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EGM Feature:
Top 5 Arcade Games

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Posted on December 15, 2011 AT 09:00am

Sure, the current generation of up-and-coming gamers is used to sitting in front of a flatscreen TV and staring at lifelike graphics, hearing fully orchestrated sound, and mashing more buttons on their controllers than they have fingers. But when we here at EGM were growing up, we were lucky to have two buttons—and we earned our gaming chops by feeding quarters into giant, bulky, wooden cabinets chock-full of computer chips and motherboards. Yes, the times have indeed changed—the arcade’s all but gone the way of the dinosaur—but with so many throwback games coming out over the past year and in the immediate future, we’ve decided to look back at five of our quarter-guzzling favorites.

Tempest

Why It’s a Favorite: In the old days—back when they cost a quarter, not 1,200 Microsoft points—most arcade games were either black-and-white or used fake color by putting see-through pieces of red, yellow, and blue plastic over their TV screens. But in the early ’80s, Tempest was…OK, it may not have been the first arcade game to really have color, but it was the first arcade game at the Jewish Community Center in West Orange, New Jersey to really have color, so as far as my friends and I were concerned, it was a Technicolor revelation. Though it also helped that the game—in which you spin a dial to go around the edges of a tube or plane, shooting the enemies moving up it toward you—was really addictive. Sure, the game would’ve been just as fun in monochrome, but that it came in color—real color—blew our fragile little minds.

-Paul Semel

Gauntlet

Why It’s a Favorite: Before I got old enough to hit the local watering hole and enjoy a few cold ones while watching the Bengals embarrass themselves in new and depressing ways, my favorite hangout was a local arcade in my hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, called Tilt. It eventually closed and gave way to a teen “dance club” that hosted countless ’80s hair bands, but one machine that endured was Atari’s Gauntlet. A 4-player, top-down shooter in the guise of a class-based dungeon crawler, few cabinets clawed at my quarters quite like this one—and few bits of dismal voiceover get referenced as often as the game’s ominous warning when one’s health got low: “Elf needs food—badly.” Man, I miss that.

-Brandon Justice

Cliff Hanger

Why It’s a Favorite: Some of my first memories are of running around various seedy ’80s arcades at places like Chuck E. Cheese’s, Bullwinkle’s, and Aladdin’s Castle—videogames were a huge part of my life from the very beginning. But what convinced me they could be mediums for epic storytelling? The bounty of animated LaserDisc games that hit in ’83. Dragon’s Lair may have gotten the pub and the Coleco ADAM port, but Cliff Hanger was the experience that really stuck with me—it was also an early example of Japanese animation invading the States, as the scenes were ripped straight from Lupin the 3rd. Sure, these cheap parlor tricks were really nothing more than Simon Says, but they were also a fleeting glimpse of the future, foreshadowing vibrant, expressive game worlds more than a decade before they became a reality on home consoles.

-Andrew Fitch

Ms. Pac-Man & Galaga 20th Anniversary Dual Cabinet

Why It’s a Favorite: Other than Gauntlet—which one of my fellow staff members stole before I could claim it—probably my favorite arcade cabinet in existence is the Ms. Pac-Man & Galaga combo machine. Though I was never into games like Space Invaders or Galaxian, there was just something about Galaga that demanded my love and attention. Combine that with Ms. Pac-Man—the game that took the concepts of the original Pac-Man and perfectly expanded upon and refined them—and you have a one-two combination of great gaming that’s a must-have for pizza places everywhere (not to mention a coveted cocktail machine). Of course, just so long as Ms. Pac-Man had the speed hack going.

-Eric L. Patterson

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time

Why It’s a Favorite:  Before it made its way into my home on my Super NES or the Sega Genesis in the guise of The Hyperstone Heist, Turtles in Time blew my mind when I first saw it in the arcades. It was the best graphical representation of the TMNT to date outside of the cartoons—and also featured characters that only true Turtles fans would recognize, like the prehistoric level’s Cement Man boss from the “Curse of the Evil Eye” episode (Slash, a more recognizable and better selling action figure, appeared on the console ports instead). The game also featured a Turtles staple at the time, as Shredder—later Super-Shredder in console ports, since they came after the release of the second movie—could finish you off in one blow if he hit you with his mutagen ray, which made for a quarter-guzzling boss encounter on a scale I hadn’t seen up until then…or since.

-Ray Carsillo

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