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 411mania » Games » Columns

The 8 Ball 03.25.14: Top 8 1990s Arcade Games
Posted by Marc Morrison on 03.25.2014

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball, the topic this week being the top 90s Arcade games. I chose to focus specifically on this decade because that's when arcades were relevant to me, i.e. being a kid in the 90s. Liana chose to just do her list based on the best arcade games period, due to her having slightly more familiarity with older games. With the exception of my first two picks, most of the games on my list are what you would expect, given the nature of the arcade business back then. Let's begin:

8. Top Skater

While there were other skating games on the prior home consoles, skating didn't really exist in the arcade sense until Top Skater hit the scene. I think this might be the first "physical gimmick" type of game (outside of a race wheel, light gun or motorcycle body) that hit the market, with the entire game being controlled by your movement and actions while on the skateboard controller. It wasn't the deepest game around by a long shot but probably was an impetus for Activision to start the Tony Hawk series a few years later. I imagine this pick might upset some people, but I still enjoyed the game regardless, that's why it's on here.

7. X-Men vs. Street Fighter

There are better fighting games on this list, don't worry, but I liked these "Vs" games a great deal. Specifically the various Marvel ones that came out (X-Men vs. SF, Marvel vs. SF, MvsC, and MvsC 2 being the highlight). I give it up to X-Men vs. Street Fighter though for getting the ball rolling. While there were two prior Marvel fighting games (MSH and X-Men: COTA), X-Men vs. Street Fighter was the first to bring the two popular rosters of characters together in some really insane action. People still don't like how the game looks, thinking Ryu's fireball is too big or that Cyclops optic blast fills the screen with energy. Myself? I love it. Plus I have very distinct memories of actually playing this game at my local arcade (before it closed down), and beating the game with Rogue and Storm. Not the best team, to be sure, but it was a particular highlight for me.

6. Daytona USA

DAY-TON-NA LETS GO AWAY! God, whenever I hear that, I start having PTSD flashbacks to being in arcades when this game was out. Daytona USA was a perfect encapsulation of the arcade racer, fast, pretty to look at, had some great action (especially when crashing), and fairly cheap about the gameplay, requiring you to dump more money into it. Racing against your friends was the true highlight of the game, either in the standard 2-player racing configuration, or the rarer 8-player set up. Later on, San Francisco RUSH would slightly eclipse this game, but I think I still had more fun with Daytona then with RUSH.

5. Area 51/Time Crisis

These two share a spot for the different things they brought to the light-game genre. Area 51 had a zany plot, filled with FMV actors, explosions, bad dialog, explosions, and more explosions. Having upgradable weapons, secret paths, and shooting mini-games. Time Crisis had the novel idea of actually having a cover system in the game, and give the player a sporting chance while playing it. When your foot is on the peddle, you can shoot enemies and what not, but you can also be shot at. When your foot is off the peddle you go into cover, where you can't shoot but also can't be shot. It was a great idea because it gave the player more control in the game, if you wanted to take it slow, or just try to blast everything in sight. The 90's were a great time for light gun games, times that haven't been repeated since.

4. NBA Jam

NBA Jam is probably one of the half a dozen or so sports games I actually liked. The commentary was schlocky but good, the gameplay made sense, and the action was intense. After my first viewing of NBA Jam being blade I wondered "Now why can't real basketball be like that?" The on-fire mechanic was especially awesome, showing how well you were dominating the other team (or vice versa). NBA Jam was particularly notorious for the "cheating" AI, both with how many of your shots went in, and then the shot percentages of the other team. That's what the point of arcade machines were, to suck quarters from kids. Just like in my next pick.

3. The Simpsons/X-Men

I'm putting these together because they show the evolution of the beat'em up genre. Even though Turtles came out in 1989, it served as a good platform for the Konami beat'em up games. In 1991 The Simpsons game came out offering really great animation and some subtle upgrades to the game formula. Mainly by having team-up attacks with the various characters, more usable objects, and mini-games to help break up the action. Then in the next year with the release of X-Men, with its upgrades of having either a 2, 4, or 6 (with two screens) player cabinet, so more people could play at once. Also, the mutant power thing was a nice mechanic that you could use on bosses that you came up against. Both games were really designed just to eat quarters, sometimes requiring five bucks (or more) to be able to beat the game at all. But it was all worth it, just so you could save Maggie Simpson, or face off against "Magneto, master of magnet".

