Retro Rewind: Golden-Age Classics (Part 2)

First, I want to start this post with an apology for my absence. When I make multi-part posts like this one, I like to try to have them uploaded no more than a few days apart. In this case it’s been a little over a week since my last entry. This delay was largely due to a recent career change. That’s right, I’m no longer working from home in the banking industry. Instead, I’ve switched gears for something a little more blue-collar. I decided a few months ago that the mental stress caused by my previous job was best abandoned for something a bit simpler. It’s taken me a few weeks to adjust to the new schedule and find my groove. So again, I apologize for the delay. With that out of the way, let’s continue our journey into some of the classic arcade titles of the 1980’s!

Millipede

Millipede – In the same way that Galaga was a re-imagining of Galaxian, Millipede is an update to the classic Centipede. The gameplay is largely the same, with the exception of some new enemies and environmental objects. Millipede was intended to replace its predecessor. But for many players, myself included, it just didn’t have the same magic as the original game. I’m not sure what it is exactly – as both games are very similar. But I just prefer Centipede over this update. Sadly, if you’re curious about Millipede, you’re a bit out of luck. While Millipede has been released on a number of systems over the years, it is currently unavailable on modern consoles.

Donkey Kong Jr. – In my last entry I spoke a bit about the Nintendo arcade classic Donkey Kong. Well, as you might expect, Donkey Kong Jr. is a sequel to that legendary game. The original game ends when Mario captures Donkey Kong and rescues his girlfriend. In this title, you play as the son of Donkey Kong on a quest to rescue his father. Much like the previous game, this is a fast-paced platform title. It’s a fun twist on the original title and one that I actually find it to be a bit more enjoyable than the first. Donkey Kong Jr. is currently available on the Nintendo Virtual Console and coming soon to the Nintendo Switch online service. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys Nintendo-style platformers.

Joust – Did you ever want to knock out a friend with a giant lance from the back of a speeding bird? If so, Joust is the game for you. While not the first 2-player co-operative/competitive video game, it was arguably the most popular.  In Joust, you can either work together with a friend to eliminate bad guys from the back of a flying ostrich, or you can simply duke it out head-to-head. Personally, I can tell you that when I was young, the whole point of playing Joust was to compete with someone else. It was very therapeutic. In fact, many disputes of my youth were settled via Joust matches. Today, curious gamers can  experience this title via the Xbox Live Arcade.

Moon Patrol

Moon Patrol – I loved this game when I was a kid. Nothing was better than Moon Patrol. I remember how excited I was to see that the game was finally available on the Atari 2600, only to quickly have that excitement deflated upon seeing just how horrendous the Atari port actually was. It was bad… So, so bad. The arcade was the only way to really experience this classic title when I was a kid. What made Moon Patrol so great? Well, first of all, there was the “moon buggy”. Who didn’t want to drive a funky-looking moon buggy across the lunar surface while blasting aliens and hopping craters? I know I sure did. The game was made even better by the catchy theme song that played throughout the game itself. All of this made Moon Patrol a classic that still withstands the test of time. Moon Patrol is available today on the PS4 and Nintendo Switch.

Pole PositionNeed for Speed, Forza, Gran Turismo – all of these game franchises owe their success to Pole PositionPole Position is the original arcade racing game. There was no joystick on a Pole Position machine. Instead, the game machine was equipped with a steering wheel and gas pedal. There was nothing else like it at the time. I remember sitting down in the arcade driver’s seat for the first time, I was blown away. This game was unlike anything else I had ever seen. For kids like me, Pole Position set a very unrealistic expectation about what driving a car was actually like – but that’s what makes it fun! Today, you can play the original game as part of the NAMCO Museum collection on Xbox Arcade.  However, the only way to relive the original experience is by sitting inside one of the classic Pole Position machines, assuming you can manage to find one.

