Arcade Games Turning 50

Let’s start with the oldest – which won’t take up much of your time, since there’s only one game to mention – PONG by Atari Inc. With Computer Space having failed to generated huge interest the year prior, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney went out on their own to create a simpler game, one that became an instant hit. The success of PONG gave us the video game industry as we know it today, but the Pong clones that permated the market in 1973 generated too much competition and almost led to Atari having to declare bankruptcy. They avoided that through some other great games, but PONG itself would get several sequels including Quadrapong, and Super Pong.

The prototype bar model that would start a revolution

The most recent iteration of the idea was an electro-mechanical version of the game called Atari PONG Table, which exists in a few different models, including last year’s Pong Knock Out, a 4-player model.

Scroll back up and click on the next tab for much more!

Arcade Games Turning 40

Since we started with 50, let’s jump ahead ten years to 1982. Whether or not this year deserves the title of the “Greatest Year In Video Games” is up to the reader, but the sheer number of famous names here makes it difficult to argue against. It was certainly the greatest year of the “Golden Age of Arcade Gaming,” but that success would dig the hole that the industry would fall into the following year with the Great Game Crash. Note that I will include a few obscurities for fun, but there’s no way to cover every single game release this year as there were well over 200. Quite the jump for an industry that was only a decade old at that point.

One thing I also envy from this year was the penchant for originality, not just in the gameplay but also the names. You rarely get weird, but cool sounding names like Zaxxon anymore.

The explosive success of video games in general was setting up a bubble in North America though – one that would burst as 1983 got started. The effects of the Great Game Crash of that year would reverberate through both the arcade and console industry, eventually leading to the closures of many big names. This wasn’t all the fault of arcades however; I think much of the blame can be placed on consoles and the glut of garbageware that had flooded the market. It didn’t help that many of Atari’s offerings were subpar or just plain bad too. While we’re accustomed to having three major consoles today, you had somewhere around eight back in ’82, and that wasn’t counting the various unique computers that came with cartridge ports (glorified consoles with keyboards, if you will).

Note: I’ve done my best to verify that all of the games mentioned below were released in ’82. A couple I came across, like Sinistar, actually were released in 1983. If anything is in error, please let me know.

Alpine Ski (Taito) – We’ll start this year with Taito, who been enjoying plenty of success in the years following Space Invaders. This one allowed you to enjoy the sport of skiing – it wasn’t the first game to do so, but no one had remembered Allied’s Ski from 8 years prior by this point. Here you’re skiing, dodging trees, rocks, iced over lakes, and other skiers while aiming for the points. The only thing odd about this, to me, is how you’re moving up the screen, instead of down.

Angler Dangler (Data East) – We’ll start this year with Data East, a relative newcomer to the market, with a cassette tape arcade system that was a predecessor of sorts to platforms like the PlayChoice and Neo Geo MVS. They had a large selection of games for the DECO cassette system, some of which were fairly forgettable, and others which looked to do something a little different. As far as I am aware, this was the first fishing game to grace arcades. You cast your hook, wait for the fish to bite then reel them in.

Buck Rogers – Planet of Zoom (Sega) – Sega was a company that had been around for quite a while by this point, but still building up to the name and the fame they would be known for by the end of the decade. Speaking of names, Buck Rogers isn’t well-known these days, but throughout most of the 20th century the character enjoyed plenty of attention throughout media, including this arcade game by Sega. One of the most notable aspects for this one involved the scaling graphics, a technique that had rarely been used on 2D sprites, thus it had generally been found in the realm of vector games. In a way this was Sega saying “we’re someone to watch,” showing graphical prowess with titles like this, Subroc 3-D, and Zaxxon. This game was a proto-Space Harrier and it was among Sega’s first “cockpit” titles.

Burgertime (Data East, 1982) – Known as Hamburger in Japan, here was an original game that figured out how to make a game out of cooking – well, sort of. Playing as Peter Pepper (not Peter Parker), you are a chef who must run along platformers and walk over portions of a hamburger to send the piece falling to the plate at the bottom of the screen. Looking to stop you from stepping all over other people’s food are certain ingredients: ‘Mr. Hot Dog’, ‘Mr. Egg’ and ‘Mr. Pickle.’ They relentlessly chase you around the levels, but you can temporarily stun them with pepper. Be warned it’s range is super limited as is the supply. For anyone wondering about an egg being involved with a burger, in some countries that is a common ingredient to put on such things (not just Japan, but something I learned when living in Brazil and seeing the “X-Ovo” burger). This was licensed to Bally Midway for US distribution.

