great deal of effort and raw skin to do so.

    Quote Originally Posted by El Chuxter View Post
    Weirdest of all, I thought: the place served beer.
    This one is news to me. I don't recall them carrying beer the last time I went.

    Quote Originally Posted by Slicker View Post
    Did they at least have skee-ball?!
    Quote Originally Posted by JimJamBonds View Post
    God I'd hope so, I know the two local Charles Cheese's both have it. (on a side note: I ROCK the skee ball!)
    Mine still has skee ball. Our family has managed to get the combined jackpot on it at least on one or more occasions (usually between 1000 to 4000 tickets). They have those crappy weight tilt sensors in them now though. Obviously its an anti-cheating measure (prevent kids from just marching up the thing and putting balls in), but they do have their drawbacks to fair players as well. Especially while playing when little Timmy from two tables down decides to either walk across all the lanes or throw a ball too hard that it lands in your lane and tilting your game while in mid play.
    Rogue Squadron-19 Golds, Battle For Naboo-18 Platinums, Rogue Leader-15 Golds/15 Aces, Rebel Strike-19 Single Golds/19 Single Aces
    James Boba Fettfield & Lord Malakite's Video Game Collection

  9. #9
    That place was better when it was called Showbiz Pizza and they had the Dragon's Lair arcade game and my mom was having 10 of my friends from school celebrate my birthday. I still have one of the gifts...a Japanese solar powered (like a calculator) game given my by my karate instructor's son Billy. Dang thing still works after 25 some years.
    For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Chux
    Weirdest of all, I thought: the place served beer.
    The CeC in Green Bay serves beer
    Quote Originally Posted by Qui-Long Gone View Post
    That place was better when it was called Showbiz Pizza...
    Again to reference the Green Bay CeC it too used to be a Showbiz, Q-LG, did yours have a cheesy anamatronic animal band on a 'stage' in the eating area?

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