Video Game Review: Gauntlet (Arcade)

Few games made me go broke faster than the arcade version of Gauntlet. That being said, I still loved the absolute shit out of it at an age when losing a quarter felt like losing twenty bucks.

When I eventually got the version that was ported to the original Nintendo, I was ecstatic because I would no longer have to lose boatloads of quarters or tokens. Granted, that version of the game wasn’t as epic and grandiose as its arcade counterpart.

What’s great about the arcade version is it’s graphics and sounds. Also, it plays so fluidly where I always found the NES port to be buggy and laggy.

Sure, you get severely overwhelmed in all versions of this game but that’s sort of the appeal. There’s just something cool about being absolutely swarmed by a ghost army and then having to run for your f’n life every time the Grim Reaper or multiple Grim Reapers appear onscreen.

I guess I had always assumed that eventually you would reach the end of this game. However, I played this for two hours straight and after a while, the levels, despite their number, start to repeat.

This is an endless game. I’m sure it was designed that way to deliberately squeeze as much change out of ’80s kids as humanly possible but that doesn’t make me mad, it makes me kind of respect the game’s developers.

Because, really, this isn’t even a game you play to beat, it’s a game you play to see how long you can hang.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Gauntlet II

Video Game Review: Mercs (Arcade)

As I’m trying to get the most out of my RetroPie’s MAME section, I wanted to revisit another classic arcade game that I used to play the shit out of but haven’t touched in almost thirty years.

Mercs took a lot of my hard earned money when I was in sixth grade. They put one in at the arcade next to the chicken wing spot my family would go to. I’d always run next door and then baffle my mother when I’d come back ten minutes later, already depleted of the five bucks she gave me.

I actually liked this game so much that I ended up getting it a year or two later on the Sega Genesis. However, the arcade version is still the superior one.

This takes the side scrolling beat’em up gaming style and makes it a shooter that actually scrolls from bottom to top as you move up the level, blowing up everything from shacks, tanks, jeeps and human beings trying to shoot you first.

It’s highly energetic and just a badass experience.

For fans of the Ikari Warriors games or Commando, this is basically more of the same but for lack of a better term, this is like those games on steroids.

It’s also not too long where Ikari Warriors felt like it went for friggin’ weeks.

This has solid graphics, smooth gameplay and you can kick its ass in about a half hour. Granted, it’s good that I can play it without quarters now, as my playthrough probably would’ve cost me the same as a down payment on a Kia Sorento.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other button mashing arcade shooters of the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Video Game Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

I fed this arcade game so many quarters in 1990 that I never had money to buy anything else. I usually had to persuade my mum into giving me more quarters, as well as giving me an extra allowance just for comics.

Anyway, I’m glad that I can play this whenever I want now and the quarters are free because with MAME, I only have to hit “select” to add credits.

This was and still is one of the all-time greatest side scrolling beat’em up arcade games in history. Sure, the genre was going strong by the time that this came out but it took things to a new level. Maybe that’s because the Ninja Turtles were the biggest thing in pop culture in 1990 but even then, this is such a perfectly polished and energetic game that it’s greatness can’t be brushed off simply because it’s associated with a massive franchise.

The controls are superb, the gameplay is fluid and this isn’t a beat’em up that gets dull or all that repetitive. Each level feels fresh and new, the levels aren’t too long and even if you are fighting a dozen enemies at once, you don’t get so overwhelmed that you have to blow through quarters just to get off of one screen.

What’s also great is that this was a four player game. So you and four of your friends could jump in together and kick Foot Clan ass. Even if you didn’t have friends with you at the arcade, there was never a shortage on kids ready to jump in and give you a hand. I actually met some friends this way.

This was an arcade game that I would often play to completion. It was perfectly balanced on its difficulty and every kid felt like they could beat it without completely going broke. There are days where I played through it twice in a row.

The Nintendo port that came out after this was never as good. It always felt like the cheap, incomplete and buggy version of its superior arcade father. Granted, the NES version did add some interesting new levels and characters.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling beat’em up arcade games from the era, especially involving turtles.

 

Video Game Review: Pit Fighter (Arcade)

Pit Fighter was kind of the precursor to Mortal Kombat. It’s nowhere near as good or iconic but it gave us real people digitized to create the fighters in the game. To an eleven year-old in 1990, this game looked badass.

However, this is just a straight up button masher. There’s no real strategy, just don’t get hit and hit the baddie more than the baddie hits you. However, if you’ve got a pocket full of quarters or infinite quarters thanks to playing this on MAME, you can just buy your way to the finish.

The controls are fluid and work well. However, the game itself isn’t fluid and the action can be kind of wonky. While it’s a decent attempt at a next gen fighting game (for its time), it’s bogged down by its sloppy play and it’s pretty repetitive. Also, the three fighters you can choose from aren’t really to dissimilar because they don’t really have any sort of unique move sets. You can punch, kick and jump: not much else.

Still, revisiting this and beating it was fun for the half hour or so that it took.