Dig Dug (Namco/Atari) – Taizo Hori stars in this fun game about blowing up underground critters, but not just any critters – weird ones like Fygar’s who breathe fire. While Dig Dug wasn’t the first game to ever involve digging, it did innovate it and found a more exciting way to present it than say Mr. Do!. The game didn’t have nearly as much success in the 1985 sequel Dig Dug II, but it’s a franchise that Namco has managed to keep alive over the years through other releases. Atari handled building and selling this one in North America, and given that the company was at their height of power this year, they would promote it with an elaborate 2 1/2 minute TV commercial:

Donkey Kong Jr. (Nintendo) – This was quite a way to do a sequel, by reversing the roles of hero & villain. Mario is the villain here, which was unique, with DK jr. needing to save dad. Gameplay was still a single-screen game, but things were more dynamic this time with vines and Snap Jaws about.

Donkey Kong Jr. flyer

Front Line (Taito) – While this game may be obscured by time, it was rather influential for gaming in the 80s. The style is what would be copied by many other titles in following years, like Commando and Ikari Warriors – you control a veritable one-man army who is at the bottom of the screen; You must shoot the bad guys you encounter as you walk upwards, eventually grabbing a tank for extra explosive action. Perhaps we could call it the Rambo or the Macho genre. One unique thing about this were the controls – It featured a joystick for movement and a spinner for aiming, just like Midway did with TRON. For many years, I had no clue that this was originally an arcade game, having played it often on my Atari 2600.

Front Line

Gravitar (Atari) – Atari was big on licensing games by this year, finding a successful relationship with Namco, and occasionally other companies after they released games like Kangaroo (also a game from 1982). For this reason, their name is a little light on the list (that and a lot of games in development never made the final cut). For one game that did come out of Atari themselves was Gravitar – a tough game that would blend elements of Asteroids together with Lunar Lander to come up with something unique. Here, gravity is as much the villain as the bad guys are. Thanks to the color vector monitor, this put scaling effects to great use, zooming in on the planets that one would visit and finding other ways to dazzle the players. It didn’t receive many home ports and the difficulty kept it somewhat obscure; But it did heavily influence the 2019 indie game Cosmotrons!

Joust (Williams) – The great thing about early video games is that sometimes they were “good weird.” The idea of a knight riding a flying ostrich and jousting it out above lava while collecting eggs sounds entirely bizarre, but it’s really a ton of fun. The clever game design also meant that 2-players could either compete or work together. Unfortunately it stumbled with the sequel and never seemed to recover, Midway testing out Joust 3D in the 90s which was dropped and lost to time.  I did own a Joust arcade machine for a while, but sold it off after a while (unfortunately in 2019, it didn’t really earn all that well, but I don’t have an arcade with an entry fee like most retrocades do).

Jungle King/Hunt (Taito) – While some companies had got away with creating games based on licenses without actually licensing them throughout the 70s, license holders had caught on by ’82 and this resulted in a lawsuit that Taito lost soon after releasing this game. The game was changed to Jungle Hunt, and the main character from Tarzan to a jungle explorer, all in the same year.  The game isn’t significant as much for that as it was for establishing the run’n jump save-the-princess platformer genre. Unlike most platformers to follow in the 80’s though, it had you moving right-to-left to reach your goal. Taito also created a variation of this called Pirate Pete that was released later in the year. As a kid, I had no clue that this was an arcade game(just like with Front Line and several other games), experiencing it on both the Atari 800 computer and 2600 console. I guess I can’t complain too much about ports now, when back in ’82 some games were ported that same year, but at least they weren’t arcade perfect (from an operator’s point of view). Here’s all three:

Kangaroo (Sun Electronics/Atari) – Not all games in the 80s involved rescuing a princess, such as with this game where you are a mother kangaroo looking to save her son from devious apple-throwing monkeys. The gameplay is reminiscent of Donkey Kong, but with better graphics and you can punch the monkeys out thanks to your boxing gloves. Atari handled manufacturing and distribution for this game, which led to a few ports for their home consoles; This also sold better than Millipede or Gravitar did.

