Category Archives: Coin-Op

#95: Defender

Format: Coin-Op/Amiga Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up Released: 1980/1994 Developer: Williams/Ratsoft

Sadly, I’ve never played the original Defender arcade machine, although with the current growth of the retro game scene, it’s surely only a matter of time before I come across it at some sort of retro-themed club night. However, I did play the Amiga shareware conversion a helluva lot, so that’s what I’m going to talk about here.

Good old Ratsoft. Whoever you are.

There may well have been more than one shareware version of Defender, but after scouring t’interweb, I’m fairly sure that the one I had was developed by Ratsoft (thanks lemonamiga.com). Having never played the arcade original, I’m not in a position to comment of the quality of the Amiga conversion, but as far as I’m concerned it’s bloody brilliant. Interestingly, according to Retro Gamer and Edge (via Wikipedia), “most official and unofficial ports [of Defender] failed to accurately emulate the arcade’s gameplay”. If that’s the case, I’m obviously in for a real treat when I finally play the original arcade machine, because to my mind the Amiga version was nigh-on perfect.

Ah lasers. Good old lasers.

Unlike many eighties arcade games, Defender has really stood the test of time. The lightning-fast gameplay is  incredibly frenetic and tense, and the controls are amazingly responsive (which is in stark contrast to the woolly controls of one of its contemporaries, Space Invaders). The scrolling and collision detection are both spot on, so  however difficult the gameplay gets (and it gets very difficult indeed), you can never blame the game for an unfair death.

The trick is to shoot the alien without hitting the human - harder than it looks.

Speaking of difficulty, this has to be one of the hardest but most rewarding games out there. It’s difficult because the secret to success is aiming and shooting at enemies on the main screen while simultaneously keeping one eye on the top radar screen – a very difficult task unless you happen to have eyes that swivel independently of each other. Still, keeping an eye (or at least part of an eye) on the radar is the only way you’ll have a chance of avoiding any aliens lurking off-screen once your ship gets up to full speed, unless you have Tron-like reflexes. Likewise, the radar screen helps you to find and rush to the aid of humans who are being abducted, and one of the most rewarding (and challenging) aspects of the game is shooting a fleeing alien out of mid-air (being careful to avoid hitting its human cargo), then deftly catching the falling human and returning him/her to terra firma.

Whoever's playing is in a spot of trouble here - if the screen fills up this much, it's almost a guaranteed Game Over.

More often than not, your little rescue mission ends with you missing the alien entirely and destroying the innocent human instead, or shooting the alien but failing to catch the human before they plummet to their death, which is why it’s so damn satisfying when you’re successful. It’s a brilliant mechanic that’s endlessly entertaining, and despite my general awfulness at this game, it was enough of a carrot to keep me playing and replaying for hours at a time.

The fantastic Guardian - shame so few people got to play it.

Lastly, I have to mention an excellent Defender spin-off called Guardian, which was one of the very few games that was exclusive to the Amiga 1200 and the ill-fated CD32. Guardian did an absolutely amazing job of replicating the mechanics of Defender in 3D, and it’s just a shame that it was released so late in the Amiga’s lifespan (it was rated as the third best game on the Amiga in the penultimate issue of Amiga Power in 1996). The makers, Acid Software, were also behind the fantastic Super Skidmarks, but as far as I can gather, they were sucked up by some kind of black hole that emanated from Commodore’s HQ at around the time the Amiga imploded, and no-one’s heard of them since. Shame.

Anyway, here’s a clip of Defender in action – this is from the coin-op, but it’s pretty much identical to the Amiga version (make sure to have the sound turned up to fully appreciate the bombastic SFX).

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.lemonamiga.com)

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Filed under 1980, 1994, Amiga, Coin-Op, Ratsoft, Shoot 'Em Up, Williams

#94: Ms. Pac-Man

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Maze Released: 1981 Developer: Bally/Midway / General Computer Corporation

In 2005 I waved goodbye to Blighty (UK) and set sail (boarded a plane) for the new world (Vancouver, Canada). There I was going to make my fortune (live there for a year) and wander from town to town righting wrongs (do some travelling). I went with my good friend (actually… hang on, he is a good friend) Andy. Being adventurous we decide to plan as little as possible (left everything to the last-minute and chanced our luck).

When we arrived we had no job, no where to live and only our first night in a hostel booked. Seems crazy to me now but at the time neither of us was particularly worried. That’s the confidence of a 25-year-old. You completely believe it will all work out fine in the end. And it did. We arrived on the 4th, by the 8th we had found work and a place to live.

Home to travellers, wanderers and slightly confused Brits

Unfortunately there’s a peculiar Vancouver by-law (I think) which only allows contracts to start at the end/beginning of the month which means on the last day of the month the streets are full of moving vans and people carrying sofas.

