Those of us who in an earlier generation would have wasted much of our youth in a pool hall or juke joint, congregated instead in the late ’70s and ensuing years and decades at arcades ringed with a wide variety of pinball machines and (what would now be seen as hopelessly rudimentary) video games. Amidst the flashing lights, electronic beeps and bells, and tinny music, we’d try to survive as long as possible on each quarter, so as to avoid another trip to the change machine, or to the surly minimum wage attendant.
This was the era of Space Invaders, then Pac Man and Donkey Kong and various other classic video games.
But besides the video games that were household names even to many non-gamers, there were many that have since dropped into obscurity (or never emerged from it) that only true aficionados are likely to recall. Here are a few of those arcade rarities:
1. Astro Fantasia (Data East)
You pilot a rocket fighter that must take on a whole fleet of bad guy spaceships. In the first stage, you shoot at and destroy a variety of different kinds of spaceships that descend on you in Space Invaders style, some with the capacity to shoot back at you, some inclined to dive at you in kamikaze fashion, and some able to split into additional attackers if you let them past a certain line. In the second stage, a giant mother ship descends toward you, and you must get it before it gets you. The second stage is far more challenging, as you have less firepower, and you must hit the mother ship in certain vulnerable areas multiple times, with the disadvantage that there is no indication when you’ve scored a hit until you do everything you have to and the ship is destroyed.
2. Boogie Wings (Data East)
Also released as The Great Ragtime Show, you operate an eight-way joy stick to maneuver your biplane through a surreal, comic version of a World War I environment, facing an army of evil scientists. The plane comes with a hook able to drag other items along to use as weapons. If the plane is shot down, you can continue the fight on foot and in various realistic and fanciful vehicles you come across.
3. Burger Time (Bally Midway)
In the guise of Chef Peter Pepper, you must build giant hamburgers by walking over the ingredients to dislodge them and drop them into place. But just as in real life, you’re disrupted in your culinary pursuits by humanoid hot dogs, eggs, and pickles trying to kill you. Defend yourself against them with special weaponized pepper as best you can, while building your burgers and accumulating bonuses in the form of fries, ice cream, and coffee.
4. I’m Sorry (Coreland/Sega)
Though the politics were surely lost on its few American players, this arcade game satirizes the greed of Japanese politician Kakuei Tanaka by having a character based on him obsessively chase after gold bars. In this vaguely Pac Manish game, you go through various mazes, trying to get the gold bars while defeating an assortment of scary enemies, including Michael Jackson, Madonna, Olympian Carl Lewis, Japanese comedian Tamori, and Japanese wrestler Giant Baba (and which of us hasn’t had nightmares of facing those five in a dark alley?). Be careful not to get caught by Tamori, or he’ll put on a leather bikini, force you to wear a diaper, and whip you.
Well, I think that’s quite enough about this one.
5. Metamorphic Force (Konami)
A side-scrolling action game similar to the arcade version of X-Men, this game allows you to be any one of four shape-shifting guardians (Ban, Claude, Max, or Ivan), each with the capacity to morph into different anthropomorphic animals, summoned by Goddess Athena to battle various enemies, which are also mostly humanoid animals. Lots of violence in this one, and even implied rape. Not recommended for those easily offended.
6. Pioneer Balloon (SNK)
Possibly one of the dumbest, if not most offensive, video games of all time. You move back and forth across the top of the screen dropping bombs from a balloon, scoring points by blowing up Native Americans, tepees, covered wagons, etc., to the sound of the theme from The Great Escape.
7. Quantum (Atari)
Using a trackball, you maneuver your probe so as to encircle various atomic particles and other bodies with the tail of the probe, thereby destroying them before they can destroy you. Score from 20 points for destroying an electron, to 400 points for destroying a pulsar (which strangely enough isn’t 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 times bigger than the electron).
8. Super Don Quix-ote (Universal)
As the heroic knight Don Quixote, armed with a mighty sword and accompanied by your trusty sidekick Sancho and a donkey, you must save your kidnapped girlfriend from an evil witch. Along the way, you’re pitted against an assortment of mummies, dragons, skeletons, demons, giant snakes, flying electric jellyfish, and a totem pole, all bent on your demise. So in other words, it’s just like the book.
Well, maybe not. (There is a windmill though.)
9. Survival Arts (Sammy)
A combination of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II, this game allows you to pick a warrior and then square off in a series of one-to-one combats against various enemies, in best two out of three tournaments.
10. Tac/Scan (Sega)
A space-based shooter video game with the novel feature that you can control how many of your ships are in play at a time. Avoid touching the sides of space tunnels, running into enemy spaceships, or getting shot with lasers from enemy spaceships as you accumulate points.
Kids today just don’t know what they’re missing…