Liberator (Atari) – This obscurity is a guilty pleasure of mine that I discovered on the Atari Anthology for the original Xbox. It’s essentially Missile Command in reverse, where you have to bomb a bunch of enemy bases from orbit. This game starred Atari’s short-lived mascot, Commander Champion, who also starred on the Atari pinball game Space Riders and in the home game Star Raiders (he was also the protagonist for the DC Comics series Atari Force). Atari only sold 762 of these and it never received a home port but for me, I’d rather play this than Missile Command. 😛

Liberator

Millipede (Atari) – Sequels were uncommon in these days, but they still popped up. Centipede proved to be a mega-hit for Atari, but since gamers wanted more, Atari put out this sequel rather quickly. It upped the ante on everything that players at the time wanted, throwing more of everything at the design, but this made it a bit more challenging than the original. Those DDT bombs were a nice addition though, as were enemy varieties – it even had effects like “bullet time” when shooting the inchworm (possibly a first for this feature to appear in any game). Unfortunately that blasted spider was still around, and it would even throw two of them on the screen in higher levels.

As it was, it didn’t sell even half of what Centipede did, but it was still considered a success for the company. While the game didn’t mention it, the flyer had a surprisingly lengthy story to it that explained why you were blasting all of these bugs with arrows – along with an explanation of the cabinet art. That cabinet was a beautiful example of the talent within Atari’s art department, flexing that muscle to stand out from their competitors.

Moon Patrol (Irem) –  The Apollo moon landings hadn’t inspired as many video games as Star Wars did, but there was still some influence there to pull from, which is what this game used. Here you patrol the dangers of the lunar surface in your versatile moon rover(well, “Moon Buggy” was the official name), which is capable of jumping over craters and it could fire in two directions. One thing this game did first was use a graphics technique that would become a big thing through the rest of the 80s and early 90s – parallax scrolling. This received a super obscure sequel in 1985 called Horizon. Here’s a pic of a Moon Patrol that I found at Disney Quest, right before they closed in 2017.

Moon Patrol at Disney Quest

Ms. Pac-Man (GCC/Namco/Midway) – The history of Ms. Pac-man is an interesting one, far more detailed and strange than I can get into in a single paragraph, so you can instead watch this video of the game’s designer Steve Golson describe how a hack of Pac-Man became one of the most famous games of all time. This is also one of the highest selling arcade games ever, selling somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 units (Atari’s best sellers such as Asteroids and Centipede didn’t manage to crack that number). Atari did maintain the home sales rights however, which they used to their advantage on various ports to their consoles, so they couldn’t complain too much. It’s worth noting that Super Pac-Man came out this year too, but it didn’t enjoy any of the wild success that this did, in part for changing things up a little too much (even though it was more of a real sequel, coming straight from Namco).  For worthless trivia points, the artist at Midway who came up with Ms. Pac-Man’s bow was one of the vampire women in Brian Colin’s Deathstalker laserdisc game.

Nibbler (Rock-Ola) – Rock-Ola a company known for their jukeboxes, but in 1982, they were jumping aboard the video game hype train and hoping to cash in there. They did so with a few super obscure games, but one of them managed to gain some notoriety – Nibbler. This took a concept that had been popular in arcades just a few years prior – the “snake” or “light-cycle” game, and put a realistic (for the time) looking snake into the player’s control instead of just a blocky line on the screen. Another claim to fame for this one was that it was the first game to support a billion point score, although reaching it is extremely challenging (below, Nibbler champion Tim McVey showing a record)

Pengo (Sega) – Not every game that Sega produced this year was aiming to be a graphics powerhouse, but before the company was known for their blue hedgehog mascot, they had a different animal character who could’ve carried their banner – the red penguin Pengo. This provided a new twist on the labyrinth game – instead of navigating a fixed maze, you could manipulate it by pushing the ice blocks around. You have to if you want to get anywhere – push the blocks onto the Sno-Bees to eliminate them. Take them all out to move on to the next round. Sega did revive this in Japan back in 2010 with an 8-player arcade model(pictured below), but overall they haven’t done a whole lot with the character over the years.

Pepper II (Exidy) – Exidy didn’t have much in the way of heavy hitters come along this year, although that would change for a time in 1983 when they came up with Crossbow. Despite the name Pepper II is not a sequel – it’s referring more to there being two states for your character to be in – an angel or a devil. You’re only a devil when you pick up an energizer (ala Pac-man for eliminating enemies you touch, temporarily). This is a weird and obscure game, as it’s kind of like Pac-Man & Amidar, but you have to loved the pure early 80s-ness of the flyer:

Pole Position (Namco) – This series is one of those instances where the sequel is far more known than the originator, which is because the original was a great game – the 1983 sequel didn’t change the formula, just added more to it. Pole Position came with only one course to race, the Fuji Speedway in Japan; Pole Position II added more like the Suzuka circuit. Technically, the Final Lap series was a continuation of Pole Position, but I suppose Namco felt it better to change the name, despite PP2 being one of the best earning games at the arcade in the mid-80s. For the original and the sequel, the US versions were handled by Atari, where they were available in both an upright and cockpit version.