So despite signing our contract we couldn’t move in for another three and a half weeks. With no other option Andy and myself prepared ourselves for 23 days of hostel living. The YHA Vancouver Downtown became our home. 23 days of sharing a room with three other men. 23 days of eating out every night (and drinking pretty much every night). 23 days of getting strange looks in the kitchen at breakfast time as you were in a suit dressed for work.

Still, it could have been worse. The place was clean, relatively quiet and only a couple of weirdos. The main problem was trying to fill time. The books I brought with me I soon finished. The TV room always seemed to be hogged by someone watching… whatever it is they put on Canadian TV (The Rick Mercer Report, Corner Gas and hockey). There’s only so many times you can play ‘Chase the Ace’. So thank God for Ms. Pac-Man.

Similar arcade to the one I used to play. More games should come in table form.

Yes, Ms. Pac-Man. The hostel ‘games room’ had a bashed about but perfectly working Ms. Pac-Man arcade. At first I just played it in a slightly ironic ‘Oh yeah, old game… cool’ kind of way. Plus at only a quarter a play it seemed a cheap way of occupying myself. Within a few days though I was hopelessly addicted. My ultimate aim? To beat the current high score. Why? Because it was there of course, because it was there.

So did I do it dear reader? Well, the photo speaks for itself.

Possibly the happiest moment of my life.

With only a few days left in the hostel I manged to do it. The High Score. 30,470. IN YOUR FACE OTHER HOSTEL PEOPLE! So imagine my disappointment when a few days later a guy turned up to empty the machine of quarters, turned it off and the score was deleted. In many ways this tale is like a modern day Icarus. I had a brief moment in the Sun before I plummeted back to Earth.

I was even more disappointed when, while researching for this post, I found out the highest score ever was 933,580. Abdner Ashman of Queens, N.Y. achieved that in April 2006. That’s about 6 months after my high score. Maybe I inspired him?

A couple of years ago I got Ms. Pac-Man for my phone. Despite no need to find quarters and lots of time to kill on the tube I’ve never beaten 30,470. It remains a personal best. I think I might have 30,470 put on my gravestone.

Before I go, have a look at this. I never realised Ms. Pac-Man had such a lovely voice.

Ian

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Filed under 1981, Coin-Op, General Computer Corporation, Maze, Midway

#66: Emergency Call Ambulance

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Racing Released: 1999 Developer: Sega

Failing to complete a level in most arcade racing games results in little more than the inconvenience of having to insert another credit. But failing to complete the first level of Emergency Call Ambulance results in nothing less than the death of a ten-year-old child called Jack.

In what has to be one of the most macabre game set-ups ever, this coin-op sees you take the wheel of a Chicago ambulance with the aim of rushing various patients to hospital without them expiring en route. A heart-rate monitor at the top of the screen reveals the patient’s condition, and a little inset in the top right shows you what’s going on in the back of the ambulance. Take a corner too wildly or collide with another vehicle and the patient’s condition worsens – take too many hits and they kick the bucket.

Unfortunately, the floaty handling of the ambulance combined with the tight time limit and abundance of other road users means that it’s almost impossible to actually get the patient to hospital without them moving on to a better place. In fact, this game has to rank as one of the hardest driving games of all time – in the many, many times I’ve played it, I’ve never once got onto the second level. (Although perhaps that says more about my driving skills than anything else.)

It’s almost heartbreaking to hear the long ‘beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep’ as the heart-rate monitor flatlines and you know you’ve failed to save Jack yet again, but there’s something compelling about the game that kept me coming back time after time.

“If only I hadn’t hit that car on the last corner… I know I can save him this time. Don’t worry Jack, I’m coming!” [Inserts coin]

Of course, I’m kidding myself – if I really cared about Jack I’d leave the machine well alone and let someone a bit more skilled in the driving department deliver him safely to hospital.

Still, the fatal [no pun intended] allure of this game is that it gives you the opportunity to be a hero, and how many driving games can you say that about? That’s what makes it so addictive – every driving game from Gran Turismo to Pole Position gives you the opportunity to win a championship, but how many driving games give you the chance to save a life?

Or, in this case, cause the repeated death of a critically injured child through reckless driving.

In many ways I’m glad I never got past the first level; apparently a later level sees you transporting a badly burned woman who’s pregnant with triplets… It’s bad enough my conscience has to deal with the death of a ten-year-old – I’m not sure I could deal with the deaths of three unborn children too.

(I apologise in advance for the poor quality of the video clip by the way – it was the only one I could find on YouTube…)

Lewis

(Images from The Killer List Of Video Games: http://www.arcade-museum.com/)

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Filed under 1999, Coin-Op, Racing, Sega

#58: Star Wars Arcade

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Space Combat Simulator Released: 1993 Developer: Sega

For a long time I thought I’d just imagined this game. Whenever I asked people whether they’d played Star Wars Arcade, they always thought I meant the 1983 version, then they’d start going on about how the vector graphics were way ahead of their time and how the digitized voices were amazing, yadda yadda yadda. And I’d just sit there going “No! No! The other one, the one set during Return of the Jedi…” and they’d look at me like I had a screw loose.

