Arcade Origins: Top 10 Arcade Games from 1976-77

5. Tank 8

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Tank 8 is another coin-op to come from the bosom of Atari subsidiary Kee Games, and while the original version of Tank came in 1974 it was the incredible eight-player iteration from 1976 that probably deserves the most attention. As well as the extra players, this version also featured a microprocessor and full colour graphics, a marvel of technology at the time.

The object of the game was simple: to destroy all the other tanks on the screen and win the game. The use of scenery to hide behind added some much-needed tactical play, and if you knew your angles then you could soon dominate. Probably the most famous aspect of Tank though is that this was the game that evolved into the very first Atari 2600 game, Combat, which added extra modes such as fighter jets and bi-planes, and is still loved by gamers all over the world for its almost timeless competitive gameplay.


4. Death Race

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This isn’t the first time we have featured Death Race on these pages; regular readers will remember its importance to the industry from our DNA of GTA article. Described by many as the very first “video game nasty”, Exidy’s 1976 coin-op was certainly controversial. The game saw you driving around, trying to run over and kill all the people running around the screen and turning them into grave stones.

Such was the outcry over this extreme violence that the game was banned in several US states and caused Exidy to make a statement that you were in fact running over “gremlins” rather than fellow humans. As some might be able to fathom from the title of the game, it was in fact inspired by the cult classic film Death Race 2000 that had appeared in cinemas the year before. Death Race was a real sign of things to come in the industry and would certainly earn a name for it creators.

 

3. Circus

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This 1977 arcade game from Exidy was clearly inspired by a another title on this list, Atari’s Breakout, but made enough changes to make it more than just a clone and a game in its own right.

In Circus you have several rows of balloons at the top of the screen that you are trying to burst. To do this you need to bounce the clowns off the seesaw at the bottom to make them jump into the air. The trick to this game is that there are two clowns, so it’s a constant balancing act with each clown providing the propulsion for the other – you always need to land the airborne clown on the empty side of the seesaw to make his partner jump. This requires very careful positioning of the see saw after every turn. If you fail to land your clown on the correct part of the seesaw, or miss it completely, you lose a life. Circus inspired many clones and conversions, most notably the hugely popular Atari 2600 version.

2. Sprint 8

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Following up from Sprint 2 and Sprint 4 was Atari’s Sprint 8, titled this way (like the prequels) because of how many players it could support. The original Sprint game was actually an evolution of another Atari game – Gran Trak 10, which was the very first top down racer, a genre that has been hugely popular over the years with games like Micro Machines, Super Off Road, Bang Bang Racing and Toyshop Turbos.

The biggest differences between Sprint 8 and the games that came before it was not just the number of players though, it also had the addition of a microprocessor and colour graphics for the first time. Sprint 8 was hugely popular in the arcades and was followed up by numerous sequels including Super Sprint, Championship Sprint and Badlands. As well as the many clones, there were also some great official conversions of these games to home systems too.

 

1. Breakout

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Without any doubt the most popular and successful game on this list, Breakout’s legacy lives on to this very day with titles like the Arkanoid series and the more recent, and hugely popular, indie game Wizorb. One of the most notable things about Atari’s classic 1976 coin-op is that it was engineered by none other than Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who would later go on to found Apple.

An evolution of Atari’s Pong, the game was simple but addictive, as you used your bat to bounce a ball off the bricks above in order to try and clear them all and reach the next level. The key skill of Breakout was to learn the angles of the ball and what part of the bat to use to hit. After its enormous success in the arcades, Breakout would go on to appear on just about every single platform known to man in some shape or another, and even made a cameo in Pixels, the recent video game-themed film starring Adam Sandler.