Aug 6, 2023

Video Armageddon At The Drive-In

Video Game Weekend 2023Super Mario Bros
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
It's Video Game Weekend at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater, and this years event not only features one of the most notorious films ever made, but the lot is chock full of things that any gamer of any age or skill level would enjoy.

The poster for this weekend's event is pretty bad ass!  It was designed by artist Tom Bifulco in the style of box artwork of a Super Nintendo game, and it features drawings of Bob Hoskins firing the Super Scope.. er, I mean the de-evolution gun, and John Leguizamo holding a SNES controller while contemplating if it's hypocritical for an actor who isn't an Italian-American to accept a role as one while complaining to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen about any other performer who plays a role that doesn't mirror their lives off-camera.  That last part isn't really a reflection of something that Mr. Leguizamo is likely to have ever considered, but it should be.

The t-shirt for the weekend was also designed by Mr. Bifulco, and I like it even more than the poster.  It's designed to look like one of the original "black box" games that were released in the earliest years of the Nintendo Entertainment System.

In addition to the feature film, Video Game Weekend includes a vendors market, vintage arcade cabinets from the Retroware Arcade in Lansdale, and a tournament that would allow players to compete against each other on the drive-in screen.

There's also a traveling photo op in the form of my friend Louie, who dressed up as Mario on Saturday and Luigi today, and if you think he didn't do the character voices when he posed for photos with fans, you'd be wrong.  He also filmed a couple of videos as Mario and Luigi that you can watch on Instagram.

I'm not going to try to change your mind, dude, but... nooooo.  I did, however, approach the table to sign up for two of the video game competitions that were being held: the Super Mario Bros speedrun, and the Mario Kart 64 racing tournament.

I've got 37 years of experience playing the original Super Mario Bros game and I'm pretty darn good at it.  When I played it with my maternal grandmother when I was a kid, I would sometimes put the controller on the floor and play the game with my feet, just so that she'd get a turn to play in a reasonable amount of time.  I wouldn't say that I was good playing it that way, but I was able to get through 1-1 and 1-2 without losing a life, which amused my grandmother to no end. 

I practiced my speedrun at home in the days leading up to this event, and while I'm not nearly good enough to finish the game in under five minutes, I managed to clear the game a few times in a time that I felt was good enough to put in a respectable performance with a halfway decent chance of winning the tournament.

In contrast, I am absolutely terrible at Mario Kart 64 (and every other Mario Kart game for that matter), but I've been playing it since the month that it came out and it's a hell of a lot of fun, so I signed up for that one just for the opportunity to play it on the big screen at the Mahoning.

I didn't take any photos of the vendor tables, but I did find a few pretty awesome games at reasonable prices, including a boxed Tiger LCD Handheld Electronic Pinball game (center) and four Famicom cartridges: Kamen Rider Club: Gekitotsu Shocker Land (top left), Kinnikuman: Muscle Tag Match (bottom left), Seikima II Akuma no GyakushÅ« (top right) and Gradius (bottom right).

Seikima II is the one that I'm looking forward to playing the most.  It's a game that was released in 1986 that's based on a Japanese Satanic heavy metal band.  I didn't realize this when I bought it.  The label art made it look like it might have something to do with Kiss, but I'm pretty excited to play it and to learn more about the game and the band behind the game.

The entire lot was decked out in video game decorations and other memorabilia.  My favorite of these were the row of arcade machines that were lined up in the concession building.  They included Donkey Kong 3, Gradius, Atari RBI Baseball, Mr Do's Castle, and Popeye.  They were all set to free play, and I spent some time getting acquainted with a few old favorites, including a two player game against Gene's son, Ben, who had never seen or played Gradius before.

Our group of friends that came together this season spent most of the pre-show sitting in a big circle directly under the screen, which not only helped to provide some shade from the sun, but also gave us some space to spread out away from the hustle and bustle of the lot.  We moved our seats back to the center of the lawn before the movie started, which is quickly becoming my favorite place on the grounds to watch a movie.