Popeye (Nintendo) – Nintendo’s arcade output wasn’t gigantic in the 80’s, but it was there and they had more going on that just Donkey Kong, Mario Bros. and the PlayChoice. Popeye is one oddity from them that’s a lot of fun, joining the single-screen platformer space that was also done with those aforementioned games. Here, you play as Popeye on a mission to rescue Olive Oyl from Brutus (a variation of Bluto that was used for a brief time). The graphics on this one were quite good, the hardware and screen resolution being capable enough to create some nicely detailed characters. Like Jungle Hunt, I only knew this on the Atari 800 & 2600 as a kid, but they were decent ports.

Q*Bert (Gottlieb) – 1982 was really a year where many companies were looking to give their games some personality through the use of characters, although they weren’t really thought of as “mascots” at the time. Designed by Warren Davis & Jeff Lee, Q*Bert would put Gottlieb on the map in the video game world, selling over 30,000 units (Gottlieb was mainly known for their long history in pinball prior to this). Apart from the quirky and lovable protagonist, the game of changing the blocks to a different color featured a number of memorable villains, particularly Coily the persistent snake. This game was also memorable for the diagonally set joystick, voice synthesizer and the internal pinball knocker.

The Q*Bert Prototype cabinet

Quantum (Atari) & Reactor (Gottlieb) – Both of these games are fairly obscure, but both involved nuclear physics. Gottlieb’s game would enjoy higher popularity, although it still only sold about 1,000 units. Quantum was designed by the same company that created Ms. Pac-man, General Computing Corporation, as part of a settlement deal for hacking Missile Command. Reactor would be designed by Tim Skelly, who had previously worked for Cinematronics but at this time became an independent contractor. Quantum was a color vector monitor that also boasted the first use of a Motorola 68000 16-bit CPU in an arcade game.

Robotron 2084 (Williams) – Often called the grand-daddy of twin stick shooters, that’s accurate more for the phenomenal success than by actually being first with the concept. It was beat out by a few months by Taito’s Space Dungeon in that regard, but SD wouldn’t enjoy anywhere near the same impact that RT would. Designed by Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar, this game was frantic and intense in a way that games like Space Dungeon or Berzerk couldn’t touch, and it came with a feature borrowed from Defender – the rescue (and overtaken/mutated human) mechanic.

Space Duel (Atari) – This is a more exciting name than Asteroids 3, but it is the third in the series. Asteroids Deluxe had done all right on the market, but not nearly as well as the original, so Atari rolled this out. This offered various new features to the formula, from the color vector screen, 4 game modes, a variety of new targets, and the ability for co-op or competitive play. The co-op play can be interesting as some modes connect each player together with a fuse, making for some tug-o-war style gameplay that keeps things competitive regardless.

Star Trek – Strategic Operations Simulator (Sega) – Star Wars had garnered most of the glory for influencing space action video games, but Sega figured out a way to officially give Star Trek a shot (Atari had done so with Starship I several years prior, but without a license). Based upon the Kobayashi Maru scene in Star Trek II, players become captain of the Starship Enterprise, facing down wave after wave of Klingons. The game plays quite differently from your typical space shoot ’em up – using a color vector monitor, one part of the screen offers an overhead view, while the bottom shows things in first person. Produced in two models, the version you want to play if you come across it is the unique Captain’s Chair.

Star Trek Captain's Chair

Tac/Scan (Sega) – A little more traditional than Star Trek was Tac/Scan. This game is rather obscure since it was another color vector game that only received a port to the Atari 2600 (surprisingly, it never showed up on any Sega console). You control an armada of seven synced ships, blasting waves of enemies in space.

Time Pilot (Konami) – Like Sega, Konami was slowly building up a name for themselves still, and Time Pilot is among the first games where people really took notice of the company. You control a time travelling aircraft, flying to certain points of time and battling it out with the enemy aircraft in the sky. Eliminate a certain number of them to advance to the next year/time period. This one put 8-way scrolling to great use, although it wasn’t supposed to be a flying game at first, but a driving one! This did get a sequel a couple of years later, but that was mostly overlooked (I have a board for it, but the sound is out).

TRON (Bally Midway) – Legend has held that the arcade version of the game made more money than the film ever did, although personally I never could really get into this (even though I loved the movie). It’s kind of a compilation of mini-games, with each level being based upon a scenario found in the film. Unfortunately due to time constraints, a few scenes ended up getting cut, but amusing enough they kept things like the Grid Bugs, which are only in the movie for a line and a handful of frames. That said, one of the scenes became it’s own game, the fantastic Discs of TRON that would launch in ’83.

