At Tipsy Pixels, it's retro game on

MICHAEL RIETMULDER | Updated 2/7/2013

Tipsy Pixels video-game tournament brings Smash Bros. to Triple Rock.

A cartridge of Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64.

As elite NFL athletes do gridiron battle during Sunday’s Super Bowl, another class of competitors will clash in a Minneapolis bar. The Super Bowl’s stakes may be higher, but contestants in the monthly video-game tournament Tipsy Pixels also play to win, said the event’s co-producer, Art Allen.

“No one goes in and gives it a half-hearted attempt,” Allen said. “There’s a lot of leaning and very intense stares. Their gaze cannot be broken.”

Since launching last August, Tipsy Pixels has steadily built a following with its classic video-game contests in the laid-back bar setting of the Triple Rock Social Club. Creator Pete Basgen, 27, describes the club as being packed “shoulder to shoulder” during last month’s Mario Kart 64 tourney. He said the 48-player field filled up in 20 minutes and some people had to be turned away.

Part of the event’s allure, Basgen said, is re-creating a youthful pastime shared by late Gen Xers and millennials. “There are a lot of nostalgic things that unite kids of the ’90s,” Basgen said. “But unlike TV shows or books that we all read, [gaming] is interactive.”

Playing to a largely twentysomething demographic, game selections are often culled from the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 systems.

On Sunday, up to 32 controller clutchers will digitally duke it out on a big projection screen in the cartoonish fighting game Super Smash Bros. These bouts for 64- or 16-bit supremacy are rewarded with more than bragging rights. Prizes include free drinks, classic games and systems, and tickets to Triple Rock shows.

The Tipsy Pixels concept was hammered out over two-for-one whiskeys in Basgen and Allen’s usual booth at Liquor Lyle’s. The longtime friends were reminiscing about retro games when Basgen mused about turning the normally sofa-stationed activity into an onstage spectacle. They brought on Nels Lennes of the Huge Improv Theater to provide color commentary, as players sit on the Triple Rock stage in front of onlookers and sometimes hecklers.

Basgen recalled last month when one player parlayed a known glitch in the game into an unscrupulous short cut. “Immediately the whole crowd turned on this guy. It was the first and only time we’ve ever heard boos,” Basgen said. “Do not cheat in this bar full of tipsy people.”

But being in a bar, boozier means of gamesmanship are above-board. “During the ‘Street Fighter’ tournament we had a guy who, anytime it was his turn to play, he’d find out who his challenger was and buy them a shot,” Basgen said.

“And of course the shots were never refused,” chimed in Allen.

With Tipsy Pixels, Basgen and Allen have created a hit with grown-up vid-kids. It turns out nostalgia tastes even sweeter with a full bar.

Tipsy Pixels 6: Super Smash the Super BOwl

When: 7 p.m. Sun.

Where: Triple Rock Social Club, 629 Cedar Av. S., Mpls.

Tickets: $5 to play; free to watch.