My boss had his daughter's second birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's last weekend. I was pretty excited because it would be my daughter's first birthday party, and also it was Chuck E. Cheese's. When I was much younger, I had a lot of birthday's at Chuck E. Cheese and other similar places. Those were the good days of pizza and plenty of unrated video games. So, I guess I was expecting a bit of nostalgia instead of the experience I got.
First, is the kid check in. Now this is by no means a bad thing, and is pretty appreciated now that I am a parent. When you drag your kid in, there is a check-in/check-out booth that stamps you and your kid with black-light ink. The stamp is a number, so if you want to take a kid out of the place, your numbers have to match.
The second thing amiss was the lack of the animatronic band. That was great. You had a whole swath of characters in the Chuck E. Cheese band constantly playing their tunes and telling jokes. Now there was one animatronic Chuck E. Cheese by himself. They did replace the rest with a sort of green-screen dance floor where kids could go dance with a dressed-up Chuck E. and see themselves on a video screen with a digital background. The only problem was that unlike the automated animatronic band that could be a constant (yet repetitive) entertainment, the entertainment for this area was only active when the hosts were present.
The video games were also different. I remember days of Ghosts'n'Goblins sitting next to Rampart and shooting games galore. This Chuck E. Cheese definitely had nothing but G-rated games. Some were fun, such as OutRun SP on a gigantic flat screen, but most of it was definitely lacking. Most of the video games were not replaced by quick-thrill ticket games, such as punch-the-rubber-ducky-in-the-head-by-pressing-a-button game. The most disappointing change to the games was skeeball. Instead of the nice long lanes and wooden balls, the lanes were very short and the balls were a cheap plastic.
The nail in the coffin was just how cookie-cutter the service had become. It was apparent that our birthday time coencided with 2 other birthdays, so that they would only have to do the show once. But, even worse than that was how quickly the whole operation was. Get there at 2:00, pizza at 2:30, Chuck E. at 3:00, clear your table by 3:30. So, if you wanted to stay and play, you had to pack everything up to the cars because now you didn't have a table.
It was a sad day to see such a great childhood memory become so sanitized. I guess that is the way of things with child-snatchers, parent groups suing against violent video games, and the rising cost of teenager help (heh). I don't think I will be taking my daughter there on her birthdays.