The arcades of the ‘80s were an amazing place to spend your early teens. The neon-soaked atmosphere accompanied with a cacophony of digitised sounds, the oddly sticky, garish carpet underfoot, and that strange miasma of overheating circuitry, was pure music to the senses.
These days the arcades just aren’t the same. Gone are the classics, and all we’re left with are a smattering of racing titles, some kind of shooting game and the rest are divided up with gambling machines and odd ticket dispensing monstrosities.
Therefore, we thought we’d look at ten arcade titles that will get the old nostalgia muscle working. You won’t find Space Invaders or Pac-Man in here, or any of the usual top five classics, but you will find some cracking games that’ll spark a memory or two.
This 1986 Tecmo sidescrolling platformer has you battling across the land of Argool as the resurrected ultimate warrior, Rygar.
It was a popular game in the arcades of the time, running off a dual Z80 4MHz board, with a 256 x 224 resolution display. Although the first level was quite easy, the difficulty soon ramped up and the later levels had you timing your jumps or else you’d fall into the lava or get done-in by the increasing number of monsters.
The backdrop art was beautiful, the animations were splendid, and the thumping soundtrack blended in neatly with the gameplay. Overall, it was a superb game and one that’s worth playing again should you come across an emulator online.
Operation Wolf took the arcades by storm when it was released in 1987. This on-rails shooter complete with an Uzi machine gun, or couple of Uzis for two player mode, as the main controller was tricky to master but glorious fun.
From the intro, where the commando is lacing his boots, sheathing his knife and cellotaping grenades to his legs, to the digitised voice that announced to everyone nearby that you’re about to take on countless waves of nameless enemies, spoke of a quality game.
It needed a fair bit of power to run too, using a combination of a Z80 4MHz and an Motorola 6800 12MHz setup. Hands up those who payed out for a two-player mode only because they wanted to operate the two machine guns themselves. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
This early 1982 vertical scrolling shooter from Namco used the same basic hardware that the ever-popular Galaga was coded on – a three Z80 3MHz setup.
It was a quick-paced game that had you keeping an eye on the aerial patterns of the flying enemies, while also trying to deal with the ground based enemies. Needless to say, you’re battling against an invasion from an alien intelligence come to reclaim the Earth – or something like that.
It was a colourful and quite impressive game for the day, certainly one to get hold of via MAME or other emulation. The level of detail was surprisingly good, too, adding an extra layer of depth to an already saturated genre.
Now here’s a cracking wireframe vector graphics game from 1980 that played brilliantly, but was a bit of beast to master the controls of.
You had two joysticks which moved the tank caterpillar treads to the left or right; reversing one or the other. The viewscreen, in the early cabinet models, even had a kind of periscope to see through, emulating you looking through the viewport at the front of the tank. According to legend, the U.S. Army used this game to help train its tank gunners.
The MOS 6502 2MHz processor ran this incredible machine, and it still plays well today via emulation. Although it was only wireframe, the 3D effect was excellent, and the animation of exploding vehicles was staggeringly impressive for the time.
This Taito 1983 title wasn’t quite as popular as it should have been over here in the UK. Those who travelled abroad though were probably more familiar with it, unless of course your local arcade was well-stocked.
The game was really quite cleverly played out, having you as a spy who infiltrates a building with countless doors and a set of lifts up the centre. You have to work your way down the building until you find any red doors, enter them and steal the plans within. Once you’ve got them you can work your way to the basement and escape.
Stopping you though are the lift (elevator) sequences, and numerous henchmen who appear out of the other doors to the building and try to shoot you. After a while the game becomes quite fast paced, and very tricky to master. Great fun though.
1987 saw Taito launch this excellent sidescrolling platformer hack and slash. Rastan has you as a mighty Conan-like, muscle-bound barbarian warrior, who’s quest is to slay a dragon – somewhere toward the end of Round 6 – as well as everything else that gets in his path.
It’s a well-crafted arcade game, with an superb soundtrack accompanying it. One of our favourites, and it ran exceedingly well on the Motorola 68K and Z80 combo considering the numerous animations, and the numbers of sprites on the screen at once.
It was a colourful and nicely presented arcade title, with some fantastic combat sequences and graphical detail.
Data East’s 1987 scrolling platformer, Karnov, featured an ex-circus Russian strongman who could breath fire, produce ladders from his pockets and obtain those pointy-toed boots that are always in Aladdin films to make him run faster.
Although a strict by the numbers scroller, Karnov was a fun game to play; mainly because it was such a challenging title to get to grips with. There was plenty of on-screen action, and most of it happening at once, which led to some pretty frustrating loss of life moments.
It ran off the same Motorola and Z80 combo as the aforementioned Rastan, however, what it lacked for in graphical detail and complex animations, it certainly made up for in gameplay speed. It was an odd title, we’ll admit, but there was something remarkably addictive to Karnov that made you want to come back for more.
Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja
Rampant Ninja related crimes were obviously a problem back in 1988, well, according to Data East they were.
With President Ronnie kidnapped, you and a friend could take to the streets and kick the snot out of a multitude of colourful Ninja characters as you work your way through seven levels in order to rescue the aforementioned leader of the free world.
Although exceedingly cheesy, Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja was tremendous fun. And when you factored in a second player, there was plenty of digitised grunts and groans as you laid waste to anyone that happened on to the same screen space as you.
18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker
July 2000 saw the release of SEGA’s 18 Wheeler, also known as 18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker.
This truck driving racing sim involved you transporting a load from one place to another faster than your rival trucker. Along the way, you’re awarded extra time if you wipe out a certain van and you could edge yourself closer to the various checkpoints and final destination by taking advantage of shortcuts and the slipstream from over large vehicles.
Once you’ve made it to the destination you’ll be awarded cash points based on how fast, how much time was left, and whether you beat your rival to the goal. After that there’s a mini-game where you had park the truck in a certain time limit; doing so gave you a power up of some description that aided you in the next level.
The arcade version was superb, with a huge steering wheel and even the horn cord on the sit-in versions.
Track and Field
Konami’s Track and Field from 1983 is to blame for all those joysticks being broken on the 8-bit machines. It inspired the likes of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, and countless other joystick waggling games that had us in a sweat and with sore arms.
Track and Field though, instead of using the joystick, had you pounding on a set of buttons to force the athlete on the screen to ever faster speeds. With the right timing, and a set of very quick fingers, you could easily beat the records set for the 100 metre dash, long jump, javelin, 110 metre hurdles, hammer throw and the final even, the high jump.
It was common to see several bodies hunched over the controls, one or two of you hitting the buttons to build up power, while another waited until the prime moment to shout ‘STOP’ and hit the action button to complete the event – should it require one.
While there are countless other arcade games out there, we hope our brief ten will have brought a smile to your face as you fondly recall dropping the best part of your paper round wages into them. If you’ve got any arcade memories you’d like to share, let us know in the comments below.