Visiting this Kendall man’s arcade is time travel for gamers

Stepping into Rick Medina’s Arcade Odyssey in Kendall feels like traveling back in time. 

Neon purples and bright yellows illuminate a venue packed wall-to-wall with arcade machines, their flashing screens and electronic jingles catching the eye and ringing the ears.

People who could be trying the latest games on their consoles, phones or computers rush to play classics like Pac-Man and Street Fighter II, getting a taste of the vintage arcade experience that Medina lived through.

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Medina considered arcades to be a cultural staple, but as decades passed and arcades faded from popular memory, he decided to bring back the dimly lit wonders he remembered back to South Florida.

“I remember I told my little brother, someday, I was hoping to have an arcade,” Medina said. “I was fascinated by them.”

For Medina, 55, arcade games are more than a business. In addition to running his game parlor, he retrofits rare and broken arcade machines as a hobby.

Video games have fascinated Medina since he was a kid growing up in Miami, and arcades used to be where he could play the latest and greatest.

He would regularly scrounge up pocket change and walk to the nearest arcade, which was about six to seven miles from home.

“I could have taken a bus, but that would’ve taken 50 cents away from my gaming budget,” said Medina.

Medina held on to his love of arcade games into his early 20s when he started an internet service provider business in 1989 with two other colleagues.

Medina’a warehouse of simulator video games. (Rafael Hernandez/Caplin News)

One Christmas, Medina was stumped on what to give his work partner, Ernie, for his holiday bonus.

As luck would have it, cone day after visiting a client he found himself driving past a warehouse filled with arcade cabinets. 

Inspiration struck. Medina tracked down a cabinet of Ernie’s favorite arcade game, Robocop, and bought it. Then, another realization: 

He wanted one for himself.

He went back to the same warehouse and left with 12 arcade cabinets loaded onto his truck. He turned his house into a makeshift arcade, with a machine in almost every room.

Then Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in August 1992.

With a portable generator and 100 Snickers bars, he provided his neighbors a place to play games like Mortal Kombat as they waited out the storm.

“I was a kid,” said Medina. “The most important things were chocolate bars, Gatorade, and arcade games.”

In the decades that followed, home gaming consoles and the internet caused many arcades to close across the country.

In 2011, he decided to take a chance and turn his passion into a business, opening Arcade Odyssey two days after Christmas.

Medina continued collecting video game memorabilia. Through his own purchases and donations from others, his collection grew big enough to fill one arcade and two warehouses. 

His collection includes hundreds of retro and modern arcade machines, as well as over 500 video game consoles with boxes of games accompanying each one.

Every machine in Arcade Odyssey comes from Medina’s personal collection. And he’s the technician who returns broken machines to working order.

Among his greatest success stories was the restoration of U235 Meltdown, a game he considers to be one of his most rare.

According to Medina, only 50 prototypes of that game were manufactured throughout 1986, and many had to be destroyed due to the game’s association with the then-recent Chernobyl disaster.

The goal of Meltdown was to stop a nuclear reactor from exploding.

Medina and his team found two Meltdown machines and used parts from both to make one working machine, putting it up in the arcade once it was completed.

The arcade is his passion, but it’s still kind of a side hustle. He also manages a network operating center that hosts other people’s internet servers. Some days he’s working on servers for businesses and fixing anything from a toilet to a vacuum at the arcade.

“When I’m done over here, I go to the arcade and repair over there. Repairing here, repairing there, repairing everywhere. I feel like Fix it Felix,” Medina said.

Some of the most cherished games in Medina’s personal collection are the ‘taikan’ motion simulator games, which move players in their seats as they play.

But Medina would never bring a taikan machine into his arcade.

After owning Arcade Odyssey for over a decade, he knows the risks of putting something so valuable out in public.

“You’ve spent all this time and all this money to bring this thing back only to put it in the place where you know you’re going to get 10 people jumping on it,” said Medina. “And if it breaks, you get a, ‘sorry.’”

Medina has seen it all, from people chucking air hockey pucks at each other, to art displays being smashed or stolen, to even couples performing sex acts inside his machines.

The arcade operated on a token system but switched to rechargeable cards in June after years of Medina and his team having to dislodge objects people shoved inside his machine’s coin slots.

Passion drives what Medina does for his business. His wife, Stacy, may not share his enthusiasm, but she understands it.

“He is his happiest when he has a machine that is somewhat working or not perfectly working and he brings it back to life,” Stacy Medina said. “And the enjoyment continues with other people being happy about it.”

Rafael Hernandez is a Venezuelan-American senior at Florida International University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in digital journalism. With a passion for writing, politics, and social issues, he hopes to achieve a career in the news media industry after graduating.