Also, the arcade version is much better than any of the versions that were ported to consoles.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other arcade fighting games from the early ’90s.

Video Game Review: RoboCop (Arcade)

I used to love the hell out of this game whenever I’d see its cabinet glowing in the corner of my local arcade. I used to pump quarters into this thing like an old lady at a slot machine in Circus Circus. But I remember dropping serious coin and never being able to get very far.

Now that I can run this on MAME, I have infinite quarters, so I wanted to revisit it and play it all the way through.

I’ve got to say, this game is a beast. And I don’t mean that complimentary. Maybe there is a difficulty setting I can alter on MAME but you get overwhelmed by enemies and killed pretty damn quickly. It’s amazing how quick you get overwhelmed and really early in the game. Sure, I can keep continuing and I did but you only get one life and the continue screen freezes the gameplay action, bogging down the gameplay flow and your momentum. It’s kind of tedious, actually.

And hell, it’s been nearly three decade since I’ve played this and I could just suck really bad at it. But this era of arcade games are my cup of tea and I’m a pretty good player in most cases.

I still love the graphics and the game runs smooth as hell. The real high point is the music and the sound effects, which are top notch for this game’s generation.

It could have gotten more creative with boss battles, as you fight ED-209s a half dozen times and even fight two at the same time towards the end.

This isn’t too dissimilar from the Nintendo RoboCop game but it is harder and the levels feel more repetitious than its NES counterpart. For instance, for those familiar with the NES game, the City Hall level isn’t in this version.

All in all, this was fun to revisit but it’s insane difficulty made it a chore after the first ten minutes.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling shooters from the era.

Video Game Review: X-Men (Arcade)

Kids of the ’90s know this game. Well, assuming that they had a video arcade near them and were into the X-Men at the height of their ’90s popularity.

This game was originally presented in a double-wide arcade cabinet with two screens and room for six players at the same time. I used to love playing this and I always hoped for a version of it that I could play at home. But it wasn’t until about ten years ago that this was ported and released for the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Store.

The home version isn’t as exciting, as I don’t have six people to play this with or even six controls but playing through it on my own or with a friend or two is still quite a lot of fun.

This is a standard 2D, side scrolling, beat’em up game. Those were super popular back in the late ’80s and early ’90s with games like Double DragonFinal Fight, the arcade version of Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesStreets of Rage, the sister game to this one: Captain American and the Avengers, as well as a slew of others. I loved this genre of video games and could never get enough of them. In 2018, I wish side scrolling beat’em ups still populated the marketplace.

For the time, this had solid graphics, great sound, easy gameplay and it was addicting as hell. You didn’t care how many quarters it took, it was hard to leave the arcade without beating this on a playthrough each visit.

The game came out around the same time as the popular X-Men cartoon series. It wasn’t based on that, however. The game was actually designed after the pilot episode of a failed X-Men animated series from a few years earlier. Now that pilot was popular when it VHS, I rented it a lot, but the game sort of exists as an expansion to what probably would have been a solid cartoon series.

You have six playable X-Men characters in this: Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Dazzler. Professor X and Kitty Pryde also show up. The villains also have an impressive roster with Magneto, Mystique, Juggernaut, Emma Frost, Nimrod, Pyro, the Blob and Wendigo. It would’ve been nice to have Sabretooth though.

I still enjoy the hell out of this game and play through it on my PS3 about once a year. Nowadays, it doesn’t cost quarters and I can run through it in about a half an hour.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Captain America and the Avengers arcade game, Spider-Man for Sega Genesis and Maximum Carnage.

Video Game Review: Black Tiger (Arcade)

I’ll be honest, I barely remembered Black Tiger but once playing it in a Capcom classic arcade pack, it came back to me. I then remembered that this game was a huge pain in the ass but at least you could always continue at a spot pretty close to where you died. It was at least more forgiving in that regard than Ghosts & Goblins.

I was also reminded that this game was very similar to Data East’s Karnov, which I loved. Playing this now, it’s still a pretty fun game but I still love Karnov more.

This game isn’t super hard but once you get to the higher level bosses, it really becomes a pain in the ass. The amount of continues I used was astronomical and I would’ve probably spent a paycheck playing through this and beating it in the arcade.

I love the look, feel and sound of the game but the mechanics are pretty clunky. In fact, what made a lot of the boss battles hard were the controls.

It was also difficult trying to figure out what to buy in the store. This has a sort of RPG style to how you buy and use items in the game but I didn’t know what half the icons were supposed to be and I felt that they could have been clearer on store items.

For a seasoned gamer and someone who is much more versed in this game, it can probably be blown through in under a half hour. Hell, there’s a speed run below that took less than 11 minutes. For me, it took several hours and probably a hundred continues to get through this.

But that’s also what I miss about gaming in the ’80s; shit was actually hard. You had to really work for it and develop a unique skill set for every game.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Karnov, Altered Beast, the Ghosts & Goblins series and the Golden Axe series.