This weekend, I took my kid back to college in Huntsville, Alabama. While there, we stumbled across the Rocket City Arcade, where they offer a host of classic arcade games that you can play all day for just $10.
It had been a long day of driving, and so we only played for about an hour. But it felt like even that hour was well worth the money spent.
One precondition was they had to have Joust, and they did.
It took me a little time to get the game skills back, but by the fourth game, I got 64k points and set the high score for the game. I’m really not sure why no one plays it, because 64k points wasn’t that tough to get. I think in my heyday I must have broken 100k points, because 64k points included making it past just one survival wave and one egg wave, and I think i can remember making it to at least 3 egg waves previously.
The thing I love about Joust is there are no patterns to learn at all. No way to memorize a method or route that lets you beat the AI, or even puts you in a good position, like you can with games like Pac Man or Super Mario Brothers. Your flapping works against gravity based on your rate of taps, and it is impossible to hold a perfectly rock-steady altitude. Left and right are possible, but it often takes some finesse to zero out your lateral motion.
There are some places where you can hang out that make it more likely to kill the bad guys, but holding position there is tough, and if you camp there, they’ll get you.
Great game. Highly recommended. Probably my favorite game of all time, although Karate Champ is also very good.
The arcade also had a great old Star Wars game, where you shot tie fighters before making a trench run. As the game got tougher and faster, with more defending fire directed at you, the trick was to use your blasters to hit the defending fire and stay alive; shooting the enemy was only a secondary goal.
I got to try Donkey Kong, and made it to the 3rd level pretty easily. Got to do a few driving games, which are always fun. One game I loved, but only saw once, was a stunt driving game. You did jumps, loops, etc., and the game had some feedback that helped you feel you were actually driving the car doing the stunts. I’d pay good money for an original game in good condition to have the chance to play that and get good at it, but that is apparently not my fate. It might have been Atari’s “Hard Drivin'”, now that I’ve taken a moment to search. I thought I remembered green vector graphics, rather than the CRT graphics of “Hard Drivin'”…but the description of showing a replay of your crash sounds familiar, and the gameplay sure seems familiar, too. Memory is a funny thing.
But that wasn’t one of the games they had. They did have, however, The Simpsons, and Crystal Castles (boring) and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Several shooting games, but those weren’t as fun. I usually died in seconds, and only got anywhere by hitting “continue”. My kid and I had some bonding/fun on one of those for about 10 minutes.
They had a modern update to Rampage, which sucked. Different versions of Street Fighter, which was always best in the original Street Fighter 2 edition, before all the special moves just got stupidly complex and powerful. They had some Galaga types. They had Commando, and I died too quickly to want to try to get back any of that game’s muscle memory skills.
All in all, it was a fun trip down memory lane for me, and a chance for my kid to understand what gaming used to be like.
Doing a quick search, I’m seeing that several places combine retro games with bars. I didn’t look deeply enough to see if you still have to pay for the games. If you pay bar/pub prices for drinks, plus a quarter per game, it doesn’t seem worth it to me. There’s one in the DC area; I might try it.
But playing the game has convinced me that I will probably will purchase an Arcade1UP Rampage machine, as it includes Joust and Gauntlet. Rampage is okay. Gauntlet is actually kind of fun. I’ve played a pretty good Gauntlet emulation with my kid on the PS2, and the ability to just hit “continue”, with the loss of limitation of needing to drop a quarter in, makes the game much less fun. “Red Warrior Needs Food, Badly” is a sentence that sends chills down your spine if you have already given the machine your last quarter.
The system also has Defender, which is perhaps the most masochistic game Williams ever invented. But that is a game that might be enhanced by eliminating the necessity of quarters: it might actually now be feasible to practice to the point of actually getting good at it.
What classic arcade game was your favorite? Which do you miss? If you missed out on the era, which do you wish you’d gotten to try?