In which we discuss the arcade games of yesterday, how we play them today and whether they have any future tomorrow.
Arcade games are made to cheat. We know this, right? I was just thinking this as I was playing the X-Men arcade game for the first time in a really long time. They are designed to suck as many quarters saved from lunch money and grass mowing allowances as possible. They throw way too many enemies on the screen, there is sometimes no strategy to them beyond having another quarter in hand and it seems that the best possible strategy would be bringing a friend in to join you, which of course means more quarters. It’s all well and good except for one thing. At home… this just doesn’t work the same.
Let’s look at X-Men again. Great game. No arguments about that. Classic part of my childhood in part fueled by the awesome X-Men cartoon of the period as well as the fact that the giant cabinet was always found at the best water park ever, Enchanted Forest: Water Safari. But after playing it again last week, the magic seems to have faded a bit. And by a bit I mean a lot. First of all, playing this alone is a joke. Yeah, no shit says you. It’s a six player game. Why would you play it alone? Well, sometimes none of my friends are here and they aren’t online and I don’t want to just buddy up with some random asshole from out of the ether. Besides, arcade multiplayer is always best in person with some pizza and Mountain Dew to fuel our beating of ’em in the direction of up. So that leaves single player which, again, is a joke. This game is built on punishing the player. The later stages just throw wave after wave after wave of enemies all at once which just overwhelms you. It’s a tidal wave of bullshit cheap kills. You just play it and know that the game intended way more people to be playing at this part of the game.
But again, we know that this is supposed to be hard. Part of the charm of quarter suckers is that these things… suck quarters. In a way, arcade games taught money management. Do you blow whatever amount you managed to gleam from your parents on one game, seeing how far you can get in one go, or do you spend on several games, having bite sized amounts of fun? But that special kind of difficulty doesn’t really translate into a home experience. When it’s too difficult, it just becomes frustrating. Bullshit kills are just less forgiven when you are sitting in an easy chair. I don’t know why. But then we get to the flip side of this argument. X-Men again. I get killed, like, three times in a minute. But guess what? Every time I die, my special mutant power gets recharged, meaning I can use three or four blasts from Cyclops’ eye beams to clear out enemies. Hey, you know a good strategy for every single boss? Blast them with your mutant power until it runs out, die, then blast them again until they die.
The difficulty just doesn’t work without the risk of losing actual money. There’s no reason to do well anymore. So I am schizophrenically going between being super pissed off that the game is throwing so much bullshit at me to me being bored because there is no consequence to my failure. And speaking of consequences of failure, arcade games at home could also throw a new and fun type of bullshit at you. Limited lives. Hey there Neo Geo Station games. I’m looking at you Metal Slug. Why in the great googly crap balls do you limit the tires I have at an arcade hard game? That’s not cool. And yes, I know this is contradicting the whole point of my last paragraph, which leads me to one big conclusion. Arcade games are super hard to bring to the home console.
I think it just proves an old saying. You can’t go home again. Even if we get an arcade perfect port of a game we loved as kids, it won’t be the same. I once spent $20 to beat the game CarnEvil at the New York State Fair. Part of that thrill was playing a game about an evil carnival midway at an actual midway. As much fun as I had, and still have playing it whenever I find it out there in the wilds, I don’t think I’d have as much fun at home. You just can’t recapture that special kind of arcade magic at home. Which is one of the reasons that arcades have virtually faded out of existence in America. Gamers play at home now. We expect a deeper experience. Scott Pilgrim or Castle Crashers, those things are great updates of the arcade formula. But then again, we don’t want the formula. We want the game that we grew up with. Which, again, is hard to replicate at home.
Not that they shouldn’t keep trying. CarnEvil? Whoever owns that… hello? PlayStation Move? Wii? Could we make that happen? I’d enjoy that.