Before I crack on with this one, I just want to give a quick shout-out to fellow creator; Roddybw and his article on 90s arcade gaming: The Real Reason You Loved '90s Arcade Games: No Online Play
Its a great read and it was that very article that got me reminiscing about my childhood and 80s arcades. So here I'd like to take a look at the 80s arcades and the games I grew up playing that shaped me into the gamer I am today.
At First - They Were Dark, Dingy, Dank Places
Back in the late 70s and early 80s - 'gaming' was a dirty word. Arcades were often hidden away down back-alleys or tucked away in basements. They all had a strange, sweaty odour as young children and spotty teenagers poured coin upon coin into those ever hungry arcade cabinets.
The sights, sounds and yes - the smells of those early 80s arcades are something I miss. By the mid 80s, the 'dirty' gaming stigmata had almost died off and arcades began to come out of the shadows. They would appear on seafronts in bright light or on high streets among 'normal' buildings. Gaming was starting to be taken a little more seriously and the arcade boom began.
Right now, I'm going to take you on a journey through a decade of arcade gaming, year by year but only chose two games per year - starting with the original gaming mascot.
Pac-Man, originally titled Puck-Man. But the name was changed for the western market as it was feared that the name could easily be 'modified' on the cabinet to something more risque. A simple enough game where you just have to guide Pac-Man to eat all the dots/pellets on the screen while avoiding the ghosts. But that satisfaction of gobbling up a power pill so you can then eat the ghosts is one of the all time gaming classic moments.
Pac-Man was a revelation when it was released. The late 70s and early 80s saw a slew of space shooters hit arcades with the likes of Space Invaders and Asteroids. So this new genre of maze game was a breath of fresh air. Pac-Man marks a lot of 'firsts' in gaming as it was the first game to feature cut-scenes, first to feature AI with the different personalities of the ghosts and Pac-Man became the first ever gaming mascot with a ton of merchandise that featured that happy yellow chap.
Rally-X was another game that brought some gaming firsts. First game to feature background music and the first game with a special bonus round. Rally-X shared some similarities with Pac-Man with it being another maze game only this time with multi-directional scrolling. With you controlling the red car while you try to collect all the flags as the red cars try to stop you.
There isn't much that can be said about Donkey Kong that has not already been said a thousand times over. The game that made Nintendo a worldwide conquering game developer/publisher, the game that introduced the world to Mario and of course Donkey Kong himself. This game was one I often spent my hard earned pocket money on as I tried to master jumping those damn barrels. The amazement that hit me when - after reaching the top and saving the girl, another and different level appeared. As back then we were used to games with one screen/level or the same screen just slightly modified. Donkey Kong changed all of that with its four very different stages.
One of the many, many, many space shooters inspired by Space Invaders and this was one of the better ones too. Not only could you move left and right but you could also move forward and backward... this was revolutionary back in 1981. Unlike other similar games of the time - GORF (Galactic Orbiting Robot Force) featured different 'missions' that added variety with different enemies. If you managed to complete all five stages, you would earn a new rank and the game would restart on a higher difficulty. My fondest memory of GORF was the use of an early synthesised speech to heckle you as you played or the demo/attract screen that would tempt you to play by saying "insert coin".
Jungle Hunt/King was as close to playing an Indiana Jones game as we could get in 1982. With you playing as either a hat wearing adventurer or Tarzan like character depending on which version you played. You were tasked with 'rescuing the girl', a more simple a plot device you could not have. You started out swinging on vines before diving into the water to avoid crocodiles before running up a hill jumping and dodging boulders. Then lastly - you have to evade cannibals and save the girl before she is lowered into a cauldron. This game is notable for two reasons. First it was one of the first to use parallax scrolling that added depth to the graphics and second... that damn music that I still can;t get out of my head 35 years later.
"Prepare to qualify". How I loved Pole Position and this is probably the main title that got me into racing games. You had to qualify for the race by doing a lap of the Fuji Racetrack - as long as you managed a time between 90 and 120 seconds, you made it into the main race. Here, you'd have to go up against seven other CPU controlled cars who you'd have to overtake while trying not to crash into the billboards scattered around the track. Its blisteringly fast, pseudo-3D graphics were amazing and the explosion that took over the screen when you crashed are some of my favourite gaming memories.
This game was eye meltingly awesome. As a Star Wars fan in the early 80s - blowing away tie-fighters and doing the infamous Death Star trench run was pretty much the greatest thing ever! Using digitised voice samples taken directly from the movie and of course the iconic music too. The sharp, 3D vector graphics amazed everyone back then and of you were lucky enough to have one of the sit-down arcade cabinets to play in - Star Wars was the pinnacle of arcade gaming in 1983.
Cue the Peter Gun theme tune - Spy Hunter is an all time classic. Originally developed to be a James Bond tie in but when the publisher failed to get the license - they just released the game with a new name. Still you can see the James Bond influence as you play a super spy with a car full of weapons and gadgets which you would use to take out the numerous enemy vehicles. The scenery would change the further you got into the game and you could even use a boat if you took the correct path when a fork in the road would appear. Simple, destructive fun.
Karate Champ can easily be credited as being the grandfather of the one on one beat em' up genre. I mean, two fighters each wearing a white or red karate gi - Ryu and Ken anyone? This game was unique with its control system as you had two joysticks and would have to use a combination of the various directions to pull off the moves. Karate Champ was a tough game with a steep difficulty curve, but it was also a game that rewarded you if you put the time and effort in to learn its strategic fighting gameplay.