But look carefully upon the picture above all ye doubters – it does exist! Thanks to The Internet(TM) I’ve unearthed proof that in 1993, ten years after Atari released the insanely popular Star Wars Arcade, Sega released… Star Wars Arcade. Thus proving that although the game may have been erased from the collective memory of everyone else on the planet, I AM NOT GOING MAD. Phew.

A slightly dark screenshot from the arcade version.

Presumably the game was a massive flop – partly because no-one seems to have ever heard of it and partly because I only ever saw it in one arcade (in Barcelona of all places, seven years after it was released). I only have very vague memories of playing the game, although I remember being impressed by the graphics (considering it was a seven-year-old game) and disappointed about how difficult and expensive it was. It kept me coming back though and, along with Time Crisis 2 and Jambo! Safari (another brilliant but obscure Sega arcade game), it sucked up a goodly percentage of my pesetas.

The Sega 32X version of Star Wars Arcade. Or is it the arcade version? Er...

Apparently Star Wars Arcade was converted to the Sega 32X in 1994, although seeing as only around ten people actually bought a 32X, I’m not surprised that the game has had such little impact on the popular consciousness. I’m almost tempted to get hold of a 32X just to have another go on it, although inevitably I think I’d be disappointed.

Perhaps it’s better just to keep the memory of a frustrating, fleeting and above all fun arcade game that’s been – for better or worse – lost to the world…

Lewis

(Images from The Killer List Of Video Games.)

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Filed under 1993, Coin-Op, Sega, Space Combat Simulator

#56: Out Run

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Racing Released: 1986 Developer: Sega (AM2)

Back in the very first post on this blog, I said that all racing games before about the mid-nineties were “pretty rubbish”. I stand by that comment, but with two obvious exceptions: Chase HQ, which we’ve already covered, and the mighty mighty Out Run.

Out Run was amazing. The graphics were phenomenal (for the time), and it had a fantastic sense of speed – the gorgeous scenery whipped by you at an eyeball-spinning rate. Add in the wonderful music (which I’ll come back to in a minute) and you end up with one of the best arcade games of all time. And it was way ahead of its time too – things like branching levels were pretty much unheard of in games in 1986, and even the behind-the-driver viewpoint was a new and exciting concept (it had been pioneered by Pole Position in 1982, but by 1986 had only been used in a handful of games – many racing games still had a top-down view).

Blue skies - check. Palm trees - check. Ferrari - check. Yep, definitely Out Run.

The whole thing had a kind of holiday feel to it (which was probably helped by the fact that I mostly played it in beach-front arcades whilst on holiday with my parents). There you were in your Ferrari Testarossa, cruising along sun-drenched highways with an unnamed blonde woman at your side and not a care in the world… except the odd Volkswagen Beetle and generic truck of course, which had a nasty habit of getting right in your way at a crucial moment and triggering a spectacular crash.

I’ve got to admit though, watching the smug git of a driver get totalled was a source of secret satisfaction to me, even if it meant a Game Over screen. He was obviously a smug git – I mean, he had a Ferrari.

Thankfully, despite what the map screen suggests, not all corners in the game were at right angles.

Out Run‘s graphics may have been astounding, but its crowning achievement was without doubt its music. The game gave you the unique option to choose which background track you’d like before you started the race, and all four tunes were absolutely brilliant. My personal favourite was ‘Magical Sound Shower’, which is still as intensely catchy today as it was nearly 25 years ago (scroll down the page to have a listen). It’s a real tribute to Sega’s sound engineers that they were able to come up with such infectious tunes with the limited technology available to them.

Yeah, 'Passing Breeze' is good, but let's face it, it's no 'Magical Sound Shower'.

There are very few games that stand the test of time. The games industry moves at such a blistering pace that games can look horribly dated within a couple of years, but there’s something about Out Run that means it still looks fresh today. Maybe it’s the eternally blue skies so beloved of the designers at AM2… whatever it is, Out Run remains a stone-cold classic that reigned supreme in the arcades right up until the 3D big boys (Ridge Racer, Daytona) came knocking at the door in the nineties.

But then again, Ridge Racer didn’t have ‘Magical Sound Shower’…

And as a special treat, here’s the legendary S.S.T. Band (Sega Sound Team Band) performing ‘Magical Sound Shower’:

Lewis

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Filed under 1986, Coin-Op, Racing, Sega

#44: Dog Walking

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Miscellaneous Released: 2001 Developer: Sega

As I’ve said before, this list isn’t just about the best games ever made – it’s also a chance to honour games that might not have won any awards but that nonetheless improved our lives, if only by raising a smile. Sega’s utterly random ‘Dog Walking’ coin-op (or ‘Inu No Osanpo’ to give it its Japanese title) is just such a game – hardly a world-beater, but bonkers enough to merit induction into the 101 Video Games hall of fame.

