Tributes, homages, nods or call backs are a risk. When a homage is done well, it reminds you of past greatness and good times, without bludgeoning you over the head with it. Cinema naturally does this both expertly and poorly all the time, but so do video games. Good homages can be very subtle and are often missed. This is generally a good sign, because obvious is almost always bad. Remember the Star War Prequels and their constant references of the original trilogy? Ugh.
A cute homage came to my mind when I was leaving the train as I was heading in to work. This particular train had a few carriages covered in graffiti in the way I like. They made the outside colourful, with some nice big letters. I hate vandalism and the like, but I loved this. Graffiti in games has sometimes been controversial (especially when games get banned for allowing the player to create it, but not for cutting off people’s heads), but it isn’t super common.
Final Fight is a great game that featured a run down, graffiti covered city as its backdrop for THE classic side scrolling beat ‘em up. The most memorable level in Final Fight is the vandalised, train. The train has many breakable barrels which seems strange… perhaps the subway transported bourbon? The barrels don’t spill any liquid when broken, so I guess we’ll never know. Regardless, the game and that level in particular are a wonderful vision of a punk, drugged up, vandalised dystopia.
Six years after Final Fight’s original Arcade release, Yo! Joe! was released. This is another fantastic game and one of my Amiga favourites. Two graffiti artists wind up exploring a mansion, and then uncover some grand, magical conspiracy. It’s a one or two player action platform game, with some great controls. You can grab ledges (Prince of Persia style) and use an array of weapons. The larger weapons don’t allow you to grab ledges, so some strategy is needed. It also features a chainsaw that you spin wildly while wielding, but it needs its own fuel to run (it’s amazing).
The homage? Yo! Joe! has a mini level toward the end of the game that is a graffiti covered train. It is a particularly difficult, since there are no platforms and the enemies use a lot of throwing weapons. However, it’s a cute nod to video game history, as is their inclusion of an iron bar as a weapon, much like Final Fight did.
What’s scary is that there was seemingly a long time between Final Fight and Yo! Joe!, but… Yo! Joe! is now twenty years old. While in the last few years, retro game fans and non gamers alike have been very keen to commemorate the 8/16 bit era, gamers and developers alike were already making their own tributes, two decades ago.
That’s the theme running through these articles, I’m getting older.
I’m not at all qualified to speak about arcade games of the 80’s and 90’s. My time spent in arcades can be measured in single digit hours per year, often with a parent (or grandparent) not too far away. My ‘only childness’ was the cause of this lack of outside freedom, but for better or worse, I missed out on the best years of the arcade scene.
While my experience is limited, it is perhaps because of this that I remember the few I times times I played them very well.
One of my first consistent exposures to arcade games was when my parents and I were staying in the Gold Coast back in 1989. I think it was a two week holiday (taken mid term) to enjoy the sunshine and ‘beach weather’. It ended up raining a lot (typical tropics eh) and we didn’t really get much done outside. Thankfully for my sake, there was a small collection of arcade games in the hotel basement, as well as air hockey and a pool table I think. There was an ANCIENT car driving game, so old that your car was represented by a sticker. I played that once. The only other game I remember there, was Galaga.
I don’t think I’d played Galaga before then, even though it was six years old. Maybe because I was only eighteen months older than it… yeah that’d be a factor. It was a cocktail machine, so a sit down cabinet with two seats. When it is the other player’s turn, the screen is flipped to their view. INGENIUS! During that rainy week, I put away more than a few twenty cent coins in my attempt to kill weird insects. I also discovered the dual ship ‘secret’ in Galaga quite by accident. Most of you would be aware that in Galaga, the bigger enemy space insects can use a tractor beam to suck up your ship, causing you to lose a life, but, with your next ship you can get it back. If you shoot the captor your former ship will join with your current one and you get DUAL GUNS.
Children should be taught about this in school.
My other most memorable arcade experience comes from an even more unlikely place, A seaside fish and chip shop. I was staying at my grandparents for about two weeks (no doubt to give my parents a break from me). Most of the stay was boring and I don’t really remember how I passed most of the time. Every second day though was something I had to look forward to, since I discovered that the local fish and chip shop had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the arcade game.
To a nine year old this was the Alpha/Omega of arcade games. Four player side scrolling beat em up, AND you can control your favourite turtle! I don’t doubt a few of you out there can remember just what a phenomenon Ninja Turtles was back in the early 1990s. While it was four player, there is but only one of me so for the most part I went lone wolf with my turtle (probably Donatello) and did the best I could.
On the last morning I could play TMNT before going home, there were two other boys just starting a game. So I put in my two dollars and joined them. It was an epic battle that drew a small crowd (two other people and my grandma). I managed to get another dollar from grandma when I ran out of credits, for even she had noticed how well we were doing. I don’t remember much about the game, but the three of us progressed all the way to Krang (the penultimate boss) on what seemed like just a few credits. Sadly when that final laser (I think) struck me down, I looked around and realised my two turtle brothers were also
broke, grandma even showed me her purse: EMPTY. It was with a heavy heart that I left my comrades, we were so close to the end. I’ve since heard that Shredder (Uncle Phil), the final boss, is a real monster and if more coin were available, he’d have devoured them for sure.
My arcade playing time extends far beyond these two instances but not nearly as much as I’d have liked. As I have aged, I’ve appreciated the experience I had with my Amiga more and more, and while it meant I was a bit of a shut in during my childhood and adolescence it kept me out of trouble.
I’m certain most of those early 90’s arcade kids are all in jail now.