Well there’s been a drought of arcade news lately and because of that, I’ve been thinking of something else to write about in the meantime. So today I’ve decided to write a little bit about some great coin-op arcade games that I’ve always wanted to play but I haven’t come across one to give it a shot, or I’ve only played it on an emulator multi-game thing like Taito Legends or Midway Arcade Treasures. Beyond that there’s always reading about a game or MAME but part of the true arcade experience is playing a game on real, original hardware. Some might scoff at that notion but for me, the hardware is part of what makes arcades not only cool but superior to console ports. Despite having played quite a few different arcade titles since the 80’s, there always seems to be a few which have eluded me and here are some of my top picks (UPDATED with a few extras).
Major Havoc (Atari)
(Major Havoc as seen on the TV game show Starcade)
The first time I experienced Major Havoc was when I got the Atari Anthology compilation for the original Xbox for Christmas some years ago.I had heard of the game on and off beforehand but I had never seen one in arcades and I didn’t know much about it until then. If you are unfamiliar with the game, you play Major Havoc, a clone attempting to reach your homeworld of Vax. Each level is split into two parts, the first involves you piloting your spaceship through different scenarios such as Galaga-like battles or mazes. The second part involves you infiltrating a space station where the game turns into a sidescroller. You can jump or use a shield to navigate the dangers inside where you need to set off the reactor and then escape before it all explodes. When I first gave it a spin, I quickly found it to be an incredible game with surprising depth, a couple of my friends remarked on that too. While I got used to playing with the thumbstick controls, I have to imagine that using the roller device that the original arcade came with is much nicer and more responsive (there seems to be a slight delay using the sticks) and of course nothing beats playing on an actual color vector monitor. It’s too bad this came out in ’84 when video games were still experiencing a downturn in interest, otherwise this might be easier to find. This is considered to be the last vector game produced by a major company.
I, Robot (Atari)
(Apparently according to the note in the video here, some people think this never was an arcade game of this)
Another game that came out during the crash period of ’83-84, I, Robot was revolutionary for it being the first game that used flat-shaded polygons, years before anyone else would start using them. I’ve only played this on emulation on the PC where using a keyboard leaves much to be desired – the arcade made use of a “hall-effect” joystick, which is a type of analog stick that uses weak magnets. I’ve read that some people consider this to be in a category similar to Pac-Man, although it’s more like a 3D version of Miner 2049’er. You have to turn all of the red ground blue by going over it. You have a laser weapon to blast enemies and can jump when you move towards another floating platform. But you have to be careful as if the Big Brother eye is open while jumping, you’ll be blasted. It also has a sequence after each level that’s a bonus round where you have to blast these floating orbs and triangles. It’s a bit weird and between that, the unique graphics and the game slump of the time, not many of these were produced.
Tapper/Root Beer Tapper (Midway)
I played Tapper as a kid on the Atari 800XL computer but that was my only exposure of the game until I got my hands on Midway Arcade Treasures years later for the first Xbox. Like Major Havoc on Atari Anthology, this became one of my favorite games in that compliation but it also made me yearn to find an actual arcade machine of it somewhere. It was ideas like Tapper that foster my love for the arcade genre and what it’s capable of – I mean who thought that the act of filling up a mug with soda/beer and sliding it down the bar could translate into a fun game? It’s too bad that arcades don’t seem to get ideas like that tried out anymore. And the arcade version has realistic looking tappers that you have to pull to fill the mug, which just isn’t the same as pushing a button on a gamepad.
Here’s a game forgotten by time but then again, so are most Vectorbeam/Cinematronics games. I discovered it in an issue of the rare and mostly unknown Syzygy Magazine from back in 2000 when they interviewed the artist who created the cabinet art for the game. It’s a fairly simple title, a space shooter that was capitalizing on the space craze that was gripping popular culture in a post-Star Wars age. In fact it sort of reminds me of Star Wars Arcade Trilogy, with how you control your turret/laser gun with a joystick, making it slightly different than a light-gun game(that’s another kind of game I would love to see make an arcade comeback. SWAT was pure awesome) Between that and the vector monitor, this is one I’d love to take a crack at if I ever come across it.
