Everyone remembers the arcades, right? Back before cheap-to-produce home consoles could outperform cabinets, you'd spend hours hanging around sticky-floored amusement arcades, waste your money on tupenny shove (it's like gambling, but for kids!) and get enthralled at the flashing lights and punishing gameplay of the cabinets and the wonders they held within.
So let's get nostalgic, shall we? Here are our ten greatest arcade games of all time. If we've missed any of your favourites, feel free to shout at us and tell us we're wrong. We don't mind. Join us on a high-speed blast down memory lane...
#10 - Space Invaders
Space Invaders wasn't the first arcade game – that title goes to Space Wars, fact fans, and PONG was the first commercial success in the field – but it is one of the most iconic. The march of aliens taking an oddly circuitous route to earth's final line of defence and getting shot into pieces along the way has stuck in the public consciousness, and if some company wants to advertise the fact that they're into games and game culture, they'll more often than not use imagery from a 34-year-old arcade title.
The way that aliens sped up towards the end of the level wasn't deliberate, by the way: thanks to the limited processing power of arcade cabinets in the 70's, having all those aliens on screen slowed the game down to a crawl. As the player destroyed them, more of the computing ability was freed up, leading to an engaging but entirely accidental difficulty curve.
#9 - Donkey Kong
Mario is a plumber – and, like all plumbers, he spends his weekends rescuing his girlfriend from giant monsters. These days it's all Bowser and Princess Peach, but back in the day Mario only had eyes for a lady called Pauline. We're sure Pauline was lovely, but she doesn't sound quite as classy as Princess Peach, lacking any sort of royal title as she does.
Pauline was kidnapped by a giant ape, so of course Mario does the obvious thing and sets out to beat it to death with a hammer. Once you strip away the cutesy graphics and loveable barrel-jumping antics, it's a brutal dystopian tale of a failed Animal Control thanks to government cuts and one man's quest to smash open an innocent creature's face with a blunt instrument because that's all he has left.
#8 - Street Fighter II
“Hadoken!” That's what you shout to make blue soul fire come out of your hands, apparently. It doesn't work when we try it – similarly, screaming “Yoga Flame!” doesn't make fire shoot out of our mouths, and mumbling “Sonic Boom!” in a badly digitised voice does nothing, no matter how many times you swing your arms together as quickly as possible.1
Street Fighter II remains the go-to game for the whole genre of fighting games – where two people decide that the other must be stopped through a series of inappropriately lavish attacks often themed around their nation of origin in a charmingly racist sort of way.
#7 - Time Crisis
This is, in a way, the best arcade game of all because it gave you a satisfyingly chunky pistol to wave around and shoot at baddies when they waddled on to the screen; other games like House of the Dead did that too, of course – but Time Crisis was the best. Although a home version on the PS1 became a mainstay of parties for the late nineties, the arcade versions hold strong and you can still sometimes track down the odd unit of Time Crisis – or, at least, one of sequels.
Gameplay was fairly simple; you pointed your gun at baddies and pulled the trigger to off them (generally in one satisfying shot complete with a bright yellow and orange explosion) and when you wanted to reload, you released a pedal on the floor which ducked you into cover and made you invulnerable to harm. But not, as it turned out, invulnerable to TIME. Hence the name of the game. We can't remember precisely why the chap had to move so quickly, but we're guessing it had something to do with either a tremendously rapid debilitating disease or a pizza delivery firm.
#6 - Gauntlet
Dungeons and Dragons was a pretty big deal, back in the day – now, it's perceived as a hobby for spotty kids or bumbling manchildren who should know better (a false impression, as we learned when we explored the world of tabletop roleplaying – only half of the players in our session were bumbling manchildren). But back then it was the mainstay of satanists and black magicians. Exciting stuff.
Hence, Gauntlet. Gauntlet was a big ol' four-player arcade game, and each participant would push their hard-earned pocket money into the machine and take control of one of your standard fantasy characters (a wizard, a warrior, an elf, and so forth) then proceed to bash the shit out of skeletons, ghosts, and a variety of other old-timey dickbags.
