Thursday, 27 September 2012

Arcade Classics #1

Hello and welcome to another new feature here at Red Parsley! As is usually the case, the title is fairly self-explanatory, so instead of explaining that, let me instead tell you why I decided to start covering games that almost every self-respecting gamer in the world has probably already played to death, or gamers of a certain ‘maturity’, at least.

The late 70’s were of course when videogames were born as a popular and affordable entertainment medium and they really hit their stride in the early 80’s. This automatically means I missed out on some of the earliest ones as I was barely able to walk, nevermind play any hardcore coin-guzzlers! Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but I did get into gaming a bit later than others of a similar age. Anyway, the point is – there are still plenty of really early arcade games I never had a chance to play; a situation easily remedied and documented on this very blog! So, as is often the case with my tomfoolery here, these posts will be more for my own benefit than that of you splendid readers, but if any of you enjoy reading about my exploits anyway, all the better!

To start with, I thought I’d refresh my mind (as well as my reflexes) by playing the five games which are arguably considered the five most iconic classics of all-time. Surprisingly, these five are included among the classics that I have actually played before, but not for a good few years so I wonder if they’re still as hectic and addictive as once they were…

Space Invaders (1978)

Although the oldest game featured here, this Taito great almost immediately became a household name and helped kick-start the whole gaming boom, so it's not too surprising that even to this day its pixelly invaders have become an immediately identifiable symbol of videogames generally. As a game in its own right, though, it's probably the example that's aged the most out of the ones included in this feature. I used to play it in two places – the youth club my parents insisted I join where instead of interacting with the other ‘youths’, I spend most of my time shooting evil aliens. They also had a machine in a local shop of which my mum was a frequent patron which meant these remain some of the few shopping trips I ever actually volunteered to go on (chuckle). As I said, it has aged a bit – I prefer playing Galaga by a long way, personally – but it’s still an addictive and enjoyable trip down memory lane which is at least better than most of the official updates and sequels (with the probable exception of the crazy Space Invaders Extreme for the PSP/DS) ... 7/10

Asteroids (1979)

My memories of the many games I’ve encountered over the years are usually very vivid but I have absolutely no idea where I first played this one. I've definitely spent a fair bit of time with it somewhere though, and in its native environment too. There were a few games featuring vector graphics there at the time, but even though it was released all the way back in 1979, Asteroids wasn't the first. There's little doubt that it was the most popular though - Atari could barely keep up with the demand, and it remains very popular today. Many 'new and improved' variations on the theme have been released over the years - some were officially part of the lineage like Blasteroids, others were blatant clones like Stardust, but I'm quite comfortable in saying that none have matched the atmosphere and addictiveness of Atari's pocket-emptying original... 9/10

Defender (1980)

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the first Defender-style game I ever played wasn't actually Defender but the splendid Amiga title, Datastorm. It was only within the last few years that I learnt that this game was based on Dropzone which itself was a Defender clone but even so - it comprised by far the majority of my time with this type of game. I was pretty good at it too, so when I did finally play Defender, the small differences between it and Datastorm meant - I sucked! My biggest problem was learning to use a button to change direction rather than just... pressing the direction, as was the case with the Amiga game. Doesn't sound like a big issue I agree, but it caused me a lot of problems. So, I've now spent quite a bit of time with Eugene Jarvis' rock-hard blaster but... still suck at it! Boo hoo... I think I'll need to devote a lot more time to this one. Tune in for the results! ... 8/10

Pac-Man (1980)

The most famous videogame of them all? I’d certainly put a decent wager on it. The Namco name is probably better known these days for Ridge Racer, Tekken, etc, but they’ve been a heavyweight in the arcades since the day they acquired the Japanese arm of Atari. Their own games soon followed and the hungry yellow pie featured in what was to become not only their biggest hit, but the biggest hit of all-time! It’s not a game I was enormously taken by at the time, though. I played it a few times during my many jaunts to my local arcades but my appreciation of it didn’t come until much later for some reason when it was the first - and only, as it would turn out - game I bought for my Game Boy Advance, where it occupied a vast majority of my train/bus/toilet/lunch break at work time. I've never been much cop at it though. The fourth or fifth maze is about as far as I can get; I don't really have the desire to study strategies and enemy movement patterns until I can get super-far into the game, and I doubt that was ever Namco's intention when they designed it either. It has become one of my favourite 'five minute fix' games though, and I could never get bored of its distinctive and appealing look... 9/10