Q*Bert – Here we have one of the true classic golden-age titles: Q*bert. When I was a kid, Q*Bert blew me away because it was a video game that could actually talk – well, sort of. The game has a very basic synthesizer built into the audio board. This allowed the game to output obscure vocal tones. However, these phonmes don’t actually end up being combined into English words, instead it was gibberish. The result was very unique and quirky. Regardless, it was pretty groundbreaking at the time. Q*Bert is a game in which each level is comprised of a number of 3D-like cubes. The player controls a funky little orange character that jumps from cube to cube in attempt to change each cube to a uniform color. Once every cube on the stage matches, the levels ends and the game progresses. Of course, there are a handful of bad guys hopping around also. So you must always be aware of your surroundings. This game was a favorite of mine when I was very young. Today, Q*Bert is available on the PS4 and Xbox One as part of Q*Bert Rebooted. This title includes the original classic, as well as a modern re-imagining of the game.

Mario Bros.

Mario Bros. – Most people you will encounter have played Super Mario Bros. But how many are familiar with its predecessor? That’s right, before they were “super”, they were just the “Mario Bros.” This game is a simple platformer, that consists of a number of stages. Mario (or Mario and Luigi – if playing in two-player mode) must defeat a set number of enemies in order to advance to the next stage. Unlike Super Mario Bros., the characters are unable to jump on top of monsters to defeat them. Instead, they must bang on the underside of the platform that the monsters inhabit. This will flip the monster onto its back, thus allowing Mario to kick them into oblivion. Even though Mario Bros. was designed to be a co-operative two-player title, many people enjoyed trying to sabotage the other player in one way or another. When I was a kid, this was only real reason to play the game. Mario Bros. has seen some form of release on almost every system Nintendo has put out over the years. However, each of these ports have paled in comparison to the actual arcade version. Today, the only way way to play the “true” version of Mario Bros. is via the Nintendo Switch. The game is included there as part of the “Arcade Archives” series.

Gauntlet – If you’re a fan of dungeon crawl games, you owe a debt of gratitude to Gauntlet. This is the game that started it all. Gauntlet is a multi-player action game with a fantasy theme. It supports up to four players, each taking the role of a different hero; Warrior, Elf, Wizard, and Valkyrie – each with unique strengths and weaknesses. The object of the game is navigate through the dungeon maze, face hordes of monsters, collect troves of treasure, and ultimately find the exit. In its day, this game was infamous for draining young arcade-goers of countless quarter. Admittedly, I spent a small fortune of my weekly allowance on “continues” for this title. I was completely enthralled with Gauntlet. In fact, this game might very be responsible for my lifelong fascination with the fantasy genre. For a time, the original Gauntlet was once available on Xbox Live Arcade. But today, this classic is currently unavailable on modern platforms. Instead, there is a modern reboot with the same name. But make no mistake, there is only one classic Gauntlet.

Rampage – If you’ve ever wanted to assume the role of a giant monster and destroy entire city blocks, Rampage is the game for you. In this game, you can control one of three kaiju monsters; a giant ape, a giant lizard, or a giant wolf. The goal is to complete demolish various US cities, stage by stage. Of course, military and other hazards await the player.  Rampage was another game that really shined in two-player mode. Sure, it was fun enough on its own, but experiencing it with a friend makes it even that much better. Today, the original game is available in the Midway Arcade Origins collection, which is compatible with the Xbox One. (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, not included.)

 

The games detailed in both this, and my last post are simply some of my personal arcade favorites from the golden-age of gaming. This is by no means meant to be a definitive list of golden-age classics. Nor should it be considered a complete “best of” list. In fact, there are many more wonderful arcade titles from the 80’s that captured my attention. Classics like Popeye, Bubble Bobble, Dragon Spirit, 1943, and Afterburner just to a name a few – all left major impressions on me.  However, if you are a younger gamer with an interest in retro-gaming, any of the titles mentioned in there two posts are excellent starting points.

Modern games are amazing. But it is always important to remember your roots.

Retro Rewind: Golden-Age Classics (Part 1)

Most kids today will never experience the thrill of setting foot into an old-school arcade. The closest they will get is likely someplace like Chuck E -Cheese’s or Dave & Buster’s. Sure, there may be a few retro-style arcade halls still tucked away here and there. But sadly, they are now few and far between.