But the real charm of the game came from a narrator whose recorded messages would play depending on what you did in the game, generally mocking you for being rubbish or reminding you that you were bleeding out and needed some food to heal. In fact, “Red Wizard Needs Food Badly!” has become so iconic that it's been turned into a song by British group The Duloks. Well. Maybe “song” is the wrong word.
#5 - Ridge Racer
Ridge Racer has dominated the arcades since 1993; with controls tight enough to almost qualify as a simulation but gameplay exciting enough to slot neatly into the “arcade racer” genre, it appeals to anyone who fancies the idea of driving a tremendously expensive car really bloody fast around a series of tracks.
And while various racing franchises have come and gone over the years (does anyone remember the hoo-hah over the now-defunct Project Gotham Racing? Their main mistake was not including Batman anywhere in the game, we feel) Ridge Racer has stayed strong.
Even though it's now penetrated the home and mobile markets – especially with the soon-to-be-released Ridge Racer Unbounded, which features an awful lot of crashing through walls, bumping off other drivers, and creating your own shortcuts through the use of aggressive terrain remodelling – the spiritual home of Ridge Racer will always be the arcade.
#4 - Dance Dance Revolution
Dance Dance Revolution doesn't really involve dancing as such; it's more a sort of frantic foot-stamping spasm, like trying to kill an entire family of terrified mice without using your hands. They are to actual dancing what juggling oranges is to cookery. If you tried replicating the moves from DDR in a club, you'd be immediately removed from the premises.
But the opportunity to jump around in time with pop songs proved irresistible to arcade nerds. Maybe because it was the closest thing many of them got to exercise, and the resultant endorphin high became addictive; especially as they didn't have to go through the humiliation of taking part in team sports or outdoor activities to get it.
FUN FACT: We lost a home DDR tournament one drunken Saturday night back in first year at Uni because someone from the opposing team “accidentally” broke a jar of Nutella in the room earlier that day, meaning that halfway through one round we ended up with a shard of glass wedged in our shoeless heel. They claimed it was a mistake, but insisted that the score remained in place. We never forgave them.
#3 - The Simpsons
Has any other arcade game taken so much of our money? Probably not. We'd shovel weeks' worth of hard-earned pocket money into this machine, just for the joy of getting to control Bart, Homer or Lisa and send them on a quest to get Maggie back from the inexplicably evil Mr. Smithers.
But not Marge. No-one wanted to be Marge. She all of her fighting with a hoover, which is a bit rubbish, and her old-style voice coupled with the dodgy arcade sound chip gives her an almost palpable aura of sadness. Especially she says “Look out, world!” after eating a pie to replenish her health, and you can pretty much tell that she's weeping inside after seeing the depths to which her family has sunk.
#2 - Pac Man
Drug-fuelled ghost hunter and fruit enthusiast Pac Man hurls himself through a dark maze for your entertainment. One of the first games to have a character – even if that character was just a yellow circle with a gaping maw on one side – Pac Man has endured to this day, even if his first outing remains his best to date.
You might be thinking, though – 'Why's Pac Man called Pac Man?' He used to be called Puck Man, on account of him looking a bit like a hockey puck, but the reality of writing PUCK MAN” on arcade cabinets which were in easy access to people who might remove one part of the first letter of his name was realised before the game was released. Which is lucky, really.
#1 - PONG
Everyone knows what PONG is: a simulation of table tennis played in an airless, low-gravity void by floating paddles. What's not to like? The gameplay is perfectly balanced, because you have to play against another human being, and mistakes teach the player lessons about play rather than punishing them.
Of course, compared to later multiplayer titles, it's lacking something. The XP system is largely non-existent, giving players little reason to return to play over and over. The weapons upgrades and Perk management systems are nowhere to be seen, and neither Clans nor Guilds are present; there isn't even a hint of a narrative storyline to keep people invested. All told, PONG's long-term business model is very poor.
What's that? People are still playing it? Oh.
1 It does result in sore arms though so maybe we're on the right track
2 That is, their first appearance as far as back as we're willing to research