Xevious (Namco/Atari) – Another one of Namco & Atari’s licensing collaborations, although Japan got it first, this game helped establish one of the most popular genres of the 80s – the vertically scrolling shoot ’em up. It also was one of the first games where your ship was given a name and it also featured a mechanic where you have to blast targets in the air and on the ground, with the help of a targeting reticle. This was the first game to use pre-rendered sprites and both the stellar graphics and the music quickly led to it becoming a hit (particularly in Japan); This was also one of the first arcade games to feature hidden, unlockable characters. Namco did bring the game back a few times to arcades over the years, although it’s been a while since we’ve received a new iteration of the IP. Thanks to Atari’s manufacturing involvement, the US cabinet was quite the piece of art, like Millipede was:

Zaxxon (Sega) – In yet another example of pushing their graphical prowess, Sega would release Zaxxon this year, a game that blew both minds and cash boxes thanks to it’s unique isometric graphics and gameplay. The game had a high difficulty curve, which some players at the time were drawn too, but made it tough for casuals not looking for that level of challenge. I owned a Zaxxon for many years, it being one of the first two arcade games I’d got my hands on. It used a joystick built like a tank (made out of metal instead of plastic) where a red LED on the top would light up every time you pulled the trigger. Like Dig Dug, this also got a TV commercial for it, one that would employ CG graphics to boot:

Zookeeper (Taito) – Here’s a quirky, unusual game where you are a zookeeper who must constantly be running to build a rectangular brick room, keeping as many animals inside as you can until the timer runs out. After that, you must work to rescue your girlfriend at the top of the screen. It wasn’t a graphics powerhouse, especially compared to many other games released this year, but it was fun.

Honorable Mentions: Anteater (Tago); Bagman (Valadon); Birdie King (Taito); Blue Print (Bally Midway); Bubbles (Williams); Bump ‘N Jump (Data East); Dark Planet (Stern); Kozmik Krooz’r (Bally Midway); Lost Tomb (Stern); Monster Bash (Sega); Pooyan (Konami); Subroc-3D (Sega); The Electric Yo-Yo (Taito); Tutankham (Konami); Wacko (Bally Midway); Zektor (Sega)

Arcade Games Turning 25

1997 was a bustling time for arcades, riding the wave that fighters had help generate earlier in the decade. GameWorks would launch with their FEC concept this year, and platforms like the Neo Geo MVS had managed to spread arcade gaming into poorer parts of the world where consoles were often far too expensive for your average gamer to get his or her hands on.

There was plenty of excitement to be had going on among home consoles, as the PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn all duked it out for 3D dominance, while other consoles like the 3DO and the Jaguar had been crushed by the Big Three’s Big War. Given how powerful – and relatively inexpensive – those consoles had become, many arcade games began to use modified versions to power their games (using off-the-shelf PCs had been tried in the 80s and 90s, but not in quite the same way as we have them today). This also made the task of porting games over relatively simple, although the days of the port being a dominant sales force was numbered.

While fighters were still a thing this year, including the long awaited 3rd entry from Capcom on Street Fighter, game makers were starting to place their development focus on other genres as some interest in the 1v1 fighting game was just beginning to wane. Companies like Atari Games would blame things like saturation along with a drop in interest in the cancellation of titles like Primal Rage II and Tenth Degree; Midway was also seeing stumbles here as Mortal Kombat 4 failed to live up to the hype that the first three titles had generated. That didn’t stop Japanese companies from outputting some original fighter content nor a bunch of sequels, but this year saw more of a shift towards light-gun games, drivers and other simulator style pieces; The big splash of rhythm games would have to wait until the next year, but Konami was planting those seeds.

Note – As with the 1982 tab, I have strived to make sure that the games listed were actually released in 1997, as there are many instances where a copyright for a game was obtained in 1996 or ’97, but the game actually didn’t start shipping until ’97 or ’98, respectively. If anything here is in error, please let me know.

Akranoid Returns (Taito) – We’ll start things off with a well-known name, a sequel to Taito’s popular Breakout clone. This was the 3rd entry into Taito’s brick breaking series, using the Taito F3 hardware to it’s advantage to produce some great looking backgrounds and pumping out that great Zuntata music. Other than that though, this plays exactly like you’d want an Arkanoid game to.

