Category Archives: arcade

The Namco Museum and Xevious

Just to show you all what a big old fart I am, and how out of touch gaming-wise I am, the very first free download I ever got from the PlayStation Store was this – Namco Museum. Yeah, I’m old. Deal with it.

As the name might imply it’s a small collection of old games from the 1980s, namely Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Galaga, and Xevious. To be fair, it’s actually the trial for Namco Museum Essentials, and has much more available but I haven’t purchased the whole package yet. And I have looked, but there doesn’t seem to be an option to buy it. One problem with this one is that the games are presented in their original arcade form – vertical, on a horizontal screen. Oh well.

With the exception of Pac-Man, these are all games I spent a generous amount of time with at the arcade. I was never big into Pac-Man, but the others I loved. Dig Dug I’ve talked about before, everyone knows about Pac-Man, and Galaga is really just a color evolution up from Space Invaders. Xevious is the one I want to talk about today.

Xevious was a vertical scroller from back in the day, 1982, known for its bouncy tunage and unique breaking glass sound effects when you blasted the disc things that spun through the air at you. That effect is recreated here but the controller again makes what was easy on the arcade game difficult here – shooting and bombing simultaneously.

Xevious is a fun game without becoming too monotonous, although it remains much the same throughout. I remember the ship you pilot is called oddly the Solvalou, and that the sides of the arcade game showed pics that didn’t exactly match the game itself. Always fun, even in this format.

Barcade and the Frustration of Getting Old

A few months back The Bride and I attended a birthday party for two friends, at a place in the Philadelphia/Fishtown area called Barcade. Barcade is exactly what it sounds like, a bar/arcade. It has a couple dozen old school arcade games, and an assortment of local and obtuse brews, all for a quarter – the games, not the beers, that is.

I was stunned to how close to an arcade of the good old days this place was, what with the variety of games and their placement around the bar area. They even had high scores posted. They had a bar menu, but no fries. But it’s all good, they carded me, the first time that’s happened in years, so I was very happy.

When I looked around at the selection of games, at first I had little interest, then as I walked around, and got a closer look my memory kicked in… I realized I had done time, serious time, with all of them at one point or another in my younger years. Among the games at Barcade: OutRun, Gauntlet, Ms. Pac-Man, Mr. Do!, Golden Axe, Track & Field, Frogger, BurgerTime, Centipede, Double Dragon, Punch-Out!!, Tetris, and Robotron 2084, just to name a few. A full list can be found here.

Spy Hunter, Rampage, Tempest, Dig Dug, Paper Boy, Space Invaders, Galaxian, Joust. I knew them all intimately. And yet I was no longer capable of playing them. The muscles and reflexes honed to each particular set of skills for each game had deteriorated over the years of disuse. Man, playing videogames sure wasn’t like riding a bike, you can’t just get back on. In other words, I was old.

Lead photo by John Donges.

Incident at the Atco Multiplex

One of my recent downloads from the PlayStation Store has been X-Men, not a PS3 or PS2 dealie, but the real classic arcade side scroller. Old folks like me may remember this bad boy from the early 1990s when arcade games still existed where everyone could get to them as opposed to antique stores and othersuch places.

The X-Men arcade game was by Konami, and was as I said, a side scrolling fight game. You could play, with other players, anywhere from one to six different X-Men characters. The choices available were Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, or Dazzler, and you fought your way through multiple levels of Sentinels of varying power levels past bosses who were all major and minor X-villains all under the control of Magneto. Simple game, but for the time, this was a major thing.

I was thrilled to find it on the PS3. Ray was unimpressed when I told him, I was full of the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning. “This is why you like it,” he said, “It’s moron simple, you just hit stuff.” That may be, and it may be simple, as I said, but it was cool. Now in the age of an Avengers movie that makes over a billion dollars at the box office, but for the time, it was awesome, and it takes me back in time. Then nobody knew who the X-Men were, and comic recognition was low, so for those in the know, an X-Men arcade game was a special thing.

I remember distinctly the X-Men arcade being at the Atco Multiplex movie theater. The Multiplex was built on top of the old Atco Drive-In, a place of many childhood memories for me. I remember climbing to the top of the screen one afternoon with a friend when we were kids. I also remember seeing probably my very first movies, either Jungle Book or Doctor Doolittle there, when I was much much younger. And of course I took dates there when I was much much older. Eventually it was demolished, paved over and replaced by the Multiplex. The Multiplex itself is now long gone, a deserted church the last time I checked.

The Multiplex had a gigantic lobby, with videogames on either wall, and at the height of its popularity, the crowds were always around the X-Men machine. I still remember the Friday night I saw the end of the game. I kept my date waiting, and we were late for the flick we were there to see, but I saw three players – Wolverine, Storm, and Colossus – I still remember finish the game. This was a huge thing. How rare it was to see someone win a videogame, and I saw it that night. I remember the crowd, probably two dozen people at the end, cheered.

And that was the golden age of videogames. Say what you like, Ray, I’m going to enjoy playing my new hitting stuff game, and when I win it, which I hope I can, it will be a crowd from a dead movie theatre from over two decades ago I hear cheering.

