Ah, arcade games. Back in the ’90s, you could find garishly colored, ridiculously loud arcade games beckoning players just about everywhere. Whether it was the Street Fighter II cabinet at your local pizza place or that old, dusty Galaga machine at the laundromat, ’90s kids were spoiled with arcade options. With the glut of arcade games, players quickly learned how to weed out the good from the bad, leading to popular arcade titles being swarmed with eager gamers. But while some of the era’s biggest games are fondly remembered these days, there are many smaller arcade titles that ’90s players put plenty of time into that have been mostly forgotten.
There was no thrill quite like finding an awesome new arcade game, but as the ’90s came to a close, gamers found themselves forgetting the names of these little games that they had grown to love. Sure, you remember The House Of The Dead, but what about the other shooters you shoveled quarters into? Much like that Reel Big Fish shirt you had, these games ended up discarded, almost entirely forgotten. But we’re here to deliver a roundhouse kick of nostalgia, bringing you a rundown of those awesome arcade adventures we’d all managed to entirely forget. No Daytona USA or Time Crisis here, friend; these are the deep cuts. Buckle up.
MANX TT SUPER BIKE
In the ’90s, Sega’s Daytona USA dominated arcades, with any joystick joint worth a darn being outfitted with eight Daytona USA cabinets, allowing race-hungry gamers to go head-to-head. But what if the Daytona USA cabinets were spoken for? Thankfully, Sega had the perfect alternative: Manx TT Super Bike.
Hitting arcades in 1996, Manx TT Super Bike revolutionized arcade motorcycle racing by offering a bike controller that allowed players to brace their feet on the controller, rather than placing their feet on the floor, ensuring control of the bike felt much more realistic. With lightning-fast racing and impressive graphics, gamers flocked to Manx TT Super Bike, giving Sega dominance in both arcade motorcar racing and superbike racing. Despite the game’s popularity, Manx TT Super Bike isn’t quite as fondly remembered as Daytona USA, leading to the game being mostly forgotten.
VIRTUAL ON: CYBER TROOPERS
Tucked between the NBA Jam and Street Fighter II cabinets was a strange looking arcade game. Awash in eye-searing blues and pinks, it featured seats like a racing game and twin joysticks. It definitely didn’t look or play like anything else in the arcade, and that’s exactly what made Virtual On: Cyber Troopers so great.
This Sega arcade title brought all the excitement of Gundam to your local arcade, allowing gamers to jump behind the controls of a giant robot and duke it out in an arena. With its dual joysticks set-up, players could zoom around the map, trading machine gun fire and laser blasts, leading to a lighting-fast, white knuckle gameplay experience. Virtual On maintains a cult following in Japan, but remains largely forgotten in the West.
Revolution X was born from an idea that could have only been approved in the ’90s: what if someone made an arcade shooter set in the post-apocalypse starring Aerosmith?
Yes, the band behind hits such as “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” might not seem the best pick for a rough-and-gritty shooter, but this didn’t stop Midway from cranking out Revolution X in 1994. This rail shooter cast the player as a headbanging hero going to battle with the New Order Nation, an army of rock-hating authoritarians that have captured Aerosmith and declared war on youth culture. Armed with a machine gun that shoots CDs (yes, really), players battled through grimy backstreets and sun-baked deserts to save Steven Tyler and the gang. Is it ridiculous? Absolutely. But you know you spent plenty of time on this game in the ’90s.
As Street Fighter II mania began to die down, gamers were getting burned out from 2D fighting games. Sega’s Virtua Fighter kicked off a 3D fighting game craze, and soon every video game company on the face of the Earth was looking to cash in. While Midway would find 3D fighting game success with Mortal Kombat 4, the company also cranked out some less-than-memorable fighters during this period. Which brings us to War Gods.
War Gods cast players as, well, “War Gods,” powerful warriors imbued with mystical energy fated to battle to the death for ultimate supremacy. Taking heavy cues from Mortal Kombat, War Gods featured buckets of gore and plenty of stomach-churning fatalities. The arcade game received middling reviews, but combat-hungry ’90s kids lined up around the block to play this forgotten fighter.