Arkanoid Returns Flyer

beatmania (Konami) – Here’s a game that may not carry a huge name outside of rhythm gaming circles, but it’s influence is unquestionable – it’s what gave us the term “BEMANI,” which classifies Konami’s giant family of rhythm games, including DDR. That said, it is a name still known in Japan, where Konami recently released a new title in the series. The game itself puts you into the DJ booth, complete with a turntable. Scratch that and hit the keys at the right time to play through songs and earn points. The photo below isn’t from the original ’97 release, but this control panel has become iconic:

Bloody Roar (Eighting/Raizing) – It wasn’t easy to set yourself apart in the fighter genre at this point, but Eighting/Raizing were giving it a solid try here. Most of Eighting/Raizing’s efforts had been spent on shoot ’em ups like Armed Police Batrider or Battle Garegga. For Bloody Roar, the idea to make this stand out from your standard Virtua Fighter or Tekken clone was to involve were-beasts, where a character could turn into a certain animal to duke things out. Also known as Beastorizer, this game did receive a few sequels, although it’s one of many that has just become a console series instead of an arcade one.

Capcom Sports Club (Capcom) – This was a clever, if obscure, game from Capcom, winking at the success that Midway had been having with sports games, while being able to present three sports in one cart without having to get a license (and using Capcom’s artists to hand-draw everything instead of using digitized actors).

Densha De Go! (Taito) – Have you ever wanted to be a Japanese train engineer? Well now you could become one thanks to Taito’s simulator game, Densha De Go!. I believe that this stayed as a Japan-only release, the arcade version never receiving an English translation, but it somewhat recent times, Taito has brought the latest version of the game over to the States in a limited capacity. I got to try that newer version and found it oddly compelling.

DoDonPachi (CAVE) – Even if bullet hell shoot ’em ups aren’t your thing, you may have heard about this game. A sequel to DonPachi, this fine tuned and improved upon elements from the first game, making for a game that’s become something of a legend. There are multiple ships to choose from with different abilities, and there is plenty of depth to be found with the firing modes and power-up systems. Another interesting thing lost to our current time with most games, is how this game rewards players for skilled play, giving them true endings and the like for playing better.

Do DonPachi Flyer

Final Furlong (Namco) – Where Armadillo Racing had failed, Final Furlong would more than make up for it. This was one of Namco’s ideas to bring a down-sized simulator experience to arcades, placing users on top of bouncy horse-controllers. Sold as twin units, this allowed at least two players to enjoy the crazy fun that a game like this could elicit from players, although to up that ante you wanted to link them together for the mayhem that four-players would bring with it.

G-Darius (Taito) – Where Taito wasn’t adept at the fighting genre, they could still handle the shmup just fine. G-Darius was the 4th arcade entry into the series, going full 3D this time around. You were still fighting hordes of robotic fish, but now they had enhanced the Capture Ball mechanic that was introduced in the previous game. Generally speaking, Taito has given far less attention to this game compared to other entries in the series, it often being excluded from Western Taito game compilations, although it was included in a recent Darius collection for the PS4 & Switch. In arcades, I’ve never had the pleasure of finding one, but perhaps one of these days I will.

G Darius Flyer

Get Bass – Sega Bass Fishing (Sega) – Another example of manufacturers looking to proffer an experience that you couldn’t get at home was with this game. Years after Data East had brought fishing to the arcade with Angler Dangler, Sega wanted you to go beyond the joystick and control the action with a realistic fishing reel. The deluxe model of the game had a line attached to it (a string as I recall, we had one of these at the FEC where I worked back in ’99) to produce a convincing reel/fish tugging effect. Sega did resurrect this for the Atomiswave platform back in 2008, but without the reel controller it wasn’t as exciting. One of the flyers also featured Sega GameWorks branding:

Hang Pilot (Konami) – If racing a horse or going bass fishing isn’t your thing, how about hang gliding? Konami’s idea for an arcade simulator came with a pair of big CRT screens(eat your heart out Nintendo DS), a hang bar and a swivel foot pad.

Harley Davidson & L.A. Riders (Sega) – Here’s one game that certainly sold well for Sega – while I’ve never seen any sales numbers from the company, it was rather easy to find this at arcades back-in-the-day. Pick your bike & character then drive around Los Angeles. The open-worldness of the game made it kind of like a predecessor to Crazy Taxi; The graphics were also a good cut above what home consoles of the year could manage(you gotta love the fabrics & hair fluttering in the wind). This was never ported to a console, although a Dreamcast port had been in development.

Maximum Force (Atari Games) – 1997 seemed to be a pause year for Atari Games, excepting this and an update to San Francisco Rush, although they were plenty busy behind-the-scenes as 1998 saw numerous released. Maximum Force used the same idea, engine(with some improvements), and hardware as the wildly successful Area 51, but instead of shooting aliens, you’re shooting terrorists. Thanks to that, this was available as an upgrade kit for Area 51 machines, and eventually Atari released a dual-game cabinet. This one would certainly influence Raw Thrills’ first game, Target: Terror, a few years later.

