Continuing upon our reflections of games past, we jump forward from 1977 to 1987. A major difference you will notice between the two lists is the explosive influence of Japanese game makers had. This started with the success of Space Invaders, then Pac-man, followed by American developers stumbling in 1983-84. Many companies took advantage of that opening and thus the landscape of gaming had changed beyond the technological improvements.
Here are your arcade games turning 30 from 1987:
We’ll go in alphabetical order this time, covering 25 different games from this year:
#1 : 1943 : The Battle Of Midway (Capcom)
Capcom first made waves on the market with their vertically scrolling shooter 1942 (1984) and created this game to follow-up on that success.
This built on the 1942 formula by adding a “lightning/tsunami/cyclone” attack, an energy bar for the player, aerial and low altitude sequences, new power-ups, simultaneous co-op play and more elaborate boss battles. Those battles require you to inflict at least 70% damage on the boss to continue on to the next stage.
#2: After Burner (Sega)
Sega was an old name in the business by the 80s thanks to their work on EM games before the video craze took over. They really hit their stride in the mid-80s thanks to pioneering technology with scaling effects in games like OutRun, Space Harrier and the intense jet combat of After Burner. This is one that would set the standard for dogfighting arcade action in many games to come.
Players blaze across 23 stages, blasting This came in two hardware flavors cabinet, a distinct upright cab and the Deluxe motion model that offered pitch and yaw effects. Outside of the hardware, the game aimed to make you feel like you were piloting a fighter jet with some distinctive arcade flare. Shoot down enemies with your vulcan gun or lock-on to them with your missiles and let those do the work. This made barrel rolls cool before talking animals made that a meme. The last couple of minutes on this video shows the Deluxe in action
#3: APB – All Points Bulletin (Atari Games)
You control Officer Bob in his quota quest in this fairly deep but humorous cops ‘n robbers title. Presented in an overhead view, you pass a level (tracked in ‘days’) by reaching your daily quota by arresting a variety of offenders or capturing the APB criminal. To help, you can also unlock a variety of enhancements to improve your police cruiser.
What you have to watch out for are accumulating too many demerits, which occur from making mistakes like crashing your car. With a unique sit-down, cop car themed cabinet, this title became a staple in many arcades of the late 80s.
#4: Arkanoid – Revenge of Doh (Taito)
Eleven years prior to the release of this game, Atari’s Breakout kickstarted the Golden Age of video games. With Arkanoid’s release in 1986, it showed that players were still into the concept, they just wanted modern upgrades like power-ups, different brick types, shiny graphics and one final boss battle.
Taito had this sequel to Arkanoid ready to go relatively quickly, with more bosses, enemies, brick patterns, power-ups and warp gates. Those gates one could choose at the end of a round to pick your difficulty.
#5: Bionic Commando (Capcom)
Capcom wasn’t just about sequels yet, they were still interested in producing original and unique content to satisfy the arcade market. Run-n-jump platformers were a hot item in those days, thanks in great part to titles like Super Mario Bros. But with Bionic Commando, Capcom found a way to be a little different. This also marked the company’s first title to be released as a dedicated game instead of a kit:
Instead of jumping, you used your trusty bionic arm with a grappling hook to latch onto platforms to get where you need to go. There are enemies aplenty as you climb along with a number of power-ups that parachute their way down. You can use your bionic arm to stun enemies or grab power-ups that might otherwise be out of reach. As the flyer above states, this was positioned as a sequel to Commando. Alternate flyer is found here.
#6: Black Tiger (Capcom)
Another platformer from Capcom minus a bionic arm but with a morning star whip, throwing daggers and more of a Ghouls ‘n Ghosts flare to it.
With Zenny to collect (the in-game currency that could be used at the occasional shop), wisemen to save, secrets to unlock, goblins to bash and dragons to confront, this game was a lot of fun but also quite the challenge. Part of that challenge stemmed from some difficult jumps, in particular a high jump on level 7 that end the quest of many a gamer. It’s too bad they don’t make them like this anymore. This was known as Black Dragon in Japan.
#7: Contra (Konami)
If you were ever curious as to where the Contra franchise got it’s start, here it is. You also can’t mention the 80s arcade scene without at least one opportunity to share one of Konami’s amazing flyers:
Looking at that you wouldn’t know that Konami had a whole new franchise on their hands. Compared to other run ‘n gun style games, this offered various power-ups to make the battles more enjoyable, a sci-fi theme inspired by the Alien & Aliens movies and 7 stages including behind-the-back pseduo-3D sequences. Granted, it has enjoyed more action on consoles than in the arcade but if you preferred the NES version (which many gamers did for a number of reasons), the game was also available in that form thanks to the NES PlayChoice Arcade cabinets.