Galaxy Force II (Sega)
Now here’s a game I would fully support a modern sequel to in arcade, even though I’ve never played the arcade version before. But I don’t have a hard time imagining that I would enjoy such a game, which while some compare it to Starfox, this came out well before Nintendo made their flagship space title. The moving cabinet seen above isn’t the only version of the game out there, there’s a side-to-side motion cabinet that is in the same vein as Sega’s Thunderblade but for me, if a Galaxy Force 3 were made, it could be with or without motion, I wouldn’t care. It just looks awesome and it’s the sort of genre arcades can excel at, again because it can provide more of a “cockpit” experience with some proper controls as opposed to a home venture on a gamepad.
Cosmic Chasm (Cinematronics)
Another Cinematronics game that wasn’t widely known as it was yet another unfortunate victim of having been released during the crash period of ’83. I only learned about it watching an episode of Starcade(as you see above, cheese and all) and it’s right up my alley between the color vectors and the quick space battles that take place. This is noted as being the first game to be converted from a console port (it was on the vector-only console Vectrex before arcades)
Star Trek: Captains Chair Edition (Sega)
Straight gameplay of this one below
For a long time I had no idea that an arcade version of Star Trek existed – I had played the game on both my Atari 2600 and my Texas Instruments 99/4A (which on the later just happens to be the best home version I’ve come across) as a kid but only some years later would I discover that those were home conversions of the arcade game of the same style. The arcade has plenty of brag about, sporting a color monitor and rotary controls but to top it off, Sega also produced a deluxe, Captain’s Chair version of this game, which is fairly rare. Either way, in the realm of Star Trek video games, I consider this to be one of the best even though it’s one of the simplest.
CastleVania: The Arcade Game (Konami)
Here’s a more recent game that I’ve wanted to take a swing at (har, har), the CastleVania Arcade machine Konami released a few years ago. It doesn’t seem like many placed ever picked it up which is probably in part due to the high price tag, and perhaps some operators were leery of having a game in their arcade which uses motion wand controllers not entirely unlike what is found with the Wii(well, I guess they are really closer to the Playstation move in appearance now). As you can see in the video, the loctest version needed some work on the whole motion sensing thing, not sure if they resolved that before the final release. Despite all that, it looks like a cool game, I’ve never been a hardcore CastleVania fan and even though this moves away from the sidescrolling type game I like to play in this series, it’s something different enough that I would want to try out. As a note, this video was created by one of our writers here at AH, TwistedSupreme, who hasn’t posted anything in quite some time now. :\
Elevator Action Returns (Taito)
Another game I experienced on an official compilation disc known as Taito Legends 2 for the PC, Elevator Action Returns is an awesome sidescroller with plenty of over-the-top action to throw around, along with some smooth 2D graphics. I know there isn’t anything special about the controls on this one but I think it would be even more fun to play if money was at stake instead of me just hitting a button to keep playing. Yes, I wish Taito would have gone with the direction in sidescrolling instead of a light-gun shooter with their recent Elevator Action Death Parade, oh well.
If you haven’t noticed already, I have a slight obsession space games. I blame it on playing Star Raiders as a kid (well and the fact that back then there were a lot of excellent space games to choose from). So one game I’ve been a little disappointed in missing out on so far is Namco’s Starblade. It’s an on-rails cockpit shooter with an incredible cabinet that seems to have been built on making you feel like you are sitting in the cockpit of a starfighter of some kind. There’s a yoke controller and bending mirrors to create a special effect on the screen, with this all working together to create a one-of-a-kind arcade experience – one I’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing.
Space Lords (Atari)
Continuing the obsession, here’s yet another space combat game I haven’t played but always wanted to since I found out about it some years ago online. Designed by the legendary Ed Logg, Space Lords is sort of like blending the classic games Space War and Asteroids together and giving them a first person view, along with flight controls. Housed in a huge quad player cabinet, up to eight people can take part in battles of a galactic scale, allowing for two people to work together as a pilot and co-pilot per screen and with the capability of two cabinets linking together.
Spikers Battle Final Edition / Slash Out (Sega)
Made for the NAOMI and never released for the Dreamcast, Spikers Battle is something of a dream game when it comes to 3D beat ’em ups – at least, as far as I can tell since I’ve never come across this game. You and up to 3 friends can run around huge environments, beating the crap out of pretty much everyone that comes in your way and due to the off-rails nature of the game, there is plenty to explore. It also has a sort of ‘sister game’ with Slash Out which is similar but is a 3D fantasy/adventure beat ’em up that also looks like a ton of fun. Both of these games give the player their own screen and can link up to 4 networked machines but the chances of coming across such a setup is pretty slim, in the US. I guess the next best thing to this right now would be Sega’s Shining Force Cross but that’s only available in Japan for now.
