Saturday, July 20, 2013


Like the Scent of Fresh Lemons

So, Gabe is turning his garage into an arcade, eh?  Well, two can play at that game!

The last time I tried to build a home arcade, my options were kind of limited.  I had an X-Arcade cabinet kit, but the systems I owned were either incompatible (NES, SNES, N64) or had a weak selection of the classics (Gamecube, Dreamcast).  Add to that the fact that the X-Arcade Gamecube adapter hadn't been perfected yet.  Sure, I could have just put together a MAME box, but... I don't go for piracy, you know?

Now, of course, things are a bit different.  I've got a Wii with Virtual Console and a Gamecube with a Game Boy Player, giving me access to a wealth of games across multiple platforms, and the X-Arcade adapters have had some serious upgrades -- dual-stick mode on Gamecube, classic controller mode on Wii.  No more making do -- I can use my joysticks for everything.  I've upgraded to a giant TV monitor, now that they're going for a buck apiece at the Goodwill.  And I've got an iCade and a Duo Pinball for my iPad, just to round things out.

(Incidentally... With Apple adopting a controller standard?  I would buy a new iCade -- the full cabinet model -- just to take advantage of the greater range of compatibility I'm sure it would offer.  Just putting that out there.)

I understand that there's more to an arcade than just setting up one cabinet and putting a hundred games in it.  An arcade is space.  It's multiple machines and the space to move between them.  It's having people around to watch or play against.  It's music and lighting and decor and, as Gabe says, the smell of crappy pizza.  But hey.  Now I have fully three machines to move between.  It might not emulate a Chuck E. Cheese, but it's close to the game corner in a movie theater.

Of course, the objective of a project like this is to recreate the arcades from my childhood.  Dumping a bunch of games in a box is fine in its own way, but this is about time travel.  I like the new classics well enough, but foremost, I want to see the games I remember.

So here goes.  My favorite arcade classics.

Ms. Pac-Man

You couldn't escape Pac-Man in the early 80s.  It was the generic name for video games before words like "Nintendo" and "Playstation" were invented.  Many Pac-Man games were made, but the one I actually played was Ms. Pac-Man.  It was at Jill's Dry Cleaning.  As my mom did the laundry, I would watch its attract mode, fiddle around with the joystick, and, on rare occasions, inspire enough pity that my mom would drop one of her precious quarters in the slot.  Sometimes I would even clear the first level before I died.

I'd like to use the iPad version of this game, but without iCade support, I'm afraid I have to resort to Namco Museum on the Gamecube.  It's not my favorite version of the game because it maintains the arcade aspect ratio at the expense of screen resolution.  Hell, I'd rather take a Virtual Console version, if there was one.  But such is life.


Sat next to Ms. Pac-Man was a Centipede machine.  I played this one less often -- I've never been much for shooting games -- but often enough that it's stayed in my mind.

It's not the same without a trackball, but the iCade version in Atari Classics Collection is fair enough.

Elevator Action

This was the premium game at Jill's Dry Cleaning.  A platformer.  It had so much going on, too.  You had elevators, escalators, doors to go in and out of, bad guys to shoot it out with.  If you shot the lights, they'd fall and the floor would go dark -- that's attention to detail!  And let's not forget the most gruesome death in any video game ever -- getting trapped under a descending elevator.  As if the animation wasn't bad enough, the sound effect made me scream with real, primal terror.  This was one of those games that infected you, to the extent that you'd want to play Elevator Action at the playground, imagining that your slides and things were elevators and escalators.

The NES Virtual Console version fits the bill for this one.


There were many games at Chuck E. Cheese's.  Of course there were.  But ask me to remember any of them, and the only one you'll get is Pac-Mania.  Kee-ripes this one was awesome, wasn't it?  Pac-Man! In isometric 3D!  You could jump over ghosts!  The maze was made of Legos!  Of course I don't remember any other games, why would you even pay attention to anything else?

This is another one on Namco Museum.


Rampage is sort of the quintessential Midway game.  It's multiplayer, there's lots of senseless violence, it goes on forever and ever, and you take so much damage so quickly that no skill in the world will save you from dumping quarter after quarter into it.  But hey, it's giant monsters smashin' shit and eatin' bitches.  The fact that players can pound each other -- and devour their weakened opponents -- means that every game will eventually devolve into a simple brawl.  This game was probably one of the biggest reasons I didn't do much actual roller skating over at Skate U.

Since multiplayer is so important, of course I opt for the Gamecube version over the iPad.  The only real trouble is that, just as in the arcade, your character is hard-wired to the joystick you're using, but it's not that big a deal to plug player 2 into Ralph instead of Lizzie.


Paperboy was one of those games that stood out just because the concept was so different.  It was too difficult to really be enjoyable, and it still is today, but I still played it at Skate U now and then.  As long as it already comes on Midway Arcade Treasures for Gamecube, I'll give it a peek now and then.

Smash TV

One last memory from Skate U.  This one stuck out for the concept and the attract mode that depicted a battle against the enormous and iconic Mutoid Man.  I was never especially fond of games where all you did was mow people down with a gun, but I appreciated the snide social commentary -- the idea that, in 1999, we would watch gladiators fight it out in arenas for cash and toasters.

This actually turned out to be kind of a fun game, now that I'm a bit older and more aware, and now that the X-Arcade Gamecube adapter supports multistick play.

