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Pizza playgrounds

A cheesy new player has joined central Arkansas' lineup of 'eat first, play later' venues

By Werner Trieschmann

This article was published August 29, 2008 at 2:57 a.m.

— There is no way to underestimate the power

of the token.

The golden token rules. So what if a single

coin is valued at a mere 25 cents, it is worth so more - at least it is in the growing gdom called Pizza and Games. The oken can buy you a world of adventure and the chance to win tickets that you can redeem for prizes. Yes, prizes! Who cares if the prizes are generally worth less than the cost of a single token?

They are prizes!

As for the pizza, well, it can fill you . That is if you can sit still long enough t it, and considering the flashing, glittering, bing-bonging, vrooming attractions and distractions, that isn't a given.

Central Arkansas has options to the rising token mania. Retly a huge new player in the marketplace opened its doors.

It joined a pair of restaurants that have been in the game for a little bit longer.

PLAYTIME PIZZA There's no getting around e fact that Playtime Pizza, h opened earlier this month, is enormous. Entering the giant, twostory game palace that sits behind the Rave Theater feels very much like walking into an amusement park. You stand in line at the entrance to pay for the buffet and, if you want, a plastic that will serve as your standor hauling around tokens in cup. To your right is the line for the food (pizza, of course, along with pasta, salads, a baked-potato bar, desserts and drinks) and to your left is, well, the reason you came.

Playtime's Web site claims 0 games, but once inside you wear there are more. On the bottom floor, the two big attractions are

the go-cart track and the bumper cars. The go

cart track is an oval but the cars go fast enough

to make it a genuine thrill ride. The bumper cars

are less satisfying as there are too many cars and

not room to get up a head of steam and bump

somebody.

The bottom floor also has easier games and

a play area with colorful mats for your crawler

or toddler. But maybe you'll be in awe of the

huge crane game where you can try to acquire

a stuffed SpongeBob SquarePants the size of a

golden retriever.

Upstairs the games become more sophisticat

ed and more animated (though, bless Playtime

Pizza's heart, they do have a couple of honest

to-goodness pinball machines - however we

couldn't help but notice that nobody was playing

them). The black-light minigolf game is up here

as well as the not-yet-in-operation laser-tag game

(a person who answered the phone at Playtime

says that game will be working "in a week or

so"). Maybe the most fun upstairs can be had at

the minibowling alley that is about half the size

of a regular alley with a ball that can fit in the

palm of your hand. It has bumpers so your child

can fling the ball and still knock down pins with

abandon.

The great upside of Playtime Pizza - the

vast size and number of attractions - is also a

detriment if you happen to be persnickety aboutkeeping track of your children. Heaven help the parents who are outnumbered and can't play man-to-man defense. The prices for the games vary, with the big draws like the go-carts costing $5 and some of the baby games going for less than 25 cents.

Also, it should be noted that you can't go to Playtime Pizza only to play games. Admission is the cost of a buffet. The pizza is an odd combination of doughy and spicy. It's in no way great, but we have paid for worse. Our trick was getting our distracted game-player to sit still long enough to look at his food, much less eat it.

Cost for buffet: $8.99 adults, $6.99 for children ages 4-12, free for children ages 3 and under Address: 600 Colonel Glenn Plaza Loop, Little Rock, (501) 227-7529 Hours: 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday CHUCK E. CHEESE'S Perhaps the whiskers of this chain's famous rodentlike mascot are shaking because of the new competition. A banner outside the Rodney Parham location boasts of a new lineup of onetoken games.

Inside - which you can enter even if you don't care to eat but will require a hand stamp - is a low-ceilinged space that's crammed with games. In the very back is the old animatronic show with a stuffed Chuck E. waving stiffly, but that's not where the action is anymore. The Wave Motion Theatre ride - a sort of virtual roller coaster with a big screen and two chairs that vibrate and tilt back - is one of the star attractions. There's also a crazy jungle safari shooting game that begins with an animated clip before bugs the size of an SUV appear. Making them splatter and scatter with the laser gun is quite satisfying.

Unlike Playtime Pizza, which emphasizes the plastic card over the token, Chuck E. Cheese's is still all about the gold coins. Sure, they can be a pain to carry around even in the small plastic cups the restaurant gives away, but there is something tangible about the tokens that gives them an appeal. Also, the machine where you redeem your tickets by feeding them into a slot makes a crunching sound as if Chuck E. is eatingthem. That's kind of cute.

The less said about Chuck's pizza the better. Along this line, during our last visit, we hit upon a plan that we are going to use as a model for future visits. Instead of going during lunch or dinner, we made our stop in the afternoon where the only food that was required was a snack. The Rodney Parham location has an ice cream machine where you can pick Popsicles or ice cream bars for $1 each. So, in one stroke, we had a cheaper and more edible Chuck E.

Cheese's trip.

Address: 10901 Rodney Parham Road, (501) 227-8363 Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday LARRY'S PIZZA WEST The game room at Larry's Pizza out west on Cantrell Road can't compete in size and number of attractions with Playtime Pizza or Chuck E.

Cheese's. But there are numerous arguments for Larry's as a place to get your token and pizza fix. First off, the pizza is considerably better and, for this, parents can be grateful. Should you hit Larry's when the buffet is open, servers walk around the room with choices, which range from standard pepperoni to dessert pizzas. So you can let the kids play while you remain permanently parked and watch sports highlights on one of the numerous TVs. Yea.

And while Larry's square game room isn't a warehouse, it's doubtful your hyped-up gamer will care or notice. You, however, will care because the small space means you don't have to watch your precious children like a hawk. Still, there's enough to distract including three Skee-Ball games, race-car games and other diversions where you can win tickets and get that all important piece of 5-cent candy. If you don't think this matters to a toddler, then you don't have one.

Cost for dinner buffet: $7.69 for adults, $4.99 for children ages 5 to 11, free for children 4 and under Hours for dinner buffet: 5-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday Address: 12911 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 224-8804 Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

Weekend, Pages 68 on 08/29/2008

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