2. Mortal Kombat 2 and 3

I pretty much have to group these games together, but with a small caveat: the omission of the original Mortal Kombat. Original MK was the second game in the fighting game revolution taking place in the 90's. Digitized actors, blood, fatalities, etc. all led to the game being popular and the eventual formation of the ESA (along with Night Trap). Mortal Kombats place in video game history can't be denied by anyone. However, I honestly don't think it's a very fun game. It's slow, the roster is limited, and certain characters were a little over or under powered, compared to others. Mortal Kombat 2 and 3 do make the list though for cementing the legacy of the Mortal Kombat franchise, introducing a lot of new (and great) characters, more blood, more humor, more story, Kombat Kodes, etc. etc. etc. There is an even split between most fans of the series over which is better, MK2 or MK3. I think I prefer MK2, personally. The run button in MK3 is great, but the "dial a combo" system in the game felt really awkward to me. Both games are still fun to this day, which isn't something you can say about Mortal Kombat 4.

1. Street Fighter 2

Above I said that MK1 was the second game to bring about the fighting game revolution, well, here is the first. Frankly, without Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat wouldn't exist. When Street Fighter2 hit the scene there was a monumental shift in video games. Fighting games did exist before, but never to the degree of SF2's popularity. Kids and adults would pour millions of quarters into these machines in order to play against one another, or each other. In my local arcade, the SF2 machine had to be emptied out daily, because of how many quarters it would accrue. Later versions of the game would add in new characters, mechanics (super meter), and the like, but they all retain the perfect fighting formula the franchise has largely kept up with.

The Better Half with Liana K

Top 8 Coin Op Arcade Games

I am so stupidly excited about this topic! Like, really really excited! Arcades are something of a relic now, but when I was a kid, they were the only places you could actually play a game. Here are eight that had particular significance for me.

Honorable Mention: Centipede

For some reason, my mother liked Centipede. It made absolutely no sense, because she hates bugs, snakes, and anything else creepy crawly, and calls most of my nerd stuff "the ugly things". But she always played Centipede at Chuck E. Cheese. Maybe it was the trackball? The trackball was admittedly neat.

8: Star Wars Racer Arcade

This is my favorite "modern" arcade game, even though it's over ten years old. Playing Star Wars action sims at home doesn't thrill me, but for some weird reason, playing this game at Dave and Buster's is crazy fun! I know it's not the greatest game in the world, but it's one of the few that actually provides value in an arcade these days. I'm usually really annoying in arcades, because I don't see the point of dumping small amounts of money into games I pay much more money to play at home. Hooray for flawed logic!

7: Q-Bert

Thanks to Wreck-It-Ralph, people know who Q-Bert is again. For quite some time, however, Q-Bert's pyramid hopping arcade glory was lost to the mists of time. I don't think I ever got good at Q-Bert, but the character designs and sounds captivated me. And for a kid in the eighties, a swearing, hopping, tube-nosed ball was inherently funny.

6: Frogger

Frogger ruled, okay? Frogger is so cool that at Anime North, they call the reckless jaywalking kids do across a major road "cosplay Frogger". They hum the theme song and everything while they're crossing. These kids aren't old enough to have ever played Frogger, but they know the freaking song! This is the power of Frogger. Also, don't tell me the hacking mini-games in Assassin's Creed Black Flag aren't Frogger homages.

5: Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles

This four-player co-op side scroller beat-em-up is one of the greatest things ever! Okay, it wasn't so great when you were a smaller kid on one of the middle sticks mashed between two much bigger kids. That was kind of scary. You may also remember the Simpsons game that was an identical format, or you may have played Castle Crashers, which is the closest thing I've found on console to this arcade experience, but Ninja Turtles is always a unique kind of cool.