Spy Hunter

Once when I was little, I went on a three-week family camping trip to the Wisconsin Dells.  We saw all of the water parks and quite a few of the sight-seeing activities, but the rain kept us from doing a lot of the typical camping activities, so my brother and I spent a lot of our time in the game room playing Spy Hunter.  Driving games never really interested me, nor shooters, but something about the combination of the two worked for me.  Ramming bad guys off the road, avoiding civilians, speeding into power-up vans -- this one was clearly the highlight of the game room.  It helped that each game began with a grace period, where you would respawn automatically no matter how many times you crashed, giving you the impression that you were a lot better at the game than you really were.

I've got this one for iPad and Gamecube, and honestly, I'll take either version.


I'd never played Breakout before encountering this one in the game room at the Dells, and I have to say, it got into my head.  I might have spent more time with it if Spy Hunter wasn't right next to it.  The dial controller was odd, and the concept of breaking blocks and catching powerups was fun.

I haven't been able to find a strict recreation of the original, but a new version for Wii Ware has been good enough to slake my nostalgia.

Street Fighter II

C'mon.  You knew this one had to be on the list.  This was the game that got our butts away from our Super Nintendos and back into the arcades... until the home version came out, anyway.  Street Fighter II was such a milestone in video games that I can summon genuine nostalgia for it despite never once actually playing it in an arcade.  Of course, I've seen it.  Of course I've watched other people play it.  The game was unavoidable in the 90s.  You simply cannot make a nostalgia arcade without including Street Fighter II in some shape or form.

The version I've selected is the SNES port of Street Fighter II Turbo on the Wii Virtual Console.  The Super Street Fighter II games always seemed, to me, sort of "impure", like they were stretching what could and should be done with what was essentially an "expansion pack", but I'll take the Turbo version for all of the enhancements it offers.  With my X-Arcade in Gamecube mode, it's particularly easy to recreate the original control scheme.  If my cabinet didn't wobble a bit in the middle of a match, it'd be easy to think that I had the original hardware.

Dragon's Lair

The boom and bust of laserdisc games was almost as quick as the lifespan of the malfunctioning devices themselves, so my only real-life encounter with a proper Dragon's Lair cabinet was when I was too young to really understand what it was.  But hey, close enough.  The game has come to capture my imagination, and I did eventually encounter its sequel during the arcade renaissance that Street Fighter II ushered in.

Dragon's Lair Trilogy has been available on the Wii now for some time, but it frustrated me by not offering Gamecube controller support, keeping me from enjoying a full, faithful recreation of these games with a proper joystick.  Luckily, the X-Arcade finally released a Classic Controller adapter.


I remember when my parents got into bowling and my brother and I ended up spending a lot of time in the arcade.  Tetris was just making a splash at the time, and they had the two-player cabinet set up.  I was fascinated with the game at the time because it claimed to offer something cerebral in a world where video games were starting to explore and push the boundaries of acceptable interactive violence. I remember playground debates being fiercely divided on the subject, with one camp clinging to Tetris with smug superiority, as if it was somehow morally superior, and the other camp reveling in the violence of Bad Dudes, puffing up their machismo by making one cartoon dude beat the shit out of another cartoon dude.  Oh children!

Tetris Party seems to be the order of the day for me.  Sure, I could plug one of my Game Boy Tetrises into the GB Player slot, but I'm just as happy with bright, colorful Tetris coming out of my Wii.


Across the aisle from Tetris was 720.  I remember this game caused some confusion for me and my brother because 720 is just sort of a weird name.  We actually thought it was called "Skate Or Die" because of the warning you get when you spend too long trying to select your course, which compounded our confusion when we found an NES game with exactly that name.  The game itself was kind of baffling, but it stayed in my memory because of just how cool isometric 3D was at the time.

This is another one in Midway Arcade Treasures.  Maybe someday I'll even figure out how to play it.

Mad Dog McCree

This was a game that I saw exactly once, and maaaan was it cool.  Not that I actually played it.  Those laserdisc games were pretty damned expensive, weren't they?  Besides, I never really liked lightgun games, and all of the people I watched play it got smoked pretty quickly.  The first time I actually played it was on a PC CD-ROM.  And I have to say, I liked it!  Sure, the gameplay is kind of sketchy, but I adore the cheeseball atmosphere of it, like a Western created by people who'd only ever seen parodies of Westerns.  And hey, if there's any gameplay format that a laserdisc game could reliably replicate, it's a lightgun game.

Now the game is on the Wii, and it's just so much more satisfying to play it with the Zapper than it ever was with the mouse.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Oh hell yeah!  How awesome was it to walk into an arcade and see this bad boy set up?  Sure, the game was sensationally unfair, and your one key to success was how much allowance you'd brought to the fight, but wasn't it something?  At the height of the Turtles' popularity, here was a giant four-player machine where you could be your favorite Turtle and just knock hell out of wave after wave of robot henchmen.  SO.  AWESOME.

Sadly, I have no way of recreating this experience at home.  None at all.  The game cannot be found on any system that I own, nor is there an acceptable analog.  But it gets an honorable mention because hey.  It's TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES!

So there it is, my childhood superarcade.  Of course, as I've opined before, an arcade is more than just video games.  So next time I'll be offering opinions about the Duo Pinball controller for iPad.


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