It seems like just about every variety of vehicle was getting the arcade treatment in the ’90s. Cars, boats, and motorcycles all got arcade-ified, and it seemed as though game developers had run out of vehicles to turn into arcade games. But then Rapid River came along.
You could say making a game where you ride around in a raft is “scraping the bottom of the barrel,” and you might be right. But any arcade-visiting kid of the ’90s will tell you: Rapid River was awesome! Two players could sit in the arcade’s “raft,” using the paddle controller to careen down raging rapids, avoiding whirlpools and obstacles along the way. Rapid River might be somewhat obscure these days, but this arcade game was a popular attraction back in the day.
MONSTER BASH PINBALL
As Thanos might say, life is all about balance. This applied to arcades in the ’90s as well: for every arcade cabinet, there was typically a pinball machine. While the ’90s saw an avalanche of pinball machines come and go, just about every arcade had one pinball machine in particular: Monster Bash Pinball.
Cashing in on the renewed interest in the Universal Monsters, Monster Bash Pinball brought together classic creatures such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman to throw a rockin’ party, all in the confines of a pinball machine. Featuring vibrant, monster-filled art and a colorful board littered with lights, bumpers, and ramps, Monster Bash caught the eyes of ’90s arcade denizens everywhere, making it one of the most popular pinball machines of the decade.
Sometimes, an arcade game can prosper due to presentation alone. The gameplay may be lackluster, the graphics may be rough, but as long as it’s presented properly, it can take off. Such was the case with 1997’s Top Skater.
In an era of racing games and shooters, Top Skater stood out with its then-novel skateboard controller. Essentially, players would hop onto a metal skateboard connected to the arcade cabinet, which could then be used to steer the skater on screen. Players would “pop” the back of the board, causing the on-screen avatar to do all manner of tricks. The gameplay was lackluster, and the Pennywise soundtrack was grating, but ’90s kids everywhere swore by this arcade staple.
Arcade cabinets equipped with a single dinky pistol to shoot wave after wave of foot soldiers? Yawn. When a ’90s kid wanted to really wreak havoc, they knew it was time to bust out the big guns, courtesy of Gunblade NY. Yes, in a market choked with gun-peripheral shooting games, Gunblade NY devised a simple way to stand out from the rabble: give the player giant honkin’ guns.
Equipped with two massive machine guns, Gunblade NY cast players as helicopter gunners sent into New York City to wage war against an army of rampaging android soldiers, raining bullets on anything that moves. The gameplay was beyond simple, but the size of the guns and the vibration caused in the peripheral when shooting was just so darn satisfying. You’d be hard pressed to find many ’90s arcade goers that remember the name Gunblade NY, but they definitely remember the game.
RUN AND GUN
In the ’90s, NBA Jam ruled the arcade basketball scene. Every other arcade basketball game was locked in a desperate battle for second place, as the “boom shakalaka”s and massive dunks cemented NBA Jam as the reigning king. But an oft-forgotten arcade basketball game gave NBA Jam a real run for it’s money: Run And Gun.
While the title might lead you to believe Run And Gun was just another arcade shooter, in actuality, Run And Gun was a fast and frantic basketball game. Placing players in a unique behind-the-back camera, gamers would compete for court supremacy with edge-of-your-seat 3-pointers and bone-rattling dunks. Run And Gun wasn’t quite as fast as NBA Jam, but ’90s kids looking for a more technical arcade basketball game knew to put their quarters in Run And Gun.
Arcades were swimming in gimmicks back in 1995. Mortal Kombat gained popularity with it’s ultra-violence and digitized motion capture graphics, and first-person shooting games were popping up left and right. How was a game to stand out? Atari Games concocted the perfect solution: just take a bunch of things that worked in other games and make a game of their own. Thus, Area 51 was born.
Combining the motion capture graphics and violence of Mortal Kombat with the light-gun action of games such as Time Crisis, Area 51 found immediate success. Gamers flocked to the game’s distinctive red speckled cabinet, and Area 51 became a staple of most mall arcades. A sequel and big budget reboot followed, but the Area 51 franchise eventually faded from memory.