4: Missile Command

I used a German ad. Because German ads are cool. Missile Command is one of those games that make you realize how far gaming has come. It was one of the most intense video game experiences out there in 1980... and it looked like this:

Yeah. That was some hot shit.

3: Wizard of Wor

Oh. My. God did I love this game! It's another game where the audio drew me in with its creepy alien quality. I played this game so much as a kid, I'd close my eyes at night and still see it. Then I'd have nightmares. So I promised myself I wouldn't play it anymore... and then its irresistible siren call where it sat right near Q-Bert would draw me back in. It was probably a formative childhood experience.

2: Mortal Kombat

Everything... EVERYTHING about Mortal Kombat made it a cool arcade game. The cabinet looked amazing! It played Kung Fu music! It was possibly the most violent game made to that point! And parents hated it! But it was also a solid game, with a cast of characters that had something for everyone. Furthermore, the stories for each character made you want to beat the game with all of them, costing many many quarters to do so. Mortal Kombat was the first game I remember practising on the home console version to be cool at the arcade. Another thing I liked about Mortal Kombat was that the female character, Sonya Blade, didn't have some cheap ass move like Chun Li's head stomp in Street Fighter. I love Chun Li, but man that head stomp move did not help the reputation of girl gamers at all, since it was easy to do, over and over and over again, like my younger sister did. My mother forced me to let my sister play Street Fighter II with me... where she always played Chun Li, and did the head stomp move over and over and over again. Now, shades of that did come back with some of Mileena's moves in Mortal Kombat II, but Mileena is evil and purple, and this excuses everything.

1: Pac-Man

I used picture that included the Cocktail Table version of Pac-Man because I've always wanted one of those freakin' tables! Like, if I ever get three thousand bucks to burn, I am so buying one. Discovering Pac-Man when I was three years old was a defining moment of my life. "Bucka Bucka" was the greatest thing this three year-old ginger kid had ever seen, and I drove my mother crazy until she'd hold me up to play it. The table versions didn't require my mother's assistance, which is why I love them to this day: they are symbols of Bucka Bucka freedom.

I don't think I'm the only person with a Pac-Man story like that. Pac-Man is a turning point in the history of video games. It's important not just for what it did, but what it showed games could do. It wasn't just fun. It was inspiring.

And it ate a lot of quarters. Then again, those quarters were probably a better investment in my future than college.

Complainer's Corner

I tried to come up with a small list of other games that didn't quite make it on my big list. I should start with my technical 9th pick, which would be DDR. It wasn't on my main list for two reasons: 1. It just barely came out in the 1990's, specifically 1999. While that might be the official date, I doubt many arcades had it that year. It took a while for that game to really catch on and begin moving into arcades. And 2. I don't really like it. I know it appeals to a fairly large group of people, but I'm not one of them. Never have been, never will be. Still, it does merit a mention just for some of the impact it has had on the scene, even if most of it was in the 2000's. Here's my secondary game list: Terminator 2, Hydro Thunder, Gauntlet, Crazy Taxi, Cruis'n USA, San Francisco RUSH, Virtua Fighter, Turtles in Time, Smash TV, GI Joe, GunForce, and Bust a Move (or most of the Neo Geo stuff really).

The General Roundup

As said last week, I'm just going to try and respond to some of the more civil, or intelligent comments. I may not quote directly, but I'll paraphrase the general vibe. Someone mentioned the lack of Planescape on my list. I actually did consider it, but decided against it, due to the D&D nature of it. It does have different setting for its story, and while TNO does die, I didn't pick it. Someone mentioned Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo. While I love the game, I always thought it was based on earlier games, like Dr. Mario, or Columns, just with a few gameplay tweaks. I've been playing Enslaved (slowly), and I like it. "Yeah", TurboGrafx fans represent! I got mine used also (after the system already died) and only remember Keith Courage, Silent Debuggers, Military Madness, and Shaep Shifter (on Turbo CD) for it. Lastly, a few people mentioned Shadow of the Colossus should have been on the list. Only it was (in my secondary list, third game). Bonus points to the guy who suggested people read the actual column and not just the specific games listed.

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