Having played plenty of first person shooters since the days of Wolfenstien 3D, I’ve always been interested in such games for the arcade, such as War: Final Assault or to an extent The Grid. But there really aren’t many of those kinds of games to speak of in the coin-op world – there were those two I mentioned, Gunmen Wars by Namco, and a couple of other recent ones in Japan such as Half-Life 2: Survivor and Cyber Diver. Sega’s OutTrigger is setup to be a little like Midway’s The Grid, where a joystick on the left moves the character and a trackball moves the view. Much lilke Spikers and Slash Out, this is another NAOMI game that got more attention in Asia then it seemed to get elsewhere.
Marble Madness (Atari)
Having tried Marble Madness via the home ports, it’s the kind of game that leaves a lot to be desired without a trackball controller. Despite being a fairly popular title, I’ve amazingly never come across an arcade in my area that had one.
Space Dungeon (Taito)
This may have ‘space’ in the name but it’s more of a weird Robotron-like game then any sort of space combat simulator. I discovered this on my Atari 5200 which has a library made up mostly of arcade ports and Space Dungeon is one of the few that wasn’t ported to every system under the sun. It’s also one of the most enjoyable games on the system and while it’s tough as nails, I play it almost as much as I play Adventure II. I have the dual-stick holder to get a slightly more arcade-like experience out of this but I would still like to try out the arcade version one day, if I could ever come across it. It’s also apparent that the arcade version runs much smoother than the 5200 version, which I’m sure makes it more entertaining to play.
While there isn’t anything terribly special about this sidescroller, I’ve wanted to play this ever since I bought a Shinobi cabinet years ago from a thrift store. The game wasn’t working when I bought it and I didn’t realize it was Shinobi until I fixed the power supply. The marquee in the game was for Pyros and I was curious to see what the game was all about but since Pyros wasn’t in there, I’ve never found out except for watching it online. It’s a lot like some other sidescrollers of the era I have some fond memories of playing on various platforms, such as Dark Ages, Jill of the Jungle, and Toki.
Crazy Climber (IGS)
Not the classic version but the new one that can still be purchased from IGS in Taiwan. I like the original concept behind Crazy Climber and by bringing this one into 3D with some funky controllers, it looks like a pretty cool experience worth dropping some coins into.
Warrior Blade Rastan Saga Episode III (Taito)
I never cared much for Taito’s Rastan titles but by the looks of this sequel, I could easily get into one of the sequels. This is more like Golden Axe due to the isometric nature of the playfield and with a double-wide screen that’s more room to mow down your enemies with. Surprisingly it’s only a 1-2 player game but even still it looks like it would be a fun game especially given the cabinet design.
Crystal of Kings (Brezzasoft)
I’m not sure what drew me into this game but I ran across it on System16.com and maybe it’s just the colorful graphics mixed with the theme but I actually have since played this in emulation and it’s a solid 2D beat ’em up from a time when everything was pretty well set on 3D. The hardware it runs on, the Crystal System looks like it was intended to be a low cost but higher end sort of Neo Geo but that certainly didn’t get very far. The only character I didn’t care for in this game is the main character, an almost Hobbit-style character who has an animal mount he rides around on. Most likely the only way I’ll end up playing this on real hardware is to find a board somewhere and install it myself – I think it was only released as a kit as I also have never seen this setup in a dedicated form.
Raiden IV (MOSS)
I first encountered the Raiden series not in arcades but on my Atari Jaguar, where one of the first games available on that system just happened to be a pretty solid port of the first arcade Raiden. Later on I got a chance to play Raiden Fighters Jet at a small local arcade which was a blast but other than that Raiden games have been hard to find in my arcade neck of the woods. I was excited when I heard about Raiden III being released in Japan and soon after that they came out with Raiden IV. I still haven’t really heard of many places in the US picking up either one of these games but I did get it for my Xbox 360 not long after they released a port for it on that platform and while it’s nice, it certainly would be much cooler to play it on a proper vertical screen with authentic Sanwa controls (I currently still use a CRT HDTV for my gaming at home and that can’t be turned on it’s side that easily and even if it could I didn’t care much for the screen options on the 360 version, they leave a lot to be desired).
Well that’s all for now, there are a few others out there I would certainly like to play but I’ll have to get to those another time as I took enough time just coming up with this list.