More face punching action with Kung-Fu Master. Originally released in Japan as Spartan X and was meant to be a tie in to the Jackie Chan flick Wheels on Meals. The game was also inspired by the Bruce Lee film Game of Death with its pagoda setting and the protagonist having to fight his way to the top with each level being guarded by a boss with his own fighting style. Brilliant button mashing fun that is still a very playable game today.
Capcom really raised the game when they released Ghosts n' Goblins. It was dark, moody and a hell of a tough game that still gives old timey gamers nightmares today. With you playing as Sir Arthur having to fight his way through hordes of zombies, ogres, demons and even face the devil himself. As you make your way through a variety of stages to save the kidnapped princess - you'll come across numerous weapons to aid you in your quest. This was action/platforming gaming at its finest with an infamous ending that tormented gamers for years.
Hang-On blew people away when it was originally released. It looked amazing, it was silky smooth and fast. One of THE defining racing games. But best of all was the unique control system which had you sitting on a full sized bike which you would have to tilt left and right to direct the action on the screen. It was motion controls over two decades before motion controls became popular.
Sega already caught the attention of the arcade gamer with Hang-On and they then blew all expectations away the following year with Out Run. Switching super bikes with a Ferrari Testarossa and the barren scenery with lush, beautiful and varied graphics. Out Run may not have been the first real arcade racer, but it was the best. Everything about this game just worked from its amazing graphics to its awesome music - I still can't get Magical Sound Shower out of my head even today, thanks to composer Hiroshi Kawaguchi.
Rolling Thunder, one of the most loved and yet most overlooked arcade games ever created. Fast and frantic shooting/platform action with you playing as Albatross, a member of the World Crime Police Organisation. You jump, shoot and dodge your way through ten stages of endless henchmen as you fight your way toward the head of a terrorist organisation and rescue your partner. Said to be the precursor to one of Namco's other franchises, Time Crisis - Rolling Thunder is a rip-roaring action game jam-packed with action.
Not as famous or as popular as its sequel - The original Street Fighter is still worth mentioning as I had fond memories of playing this when I was younger. It was like no other fighter before it, the characters, the graphics and of course those infamous special moves. Plus the original cabinets had those pressure-sensitive rubber pads where the harder you pressed them, the harder the character in-game would hit. These cabinets were rare as they would break from people hitting the buttons too hard.
Now we are talking. If you ever wanted to live out an Arnold Schwarzenegger fantasy in 1987, then Operation Wolf was pretty much as close as you could get. This game was just sublime and cracking good fun. With a cabinet that featured an Uzi 9mm replica as your controller. You played as a lone wolf commando shooting his way through hordes of bad guys and saving hostages. This light-gun game even featured simulated recoil for the gun to add realism. Plus to get more ammo - you'd have to shoot chickens and pigs... because I think that is how it works in real-life too.
Part man, part machine - all game. Robocop was based on the movie of the same name. Using several of the film's assets including memorable villains like ED-209 as well a speech samples taken right from the flick itself. Robocop was an action shooter that became one of the most loved arcade games of 1987.
Splatterhouse was hugely inspired by classic horror films such as Friday the 13th. You play as Rick, a parapsychology student who is trapped inside a mansion full of zombies, ghosts and other horrific nasties. You have to make your way through the mansion in order to save your girlfriend, Jennifer. Each level is full of blood, gore and numerous monsters as well as weapons you can use to smash, slash and slaughter as many evil entities as you could manage. At the time, Splatterhouse was the most bloody game made.
Originally developed as a sequel to Street Fighter - Final Fight was cracking two-player beat em' up and one of the most fondly remembered classic games. With you playing as one of the three main characters: Haggar, Cody, and Guy. Each having their own fighting style and attributes. You fight you way through the varying stages of of Metro City taking down henchmen and bosses along the way toward your main gold of rescuing Jessica, the daughter of the mayor of the city and playable character, Mike Haggar.
Arcade racing games were just that... arcade. Then Hard Drivin' was released and it changed everything. This game was tough and most people stayed away from it because of its 'realistic' nature. Hard Drivin' was billed as 'The world's first authentic driving simulation game.', and for an arcade game... it was. Unlike Out Run where you could pretty much drive as fast as you wanted, Hard Drivin' required you to be a bit more cautious and take note of speed signs at the side of the road. If a sign said 60 mph... you'd better pay attention. The game featured two race tracks, one designed for speed and one for stunts - complete with jumps and a loop. The cabinet itself was equipped with a force feedback steering wheel and even a realistic manual gearbox, including a clutch pedal. This one was not for arcade race fans as its gameplay style was vastly different. But once you got used to the simulation style driving, it was one of the best racing games of the 80s.
The End Of An Era
And so this ends my look back at my favourite decade of arcade gaming. But I have hardly scratched the surface of what 80s arcades had to offer - I could go on and on, but this article would be way too long.
The well walked on carpets, the cigarette smoke filled air, the sights and sounds of the arcade are some of my fondest memories as a kid growing up through the 80s and hanging around in these places shaped me into the gamer I am today.
There are so many great and much loved 80s arcade games I didn't mention. So let me know in the comments below what some of your favourite 80s arcade games.