Arcade Memories

Reminiscing about times and games of the past...
March 30, 2010
** this is my first posted article. sorry if it sucks **

Like many of you, I'd wager, I spent lots of time in my youth playing video games when I wasn't watching awesome cartoons. I was fortunate enough to have an Aladdin's Castle at the mall just up the street from my house. The guy who ran it got to know me by name and later on ended up hiring me when I was old enough -- Work at an arcade?? Free video games?? Sweet!! -- But that's a story for another time.

"The Arcade", as it was affectionately known, wasn't frequented by me for lack of games I had available to me at home. Sure I had an Atari and an NES at home but c'mon these were arcade machines! Standing tall, filled with electronic goodness. Better graphics, better sound, and different games...most with intro screens that played a siren's song to my ears, luring me to drop token after token in the coin slot.

Dontcha just love the space invader on the floor and Eddie Van Halen on the big tv's in the background?

When I think about it, The Arcade and many arcade-sized games hold special places in my memory either good or bad. This list isn't just my favorite games from The Arcade, but also games or arcade-style items that hold some gem of the past within them for me so here they are in no particular order.

Tron - Loved this game probably because this is one of my favorite movies of all time. I don't recall if I first played the game or rented the movie from my local grocery store. It's probably one of the first movie based games to be mass produced and ties in pretty well to the movie and aspects of it. It featured 4 different "games": Light cycle "Run these guys into your jet walls", Tanks, MCP (kind of like a breakout thing where you rotate your arm and shoot), and some other one with grid spiders... I can only assume it's the I/O Tower. The game featured sounds from the movie and did a pretty good job of being relevant. The cabinet was all black and light blue with a flight joystick and a spinner wheel for which to turn your tank turret or arm while shooting. Oh and it also had a black light to make the joystick glow. How many other cabinets featured black lights!? Not only was this game true to the movie parts but it also was actually fun. Anyone can put money in and play it even if you haven't seen the movie. Many quarters you would spend, however, because each game wouldn't last very long. Why? Because this game was balls hard!!

Killer Instinct - For me, this was THE game for fighting games. I liked Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur, and Virtua Fighter but this one was just more fun in my opinion. KI came out when I was working at The Arcade so I got to play for free and, because of which, I played the ever loving crap out of it. And because I was a keyholder, I could play after hours and not have to deal with The Arcade rats that would boot me off the machine. You know the type: they had no job, got free money from somewhere, and would play in groups. If you beat rat #1, rat #2 would come in and beat you, just to hand the game back over to rat #1. But I digress...I liked KI better because it was 3-D pretty and had combo breakers that would keep you from getting screwed in the corner and powered you up a little if you pulled it off. I still love to play this game to this day.

Sinistar - I remember playing this at the bar my dad tended at as a kid. This game scared the crap out of me! Here I am, all minding my own business, shooting rocks and collecting crystals, and then all of the sudden this big, pissed-off, Lego-looking spaceship charges me and makes me explode. This was another game that was pretty hard but not impossible. Oh and another thing about it? Not only was there this big robo-monster-face guy coming after me but the digitized voices it spouted out were just plain freaky! Most times the sound was drowned out or turned off in favor of the jukebox or sporting events. I remember one night, however, it was dead and the game sound was on and turned up a bit louder than need be. I was playing and all the sudden in that robotic, scary voice I heard "Beware, coward!" and I promptly jumped like a little girl and had all the hairs on my neck stand up. That voice doesn't quite have the same effect it did when I was younger but hearing it still sends a chill down my spine each and every time I hear it.

Donkey Kong Junior and Mario Bros. - Another pair of games I played when my dad was bartending. Both games were wicked easy to pick up and play in having only a joystick and a single button (unlike Defender or Stargate with its 86 buttons to learn) but not easy to master. You never lost your last life thinking "Ok, you know what? Eff this game, it's too hard, I'm not playing anymore" and walk away cranky. Instead it was more like "Ok, what should I do next time to get further?" while plunking another quarter in the slot. I played DKJ a bunch but Mario Bros was my personal addiction. I pumped every quarter I could get my grubby hands on into that machine. Many Shellcreepers, Sidesteppers, and Fighter Flies met their demise by my hand and boot. From the opening snippet of Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" to the simplicity of the gameplay itself, it"s a classic. If I could own one stand up arcade machine only, this would be it. Ironically enough they still produce stand-up machines of Mario Bros coupled with DKJ. Hmm...