A wonderfully random promo pic for Inu No Osanpo.

I first encountered the game in 2004, when I was living in Japan. It became something of a hobby of mine to search out random Japanese arcade machines and, despite fierce competition from various taiko drumming simulators and trading-card-based soccer games, Inu No Osanpo stands out as one of the most bizarre – and compelling – coin-ops I’ve ever played. Naturally, it was only ever released in Japan.

The aim of the game is to exercise a dog by walking (or running) on a treadmill. The on-screen dog is controlled by a lead originating from the neck of a plastic dog in front of you, and the aim of the game is to steer the dog away from danger (like cars or other, bigger dogs) and towards points of interest (like cats). The idea is to get the pace just right so that the dog is happy – walk too fast and you end up dragging the dog along behind you, but walk too slow and it pulls at the lead impatiently.

Here's me suffering on Inu No Osanpo back in 2004.

In practice, playing the game is utterly exhausting. (See? Way before the Wii came along games were keeping people fit.) The treadmill is quite stiff, so getting up to speed is quite an effort, and slowing down is just as hard. The controls are also fairly lackadaisical – your dog never seems to go in the direction you want it to (a bit like the real thing I suppose).

But whether or not the controls are any good is rather beside the point – this game made it onto the list because it’s totally unique and brilliantly fun to play (and even more fun to watch, especially if someone falls off the back of the treadmill). Sega, we salute you. Now can you release this game in Europe please? Thanks.

(Here’s some (American?) guys playing Inu No Osanpo. They haven’t quite got the hang of it… The dog starts barking when you’re walking too slow or fast, and the musical notes appear when you’ve got it just right.)

Lewis

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Filed under 2001, Coin-Op, Miscellaneous, Sega

#32: Killer Instinct

Format: Super NES/Coin-Op Genre: Fighting Released: 1994 Developer: Rare

Killer Instinct was fantastically naff really. The character designs were generally uninspired and the graphics had an odd sheen to them that made it look like everything had been sprayed with cooking oil. On top of this, most of the levels were incredibly murky (possibly in an attempt to make the game seem ‘darker’ and more adult), so the effect was a bit like watching bits of foil leaping about down a well. However, it was enormous fun to play, so that made everything all right.

killer_instinct_SNES

When the game came out, most gaming magazines trumpeted the fact that it was based on hardware from the long-awaited ‘Ultra 64’ (later rebranded with the decidedly more prosaic name ‘Nintendo 64’ when it was released two years later). As it turned out, this was all complete rubbish, and Killer Instinct actually turned up on the Super NES the next year, which somewhat tarnished its ‘next-generation’ image in my eyes (although it was hugely impressive that they managed to squeeze the whole game onto a SNES cartridge – obviously Rare is staffed by tiny gaming wizards with magic compression wands).

(Incidentally, Killer Instinct emerged at about the same time as Cruis’n USA, another game that was thought to be based on Ultra 64 architecture – unlike Killer Instinct however, Cruis’n USA was entirely bobbins and not really the best of adverts for Nintendo’s new console. Even if it wasn’t actually developed on one. Does that make sense?)

Killer Instinct ready screen

Killer Instinct fought its way into my life when I was going through the teenage phase of hanging around McDonald’s for want of anything better to do. Calendars, the American-style diner next door to MaccyD’s, decided to install a single Killer Instinct arcade machine right in their entrance hall, presumably to keep customers entertained while they were waiting for a table. Not that we ever let the actual customers have a go on it, although thanks to this particular coin-op my friends and I made a substantial contribution to Calendars’ revenue during the summer of ’95.

Killer Instinct Cinder

The game’s biggest gimmick was its combo system, which went above and beyond the call of duty – if I remember rightly, some characters could even deliver 56 hit combos (which I imagine would have been intensely irritating for the recipient).* My friends and I spent most of that long, hot summer poring over combo lists in the backs of game magazines, desperately trying to make longer and longer combos. I think the best I ever managed was 24.

Killer Instinct 80 hit Combo

Looking back, there were probably better things I could have been doing that summer than hanging around in the entrance to a restaurant and memorising complicated lists of button presses. But for the moment they escape me, as all I can think about is laying the smack down on shiny robot knights and Harryhausen-esque skeletons…

Hey, I wonder how much  Killer Instinct goes for on eBay…?

Lewis

*Although from the screenshot above, it looks like an 80 hit combo was possible. Cor, and indeed, blimey.

However, it was enormous fun to play, so that made everything all right.

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Filed under 1994, Coin-Op, Fighting, Rare, Super NES