#8 – Double Dragon (Technos Japan / Taito)
Here’s another franchise starter although the Double Dragon series has seen more bumps in the road than series like Contra has. Double Dragon IV is releasing to consoles on the 30th of January although they decided to go with NES art style instead of the original arcade. Given that DD was ported to everything under the sun (even the Atari 2600), I’d think arcade would be the way to go but I guess that’s just me. We should also mention Double Dragon Neon while we’re at it.
Double Dragon wasn’t the first “beat ’em up”/brawler game but it hit a nerve among 80s culture that it jumpstarted the genre and gave it life until 1v1 fighters took everything over. The co-op play was enhanced with weapons that you could take from your enemies and special moves that injected a little bit of strategy into how you would approach fights. then of course there was after-final boss fight if you were playing with a friend. Good times.
#9 – Dragon Spirit (Namco / Atari Games)
It should be apparent by now that we had a thing for dragons back in the 80s. I don’t know why that is but I remember being fascinated by them too. Thanks to Namco’s Dragon Spirit, you could play as a dragon instead of trying to vanquish one, which was pretty rad at the time (just throwing in some 80s lingo for you there).
As a game, this was a vertically scrolling shoot ’em up that jumped head first into the fantasy theme. Like many games of the time, it also featured a ‘rescue the princess’ back story but was improved by a soldier who transformed into the hero dragon. Collect power-ups to gain heads and thus extra fire power. Like Xevious, you could also shoot ground targets. With nine levels, a sweet soundtrack and large bosses, this was a great game to come across in the arcade or a 7-11 at the time. It did spawn one sequel but that one didn’t sell too well; it was nice to see it as a part of Namco’s Pac-Man’s Arcade Party that was released a few years ago (and is still in production).
#10 – Heavy Barrel (Data East)
Heavy Barrel was Data East’s answer to titles like Commando and Ikari Warriors. Sold primarily as a kit, the game used rotary joysticks to turn your player in various directions while allowing him to continue moving in a different direction. It was a solution that allowed twin-stick style play without needing two joysticks (albeit not as smooth).
You play as a One Man Army commando, navigating your way through jungles and elaborate fortresses while blasting everything that moves. Pick up extra grenades and other weapons (including flame throwers and spread shot guns) as you avoid/shoot the hordes of fodder enemies, robots and turrets. On your way you collect piece of the ‘heavy barrel’ weapon, which when assembled gives you devastating firepower for a few moments. It’s a frantic game that still holds up pretty well.
#11 – Operation Wolf (Taito)
Gun games were occasionally found in the 80s but they did not dominate the scene like they have since the late 90s. With this one, Taito found a hit that ended up on many consoles and spawned a few sequels. I’m a little surprised that the company hasn’t revisited the series after resurrecting Elevator Action, Darius and Space Invaders.
Operation Wolf puts you in the role of a special forces commando who is looking to rescue hostages from the evil army. This was certainly their way of getting a Rambo-like game without getting the Rambo license. Unlike most modern light-gun titles, this one re-enforced the “One Man Army” notion as it only supported one gun and no linked units(this changed for the sequels); you also had limited ammo with ammo pick-ups, so no yelling “FREEEDOM!” while spraying ‘n praying if you wanted to make it very far.
#12 – Pac-Mania (Namco/Atari Games)
Pac-Man Fever had subsided a bit by 1987 but the character still was one of the most recognizable faces in the world. Faced with the task of refreshing the game formula for new players and veterans alike, Namco came up with Pac-Mania as the answer.
This kept the idea of eating dots in a maze while avoiding the ghosts but now it did so with detailed isometric graphics, a maze larger than the immediate screen (sort of like Jr. Pac-Man) and a new jump ability. Unfortunately for Namco, this did not light the world on fire like Pac-Man & Ms. Pac-Man did and after this, the franchise would take another break in arcades for several years.
#13 – R-Type (Irem/Nintendo)
By the time 1987 had rolled around, Nintendo was basking in the glory that the success that the NES and various new franchises had brought to the company. Kids everywhere knew Mario & Luigi, Link and Samus Aran. With that, Nintendo had begun to pull away from the arcade to focus their efforts at home but they still would throw a bone or two to arcades. By licensing Irem’s R-Type in the US, they did just that (link to the 4 page Nintendo flyer).
R-Type is a horizontal scrolling shoot ’em up with cavernous levels and a variety of both robotic and bio-mechanical enemies. Large sprites (especially with the bosses) as well as the color dazzled players who came across the game. It came with a couple of features that many other games would borrow such as the charge shot; the way that the drone wingman worked was also a little different. The unforgiving difficulty didn’t need showers of bullets to make it tough.
#14 – Rastan (Taito)
Here’s another game that tapped into the ‘macho man’ mania of 1980s pop culture, particularly the part fueled by movies like Conan: The Barbarian. This was known as Rastan Saga outside of the US where there was an exclusive opening sequence at the start of the first level.