X-Men / Simpsons / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Before I got free games, these three button-mashers - all in their own times - came to my arcade and beckoned. Like Mario Bros, they were easy to pick up. They were all huge cabinets. They had great sound effects and visuals and were perfect ways to play your favorite characters. Oh and only 2 players? Yea, right, how about 4 to 6 players!! So what was not to like? I remember getting the $10 special - 55 tokens - for each one of these games to try to play them through to completion. If I remember right, Simpsons was probably the hardest one to beat, followed by TMNT, and then X-Men. Regarding X-Men, I can let slide that most of the X-powers were total and utter crap save for Storm and Cyclops because it was fun to play, especially as Colossus and his, for lack of a better term, roaring special attack. (Ok, admit it, anyone who has played this and knows about the roaring attack, just kinda did it to themselves, am I right?) These are games that aren't to be missed and live on still to this day in some pizza places that I've seen. Last word: Ok, now I know I'm going to get flamed for this but anyone who has played these games has to at least somewhat agree: They're the same basic game with different characters. Not that that was a bad thing...just saying.

Cruis'n USA - From the spinning Ultra 64 logo to the digitized graphics, this driving game pulled me in with no question. It was the only game other than pinball in our Student Union and that probably helped the play factor too. I spent plenty of time and money to get my name on printed license plates and, unfortunately for my GPA, spent more time doing that that going to class. Oops. Cruis'n, which as spawned a few inferior (IMO) sequels, let you have a free race for first place and the computer would do everything natural, unnatural, and supernatural in its power to keep you out of that position. The computer was, for lack of a better way to put it, an evil cheap dick. You could be leading by a mile and all of the sudden they'd seemingly appear and overtake you at the last second. Or they'd do a "pit maneuver" and crash other opponents causing a full 4 lane pile-up that you couldn't pass at a crucial part and you'd be taken out. The computer assistance was horrid on this and many other Midway games - NBA Jam, NFL Blitz were the other prime offenders. Regardless, it was still way fun and reminds me of those college years spent in the union.

Rampage - Simple concept: you're a Monster (George the Gorilla, Lizzie the Lizard, or Ralph the Wolfman) and you destroy everything in sight. Buildings? Smoosh 'em. Tanks? Squish 'em. Cars and Busses? Smash 'em. Humans? Eat them. Yes, you read right. You eat humans to regain energy. Even with all the little army guys around to eat up, you'll eventually die and get turned back into a naked human that you were before mutating. I got so addicted to this game when I was a kid that I actually would lie to my folks on where I was going so I could sneak off and play it at The Arcade. The fibs eventually got so bad that I would change the time on my M.A.S.K. stopwatch so I could claim that I was on time but my watch was off. That trick

Cyber Sled - Great Namco game with dual-joystick tank controls. Each tank has its own strengths and weaknesses. Find the one that works for you, blow up other tanks with missiles or guns, and that's it. It was a sit-down game with movable seats and just in arm range that you could belt your opponent if they annoy you or if you want to distract them. I got into this one as a challenge with The Arcade manager. Played him dozens of times but only won maybe 4 or 5 times. I would look forward to the challenge every time, though.

Night Striker - This was just one of my favorite games to play. They never made it more than just one token which was perfect for using that last token with so as to not leave with any money left. Premise was pretty simple: fly around, kill everything, defeat the boss, rinse and repeat. Your ship starts with 5 shields which are depleted with each hit. You get a spare shield per level and if you lose all of them you blow up. Sometimes you'd morph into a guy with a jet suit or get a little assistant spaceship but mostly you'd stay a tank. I was pretty good at this one, usually being able to finish it with just one credit, which is probably another reason I played it a lot. You know, childhood self-esteem boost and all. I was way bummed when they moved this one out of The Arcade.

Vapor Trail - Just like Night Striker, this was just a fun game I liked to play. It was kind of a modern, pseudo-futuristic version of '1943' top-scroller with the same type goal: Shoot everything, power-up, kill the boss, do it again. I remember liking this game because it was enjoyable to play as well as having really good music for a video game, kind of a rock guitar anthem. Not too long ago, I found a remixed version of the main theme done by a band with real guitars and drums and it was awesome. Oh and don't go looking for the good music and sounds if you pick up the ported-to-Sega Genesis version. It's pretty terrible. Either way, I know that top down shooters were a dime a dozen but I'm really surprised this one didn't gain more notoriety as it was a decent game in the arcade.

