Thursday, March 3, 2011
Five Favorite 80s Arcade Classics That Arrived in Rural U.S.A.
In the time that I've been watching the video game industry, I'd be hard pressed to find a better time for the industry than right now. People can play video games either at home on their PCs or their game consoles, or they can play them on the go on hand held game systems, laptops, cell phones, or other portable media devices that are arriving on the market regularly. Then again, there's also the Internet, which hosts a wide variety of video games of its own and allows for vast multi-player experiences that were previously impossible.
Yet there was a time when the only places where people could see what video games could really do were the video game arcades, which were filled with vending machine-sized video game cabinets. Sure, the home consoles and PCs of that era did what they could to emulate the arcade experience, but it was at the arcades where video game companies could amaze the general public with the latest advancements in graphics and game play, all for 25 cents at a time.
For as big and bulky as they were, the quarter-eating game cabinets weren't limited to the arcades. Cabinets in smaller numbers could be found at a lot of different areas, including bars, movie theaters, restaurants and department stores (some of these business still have the arcade cabinets, but not in nearly the same numbers as before, and they largely have been relegated to places such as Chucky Cheese and Dave and Buster’s). Even though the rural town in which I grew up was pretty far away from the nearest shopping mall, we nevertheless had a local convenience store and a diner-hotel business that set aside small rooms for four to six arcade cabinets for a brief period in the mid-80s. Click below to see five of the best cabinet games that made it to my own little corner of nowhere (including links to game play footage on YouTube), the games that we would walk across town to play when we got bored with our Atari 2600s and had a few extra quarters to spend.
Game Plot: Pilot a helicopter to rescue hostages from desert compounds, various water craft, a volcanic cave, and futuristic rooftop prisons.
Details: Choplifter was much like Defender except with more diverse missions, a brighter color scheme, a creative usage of side-scrolling graphics that provided an effective illusion of depth, and less wonky controls (although I wouldn't recommend playing this game without a joystick). You could even accidentally shoot or land on hostages, which added to the game's difficulty.
Trivia: Of the games on this list, Choplifter has the most unique history. It started as a game by Broderbund for PCs and home consoles during the early 80s, and it only had one mission level set in the desert that ended when you rescued all of the hostages or all of your helicopters were shot down by planes, tanks or "air mines". When Sega revamped the game for the arcades in the mid-80s, they added three more mission environments and a variety of new obstacles and enemies, such as anti-aircraft guns and enemy soldiers with jet packs. When it came time to port Choplifter to the home consoles in the latter half of the 80s, the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System got the arcade version while the Atari 7200, which was mostly known for arcade game ports, somehow got stuck with the original, blander Broderbund version. Way to go there, Atari.
Sequels?: Yes. Choplifter was followed by Choplifter II and Choplifter III, but those were only released for the home consoles and portable systems.
Game Plot: Use your martial arts skills to rescue your girlfriend Sylvia from Mr. X and his army of assassins.
Details: This was the first button-mashing fighter game that I played. It was also the first that had "Level Bosses", a now-clichéd game play feature where a level ends with the defeat of some super villain (as opposed to the hordes of lesser henchmen you kick and punch off the screen).
Trivia: When I looked at this game for the first time, I couldn't help but to be reminded of a Bruce Lee movie. It turns out that I was almost right: According to Wikipedia, Kung-Fu Master incorporates many details that are similar to Bruce Lee's Game of Death. This game has also been said to have been based on the Jackie Chan movie Wheels on Meals.
Sequels?: Not officially, but the I-Mockery site released their own Christmas themed variation of this game called Santa Fu, which you can play for free here.
Legend of Kage
Game Plot: As Kage, use your ninja skills to rescue Princess Kiri from the villains Yoshi and Yuki.
Details: While it wasn't the most popular ninja-themed game of its time, Legend of Kage featured fast and frenetic game play and memorable theme music. It was also pretty violent (albeit gore-free): Even though you only had two kinds of weapons at your disposal--two knives for short-range attacks and an unlimited supply of throwing stars--you could keep the bad guys dropping like flies by the dozen as long as you kept mashing the action buttons.
Trivia: If Kung-Fu Master was like a Bruce Lee movie, then Legend of Kage was like a wire-fu movie from Hong Kong set in the medieval era, complete with heroes and villains who can perform superhuman jumps to dizzying heights. You could almost hear the poor, overloud English dubbing as you fight off wave after wave of high-jumping ninjas that fly at you from every direction.
Sequels?: A 3-D version of Legend of Kage was part of a 2006 compilation called Taito Legends Power Up for the PSP. The sequel Legend of Kage 2 was released for the Nintendo DS in 2008.
Game Plot: As the plumber Mario, team up with your brother Luigi to remove a variety of pests from the sewers, such as turtles, crabs, and jumping flies.
Details: The game play in Mario Bros. was very similar to Joust, but with a lesser emphasis on competition and a wider variety of enemies and obstacles. Overall, what set this game apart from other arcade games of its time was its cartoon-like presentation: bright colors, chirpy music and sound effects (you could even hear Mario and Luigi's shoes squeaking against the platforms as they raced around the sewer), fun two-player game play, and iconic characters. While Mario Bros. is very simple in comparison to other Mario games, it still holds up well as an example of uncomplicated, addictive arcade fun.
Trivia: Even though Mario first appeared in Donkey Kong and then Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros. was the first game that had his name on it. It also introduced his brother Luigi and motifs that would become recurring staples in future Mario games: turtles, fireballs, coins, POW boxes, and green pipes.
Sequels?: Are you kidding?
Game Plot: Playing as Mr. Do, a circus clown, dig tunnels underground to collect all of the cherries available on each level while avoiding red and blue monsters that you can kill by either using your bouncing power ball or dropping giant apples on them, all while can-can music plays in the background. Seriously.
Details: Mr. Do! clearly hails from an age where addictive game play and colorful, unique graphics took priority over anything that looked real or sane. Not that this is a bad thing but it's obvious that the more complex video games get in terms of graphics and game play, the less likely we'll see the inspired lunacy that is Mr. Do!. Even in comparison to other similar games of its time, games such as Pac-Man and Dig Dug, Mr. Do! is pretty out there in terms of overall concept and yet highly addictive in terms of game play. Mr. Do's power ball, which behaves kind of like Tron's light disc, is a pretty fun weapon, and the means by which to obtain extra lives is straightforward enough that you can't help be to want to play again and again.
Trivia: The manufacturer of Mr. Do! and its sequels was one of the casualties of the video game crash of 1983, which essentially meant the end of the Mr. Do! series.
Sequels?: Mr. Do! had three sequels released for the arcades: Mr. Do's Castle (a.k.a. Mr. Do vs. The Unicorns), Mr. Do's Wild Ride, and Do! Run Run. Mr. Do! was later remade for the Neo Geo game system in 1996 and released as Neo Mr. Do!.