Dragon’s Lair and the Arcade with No Name

When I started writing this entry, I was struck by a bout of senility as I could not think of the name of the arcade where I first encountered Dragon’s Lair. It was upstairs at the Gimbel’s end of the Echelon Mall, directly above Listening Booth, and had an odd shaped entrance, like a large Chevrolet symbol. When I was in high school and college, it was the place to hang out, even though it had been predated by Funway Freeway on the opposite side of the Mall by at least a decade. Most importantly it was the place where in June of 1982 I first met my future wife.

I struggled with this mind fart, I Googled, I contacted old friends I hung out with at the time, and finally, on a whim, looking at old foreign coins, as I suspected, I came across tokens (for the uninitiated, arcade games didn’t run on quarters, you bought tokens with quarters and put the tokens in the machines) from the place. Video Village. Such a simple name, yet so evasive over the years. When I saw it on Google as a store in the Mall listings I assumed it was a video retail store, but no, it was the arcade.

In the early 1980s arcades were everywhere. There was Space Port in the Deptford Mall, the Cherry Hill Mall had had several over the years, heck there was one in every mall. I’ve already talked about Malibu, there was also Bally’s across from the Cherry Hill Mall, and the Galaxy (not the rock club) down the road from it on Route 70. There was even one in my hometown right on Atco Avenue, the Sweet Shop. Like I said, they were everywhere, and also like I said, Video Village (now that I finally remembered the name) was special.

New games or games with buzz were given a special position in arcades so everyone could see them. At Video Village, this was just inside the entrance, facing into the Mall, this way, even if you were on the other side of the stairs, you could see the new game. This is how I first saw Dragon’s Lair, logo standing out above a throng of heads of perhaps two or three dozen people mesmerized by it or waiting their turn on this amazing new game. And it was amazing, at least for its time.

There were no pixels or imagination involved in Dragon’s Lair, as it was fully animated by Don Bluth, just late of Disney, and designed almost as a choose-your-own-adventure with the magic of laserdisc technology. It was all about a light touch and perfect reflexes to get heroic knight Dirk the Daring past various traps in the castle dungeons, the evil wizard Mordoc, and the dragon Singe, to rescue the Princess Daphne. Oh, you couldn’t wait to try it yourself, but it was also a blast to watch – not just a game, it was an entertaining cartoon as well.

This was a far cry from Atari’s Adventure, said to be its inspiration. Dragon’s Lair was also a notable step into the future for one other reason as well. It was the first game I am aware of that took two tokens, fifty cents, to play as opposed to one token/quarter. I am unsure if this was forward thinking or just plain greed, but at the time in my easily amused late teens, it seemed a fair exchange.

So why all the nostalgia for events that happened over three decades ago? Well, I just recently downloaded the Dragon’s Lair LLC app for my iPhone. It has the same great animation and gameplay, only using the touchscreen instead of a joystick. So Dirk the Daring lives, or at least he does when I make the right moves…

Malibu Grand Prix and the Mystery of Dig Dug

One of the games I have downloaded from the PlayStation Store has been Namco Museum Essentials. Yeah, they’re old arcade games. I figured they would be way more my speed. One of the games included was Dig Dug.

I used to play Dig Dug all the time, probably for the first time at Maibu Grand Prix in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. The big draw was the miniature Indy car raceway in the back, but inside, it was a huge arcade, back in the day when videogames were played in such places. Now it’s just at home on the computer or video console. Us old people did it differently.

Malibu’s been gone for a long time now. They tore it all down and there’s now a medical complex there. Before that, it was closed and abandoned for years. Rumor has it that when they went to demolish it, a body was found on the grounds. Weird. There are still some Mailbu complexes open, in California and Texas, but for the most part, the arcade is a dead thing in our time.

I discovered Malibu in high school. A friend’s mother used to work in the offices nearby and he would pick her up after work every day, and take his brothers and his friends with to play at Malibu while we waited ’til the working whistle blew as they say. Malibu was where I first played a lot of great games, stuff like Star Castle, which I used to be able to play for hours on only a quarter – that was my game, as well as Centipede (though I preferred Millipede), Warlords, Popeye, Galaxian, Qix (another favorite I was very good at), Astro Fighter, Time Pilot, Pac-Man, Zaxxon, and another old favorite, Sinistar – and of course, Dig Dug. Hmmm… I guess I’m really dating myself with that list, huh?

Anyway, as I was playing Dig Dug, and getting my ol’ skillz back after navigating the PS3 controller, I started to wonder about the game. I mean, what the hell is it, really? It’s a guy named Dig Dug, who dresses like an astronaut and digs through the ground… and when he encounters weird creatures and dragons he shoots a hose at them, and inflates them until they explode. That sound about right? Wow. You can not tell me there were not drugs involved in the creation of this game.

After a bit of research (always a dangerous thing to do when you don’t know what you’ll find), I discovered Dig Dug’s real name was Hori Taizo, and he was the father of the guy in the Mr. Driller videogame (never heard of it) and the ex-husband of the heroine from Baraduke (that one either). The creatures are Pookas and Fygars respectively. Collectively they represent a weird incestuous hierarchy in Japanese videogaming. They are everywhere, in dozens of games.

I still got no explanation of what the game actually means. Sometimes a little knowledge, or a lack thereof, is a bad thing. At least it’s fun, and at least I can play it without embarrassing myself…

French Fry Diary 180: The Funplex Café