LUCKY AND WILD
You couldn’t throw a rock in a ’90s arcade without hitting a driving game or a shooting game. Drivers and shooters were en vogue, leading to a glut of boring, forgettable titles jockeying for gamers’ money. But there was only one game that managed to combine driving and shooting: Lucky & Wild.
Borrowing heavily from classic cop buddy comedies such as Tango & Cash, Lucky & Wild tasked two players with taking out perps while speeding through obstacle streets. What set Lucky & Wild apart was its unique controller set-up: one player would drive the car, while the other took shotgun and blasted baddies with a pistol. This made for crazy, action-packed gameplay, with all the adrenaline of a racing game mixed with the bullet-flying thrills of a shooter. Lucky & Wild is a somewhat obscure game these days, but ’90s kids knew this arcade cabinet guaranteed good times.
There are times when we collectively decide that something is cool. Such an event occurred in the ’90s, when we as a people decided that beat-’em-ups were the best thing since sliced bread. Big name beat-em-ups such as Capcom’s Final Fight and Konami’s X-Men began attracting swarms of gamers. But not every beat-em-up attracted huge crowds. In fact, one particular Marvel-branded side-scroller barely made a blip on the arcade radar.
Released in 1993 by Capcom, The Punisher allowed players to step into the pistol-strapped boots of Frank Castle and Nick Fury, battling their way through hundreds of expendable goons in pursuit of the Kingpin. The gameplay didn’t exactly blaze new trails, but with plenty of weapons to get your hands on and a bombastic comic-style presentation, The Punisher managed to make a name for itself. Plenty of ’90s kids have fond memories of this arcade title, even if the game isn’t too well known these days.
You’d be hard pressed to find many ’90s gamers that don’t remember big name arcade shooters like Time Crisis and The House Of The Dead. But with the glut of lightgun-equipped arcade shooters, some titles managed to slip through the cracks. Such was the case with Midway’s CarnEvil.
Released in 1998 at the height of lightgun shooter-mania, CarnEvil tasked players with surviving a hellish undead carnival, filled with knife-wielding clowns, zombie strongmen, and gun-toting freakshow attractions. While most arcade shooters at the time equipped players with a pistol, CarnEvil featured garish green shotguns that needed to be pumped to be reloaded, giving this horror-themed shooter a distinctly different feel from the arcade competition. The name may not ring a bell, but most ’90s arcade goers would certainly remember this shooter.
Combine over-the-top violence, a dark sense of humor, twitch-reflexes, and thousands of bullets, and you have Midway’s arcade cult classic, Smash TV. While many ’90s gamers fondly remember this twin-stick shooter, it’s spiritual successor wasn’t quite as popular, despite plenty of gamers of the era having fond memories of this run-and-gun shooter.
Hitting arcades in 1992, Total Carnage puts players into the blood-spattered boots of Captain Carnage and Major Mayhem, musclebound, gun-toting soldiers sent to take out the insidious (and sort of offensive) General Akhboob. Despite building upon the popular gameplay of Smash TV with new weapons and improved graphics, Total Carnage undersold and was written off as a financial failure by Midway. Thus, the game is mostly forgotten these days, but any ’90s gamer worth their salt recalls putting in serious time on this gory shooter.
You may not remember the name, but we guarantee every kid that stepped foot in an arcade in the ’90s remembers Silent Scope. After all, there were plenty of shooting games in arcades in 1999, but only one game that gave you the thrill of sniping.
Yes, Silent Scope, or “that one arcade game with the giant plastic rifle” as you might remember it, cast you as a sniper, utilizing the game’s plastic recreation of a sniper rifle to pick off targets from miles away. The rifle peripheral even included a scope you could look through, ensuring hits would feel up close and personal, even when committed from afar. Notoriously difficult, Silent Scope encouraged repeat plays, which worked out perfectly for the ’90s arcade goers that lined up to try this unique game out.
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