Visiting an arcade in the 1980’s was quite an experience. Most of them were loud, dimly lit rooms, filled with glowing arcade cabinets. Sometimes there were neon bulbs or blacklights on the walls and ceiling. Occasionally, there would be a jukebox blasting music that struggled to be heard over the din of the digital beeps and bloops emanating from the arcade machines themselves.

It might be hard to imagine, but once upon a time, if you wanted to play really good games you simply had to fill up your pockets with quarters and head down to the local arcade. This was especially true in the days before the NES hit the scene. Sure, you could play games at home on the ATARI 2600, but the computing power of the 2600 paled in comparison to what was packed into most arcade machines.

The games that were popular during the golden age of gaming are simple by today’s standards. But nonetheless, they are classics and certainly worthy of attention. Now, I’m not going to go into great detail about the games themselves, but I do want to take a moment to provide a list of some of more memorable arcade classics that I enjoyed as a kid. I’m also going to provide details on how you can best experience these retro games on today’s platforms. So, without further delay, let’s dive in.

Space Invaders

Space Invaders – This is the original fixed shooter! In this game you control a mobile cannon that can move left to right across the bottom of the screen. You aim at rows of descending aliens that attack you with laser fire. Your cannon is protected partially from attacks by a number of bunker-like shields. If the aliens reach the bottom of the screen, or destroy all of the shields, the game is over. Space Invaders took the world by storm. It was a classic that will forever be remembered by older gamers like me. Sadly, there is not a true port of the original game available on modern consoles or for PC. However, a re-imagined version of the game, Space Invaders Extreme is available on Steam and XBOX Live Arcade.

Asteroids – This is a classic game from my youth. My summer camp had an Asteroids table and I wasted countless quarters on this thing. Asteroids in a top-down shooter. In it, you pilot a ship through an asteroid field. You can rotate the ship 360-degrees and thrust forward in whatever direction you are pointed. Asteroids of various size float by and you must shoot them with your laser, breaking them apart or destroying them entirely – without being hit. The best way to experience Asteroids today is through the Asteroid Deluxe title available on Xbox One or Xbox 360. This version of the game includes both to classic 1979 rendition, as well as a modern HD remake.

Galaxian – Many consider this game to be an evolution of Space Invaders. Also a fixed shooter, in Galaxian, you control a starfighter that can move left to right across the bottom of the screen. Hordes of alien ships line up across the top and attack. But unlike Space Invaders, these ships will swoop down and dive at the player. When comparing the two games, it is easy to see just how fast the technology behind the video game industry was evolving. The original version of Galaxian has been included as part of various NAMCO collections over the years, but it is not available on modern hardware at the time of this writing.

Pac-Man

Pac-Man – This is a game that needs no introduction. Pac-Man is arguably one of the most recognizable video games of all time. The purpose of the game is to navigate through various mazes and collect little pellets. Once every pellet is collected, you move on to the next level. The danger lies in being chased by four ghosts. Touching one of them will result in a life lost. However, the tides turn whenever Pac-Man eats one of the larger power pellets. Doing so gives him the ability to chomp down on his ghostly attackers for a limited time. I don’t know a single person who lived through the 1980’s that isn’t familiar with Pac-Man.  The name is synonymous with golden-age gaming. This classic title is available today in its original form on a number of systems. It is available on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch (as part of NAMCO Museum collection).

Donkey Kong – This game was one of the first platform games ever developed. Interestingly enough, it is also the game that introduced the character of Mario (then known as Jump Man) to gamers all over the world. Donkey Kong is a giant gorilla, and he’s kidnapped Mario’s girlfriend! Mario must navigate his way through four levels – dodging whatever Donkey Kong throws his way. It’s a short but sweet classic. It is also responsible for bringing the name “Nintendo” to the attention of the west. If you consider yourself to be a fan of retro classics, this is one game that you should be on your shortlist. Donkey Kong is is currently available on the Nintendo Virtual Console and the Nintendo Switch.