 

Mortal Kombat 4 (Midway) – Mortal Kombat’s first entry into the 3D realm would also mark it’s last franchise appearance in arcades. While 3D games were all the rage at the time, the development team wanted to make it feel like a 2D game, which was a challenge. When I read criticisms about MK4, it’s generally due to various roster & move-set changes and not the gameplay. I remember first playing this on PC while visiting a friend’s house, but boy was that version hilariously buggy (voice overs often naming the wrong body part to have been broken when it happened). One thing that stands out about the cabinet is the giant face of Quan Chi on the side of the cabinet, which has it’s own dedicated daily pics Twitter account.

Motor Raid (Sega) – Here’s an obscurish game from Sega that was released primarily as an upgrade to the popular Manx TT Superbikes game from ’95. In my humble opinion – I’d rather play this. It’s kind of like Manx TT meets Road Rash and set in a sci-fi universe where you’re racing on other planets. It’s obscurity is also helped by the fact that it wasn’t ported to either the Saturn nor the Dreamcast (or anything else).

NFL Blitz (Midway) – NBA Jam was a runaway success for Midway, so they began to explore doing the same thing for other sports genres. A baseball game would fail, but they struck gold once again when it came to the NFL. It wasn’t an easy thing to get the licensing for this since the NFL was concerned about some of fantasy changes to the rules and such, but thankfully they relented and we got the most memorable American football arcade game of the decade (arguably, of all time).  Later versions of this would come with an N64 data card reader, allowing players to transfer their save states between the home and arcade version.

NFL Blitz Flyer

Off Road Challenge (Midway) –  What if you took Cruis’n World and made it an off road racing game? That’s Off Road Challenge. It even used the same hardware as Cruis’n USA/World, so conversions wouldn’t be difficult, if the operator wanted. This one isn’t as well remembered as Off Road Thunder though, which was more like Hydro Thunder (but with 4×4 racing instead of boats).

Racing Jam DX (Konami) – This game wasn’t very well-known, although some aspects of it were a predecessor to today’s simulator racers like Maximum Tune and InitialD, so it’s worth a mention. It boasted a large roster of licensed Japanese cars and it featured three types of transmissions (semi-automatic being a 3rd), and allowed you to tune five aspects of the vehicle. The rare DX version, seen below, also employed a wide curved screen to make for an immersive effect. That feature hasn’t really been used in modern games, but in many ways this game was a little ahead of it’s time.

Rampage World Tour (Midway) – After a little over a decade, Midway decided to give their smash hit Rampage a sequel, developed by the original Rampage creators in response to a Midway executives desire to make something that had a broad appeal. This is probably the game with the greatest amount of humor released this year, and it received several home ports. It’s too bad that Rampage – Universal Tour never got made; We did get a videmption Rampage game from Adrenaline Amusements in 2018, but this did not involve either of the co-creators.

Rampage World Tour Flyer

Rapid River (Namco) – If horse racing wasn’t your thing, maybe co-op whitewater rafting was. That’s what Namco approached with this game, creating a realistic double-sided oar controller and giving the bench seat a motion base. While it could be played single player, it was best done with two, where you had to work in unison to get down the river in a timely manner and in one piece. They did make the environments a little more exciting than just going down a river too, throwing in things like the Egyptian pyramids, dinosaurs at the river bank, etc. This used a path system similar to OutRun, and it influenced one of the game modes you’d find much later in Wii Party U.

Shock Troopers (SNK) – Front Line was mentioned in the 1982 section as establishing a genre that you maybe could call the Rambo or Macho genre – the “one man army vertical-scrolling shmup.” This genre became scarce by ’97, but Shock Troopers sought to keep it alive. It also changed things up by not sticking strictly to a vertical movement, even presenting the action in an isometric view at certain times. Battle your way through hordes of enemy soldiers and their war hardware to rescue a girl held hostage.

Solar Assault (Konami) – I’m including this obscurity as it’s different. If you wanted to play something like Star Fox in arcades, then you’d have to go back to another obscurity from 1984 called Cube Quest – or perhaps find a Galaxy Force II. An option in the late 90s would be to play this, a unique entry into Konami’s Gradius universe. Of all the genres to have faded away in our sector, this kind certainly fits that bill:

Street Fighter III: A New Generation (Capcom) – I remember it being a running joke throughout the early to mid-90s that it seemed like we’d never see Capcom put a 3 on Street Fighter, but they finally got there in ’97. Running on the CPSIII hardware, one claim to fame for the graphics on this were the crazy amount of animation frames used in the game, this also being part of the reason it took so long to develop. An update to this, 2nd Impact, was released later in the year, but the version that most players value is 3rd Strike, which wasn’t released until ’99.