Gene is known for bringing carrots that are peeled and individually wrapped in tinfoil as his snack at the drive-in.  In honor of this, Kate surprised him with his very own crocheted carrot which was given to him wrapped in tinfoil.

Joe La Scola and Sean O'Rourke from the Movie Dumpster podcast were on hand throughout the day to meet the fans and to introduce the film, including a clip that they played with Rodney Dangerfield executing the Triple Lindy dive through the warp zone from the 1993 Super Mario Bros movie.

At sundown, we all enjoyed a screening of an original 35mm print of the 1993 Super Mario Bros film.  I've said it before and I'll say it again - this is a terrible movie.  There are a lot of folks who have come out of the woodwork to retroactively defend this film, and quite frankly, I don't think that even these people believe what they say.  I will say that it's an enjoyable experience but it's fun for the same reason as movies like Troll 2 and Mac and Me are fun - the story is ridiculous and the writing is absurd on a level that few other movies can match.  It also bears only the most passing resemblance to the video game universe, which was the reason why literally no kid that I knew in the 90's... not one... had anything positive to say about it when it came up in conversation.

Having said all that, watching this movie in 2023 is a hell of a lot of fun.  It fits in perfectly with cult classics like Abraxas, Fortress, Pod People, or any other cheesy and over-the-top sci-fi flicks from the 70's, 80's and 90's.  If anything, I think that its association with the video game franchise holds it back from fans who have a hard time appreciating it for its wackiness without constantly asking themselves "what does this have to do with the game".  If you're a fan of movies that are so bad that they're good, I strongly recommend it.  If that kind of movie isn't your cup of tea, or if you want something that reflects the story of the video game series (even as it existed back in 1993), the 2023 animated film is the one that you want.

There was an intermission reel after the movie ended, followed by the Super Mario Bros portion of the video game tournament.  There was a pretty serious lag between the control inputs and the action that took place on the screen.  I probably would have done better if I was a little more slow and deliberate, but since this was meant to be a speed run, I was rushing through and couldn't get my timing down.  I managed to make it to World 4-2, which was respectable enough to win a prize, but not quite good enough to win the tournament.

I figured that we were just playing for fun and for bragging rights on the lot, so it was very cool of them to give us prizes.  I was given these nice New Super Mario Bros U figures, and a ticket book with five all-day passes to the Retroware Arcade.  Mike, Kate, Angie, and I are going to head down to the arcade later on this year after the end of the drive-in season.

Thankfully, they solved the controller lag problem for the Mario Kart 64 portion of the tournament by plugging four corded GameCube controllers directly into the Switch console that was hooked up to the digital projector.  I managed to finish in second place for the first race, but I'm not very good at all at Mario Kart 64, so I finished in fourth place for every other race after that.  It was still a hell of a lot of fun to race on the big screen at the drive-in.

The last game of the tournament was Super Smash Bros Ultimate.  I haven't played any of the games from this series before so I sat out of this part of the tournament but it was a lot of fun watching everyone play.  The first matchup of the tournament put Louie up against Ben.  The two of them had been engaging in friendly smack talk all day long, so the tournament bracket worked out perfectly.

Ben took the victory against Louie and he went on to win Round 2 as well, but it was nearly 3:00 am by that point and both he and Gene were ready to call it a night.  Next year, I think it might be a good idea to set up a few televisions with game consoles on the lot to allow many players to compete against each other at the same time, with maybe the semi-finals and the finals taking place on the big screen.  I don't think anybody expected it to go as late as it did, but it was still a hell of a lot of fun with a lot of laughs as we watched the tournament unfold.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

And that's a wrap on the 2023 Video Game Weekend at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater... at least for me.

The gaming market and the on-screen tournament is continuing today, and while they'll be playing different games tonight, the movie will once again be a screening of Super Mario Bros from 1993.  We probably would have gone again if they showed a different movie, like maybe The Wizard, or Joysticks, or even something on the newer side from the digital booth like Pixels or Free Guy.  However, for as much as I love this place, I can't think of any event that would bring me out see the same movie two nights in a row, especially when there are so many other options they could have gone with.  We'll be back on Tuesday for The Naked Gun.