Hope this finds you all in good health and spirits.
I haven’t done a Guilty Pleasures post in a while, my apologies. I’m also going to keep this one fairly brief as unfortunately, life and responsibilities are pulling me away to other things as they sometimes do. If you haven’t read yesterday’s first ever Martial Arts Movie Madness post, you can do so here and I recommend you do, had a hell of a lot of fun writing and hopefully you’ll enjoy it!
Anyway, today I got into a discussion with a friend about retro gaming and in particular arcade gaming. As a youngster, I played a lot of arcade games as very few of us actually had games consoles and the choice was not very wide. I eventually managed to somehow convince my parents to buy me a Sega Mega Drive but only after I did particularly well at school that year. Arcade games could be found everywhere in those days. As I mentioned in my previous Guilty Pleasures post, my local chip shop had a cabinet that was home to Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, Die Hard Arcade and others over it’s time period. There was also some in the shopping centre in Elephant and Castle, but the mecca for Arcade gaming at the time was the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus. At it’s height, Trocadero was a place where you could eat sweets till your teeth felt like they were literally rotting in your mouth, play ten pin bowling under neon lighting, share an awkward stare with a girl that you like the look of but never actually have the courage to approach, or eat some fantastically greasy KFC chicken, but primarily they had just about every arcade game you could think of between 1990-1998. Of course, this meant I had to try every single one, which meant saving as much of my money as possible from my school dinner money to pay them a visit on a weekend. It also meant that I got an unnatural attachment to certain games in particular, that even the mere mention of them sends me into hysterical whooping and goose bumps racing up my arms! So, here are my 10 favourite Arcade games, in no particular order starting with;
- DAYTONA USA
Most people who know me will tell you that i’m not much of a fan of driving in general and bar the outstanding Gran Turismo or the very fun Road Rash, motorsport based games have made very little impact with me, except for this one. Daytona USA is very simplistic which was the reason I found it so insanely addictive. You didn’t really need to understand drift and grip and even the function of the gears to have absolute blast playing it. You simply had to climb into the arcade booth, slam your foot on the accelerator and drive like concern for human life is just an inconvenience. In single player mode it wasn’t much fun but with a group of for friends it became as competitive as the real thing. The gameplay was fun, the graphics were nice and smooth, and the arcade booth rumbled like a real car thanks to the in-built speakers. I found one of these last year after a visit to one of the few surviving games arcades in London, and every adolescent memory came flooding back with a simple rumble of the exhaust.
2. DIE HARD: ARCADE
Now, I accept entirely that this one is something of an obscure choice. Hell, I can even admit that it’s actually a pretty crappy game, but hear me out before you rush to judgement. Die Hard: Arcade was the first game of any kind that I had played that had any correlation to the ‘Die Hard‘ Franchise. As a huge fan of the movies, anything that get me the chance to even partially walk in the footsteps of John Mcclane was something I was going to lap up like a kitten in a milk factory. The gameplay as I remember it was pretty fun.You control one of a male or female character (but sadly, no Mcclane..sniff) and use a combination of unarmed combo techniques and weapons to take down enemies. It was one of the first games that I remember that actually showed your character’s clothing withering away as you progressed in the game (just like the movies, yaaay!) and as a two player beat em up, it functioned really well, as a shoot em up, it was a bit scatter shot in its approach, but as a platformer it rocked!
I remember first playing this game way back in 1993. I had gone on my first ever secondary school journey, away from home without my parents, yikes! The trip took us to Belgium,specifically to the seaside town of Ostend. I really can’t remember much at all about the town, and frankly, a later visit to Belgium as a teenager confirmed what I had always suspected; that it is quite possible the most boring country on the planet. Fortunately, Ostend being a seaside town meant there were plenty of arcade gaming spots around. As soon as we arrived at our destination and realised we had a spot right near us, so we naturally threw our luggage into the hostel and raced down the street to get our gaming on. WWF Wrestlefest was the first and last game I played there, as the moment I began it, I was hooked. Back then, I was a big of of WWF (now WWE) Wrestling. I taped every pay per view and watched them with my friends, had the Immortal Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior adorning my bedroom walls, and spent way too much time memorising the wrestlers catchphrases. The game in my mind is still one of the best wrestling adaptations that has ever been made. It perfectly captured everything about the WWF experience. You could choose to play from any one of a number of the company’s top superstars at the time, such as Hulk Hogan, ‘The Big Boss Man’, ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase and many more. Every character had their own signature manovures, and mannerisms, just like on TV. I could take control of the Ultimate Warrior and ‘Gorilla Press’ the shit out of one of my classmates, then come off the ropes for the big splash finish and victory. The game allow for up to 4 players at a time, and we had hours of fun taking each other on in Tag Team Mode and when the others got bored, I simply played by myself through ‘Royal Rumble’ mode and tried to survive. Even if you’re not a wrestling fan, this game is still lots of fun to play as it’s so easy, even the most casual gamer can get into. I played it recently n a PC emulator and I got exactly the same feelings of excitement and energy. As the Legion of Doom would say ‘Whhhhaaaatttt aahhh ruuussshhh!”
