Arcade games have always been a huge part of my life. My earliest memories of video games all come from the glowing neon arcades of the 80s on holiday at some British seaside resort, staring up at magical titles such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Q*Bert – not even tall enough to grasp the controls.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the most important arcade games from all the years I have lived on this earth, starting with games from 1976 and 1977, the year I was conceived and the year I was born! It made sense to combine the two as the industry was still very much in its formative years, making releases much lighter on the ground. I hope you enjoy this look back in time…
10. Heavyweight Champ
This is a title that might not be familiar to the masses, but can’t be understated from a historical point of view. Sega’s original 1976 Heavyweight Champ (the game was later remade several times by the same company) was in fact the very first one-on-one fighting game! A genre that is more popular than ever in today’s market with titles such as Street Fighter, Blaz Blue and King of Fighters.
Its crude monochrome visuals might be a long way from those games, but the classic side-on view is clear to see with players competing to land the most amount of hits on each other. The larger than life characters are also particularly notable for the time when arcade goers were just not used to seeing more lifelike figures appear in games. Sega ended up going on to do really big things in the industry, but this game can be pointed out as the place it really all started.
9. Drag Race
Don’t be confused by the name Kee Games on the cabinet; they were nothing more than a subsidiary of Atari at the time, created to gain a larger share of the coin-op market. This 1977 arcade game is probably the most obscure title on this list, but will probably be much more familiar to many when I reveal the next part of the story.
Strangely, Atari never converted the game to their own 2600 VCS console and instead left Activision to release their own knock-off of the game called Dragster. This was a very bad move indeed as Dragster became one of the company’s first big hits. The game’s objective was simple – to cross the finish line in the fastest time possible – but this wasn’t as easy as it sounds as you had to be careful not to rev the engine too hard and blow it! Drag Race may have been one of the shortest games of the time, with a game over in about a minute, but it sure was fun while it lasted!
8. Canyon Bomber
Canyon Bomber is a simple but incredibly fun 1977 coin-op from Atari that, while now largely forgotten, inspired hundreds of different clones. The game sees either zeppelins or bi-planes flying over a canyon full of numbered rocks. From your aircraft you can drop bombs to destroy these rocks and you are awarded a score based on the numbers that appear on these boulders. The object of the game is to get a higher score than your opponent. The skill comes in the timing of your rocks to maximize the score and also, once many rocks are cleared, making sure you don’t miss, because if you do you lose a life. Lose all three of your lives and it’s game over.
While the game was popular in the arcades it’s probably better known for the full-colour Atari 2600 port, that also featured several different game modes, and the many other clones that were inspired by it.
7. Boot Hill
Midway’s Boot Hill was the sequel to the revolutionary 1975 coin-op Gun Fight, which was the first game to feature human combat and the first to have a microprocessor. This follow-up was pretty much more of the same, only a bit better done, and was an equally huge success for the company.
The main difference between this game and Gun Fight was that you could now play against the computer, as opposed to the two player-only action of the original, and as well as the two cowboys trying to shoot each other, you also have some scenery to hide behind. The game inspired many clones and copies, most notably Atari’s own version of the game Outlaw, that will be well remembered by both Atari 2600 and Atari 8-bit computer owners. It seems simplistic by today’s standards but back then Boot Hill was a real blast and set new standards for competitive arcade games.
6. Night Driver
Although Night Driver is famous as an Atari game, it was actually licensed from a German firm called Micronetics who had previously released the game as Night Racer. It hit the American arcades in 1976 under its new name and was an instant success. Not only was it the first time people had seen a first-person perspective in a video game but also the sit down cockpit-style cabinet added amazing realism for the time.
The idea of the game is simply to race along the windy road trying not to hit the sides. Crashing the car loses you points, and achieving maximum points allows you to continue the game longer for a bonus score. One of the most interesting features of the game was that the graphic showing the front of your car was just a transfer stuck to the screen! The Atari 2600 got an early port of the game with some small improvements that was programmed by Rob “Night Trap” Fulop.