Ms. Pac-Man – At first glance, Ms. Pac-Man might seem to be nothing more than a simple re-skin of the classic Pac-Man. But instead, in many ways it is actually a vastly superior game. The ghost AI is a bit trickier, and the levels are a bit more refined. When it comes to Pac-Man, this is my favorite of the two. It is considered by many, (myself included) to be the definitive Pac-Man experience.  Ms. Pac-Man is available on Steam, PS4, Xbox Arcade.

Defender

Defender – Ahh, Defender. This is the game that started the “schmup” craze. Defender is a sidescrolling shoot-em-up style game that’s renown for it’s difficulty and its ability to take quarter after quarter until your pockets were left empty. In this game you pilot a starship. The goal is to defend against an alien invasion force. In many ways, the concept here is similar to what was found in Space Invaders. But this time in an action-based side-scrolling presentation instead of an overhead view. At the time of this writing, the only modern system Defender is available on is the Xbox One via the backwards compatible title; Midway Arcade Origins.

Centipede – For me, this was the game that started it all. Centipede holds of honor of being the first video game I ever got my hands on. Like Space Invaders, you control a little character that can move left to right across the bottom of the screen. The goal is to destroy centipedes before they reach the bottom of the stage. To make things difficult, the game-field is littered with little mushrooms that provide cover for the centipedes. Defeating the head of a centipede also leaves a mushroom behind – providing a new obstacle for your next go-round. To make things even more challenging, slugs, spiders and other creep crawlies also get in your way and attack you. All of this makes for a fast paced arcade experience. Today, the original arcade version is available to play on Xbox Live Arcade.

Frogger – Who could forget this little guy? Frogger is a game in which you control a little frog as he tries to hop to his home. Of course, along the way there are many dangers – cars, alligators and even… water? It’s a game of both patience and reflexes. Frogger is another classic from my youth. It is simple, yet charming enough to survive the test of time. This game has been ported across a number of systems over the years. Today, the original arcade version is available on Xbox Live Arcade (although without the classic Frogger theme song)

Galaga – Many people confuse this game with its older cousin Galaxian. The confusion is understandable. Both games are very similar both in terms of gameplay and design. In fact, Galaga is a sequel (or some argue a reimagining) of Galaxian. The design and concept is nearly identical, but at a faster pace and with a few new elements thrown in. For many players, Galaga is the more memorable of the two. Galaga is currently available on the Xbox Arcade, PS4, Steam and the Nintendo Switch (as part of the NAMCO Museum collection).

BurgerTime – I was never a big fan of this game. My father on the other hand, loved it as did many others, so I’m including it in my list. The object of this game is assemble a number of hamburgers. Each ingredient is suspended from various levels of ascending platforms. The player must climb ladders and run across the ingredients to make them fall onto the waiting bun below until the hamburger is complete. Of course, it’s not quite that simple. The player is chased by various bad guys (sausages, fried eggs, and pickle slices)… It’s weird, it’s trippy… but it’s ultimately entertaining.  BurgerTime has been ported to a number of systems over the years, but at the time of this writing, it is not available on modern hardware.

Dig Dug

Dig DugDig Dug is a quirky little game that involves digging tunnels in the ground and inflating pests until they explode… Sounds weird? Well, that’s because it is. But it is also lots of fun. When I was little, Dig Dug was extremely popular at my local arcade. I remember seeing one player (a college kid) actually make it to round 256 in the game. Reaching this final level results in an instant kill, but achieving it was on par with having “conquered” the game. Today, Dig Dug is available on Steam, PS4, Xbox Arcade, and the Nintendo Switch (via the NAMCO Museum collection)

I’m going to take a break here and resume my list in a second post sometime within the coming weeks. If you’re a younger player who is curious about golden-age gaming, or if you’re an old nerd like myself, I encourage you to seek out copies of these classics and give them a spin. Better yet, if you can find one nearby, venture out to an actual arcade and try to relive the glorious days or retro gaming. Being there, quarters in hand, was arguably the best part of the experience.