Tales Of The Arcade – 80’s Shooters
Today when you start talking about shooters today, all the little ones think about is first person shooters like Call of Duty or Halo. Of course all of us old-heads remember shooters being quite different back in the day.
While there are many ways to determine a skilled gamer today, back then the all powerful ‘high score’ board was the deciding factor for who was truly great. Of course, each of those lists were local. The bragging rights were all about the king of that particular arcade. There was just something about finding just the right enemy or powerup that you knew would grant you that killer score jump that was always intense and satisfying. Even better than that was how many games in that day didn’t even have an ‘endgame’. You just played and played until you died…no continues.
Of course, there were always those moments when someone would get near the end of one of the popular (and loudest) games in the arcade. When that happened, the iconic scene of The Last Starfighter would come to mind where a decent crowd would congregate around the player as they played.
In my days as an arcade warrior, Goldsboro’s finest arcade in Berkeley Mall housed the best that my little town could offer. My little Middle School and Jr. High aged mind would ping pong between the local bowling alley, the local Putt-Putt, the local movie theatre, and even a premium grocery store called Farm Fresh which all had modest arcades to speak of. Still, if I wanted the most bang for my quarters, Berkeley Mall was the destination.
I remember a decent amount of ‘arcade shooters’ that tended to catch the attention of my North Carolina brethren back in the 80’s and 90’s. The usual classic of Galaga was featured in just about every arcade known to man back then. The iconic sound effects of the wasp and bee looking creatures swooping to attack my space craft will always be a loving memory. It was interesting that I enjoyed that game as much as I did with the limited amount of music (which is a big plus when I’m playing shooters).
But as time moved along, I gravitated to games like 1943, Commando, and a little epic of an adventure called Ikari Warriors. Honestly, this game is almost the same as Commando or even the more recent Alien Breed games in that they are all considered what is now called shmups. Ikari Warriors was an iconic game by Tradewest was essentially one of hundreds of video games looking to leverage the whole Sly Stallone and Arnold action movie craze in the 80’s. Between Rambo, Commando, and Predator, the headband equipped shirtless lone wolf soldier motif was milked dry by the video game industry back then. Besides the point, Ikari Warriors had the iconic difficulty where you had to dodge countless slow moving bullets tracking across the screen in various angles while simultaneously blasting the remaining baddies on the screen. For those of us who value our quarters as some long lost token of a possible future arcade conquest, games like this were as frantic as ‘shooters’ got back in the day. There was no jumping and often times no cover. There certainly was no melee attack either. One slight brush into any bad guy and your little itty bitty warrior would do their dramatic death spin dance.
Ikari Warriors may have been my shmup of choice most days in the arcade but we all know and love Contra! Honestly, in the arcade, this shooter was one of THE WORST quarter gobbling cabinets this side of Gauntlet! I would avoid Contra like the plague until it hit the NES and I could avoid the depression of tossing my hard earned allowance into a machine that had NO CONCEPT of my self perceived heroism! It was a legendary arcade game that truly separated the boys from the men.
As time went on though, this ‘Rambo’ craze developed into a ‘Starfighter’ craze. One might say The Last Starfighter had a little bit to do with that (at least personally it did). My little imagination ran wild with that movie as I soaked up any space fighting game there was from Time Pilot all the way through ill games like StarBlade!
Still, it was amazing that The Last Starfighter never really had a cabinet that I knew of. To NOT leverage an awesome movie like that with an arcade game was truly a massive missed opportunity.
Instead, more sidescrolling shmups with the whole top down view only with spacecraft came about and stormed onto the scene. R-Type, Gradius, Defender, and more hybrids of such popular shooters stormed onto the scene and the formula was simple. Fill the screen with as much colorful gun, missile, and laser fire and see how long you can dodge, shoot, and survive! I would spend hours on games like this acting as if I was a real space fighter pilot and blasting alien spacecraft away.
This, of course, evolved into my taking my love of this genre home to my PC where I could buy and play space combat sims like X-Wing, Wing Commander, and others.
Still, it has been interesting to see how as the arcades dissolved and home console tech got bigger and stronger, how ‘shooters’ have given way to FPS games. I suppose the appeal is moreso because of the intense competition that can be had against friends rather than the predictable co-op shooter AI. Still, with great games finally figuring out better AI and open worlds and the like, co-op is making a comeback on the FPS scene.
With shooters evolving from shmups to FPS’s today, it is even harder to see arcades making any serious kind of comeback. Competitive gaming (especially on the eSports scene) is filled with games that wouldn’t work in a traditional cabinet setup. There would need to be some serious creativity in developing more interactive games that made more sense out of the home than in the home in order to really drive any kind of traffic back to arcades. Highly complex games like the BattleTech pods were thought to be the way to go at some point but essentially those systems alienate the casual gamer. Not much profit to be had there as each individual play session would be REALLY expensive.
Still, a better way to approach an arcade rebirth may be the way of the Barcade! While I’ve never really seen a barcade anywhere near me, the concept isn’t really that much different than Gameworks except that it is smaller. Still, the appeal of every arcade is defined by the cabinets inside. There has to be something there that keeps em’ coming back!
Maybe one day ya boy Bunneh3000 will start a barcade!