With a new year and decade upon us, it’s time to alert everyone to some important anniversaries that will be coming along this year. We won’t cover every game celebrating a birthday in 2020, as that would get far too complicated and wordy – just the stuff that most people know with a few obscurities thrown in here and there.
Back in 1980, the arcade business was livin’ large as it was right in the middle of the vaunted “Golden Age.” Competition among developers was high, technology improving to mean that black & white games were old hat. With a few hundred releases taking place this year, it’s not worthwhile to mention everything, but some of the notable titles will include:
Pac-Man (Namco) – We might as well start with the one that everyone will be talking about when May 22nd rolls around – Pac-Man. You know Pac-Man…or at least, you should. Then again, if you’re on this site, then you know all of these games either from having played them or having at least heard about them. Designed by Toru Iwatani, the cultural impact of Pac-Man is enormous, so I’ll be shocked if Bandai Namco doesn’t do something on the arcade side to properly celebrate the character this year.
Defender (Williams) – On the opposite end of the difficulty spectrum from Pac-Man was the “Vid Kidz’” Defender. Despite being a much more complex game than Pac-Man was, it steamrolled in the earnings department. Unfortunately these days, complex games seem to underperform in arcades, but gamers at the time found that Defender forged their skills. This one was released in November.
BattleZone (Atari) – Also released in November, this game is often called the “granddaddy of First Person Shooters.” While it was a bit slower paced than something like Halo or Call of Duty, that didn’t keep it from being fun. The use of the periscope overlay (present on some models) also helped immerse you into the simulation.
Berzerk (Stern) – Released in October of that year, Berzerk provided a much different take on labyrinth crawling than Pac-Man did, giving you a blaster to defend yourself from relentless robotic enemies in a maze where touching everything, including the walls, would kill you. It was enhanced by the clever use of voice, where the ever-smiling Evil Otto would taunt the player – making for a deeper character than players were accustomed to finding in video games. Atari would make the best art for this for the home port, so it’s what we’ll show:
Missile Command (Atari) – This was perhaps the first game to really take on the Cold War between the USA and the USSR, it’s relentless gameplay keeping you on your toes to prevent the nuclear holocaust – as best you could. Personally, I never could get into this one, but that was probably because most of my exposure to the game in the 80s & 90s was through the Atari 2600 port using a joystick (my dislike for MC changed with Missile Command 3D in the 1st person 3D mode though). Released in June 1980.
Wizard of Wor (Midway) – Getting into a little more obscure territory, here was another maze game that I always enjoyed. It made use of speech like Gorf and Berzerk, although I can’t say that it always made sense. It employed co-op action (like Rip Off did that same year, but did so with a better design)
Crazy Climber (Data East) – As the first game designed by Shigeki Fujiwara, who would later create several games for the PC-Engine/Turbografx-16, this one is also kinda obscure(to kids, not so much retro gamers), but unique. Scale a building almost like Spider-Man (well, sans spider powers and cackling villains) while avoiding the many obstacles on your way up. This one was remade some years ago with a unique control scheme, but it didn’t show up at many places outside of Asian arcade markets.
Warlords (Atari) – The last for the Over The Hill games will be what I consider to be the best classic multiplayer game ever – Warlords. This took the concept of Pong/Quadrapong and blended it with some Breakout and medieval fantasy. The best way to play it is on the 4-player cocktail model (a 2-player upright with an interesting backglass effect was released, but the more the merrier in this case), but such cabinets are rare to come across. I have one, it being the most I’ve ever spent on a classic arcade machine, but it’s currently out of commission due to a dead power supply. I’ll have to fix that to celebrate 40
You also have the likes of Star Castle, Armor Attack, Moon Cresta, Rally-X, Phoenix and Space Zap turning 40, but like some of the obscurish titles above, I’m not sure how many people will really be commemorating these ones.
1995 is a little bit closer to us than 1980, and most anniversaries like to focus on the number 25 anyways. I have a feeling that 90’s nostolgia will be ramping up through the 20’s, so I’m sure you’ll be hearing plenty more about games and films from that time (although quite a few have been remade already as Hollywood finds new ways to beat dead horses). While the year of ’95 didn’t have as many titles that would have as large an impact on gaming as 1980 did, it still gave us many great games that influenced things in their own way.
Time Crisis (Namco) – Let’s start off with a heavy hitter that would give birth to a franchise, Time Crisis. While the 3D graphics haven’t aged all that well (which is the case for most 3D games from the mid-90s), the gameplay was classic and it would forever change how foot pedals would be used in games. In my experience, you don’t come across this one very often, since Time Crisis II came to dominate the scene a few years later.
Area 51 (Atari Games) – Another original shooter played to a popular myth in American culture, that of the Area 51 military facility in the Nevada desert. Apart from the theme, one fun part of this title were the secret rooms and special “Kroon Hunter” mode. This eschewed 3D graphics for an odd blend of digitized actors and pre-rendered backgrounds/effects, which does still look aged, but something about 90’s 2D graphics produce a different reaction from my brain when I see them nowadays.
Soul Edge (Namco) – Fighting games had dominated the early part of the 90s, but they were mostly done in 2D. Soul Edge wouldn’t be the first to head into 3D for the genre, but the style of fighting that this introduced (mainly fighting with weapons) made for a great franchise that Namco still gives love to – just not in arcades, unfortunately.
Virtual On – Cyber Troopers (Sega) – Part Cyber Sled, part Gundam/MechWarrior, battle arena games are one genre that earned a good amount of affection in the 90’s after the beat’ em-up genre faded away. This one pitted you against one other giant fighting robot instead, much like a 1v1 fighting game.
Sega Rally Championship (Sega) – Sega got a lot of traction from racing games in the 90s (Indy 500 & Manx TT are two others that launched in ’95), and here’s one that would give us a trilogy of titles. This brought rally racing into the realm of the 3D, trying to do for the rallying what Daytona USA had done for stock car racing. While this wasn’t the first rally racer to grace arcades, it was one of the (if not the first) first games to bring it into the realm of 3D.
Alpine Racer (Namco) – Switching gears to a different kind of race, you had Namco bringing skiing back to the biz with this one. Simulators really came into their own during the 90’s, with games like this one leading the way. The shifting footpad allowed you not only to move from side to side, you could tilt your feet as well. Like Time Crisis, I’ve comes across the sequel to this more than the initial game, with Super Alpine Racer landing back in 2014.
DonPachi (CAVE) – Cave’s first game and one of the few that was officially supported in the US. Play as a fighter pilot fighting against former comrades in a challenge to prove who was the best pilot. This spawned some sequels and there’s a good chance that gamers will be seeing the DonPachi name in arcades again in the near future I thought about giving Strikers 1945 it’s own part of the list, but I think that Cave ended up having a bigger influence on the genre.
Virtua Striker (Sega) – Sega produced quite a few titles under the “Virtua” moniker, and they seemed to have struck gold with this soccer game. Part of that stems from it being presented in 3D, making for the most realistic soccer gaming simulator to be found at the time. The last time the series found its way to arcades was with Virtua Striker 4 Ver. 2006.
Also worth mentioning are Mortal Kombat 3 (put here because it’s a sequel in a franchise), Virtua Cop 2, Tetris Plus, Tokyo Wars, Crypt Killer, Magical Drop, Rail Chase 2, NBA Jam Tournament Edition, and the occasional piece of schlock like Street Fighter – The Movie.
There we have it! Which of these games is your favorite over the years? Which one would you love to see a remake or fresh take of?