I’ve never considered myself a ‘gamer’ yet, I’ve always loved playing video games especially during the arcade era which I was introduced to early on in it’s history. Growing up in Philly in the early 80’s there were a plethora of locations that held machines to choose from, weather it be in the big mall’s or the neighborhood penny candy store. But my fondest memories of going to the arcades was at a place called Zounds which quite possibly could be the most popular hang out for kids cutting school, close enough for people to waste time while waiting for their movie to start at any of the 15 theaters in walking distance or to take in while doing shopping on a Saturday afternoon. Zounds was located on Chestnut Street right in Center City which would be the equivalent of what 42nd Street, Times Square is to New York. The perfect Saturday afternoon would definitely consist of catching a double feature Kung Fu flick and then dropping a few case quarters into your favorite machines.
Although I’ve been a collector for many years and own several machines, it was my first time visiting Insert Coins that made me fall in love once again with these machines for probably what would be the 4th time since first being introduced to them. So with that being said, it’s an honor to write for the site, in what hopefully won’t be the last time and list my top 10 favorite and classic arcade machines of all time.
In no particular order:
Elevator Action (Taito 1983)
I’ve always loved the spy genre when it came to movies, there’s no one better than Sean Connery playing the 007 lead. In this game you play as Agent 17, codenamed Otto and the mission is to secure top-secret documents located in a 30 floor security building and escape in a getaway care that is parked at the bottom of the building. In trying to do so, there are enemy spies in pursuit, shooting at you and following you down elevators and escalators within.
Spy Hunter (Bally Midway 1983)
If I had to list in order of favorites, then Spy Hunter would be in my top 2 of all time. Once again it’s spy themed and the music playing during the game comes from one of my favorite TV shows growing up, Peter Gunn. What’s really great about Spy Hunter is definitely in the controls, which include steering wheel, shift gear and gas peddle. Although the functions are the same, the feel is much better when playing on the much rare sit in cockpit version. The player is a secret agent that switches between driving a car or boat depending on which course is taken and filled with weapons to use when getting rid of the enemy in pursuit. The object is to knock the enemy off the road or use oil slicks, smoke screens or machine guns to take them out. There is also a helicopter that must also be taken down with the use of your missile but be cautious, ammo is limited and can only be regained by charging up inside of an 18 wheeler that you must signal and drive into.
Commando (Capcom 1985)
In Commando, you’re a soldier whose on a run and gun mission through the jungle to kill enemy forces while rescuing friendly soldiers that have been taken captive. While freeing these captives on the way you must also enter and destroy the enemy base that adds extra difficulty to your mission. Although not listed, I have to give a nod to another game that came out a few years later which drew my attention away from Commando which was a similar game called Ikari Warriors (Tradewest 1986) which seems to be heavily influenced by Rambo.
Stargate (Williams 1981)
Although my first introduction to this game was through Defender which was the first version, Stargate although similar in game play was slightly better. Stargate is a side scroller that you must fly through the stars while protection humanoids that are being picked up and captured by alien ships. By flying into the stargate, you can transport yourself to other areas where aliens are residing. *Note: Fellow DJ / Producer King Britt and myself meet monthly to hit an arcade are constantly at war and battling each other on this machine. He usually outscores me by a few points.
1943: The Battle of Midway (Capcome 1987)
1943 is a 2-D vertical scrolling shooter in which you pilot your WWII plane though the clouds while shooting down enemy attack and avoiding aircraft carrier fire. It’s simple yet can be a stressful came when you start to run out of energy and there are no power ups in sight.
Galaga (Namco 1981)
Galaga might very well be on everyone’s favorite list along with other classics like Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Donkey Kong. The idea of the game is to control your spaceship left and right while shooting down enemies at the top that shoot back and also fly towards you. But watch out for the tractor beam that can either hurt you or double your firepower.
Yie Ar Kung Fu (Konami 1985)
I’m an East Coast kid that grew up on 70’s and 80’s Shaw Brothers Kung Fu flicks so it’s a no brainer that when a game comes out based on what we loved as kids then it has to make my list. The game is simple kick, punch and jump combat while dodging throwing stars that your opponent is throwing at you. Although not as visually stunning as later games like Street Fighter or Mortal Combat, it captured our attention and imagination as a kid and is still just as challenging today as it was yesterday.
Bagman (Valadon Automation 1982)
Not many people have heard of, seen or even played Bagman which is an extremely rare game that I remember playing during a brief period and disappearing shortly afterwards. There was a Super Bagman (Stern) that was released a few years later in 1984 that I have never actually seen in person, but it seems to be the same concept as the original. Basically your character is a robber who runs around in a mine collecting moneybags and depositing them in a wheelbarrow, which is the easy party. The hard part is avoiding angry miners while climbing ladders and riding elevators. The only other way of getting free is temporarily stunning the miners with a pickaxe. Out of all the machines that I would want to own, this is definitely high on my priority list to track down.
Ghost n’ Goblins (Capcom 1985)
It wasn’t until later that I actually got hooked on this game. To be exact is was after playing it on the Sega Genesis in 1990 that I had to go back and find a stand up machine to play it on. The concept of this game is that you are a Knight in shining armor who must rescues the princess while avoiding and / or killing zombies, demons and bats. Your weaponry includes being able to throw spears, axes, torches and other items. As with many games of course there’s an end of level boss that you must defeat before moving on to the next stage.
Dragon’s Lair (Cinematronics 1983)
First I have to say that I was never any good at this game, yet I kept plunking quarters into it. The graphics were highly detailed in animation as it was different than other games that came out before it because it was ran off of a laserdisc. The interesting thing about this game was that it was a different outcome every time depending on the moves you made. You basically wrote the script and the outcome as the game had 42 different episodes with over 1,000 life and death situations and over 200 decisions to make. In the game you play the character Dirk who is a knight who must reach the Dragon’ Lair, slay Slinge the dragon and rescue Daphne the princess.
I have to give the nod to another laserdisc game, Cliff Hanger (Stern 1983) that was based off of one of my favorite classic anime series, Lupin III. Cliff Hanger was a much rare game to find than Dragon’s Lair and was more difficult to play as well.
There you have it, my top 10 favorite arcade machines based mainly off of game play but mostly off of nostalgia. Hopefully the next time you’re visiting Insert Coins you’ll find a few of these and drop a quarter or two.
The Nostalgia King