In this home gaming age of first-person shootouts, immersive virtual reality adventures, and challenging dance-offs, those bulky, loud, pixelated arcade games from the 1980s can feel like relics from another epoch. But many of the colorful, character-driven shoot ‘em ups, racing competitions, and devious maze quests still retain a special charm. It’s still feels great grabbing hold of a joystick or steering wheel at a big cabinet and holding on for dear life as you engage in a man-machine showdown to see who comes out on top.
Judging by the reviews that started pouring in this week, it seems the new Adam Sandler movie Pixels, in which aliens attack humanity in the form of '80s video game characters, doesn’t really convey that tension and excitement. So with retro barcades all the rage across the country and retro games easier to find than when they were new, it’s time to look back at some actual arcade faves—blasts from the past that can still kick your ass.
Centipede was one of the earliest games to feature a trackball, which allowed for greater ease of movement across a landscape crowded with mushrooms, dive-bombing fleas, and deadly dancing spiders. (The scorpions just were for target practice and bonus points.)
Working for Atari at the time, co-creator Dona Bailey was one of the first female video programmers, and her creation spawned the fun but less successful sequel Millipede, which upped the ante with DDT bombs, indestructible mushrooms, and zigzagging critters.
Like Asteroids, Defender has five different controls (one lever, four buttons) to navigate mountainous terrain where aliens are abducting humans, with you as their sole savior. The graphics are pretty basic, but the gradual onslaught of laser fire and imperiled people will make your head spin once it gets moving.
Try catching a falling human from an alien craft while fending off enemy fire. This is one of the most successful arcade games ever and has inspired numerous sequels and rip-offs.
Before he journeyed into the Mushroom Kingdom and teamed up with his fraternal twin brother Luigi, Mario went solo on a construction site against Donkey Kong, who kidnapped his woman. Tossed barrels, bouncing springs, cement pies, and roaming fireballs act as deterrents to rescuing the lovely lass Pauline.
There are four levels of subsequent action that repeat and become harder, but if you grow tired of that, Donkey Kong Jr. and numerous sequels and reboots are around to keep you entertained. That big ape has been a marketing bonanza.
The sequel to Galaxian eclipsed its predecessor in popularity by taking its basic Space Invaders-style shooting gallery to new heights. With twirling insectoid aliens diving at you in various formations, you’ll big slamming that fire button pretty regularly, and if you’re lucky, you’ll double your firepower with an extra vessel.
It’s a basic concept that can quickly become addictive and has been exploited throughout numerous sequels.
’GHOSTS ‘N GOBLINS’
While not as well known as some of its '80s peers, this supernatural slugfest is fun—if a bitch to play, since two hits to your knightly do-gooder Sir Arthur knocks him dead.
Still, the shifting gothic medieval landscapes and a whole host of cruel ghouls make his quest to save Princess Prin Prin from the clutches of Satan a colorful one. Ghosts 'N Goblins spawned six sequels, all known for their difficulty and varied environments.
A game for the glutton inside, this sequel to the famed Pac-Man ups the ante with more colorful mazes and cute little interludes that track the relationship of Mr. and Ms. Pac-Man as they team up, court, and produce a little gobbler of their own.
The first few levels are a piece of cake, so to speak, but as the power pills gradually have less of an effect on the roaming ghosts, their vulnerable states are minimized and it becomes harder to rack up points fast. Still, it’s perfect for when you have the need to feed.
One of the biggest video games of the mid- to late '80s, this racing game pits drivers against fast-moving terrain and traffic. Pole Position gave us a ground-level game that practically put us in the driver’s seat, but Out Run’s winding pavement, hills, and forks in the road make it harder to navigate through diverse locations from coastal beaches to exotic mountains.
You can play stand-up or sit-down versions with three choices for a background radio soundtrack. The best part? When you hit a rough patch or fly off the road, the steering wheel shakes like crazy. It was cool at the time, I swear.
This is one of those community contests where you and friends can enjoy stomping the hell out of cities and tussle with each other in the roles of a Kong-like gorilla, Godzilla-like lizard, or whopping wolfie. You can bash buildings, smash copters, batter trains, swat manholes, and munch on people while being pelted with gunfire and bombs.
Sustaining regular damage means you pump in more quarters just to keep enjoying the carnage, which is really what Rampage is all about. We imagine the future movie with Dwayne Johnson will play out like a massive monster mash. Stick with the game, it’ll be more fun.
This is that rare arcade game that requires you to be double fisted; one joystick for maneuvering, the other for firing. Your mission is simple: save innocent people while destroying the robots bent on eliminating mankind. Sounds easy, right?
You may find yourself sweating bullets because this game kicks off at a fast pace and just gets tougher after that. Beware the Brain waves—Brains can turn fellow humans against you. It’s definitely a classic man-machine battle for world dominance.
Reportedly the first video game advertised on TV back in 1982, Zaxxon was also the first to use an isometric perspective to allow players to feel as if they were playing in a three-dimensional world (hence the three-quarters angle view).
Your mission is simple: bomb the hell out of each fortress you fly through and wipe out enemy fighters in space without getting shot down, fried by a force field, or running out of fuel. The trick here is you have to be at whatever level/height your target is at in order to hit it, a play aspect which makes Zaxxon harder than standard 2D games. It inspired two sequels, one of which utilized 3D glasses.
Regular Playboy contributor Bryan Reesman remembers more about “The Video Masters Guide To Centipede” than his biology textbook, which helps explain how he makes his living.
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