Tekken 3 (Namco) – Namco also had a 3rd fighter up their sleeve, although Tekken 2 hadn’t been given anywhere near the number of updates that Street Fighter II had. For this 3rd outing, all of the backgrounds were now in 3D (something that Sega had already done with Virtua Fighter 2), and they enlisted the help of some famous martial artists to do the motion capture for the game. Namco also touted the idea of time release characters with this, a concept that was designed to bring players back over time.

Tekken 3

Tetris Plus 2 (Jaelco) – There was a time, particularly in the 90s, where puzzle games could still do well at the arcade. While there have been dozens of versions of Tetris released to arcades and consoles over the years, this one is notable for adding things to the formula like a storyline and characters exploring some ruins. The main danger in that mode being the loss of the character, more than filling the playfield with blocks. It still offered original Tetris mode though, making for a bit of content to keep things interesting. I have this one and it’s one of the best Tetris games ever made – IMHO.

The Lost World – Jurassic Park (Sega) – The power of Jurassic Park in arcades cannot be understated – while Sega had done a JP game in ’94, this one became a pillar for many locations, performing well for years beyond the release date.  This was in good part thanks to the environmental cabinet – a modern take on the old cockpit cabinets but for two players. Operators haven’t always been fond of the design though, often calling them “dens of iniquity” thanks to things that teenagers like to do when they think no one is watching (boy do I have some stories). Thanks to the Model 3 hardware, this showed that arcades could still dominate graphically – no, it doesn’t look amazing now, but back then, it was well ahead of what consoles could do.

Top Skater (Sega) – Another example of Sega’s prowess was Top Skater. It wasn’t the first video game to feature skateboarding, but it was the first time the sport was offered up as a simulator. This meant that apart from standing out graphically, Sega was showing how arcades could give you a gaming experience that was impossible (or at least prohibitively expensive) to recreate at home with a joypad. This game did get a couple of sequels but they are relatively obscure – Air Trix and Ollie King (the latter being done by the same team who designed Jet Set Radio Future).

Top Skater

Twinkle Star Sprites (ADK/SNK) – A notable game for introducing a twist to the shoot ’em up genre – the competitive, head-to-head shmup. The idea combined a shoot ’em up with ideas found in versus puzzle games like Super Puzzle Fighter II, and it worked quite well. This was ADK’s last game for the MVS; It recently received a spiritual successor with Rival Megagun XE.

Virtua Fighter 3 Team Battle (Sega) – What was one way to help the Virtua Fighter series stand out apart from graphical advances? By borrowing an idea from The King Of Fighters, feature teams of three that you could select when starting, then battling through them.

Zer0 Gunner (Psikyo) – Another original scrolling shoot ’em up, but this one stood out in a couple of ways. For starters, it went into the realm of 3D. No, it wasn’t the first to do so, but it used it in a way  was still quite fun. You are flying a helicopter here, and it’s the lock-on feature that makes the gameplay feel different than many shmups out there. This one was released on the Sega Model 2 and wasn’t ported to a console.

Honorable mentions – If I highlighted every game worth mentioning from ’97, I’d be finishing this article in June, so here are various others that were interesting or notable in some way: Armed Police Batrider (Raizing); B.C. Story (Semicom); Behind Enemy Lines (Sega); Ehrgeiz (Namco); Fighters’ Impact A (Taito); Fighting Wu-Shu 2nd! (Konami); Kick It! (Interactive Light); The King of Fighters ’97(SNK); Le Mans 24 (Sega); Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter (Capcom); Motocross Go! (Namco); Operation Thunder Hurricane (Konami); Oriental Legend (IGS); Over Rev (Jaleco); Pocket Racer (Namco); Polystars (Konami; ran on the fabled M2 hardware); Raiden Fighters 2 (Seibu Kaihatsu); Samurai Shodown 64 (SNK; the first time the series went 3D); San Francisco Rush – Alcatraz Edition (Atari Games); Sega Water Ski (Sega); Sol Divide (Psikyo); Surf Planet (Gaelco); Total Vice (Konami); Vampire Savior 1 & 2 (Capcom); Virtua Striker 2 (Sega).  Also worth mentioning was the unreleased, but tested, Magic: The Gathering Armageddon by Acclaim.





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