Numan Athletics - This one was just flat out 4-player fun and chaos. You have to alternately hit the buttons as fast as you can a'la Track and Field to run/power-up/etc and then hit the middle "action" button at the right time. It wasn't just track either, it was jumping back and forth up 40 stories, stopping a subway train, hurling a missile like a javelin...The game was awesome! I wasn't as fast as some of the others there so I couldn't break the world records but I'll be damned if I didn't try. The characters were straight out of anime and made goofy 'failure' faces if you faulted or messed up. I remember having friends gather around and play with this one until some dirty destructive monkey came along and broke the buttons. Why didn't they just replace them? Well, apparently because of the game wiring (found that out later) it used special buttons. Stupid proprietary parts...

Ticket Redemption - So this isn't a good memory but more of a bit of a rant. I remember these machines from when I worked at The Arcade I have to say: I hate hate HATED these. You always see the kids playing the Skee-ball or little "wheel of fortune" games or whatnot. They're having fun, collecting for little trinkets from Oriental Trading or candy, it's all good. They weren't the problem. The adults are the problem. They are, in a word, insane. All of these machines have to be refilled and can run out at inopportune times. Nothing is perfect; it happens. Enter an obsessed ticket collector saving up for a radio controlled car or some other such nonsense who goes off the deep end when she's shorted like 15 tickets. It'd be different if it was a one time thing but no, it happened multiple times with different people! When you stop to think about it, unless you're really REALLY good at these machines, you'll end up spending more money on earning the tickets than on the item if you were to go out and buy it outright. Yet here they were, day in and out, manically going at it to earn those tickets. And when I worked there, they didn't have those counting machines like there are now where you feed the machine and when you're done it spits out a receipt to give to the guy at the counter, no no! We had to count them out by hand (sounds like a "when I was your age" story huh?) while the ticket psycho stared impatiently. It was cool to see the kids get really happy when turning in tickets for little toys, though, which kind of made up for the loopy ones. Bottom line? As a kid or customer, ticket redemption is ok. As an employee, ticket redemption sucks.

Terminator 2: The Arcade Game - Hooboy! I loved this game. Also a 1-token cheap one to play, you got to be a terminator and shoot endoskeletons and, if you were good, kill the T-1000. With fast and frantic shooting action, authentic sound effects like the missile sounds and Arnold talking to you, the game was just tons of fun to play. If you had a buddy to play too, it was even better. I dropped lots of tokens in this one too until they got rid of it.

Lucky and Wild - Hated this game. Buddy shooting game with moderate graphics. Games didn't last very long. And I sat in gum while sitting down at it.

Afterburner II - This game so cool because you sat in it and it moved just like being in a fighter plane! Ok, so maybe not exactly like but it was still cool for the thing to go in the directions you steered it. The graphics were pretty good for the time and while playing it did get a little frantic but having the cabin move all over while flying was pretty crazy. It even led to a little bit of motion sickness after getting out of it but it was totally worth it. Too bad they didn't feel like fixing it after it broke at The Arcade.

Mercs - I got into this game also because it was only one token to play. After the first few games I played, I got hooked. It was a bottom to top scrolling game with lots of bullets, weapons, and booms. Think Contra but scrolling upwards. That was the "last call" game for quite awhile until they got rid of it to get a 4 player Suzuka Racing machine. Which was fun but not worth 3 credits.

Smash TV - Another great game. Walking past the machines, I heard the little comeon of "Big Money, Big Prizes, I love it!!" which drew my young man curiosity. I remember walking up thinking to myself 'what the heck? Two joysticks?' and I immediately flashed back to my even younger days playing Tutankham at the bar my dad tended at and at an Elk's Club after my Grandpa's funeral. Wow, it all comes back there, huh? Anyhow, Tutankham was a really hard game in itself and having 2 joysticks - one to run, one to shoot - made it basically a wasted quarter in those much younger days. Not wanting to pass it up, I tried Smash TV and it was awesome. It always reminded me of the Arnie movie The Running Man with the game show aspect. Regardless it is/was a great game that's been ported all over the place as well as imitated but with different 'bad guys' the most recent, yet extremely satisfying, Zombie Apocalypse.

The Arcade changed from an Aladdin's Castle to a Cyberstation in it's final days. Sadly, The Arcade closed down sometime after I moved away. When I make it back home and walk through the mall, the corner where it used to be is so quiet, dark, and empty with the gate down. I can't help but get a little sad that there were no more games to be played there. It's no matter, though. As long as my memories remain, it won't make a difference how many remodels the mall goes through and whatever businesses come and go, that corner will always be The Arcade to me.

And that's just my two cents worth...

Thanks for reading.
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