Missing in Action is an editorial mini-series we are running discussing genres that have all but disappeared in today’s arcade releases, taking a backseat to light-gun shooters or racers. We do not think that the arcade industry benefits from the lack of variety on the scene and would love to see some new titles from other genres that fit perfectly into arcade-style gaming. The previous article discussed Space Combat titles and today we are taking a look at the puzzle game.
A little History
The very first puzzle game on record of the KLOV arcade game database is Computer Othello (1978) by Nintendo and the last puzzle title was released in arcades according to the same site was Star Trigon(2002) by Nintendo. The real heyday for puzzle games hit shortly after Tetris came onto the scene in 1988, with many releases in 1990 and 1996 but new titles began to taper off after 97 until we no longer saw any new puzzle games to the scene after 2002.
The arcade has been the first home to some great puzzle classics with Tetris easily being the most popular of all of them (Tetris is considered by some to be the greatest game of all time) along with the 5 different variations of that title to appear in arcades over the years. Other great puzzle titles that have hit the scene include Qix, one of the earlier puzzle titles where the player drew lines on the screen to trap the enemy; Q*Bert could be considered a puzzle title with it’s tile-coloring gameplay; Solomon’s Key brought a difficult but fun puzzle experience to arcades that also proved a bit popular on the NES; KLAX a popular tile-stacking/eliminating game that also was so popular that it was ported to about every console under the sun; Columns, a Tetris-like game but with enough of a twist to make it stand out by itself; Puzznic plays like an early variation of Hexic but with many different playfields and obstacles involved with connecting blocks within the playfields via gravity ; Dr. Mario involved lining up colored pills in a certain pattern to eliminate them; Bust-A-Move which is a sort of unique variation on Columns; Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo combined a fighter along with a puzzle game; KLOV evens lists all of the Bomberman games as puzzle titles and that has proved to be a great classic in every venue; overall there have been some awesome puzzle games on the scene and I’d like to see more. Hit the link below to read the rest of this post on why I feel puzzle games are still viable on the scene as well as discuss where developers have had some cool ideas that aren’t limited solely to connecting blocks together.
Puzzle games are a perfect fit for the arcade scene – they are simple, carry a broad appeal among casual and hardcore gamers alike and are easy to program. A few years ago, the short-lived Syzygy Magazine (Spring 2001 issue) had an interview with former arcade game programmer Dave Akers, who worked for Atari Games at one time and designed the puzzle title Klax (among other games). In the interview he stated that after taking two years to code a moderately successful game (Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters) he heard that the team who programmed the Arcade version of Tetris at Atari Games only took between 6 to 9 months on that title and it was very successful, selling over 10,000 units (10k sales on the arcade scene indicates quite a success). The idea of a puzzle game instantly became appealing and he and his team decided to do Klax and within 3 weeks they already had a working, playable prototype in the lab. Using this example, once you have the basic concept of a puzzle game to go off of, it’s a fairly quick process from there.
So why arcade developers have all but abandoned easy to make and easy to sell puzzle titles is a little baffling. On top of being easy to make, they can go into a basic cabinet and work well with a standard joystick and button control scheme (although new puzzle games also don’t have to stick to standard controls – new control schemes may also bring about new ideas for putting puzzles together). Perhaps it lies in the fact that coming up with an idea that isn’t a Tetris or Hexic rip-off is a challenge, but I do not think that should mean that no one should try as the history of arcade puzzle titles has shown that not everything has to fit into the category of falling blocks or matching up colored gems.
As an example the second puzzle title released in arcades called Sundance by Cinematronics where players caught moving suns between two grids in this very unique vector game from days gone by. Qix, another earlier puzzle title involved drawing lines on the screen and that proved popular enough to have been copied several times over the years. I came across an interesting puzzle game from 1982 that I had never heard of called Beezer where you move walls around to attempt to trap bees. LandMaker by Taito (they used to be the kings of the puzzle genre) is a unique concept where blocks are arranged in order by color to build houses. Mr. Driller by Namco does have something to do with falling blocks but with a unique digging twist to it where it’s almost like a cross between games like Columns and Dig Dug. Also by Namco one game I came across on KLOV called Dancing Eyes made a puzzle game out of stripping clothes off of 3D girls (although I don’t believe it was considered a porn game). One game that we have reviewed on the site before called Ataxx combined puzzle with strategy where two players face off on a 7×7 board, taking it over square by square with colored blobs. Borench by Sega put the player in a marble game almost like Marble Madness but the puzzle element came in where the player guided the ball to a goal with different blocks. I’m not saying that the next puzzle game should be a rip-off of one of the aforementioned games but I am illustrating the point that other ideas can be tried out and done.
Let’s hope that someone out there in the arcade development world is listening – we the hardcore players want more and if done right it can be successful in the marketplace (arcades and bars alike).
Expect another Missing In Action article soon and if you as readers have any suggestions, feel free to comment on what genre you’d like to see make a comeback.