Robotron 2084 (1982)

Bizarrely, I never encountered this game in real-life until it was surrounded by machines of a far higher technical standard. The passing of years has not dulled its appeal though, and of all the ‘original’ classics, the one that’s still most highly regarded today must surely be Robotron. As regular readers of Retro Gamer magazine will already know, almost every game industry veteran and legend that they’ve interviewed names it among their five ‘Desert Island’ games and there’s a very good reason for that – it’s effing awesome! As I said, it was strangely absent from arcades near me to begin with - I played Smash TV first which I didn’t even realise was directly descended from it at the time, but while the later game is a supremely enjoyable one, Robotron for me (and many others, apparently) is the superior title. Its frenetic action is among the most addictive around and those fantastic sound effects give it the perfect finishing touch for me. Eugene Jarvis has long been considered the King of Kings in this field of endeavour and Robotron is his finest hour… 10/10

These five games were surely the five biggest names of their day and have remained five of the most well-known games of all-time. Remarkably, as already mentioned, they’re also five games that I’ve played before, though not necessarily around the time of their release – I’d have been 3 years old when Space Invaders was released, for example! Many other arcade titles that are regarded as classics are not among those I’ve previously played, however, so once again Red Parsley comes to the rescue and gives me the push I’ve been needing to give them a try. So, look out for the first of these soon which will be one of the first ever scrolling shmups…


  1. Space Invaders and Pac-Man... I had an old pizzaria shop not too far from where I lived that had those two cabinets when I was a kid. At the time I did not even know what arcades were I was so young. By the time I did move and discover an arcade, the predominant games were Double Dragon, Elevator Action, Ninja Gaiden, the old Star Wars flying game, etc.

  2. Yeah, good times, huh? The only arcade machines I know of now are a couple of Sega ones on my local pier - After Burner Climax, House of the Dead 3 (or 4 or something)... stuff like that. I wish there was still some retro ones around. Also, you've just reminded me that I still haven't played the arcade version of Double Dragon. Another one for the list I guess! :)

  3. What a great selection of games, Simon! I'm with you, by the way, when it comes to Space Invaders. Although I appreciate the game, it's never much appealed to me, and I've always much preferred Galaga to it. I have almost no experience with Asteroids, strangely enough. I think I got into gaming just a bit too late to appreciate it. I love, love, love both Pac-Man and Robotron, though. I remember playing the hell out of the latter as a kid despite the fact that I was terrible at it. There's just something about the chaos that makes me want to play it, I guess :)

  4. Cheers Bryan, glad I'm not alone! :) It almost seems unfair to prefer Galaga over Space Invaders since its a clone really, but I can't help it :P Robotron is pretty crazy but it's one of those games that was instantly awesome and has never decreased in awesomeness! Did you ever play Defender? I'm not very good at that one... :(

  5. Whats most amazing about these games is that they are as enjoyable now as they were back then! Very few games stand the test of time. Those that do, are classics :)

  6. You're right there buddy! I can't guarantee all of the games I'll cover for this series of posts in the future will be genuine classics but they're certainly be old enough to potentially qualify :P

  7. I wasn't around to see these games the first time but I've played Robotron for the very first time this week and I love it despite being awful at the game. Thank goodness for Midway Arcade Treasures on the PS2. Do you have a PS2 RKS? The disc has the likes of Defender, Spyhunter, Robotron, Smash TV, Joust, Toobin' and loads more big names plus there are two more volumes. I think they are on the original Xbox too.

  8. No, I wasn't realistically able to play them when they were brand-new either, Luckily, most of them were famous and popular enough to still be around a few years later :) I do have a PS2 but it's been broken for about four years now (>_<) I think I've got a collection like that for it though...