This past Sunday brought an unfortunate surprise: Chinatown Fair, the last arcade in Chinatown and the best arcade in New York City, shut down.
Chinatown Fair was in business for many years, and it saw the arcade boom of the 1980s, the fighting-game craze of the early 1990s, and the lean times of the past decade. Arcades grew less and less important to the game industry in the last ten years, with most small mom-and-pop operations giving way to franchises like Dave and Buster’s and other attempts at grown-up versions of Chuck E. Cheese.
Yet Chinatown Fair stuck around, and it was a gathering point for anyone who was in New York with an interest in fighting games. To step into Chinatown Fair was to return to the 1990s, when arcades were full of kids getting upset and excited and savagely competitive over the latest fighting game. The Fair also kept up to date. In an age when most new arcade fighters are hard to find in the wild, you could count on Chinatown Fair to have BlazBlue and Super Street Fighter IV. Their last acquisition was The King of Fighters XIII, a game that might only ever exist in arcade form, if rumors about SNK's fortunes are true.
I enjoyed seeing big-name arcade fighters at Chinatown Fair, but my favorite thing about the place was the chance to play games I’d rarely see anywhere else. Few arcades outside of Japan would have Melty Blood or Arcana Heart or the swiftly dismissed Rage of the Dragons running, but Chinatown Fair did. In fact, it’s The Rumble Fish 2 that I remember best. The Rumble Fish 2 is an largely unremarkable Dimps-made fighter with a routine lineup of characters (except for the old guy in the Hawaiian shirt). It’s the sort of standard fighter that I probably wouldn’t give a second look in MAME, but I always dropped a buck into it when I visited Chinatown Fair. It’s not every arcade that keeps The Rumble Fish 2 around. And it’s not every arcade that’s a genuine loss when it closes.