Relive the not-so-gory glory of these smash and dash video game classics.
1. High Score
There was a time when every pizza joint had a Pac-Man game and every little burg had an arcade. It was a simpler time, a time when the ultimate in gaming involved battling from the backs of ostriches (Joust), destroying a giant glowing bug (Centipede) and digging tunnels (Dig Dug). While the days of slipping quarter after greasy quarter into Mortal Combat in an attempt to be a virtual Ralph Macchio may be long gone, our memories live on. Here are ten of the best games we ever spent our allowances on.
Perhaps the outlier of this group, Dig Dug has got to be the only game ever where you could kill yourself by digging a tunnel underneath a boulder and then standing there while the boulder dropped on you. Really, who could be that dumb? Well, apparently most of us. But that whole tunneling concept, which you were supposed to do while weird little tomato guys and funky dragons chased you, was totally novel and totally wild. What was even wilder was the way you killed off those guys was by over-inflating them with a sort-of bicycle pump. Seriously? Dig Dug was pretty whack, but in a completely enjoyable way.
The best thing about this space shooter might have been the sheer number of buttons it had. Gone was the "joystick and a button" arrangement so popular with pre-Defender games. Instead, players had to use both a joystick and five (yes, five) buttons to control their ship just exactly the way they wanted. The progress map on the top of the screen was pretty cool too. And the planet's one-line surface. And the little astronauts you were defending. And the name itself. And... well, you get the point. Defender was pretty awesome all the way around.
If you think the Terminator movies were original ideas, you should probably check out this 1982 classic from gaming giant Williams. You want cybernetic robots running amok shooting up the human race? Look no further than Robotron. This first-person shooter could get pretty intense as some of the robots you were shooting at could clone themselves pretty much indefinitely. Not to mention the horror gamers felt as they watched those robots attack a two-dimensional human race right before their eyes! On the technical side, Robotron had a super-cool twin joystick control platform which felt very fresh when it was released. And who knows? Since the game's original title was Robotron: 2084, it might even still come true!
Let's face it. Pac-Man rules. Pac-Man (and Ms. Pac-Man, of course) rule so hard you know you want to play right now. It rules so hard that, 35 years after its birth, Adam Sandler made a movie about it. But the real reason Pac-Man rules? It's so cool an arcade cabinet couldn't contain it. It had to be converted to a "cocktail table" model. And that, friends, is the ultimate in gaming cool.
Midway was one of the biggest arcade gaming companies and Mortal Kombat might just have been their biggest hit. We all remember the reason Mortal Kombat (and its successors) was so popular too, don't we? Of course we do. It was the gory, messy "finishes" the fights provided! In our modern digitized, 3D world it might seem, shall we say, a little tame, but back in the day, having your character get killed in this game was bloody and brutal.
One of Atari's early classics (1981), Tempest offered a fairly unique gaming experience for those who wanted to zoom in circles around the edge of the screen defeating alien baddies. Instead of a scroll-ball or joystick, Tempest had a kind of clicker-control that required fairly dexterous fingertips. It also had some of the best old school line graphics around with the "tubes" that the player traveled around represented by different geometric shapes (some of which we didn't think could exist). Even better, playing the game was a pressure-charged blast. Even if players were supposed to be shooting down the tubes at aliens coming up, it felt more like you were a spider perched at the edge of its web trying to keep the flies from over-running everything.
Joust is on this list because it was pretty much the first game where two players could work together (simultaneously, a ridiculously new concept in '80s gaming) to defeat their enemies. The fact that your two "knights" rode crazy giant ostriches and storks while battling enemy knights riding buzzards, all above a pool of lava, had nothing to with this game's inclusion on this list. Nothing at all.
Some would argue that Donkey Kong is the single most inspired video game of all-time. The game itself offered awesome gameplay, as it was one of the first "cabinet" games that wasn't simply a shoot-`em-up one. It also played out on a split-screen, something that was unheard of in early '80s gaming. Even the idea that a game could have a storyline, even one as simplistic as Donkey Kong's, was completely new to the gaming industry. That idea, however, was the seed that grew Nintendo's entire Mario franchise, a franchise that has spawned countless sequels (and imitators).
Asteroids ruled both the big screen of arcade games and the original Atari gaming console. The premise was pretty darn straightforward ”” you're in a spaceship in the middle of an asteroid belt ”” but the gameplay was anything but. Unlike static defense games like Space Invaders and Atari's own Missile Command, Asteroids forced players to survive out in the cold reaches of space with rocks and alien ships coming at them from all directions. The best part of this game was the accelerated stress that came when you started blowing up asteroids only to see smaller pieces of them come at you faster. Well, that and the warp option, which could save your bacon at the cost of your sanity...
The granddaddy of shoot-em'-up "spacers," Space Invaders was perhaps the earliest indication that this whole video gaming thing just might stick around. As in other monster cabinet-game hits, this one had a fairly limited purpose to its gameplay ”” aliens march down the screen toward you while your ship tries to fend them off. The endless rows of alien ships, though, and your friends incessant yelling to "watch out for that one," helped create a highly pressurized gaming "bubble" that millions of people enjoyed during the Golden Age of Arcade Games (the late '70s-1985). Space Invaders, of course, spawned a host of imitators, some of which were so successful (we're talking to you, Galaxian!) that they in turn spawned their own.