The game itself is a side scrolling hack ‘n slash (‘n jump) title where the levels had depth to them so it wasn’t simply “walk from the left area to the right” like Rygar. You even had the occasional swinging vine to use, ala Jungle Hunt. There were power-ups to collect and bosses to defeat as you would expect which combined with big colorful sprites meant a winner for arcades.
#15 – RoadBlasters (Atari Games)
Atari Games had received a bit of mileage out of their Namco relationship this year, manufacturing various Namco created titles but they still had their own ideas to create too. RoadBlasters was one of those original games, providing Atari’s “answer” to the likes of Spy Hunter that had been released a few years prior. The hardware for this featured a unique steering wheel that felt like a yoke controller but worked like a steering wheel should. This was Atari’s best-selling game until KLAX.
In RoadBlasters, you are in a post-apocalyptic future and are competing in The Ultimate Race – “half road race, half battle”. Another game whose graphics engine goes for a 3D feel despite being 2D, you zoom through the cities blasting pretty much everything in your path while collecting fuel globes, avoiding mines and surviving for as long as you can. One thing this game does really well is convey a sense of speed, which I would often screw up by reaching top speed then running into something. When starting you can warp ahead with a score bonus; a jet will also drop in once in a while to give you a special weapon. I have rarely come across the cockpit version of this one but that was the way to play if available.
#16 – Rolling Thunder (Namco / Atari Games)
Another Namco/Atari partnership, Rolling Thunder tapped into the James Bond/spy movie genre for inspiration and blended that with a side-scrolling platformer and run ‘n gun game. Even the soundtrack has hints of James Bond themes peppered throughout.
The storyline sends you on a straight-forward romp through the enemy base on your quest to save a captured female agent by the name of Leila. What set Rolling Thunder apart was the ability to high jump onto the platform’s above and you could enter into various doors found in the levels to collect ammo and other items. You could also go back in the level which was a nice touch.
#17 – Shinobi (Sega)
We’ve had fantasy warriors, spec ops commandos and super spies to pick from this year, so you can’t leave out ninjas! Shinobi was the perfect blend of a game that tapped into people’s penchant for karate, platformers and romanticized ninja legends.
With an evil ninja clan having captured innocent “ninja children”, it is up to you, Joe Musashi, to rescue them and defeat the thugs of the evil ninja clan in the process. You could punch/kick/slash enemies that were close, hit far away enemies with your shurikens (or gun if you grab the power-up) and when things got really tense, unleash your ninja magic power to clear the screen (or dish out some heavy damage to the boss). With large sprites, great level design, a cool bonus round and the other aforementioned features, it isn’t a surprise that this turned into a franchise that Sega has got some good mileage from. I used to own one of these after a great thrift store find (only $25 but I didn’t know it was a Shinobi until I replaced a fuse and powered it up) but it was in a horribly converted cabinet that had removed the coin door and made some other weird changes so I ended up selling it off a few years ago.
#18 – Sky Shark (Toaplan/Taito/Romstar)
This ‘answer’ of Taito for the 194x games isn’t remembered very well outside of shooter fan circles but it did offer vertically scrolling airplane action in case you were looking for an alternative in this genre. Also known as Flying Shark.
Released as a kit, this had solid graphics and sound which was enough to keep players interested if they came across this. It was simply a fun shoot ’em up game that didn’t go over the top on the difficulty. Supported 2 players but on alternating turns.
#19 – Spy Hunter II (Bally Midway)
One company that has been absent from our list until now was Midway. This is because 1987 was a little slim for them after a flurry of releases in 1986 (like Rampage, Power Drive, Trivial Pursuit and others). They still did release a few games this year, one of which was a sequel to their popular Spy Hunter.
Unfortunately Spy Hunter II wasn’t quite the sequel that many fans had hoped for (kind of like Joust 2, 1986). As such, not many of these were made so many arcaders of the late 80s may not have even come across this one. The screen is split in two so each player gets a narrow view of the action (not unlike some mobile games today, heh). The bar in the center is a bit large which doesn’t help matters. You drive along the road shooting and bumping into enemies like before and you have the upgrade van, which now plays a little cutscene as your car receives the upgrade. The road however looks strange as you drive over hills and around the occasional turn. You do not transform into a boat this time..seeing enemies just kind of float around the screen also ruins the feeling that this game should have. Overall if this had been more like RoadBlasters I think it would have done better. As it is, it is a bit bland.