4. TIME CRISIS
You’d be hard pressed to find a more ‘gun-blazing’ experience then Time Crisis. It’s subsequent sequels whilst also fun, didn’t quite hit the spot for me in the way the original did. Granted, the sequels improved upon the graphics and gameplay features, but nothing quite beat having the feeling of using the foot pedal to take cover from your enemies for the very first time. This subtle innovation completely blew my mind. It absolutely had the desired effect of making the player feel like they were inside the game itself. The realistic recoil affect on the ‘light gun’ the game used, only served to heighten this feeling. Sure, there are other light gun games out at the time, like House Of The Dead and Virtua Cop but neither of those really gave you that sense of realism that Time Crisis absolutely nailed. As we many games of this era, there are lots of emulators out there that you can play it on, but it will be quite the same as experiencing it on an arcade machine.
5. STREET FIGHTER 2: WORLD WARRIOR
Ahhh, Street Fighter 2. What to say about this simply magnificent game that hasn’t been said by millions of gamers all over the world? When this cultural icon and gaming behemoth rolled into my life, I had just realised that a new arcade gaming centre had opened in Elephant and Castle shopping centre in south London. The word on the grapevine in my school was that there was a new fighting game out that had to played. I went to school in Peckham, a good 40 minutes bus journey away from where the new arcade was, so I had to get creative when thinking of excuses to give my parents for why I could not come straight home from school the evening I went to play it. By the time my friend and I got there, there was already a crowd around the machine. When we eventually got to play it, we naturally bashed the buttons like the hyperactive noobs we both were. It was only through many evenings after school at the arcade (and subsequent ass whoopings from my mum) That I realised that a certain amount of strategy was in order to master the game and beat opponents. Soon, I began to find my feet with the character of Guile and then eventually Ken, and I managed to make my way through the roster and then finally on to my showdowns with Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M.Bison. It took me about two years and several attempts at playing the game on my friends Super Nintendo games console before I could finally find my feet against those bosses and the sense of achievement I felt when finally defeated them all was truly magical. I could go on and on about what makes this game so special, but to be honest, there are so many others who have said it so much better than I ever can!
6. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
Having been a diagnosed with an incurable case of ‘Turtle Fever’ like just about every other 4-12 year old child across the globe, the release of this stonkingly good arcade game heralded a watershed moment for me. It was the first time that something I was intensely passionate about had crossed over into the gaming world. I first played it in 1990, when my parents took myself and my younger sister to DisneyWorld Florida. for a 11 year old boy, it was the kind of holiday that dreams were made of. Our hotel had its own amusement arcade in it’s basement, which meant I was going to be paying frequent visits down there. Sure enough, I managed to find my way down to the arcade pretty much moments after our arrival. TMNT was everything I could have ever wanted from a Turtles game. It had simple controls that were easy to follow, 4 player co-operation so you and each one of your buddies to could fulfil the role of your favourite turtle just as you were destined to do, it was challenging, but fiendishly addictive and featured lots of nods to my favorite TV show. Simply put, this is a game that you really need to play if you want to relive your childhood or just have some fun with your friends. If you can find an arcade version, even better.
