There’s a small scene in X-Men: Days Of Future Past where Quicksilver plays Pong against himself. The weird thing is that instead of falling into the background as a sight gag, I thought, “Wow, that cabinet is in great shape. I wonder if it’s real?” I’d like to think that the producers found an actual 1972 Pong cabinet, perfectly preserved and/or restored to look like the cutting edge of technology it was 40 years ago. After the movie was over (I highly recommend it) I found myself thinking back to that Pong machine.
Arcade games are weird because they’re dated, yet timeless. We may have more gaming power in our pockets now, but can a phone compare to the magnificence of a glowing marquee, a 5-foot tall mural and a glowing pistol-grip control stick?
Today I’ll revisit a discussion I had with coworkers and friends from Game Trader in the 90s. This came up one night at an after-work meet-up at Bennigan’s. Yes, Bennigan’s. (One guy’s wife worked there and we got food at a discount.) At the time, Namco had introduced a series of arcade games that ran on Sony PlayStation hardware, known as System 11. Why would you play Tekken 2 in the arcade when you could play the exact same game at home? One of us posed the question: You have a personal arcade with 7 machines. What are they?
It opened up all kinds of discussion. Some put in their own limits, like “no obvious choices like Street Fighter 2 or Mortal Kombat” or “nothing 3D”. There were no wrong answers. There was no judgment. Just a bunch of gamers celebrating their favorite bits of a gaming format that, unknown to us, was entering the first throes of a slow death.
And why the number 7? Who knows… I can’t remember. In any case, the X-Men Pong scene got me thinking of making a new list. So here it is:
#7 S.T.U.N. Runner by Atari – Race down a space tunnel, armed with a laser to shoot anything that gets in your way. The best part? The top ten name entries became 3D time markers at the finish line. I’d have the “bike” cabinet of course.
#6 Gain Ground by SEGA – Travel through time, shooting everyone you see in order to rescue other time-travelling warriors before time runs out. The arcade version was three players and had people yelling tactics long before the FPS.
#5 Virtual On: Cyber Troopers by SEGA – Two sticks to control the giant robot of your choice. Your goal? Beat the metal crap out of the giant robot controlled by the person sitting next to you. The only fighter I was good at.
#4 Crack Down by SEGA – A sci-fi top-down shooter that had you playing as a spandex-clad action movie stereotype, shooting monsters and planting bombs in the maze-like base of an evil doctor and his cybernetic goat beast. And with co-op!
#2 Discs Of TRON by Midway – This game’s complex control setup combined with low-res taunts from David Warner as Sark was the closest any of us would ever get to experiencing what it was like to be in TRON. (At the time, that is.)
#1. Virtua Formula by SEGA – This monstrous version of Virtua Racing featured eight motion simulators linked together in front of big-screen TVs. While winning was nice, it was fun to crash just to get tossed around.
Culling this list down to seven was a near impossibility, only made possible by the looming deadline of getting the article done. I had to leave out I, Robot and Reactor, among others. While some of these are playable on home versions or emulation, they’re just better in their cabinet versions…especially Virtual On.
I open it up to you in the comments section, readers. What are your favorites? Are you all about vector graphics? Would you have a hall of Namco Classics? What would you have in the giant game room in your space mansion on Mars? Let’s have some good ol’ game talk.