#20 – Street Fighter (Capcom)
We’ve mentioned many “big” names on this list that people immediately recognize but I think that this one takes the cake as far as overall influence in the video game business and culture goes. As mentioned with Shinobi above, the martial arts enjoyed a surge of popularity in the 80s. Many games and movies bolstered that popularity, the games allowing you to participate in a fight without worry of actual physical harm. The very first Street Fighter was a perfect way to enjoy living out that virtual fantasy.
While this would not have the same effect on the market that the sequel would have, it still made waves at the time. Available in two styles, a standard six button model and the deluxe air hose button model, this established many aspects that became standard for the series. That included the six-button setup (3 for punches, 3 for kicks), the 2/3 round format, hidden moves, traveling to different worldly locations to fight, announcing the name of the special attacks when pulled off and characters like Ryu and Ken. Picking your character wasn’t in the cards yet but there was still enough to convince players to come back for more.
#21 – Tecmo Bowl (Tecmo)
Are you ready for some football? This one comes to us from the days where sports games didn’t need the license of a major sports league or player names to get attention.
Borrowing the idea of using a half-silvered mirror and a big cabinet to house two screens for one super-wide playfield, this offered arcade style sporting fun for 1-4 players. Players on the left of the cabinet play as the ‘Wildcats’ while players on the right are the ‘Bulldogs’. Many gamers will likely remember the NES version more than the arcade just due to availability but this provided a solid sports title for arcades who maybe wanted something other than another One Man Army or space shooter game.
#22 – The Real Ghostbusters (Data East)
I was a big fan of the Ghostbusters back in the 80s but when I would come across a GB video game, I usually came away frustrated and disappointed. That’s because I didn’t play Data East’s The Real Ghostbusters, which was a very different game from what Activision had done for home consoles.
In The Real Ghostbusters, this combines elements from both the original film and the cartoon which was popular at the time and put those into a scrolling shooter not entirely unlike Heavy Barrel. The objectives were straightforward – “Capture the ghosts, collect the keys, save the city”. To make this task a little easier (and to fit in with arcade style play), you don’t have to drag and trap ghosts, just zap them and they are instantly trapped for you. The variety of ghosts you run into is high enough to keep things interesting and it supports up to three players for co-op fun (not sure why they didn’t do four to stay with the GB cast).
#23 – Twin Cobra (Toaplan / Romstar)
While looking through games, I get the sense that Romstar really phoned it in when it came to sales flyers. Just a single page drawing with the game name and that was about it. See Sky Shark above.
Twin Cobra is another vertical scrolling shooter from Toaplan that shares various similarities with Sky Shark (they use the exact same hardware in fact) but now instead of a biplane, you are flying a helicopter. However there are elements of Twin Cobra that make it a slightly better game. First, it has 2 player simultaneous co-op instead of alternating turns. Then the power-ups are more varied, giving you different weapon styles to enjoy. In a way, this feels like a predecessor to Raiden, as you watch the video you can catch various elements where you can see the influence.
#24 – Xenophobe (Bally Midway)
It would stink if Spy Hunter II was the only Midway game worth noting this year so fortunately they released Xenophobe. Designed by Brian F. Colin, who also created Sarge, Rampage and others for Midway, you can see his subtle humor in the cabinet design too. It sort of looks like E.T. with the narrow neck going up to the wider montior.
Another game influenced by alien blasting movies of the time, Xenophobe was made for 1-3 players to enjoy some alien blasting action . You choose one of your characters from a roster of nine then head to one of the overrun starbases to begin the exterminating process. While this also divided the screen up, it did it in a better way than Spy Hunter II, giving each player their own ‘strip’ of space that worked for a side view kind of action game. As you progress, the starbases get larger and more elaborate which gives the player reasons to keep going back to the game to explore.
#25 – Xybots (Atari Games)
Last but not least is a game that again combines elements of the macho man commando with a space alien/monster shooting game. But it did it using some nice technical features that would precede the First Person Shooter genre by a few years.
That involved creating the appearance of a 3D maze in a 3rd person view. Using rotary joysticks, the maze smoothly moves when you give it a twist. The player’s camera is not shown full screen and instead a 3rd but it is smooth and the action stays exciting. I suppose it would be fair to say that Xybots is the evolution of the Berzerk concept. You and a friend navigate through the labyrinth of a starbase, blasting the evil Xybot enemies and opening up secret rooms. Clear out the level to open the teleport to the next level, where you can spend some of the money you collect for various power-ups.
Honorable Mentions – I’m keeping this brief since the above took so long to compile but it’s worth mentioning:
Super Hang-On – I may replace Sky Shark with this in the near future as I find the time. Sequel to the game that finally brought motorcycle racing into the arcade as a true simulator experience.
Time Soldiers – I have come across that one many times over the years so it just stands out for just being common 😛
That’s all for now for those games turning 30 this year. There were other games released in 1987, if I missed one of your favorites then mention it below. Next week: Games Turning 20 in 2017!