In the modern video game industry, arcade machines are an uncommon sight, primarily found at themed restaurants, on a boardwalk, or in the corner of roller skating rinks. In the mid to late 80s though, at the height of arcade popularity, packed arcades could be found in nearly every mall in the country and most restaurants had an arcade machine or two in the lobby. During that time, the most popular video games were almost always those that started as an arcade game. Console video game makers recognized this and often ported arcade games to consoles in order to make more money. While sometimes the ports were done well, many ports were of significantly worse quality than the original. The following are some of the most popular arcade games that ported poorly to video game consoles.
Paperboy (Tengen) – In the arcade, Paperboy was one of the most popular games available. The simple concept of trying to deliver papers was supported by good graphics, entertaining obstacles, and a nearly perfect difficulty curve. Furthermore, the original bike handlebar design of the controller made the game feel very realistic. With significantly lower quality graphics and a woefully sub-par controller, the NES version simply held none of the magic of the arcade original.
Toobin‘ (Tengen) – Tengen had a real knack for solid arcade hits that simply didn’t port well to consoles. The NES port of Toobin‘ had a significant and insurmountable problem. The arcade version of the game simply had too many buttons. The two-button and one movement pad controller was a pale substitute for the elegant control scheme of the arcade game.
720 Degrees (Mindscape Inc.) – The fully analog control stick for the arcade version of this game took significant play time to get used to. But once mastered, it made this one of the best skateboarding games published. The NES version had to rely on the 4-direction analog control pad of the NES controller. The complete lack of directional control turned an innovative game into a waste of time and money.
Pac-Man (Atari) – Purely based on hardware specifications, there is absolutely no reason that Pac-Man shouldn’t have been as good on the Atari 2600 as it was in the arcade. But, quite simply, it wasn’t. The Atari version was a graphical disaster. The pellets looked like little minus signs and for some inexplicable reason both Pac-Man and the ghosts blinked in and out of existence constantly. In addition, the colors were faded and the collision detection was weak even for the standards of the time. A game that should have ported well was actually quite terrible and is considered one of the games that helped cause the Video Game Crash of 1983.
Street Fighter II (Capcom) – There were two major ports of this game and neither one lived up to the hype. At the time, Street Fighter II was the dominant fighting game on the market and basically set the standard by which other fighting games were designed. Both Nintendo and Sega wanted some of the action and a version was made for both the SNES and the Genesis. Both ports ran into the same problem: number of buttons. The Genesis controller only had 3 buttons, which mapped poorly to the 6-button arcade version. Technically the SNES version had 6 buttons, but two were shoulder buttons that were difficult to use in a fighting game. To make matters worse, due to Nintendo decency rules of the time, the SNES version removed all blood from the game, making some of the characters incredibly uninteresting to play, most notably Blanka.
Rolling Thunder (Tengen) – Rolling Thunder was a surprisingly popular game in the arcade. The ability to jump between different floor levels was a unique game play mechanic that the game used incredibly well. Arguably, the NES version should have been equally good. But, due to highly substandard graphics and abysmally poor response time from the game, the NES version felt like it had training wheels.
Marble Madness (Milton Bradley) – Marble Madness is yet another game that succeeded based on a unique control scheme. The single controller for Marble Madness was a trackball. The trackball controlled a marble down a treacherous course. Without an analog controller, the NES version simply paled in comparison. To add to the game’s woes, it also had poor rendering that made judging positioning incredibly difficult.
Dragon’s Lair (Elite) – It is possible that no game had as poor a port to a console as Dragon’s Lair. The arcade version of Dragon’s Lair was an innovative, Don Bluth animated, laser disc game with full cartoon animation. It was one of the earliest reaction speed and timing games as players needed to move the controller in a specific direction or press a button in response to an on-screen signal. Incapable of duplicating this brilliance, the NES version was an uninspired side scrolling platform game. Even the participation of Don Bluth in the creation of the port did nothing to save it from sullying the original.