7. STAR WARS TRILOGY ARCADE
The original Star Wars arcade game was something of a novelty for me. I was only able to play it once as even by the stage that I had really started arcade gaming, it was becoming somewhat difficult t find. So when Trocadero introduced STAR WARS TRILOGY, I made damn sure that I was amongst the first of my peers to play it. As an overall Star Wars experience, the game is perhaps the most exciting I have ever played from the franchise. Even Star Wars: Battlefront never quite swept me up in its game play in the way that this one did. Whether it was battling Stormtroopers and Wampas on Hoth,riding a speeder bike on Endor, or the gripping finale in which you go head to head with Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel, the game just never lets up. It took me months to get to the final stage and that confrontation with Vader and I never could defeat him. Richard has made me point out that he completed the game and defeated Darth Vader. Richard has made me point this out because he is a dick.
8. MARTIAL MASTERS
Perhaps another slightly obscure title, especially in the UK. Martial Masters was one I stumbled across about 10 years ago when I found a small amusement arcade/casino/dive from hell in the back streets of the West End. It borrows rather heavily from other fighting games, most notably Street Fighter 3 and King Of The Fighters, but what I loved about Martial Masters was the fact it featured characters who were all inspired by some of my favourite martial arts movies, such as Once Upon A Time In China and Operation Scorpio. Each character fought using a signature style of martial arts, in fact some of them are pretty much named after the style they use, but the vibrant visuals, killer combination attacks and fluid animation style meant you rarely felt there was any repetition in your game play experience. Like many others on the list, you can now get this through various emulators, so I would strongly recommend you give it a go, especially if your a fan of martial arts movies.
Now here’s a real blast from the past. Shinobi is perhaps one of my earliest ever gaming experiences. It’s another chip shop staple, my local had this before anything else. At 20p a game, it was relatively reasonable with my pocket money allowance to squeeze in a number of games and still consume something resembling food at lunchtimes. The game revolved around your character basically ‘platforming’ and slashing your way through countless ninja, samurai and weird wall crawlers that looked suspiciously like ‘Spider-man’. I’m not joking, look it up! You had the ability to cast magic spells (hello Golden Axe!) to dispatch multiple enemies if things got a bit hairy, and featured a cool bonus stage where you threw ninja stars at various enemies trying to attack you. There are other side scrolling beat em ups that vastly improve on the formula (Final Fight and Altered Beast for example), but there was a certain charm to Shinobi that the other games lacked slightly. Having played this again very recently, I can confirm that it is just as fun now as it was, and judging by the number of play through videos you can find on YouTube many others loved it just as much as I do.
10. MARVEL SUPERHEROES
What’s this? A arcade game that allows me to live out my dreams of saving the galaxy by participating in my very own infinity crisis?? Sign me up, now! Marvel Superheroes was a fantastic beat em up that improved upon many of the stylistic choices and designs Capcom made with X-Men: Children of the Atom, whilst retaining the fun elements and adding new characters. I’ll never get over the fact I was able to play a fighting game as Captain America and take on Iron-Man one on one. Can anybody say ‘Civil War’? Like the others on this list, the game boasts unique fighting styles for all of it’s characters, based upon their skill sets in the comics. Hulk literally ripped pieces of the ground up to throw at you, Blackheart had all manner of demonic attacks and Spider-man could ‘web-swing’ his way across the screen to kick you right in the chops. Of course, a showdown with the Mad Titan Thanos would be inevitable, and he was fiendishly difficult to defeat once he had amassed and harnessed the power of the Infinity Gems to his control. All in all, this a really good fighting game, if a bit too short, but it’s essential playing for any Marvel fan!
I haven’t played the original Time Crisis but I’m glad my mum will never find out how much I spent on TCII as a 15 or 16 year old. The coin was intended for more practical purposes like food or transport of course…
Street Fighter II on Atari PC and then SNES was indeed amazing.
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To this day, I’ve not had the heart to tell my mum how much I’ve actually spent on arcade games. Given how frugal my folks could be, I thought it best to avoid any awkward conversations about my stomach rumblings when I eventually got home from ‘school’. Street Fighter 2 is possibly my favourite game on the list, it’s longevity and influence speak for themselves. I had to wait a few years until a friend of mine had the game on SNES before I could play any ports, but from memory, the SNES version was extremely faithful to the arcade version. A new bar has opened recently in London, dedicated to retrogaming. I’ve heard it has both the arcade version and SNES version of the game, so I’ll pay them a visit soon and see how they compare over time. Thanks for reading!