Since last year, a group (or just one guy, actually) calling him/themselves Offworld Arcade has been bringing their collection of awesome old arcade games to various locations all over Detroit. And when I say that, I do mean Detroit, not like Madison Heights or something. It’s hard to talk about how much you love Detroit when you only go there for baseball, guys.
But I digress! In previous months they’d held gatherings at an awesome old elementary school, which is a shockingly appropriate setting for old video games, I feel like, but for the times I’ve attended it’s been held at Checker Bar, which is now my new favorite place in Detroit with the possible exception of PJ’s Lager House, and I really don’t want to have to make that decision.
But enough about what I ate! Let’s instead focus on the truly important part of Offworld Arcade: the games themselves!
MAPPY: Okay, this seems weird to admit, but I’d never actually played Mappy before this. I’d never seen the arcade machine in person beforehand, and I’d managed to avoid the few console ports it got (although I assume Mappy-Land is a completely different game – what was with Namco and the ‘-Land’ suffix for sequels?). Having actually tried it here, I’m SUPER SAD I’d never played it before.
It turns out Mappy totally rules! You play a little mouse-cop who has to bounce through a house on trampolines to prevent a bunch of tubby cats from stealing all the valuables. That’s one of the best summations I can give of what the video game industry was like in mid-80s Japan, really.
Like all Namco games, the balance is perfect. You move a little slower than the cats but you have much better control over where the trampolines send you, and you can also blast them in the face by opening a door if they get too close, so it’s not like you don’t have offensive options. It’s weirdly addicting and I spent a lot more time playing it than I expected to.
WIZARD OF WOR: Another earlier arcade title I’ve frequently seen/heard mentioned but never actually tried, I can safely say that Wizard of Wor would have scared the absolute hell out of me as a child. According to the cabinet’s art, you’re some kind of astronaut warrior who has to explore dungeons on what might be Mars or the moon to wipe out a bunch of monsters. Which sounds awesome, right?
But…there’s a lot about it that would have bugged me. It’s kinda…freakishly abstract, like a lot of games of its era had to be. The monsters are just sort of pointy demons, the game talks every once in a while in a voice that would make Sinistar feel like he hadn’t hit puberty, there’s not many colors, and death seems to come pretty quickly.
Don’t get me wrong. Objectively, Wizard of Wor is actually pretty sweet, and has good art direction and gameplay flow. But all of those things separately would scare me on their own as a kid – I was afraid of Berzerk!, for god’s sake – and I would have hated this game had I not played it as a slightly tipsy baby-man in his late 20s.
BAD DUDES: I know this game is a joke, and the hilarious pro-Reagan patriotism shines through even better in the arcade version, but honestly this game is better than the years of internet proto-memes would lead you to believe. Now that I have a better context to put it in, it’s actually much closer to Revenge of Shinobi or Ninja Gaiden than it is a traditional belt-scrolling beat-em-up (like your Double Dragons or Final Fights), and I think it’s actually more fun than its reputation implies. A bit generic at times, sure, but the graphics look awesome considering its time of release, the enemy types are varied and hilarious, and it all just sort of works, you know? Look, just give it a chance – it’s better than the jokes might make you think.
TRON: Look, Tron, just…fuck you, Tron.
I love you as a movie, but as a game you can eat my entire butt. No matter how many years it’s been, I just don’t understand how to play you. I can’t get the hang of your controls, everything happens super fast, and I just don’t fucking get it, okay? You have probably the most beautiful cabinet in video game history, but…fuck you, Tron.
FINAL FIGHT: The first game on this list that I’ve both played before and can display some simple competency at, Final Fight fucking rules. It’s in the top three beat-em-ups ever, right next to Streets of Rage 2 and The Simpsons (but don’t ever make me pick the best one of the three of them, because that’s a debate nobody wins). The graphics still hold up really well, the setting has become charmingly retro (although that’s perhaps an issue of context more than quality), it plays awesome, and it’s maybe the only chance you’ll ever have in your life to say “yeah, but the best home version was on the Sega CD”. The girlfriend and I smashed this game in like twenty minutes thanks to everything being on free-play, and I still love this game and will probably do it all over again the next time Offworld happens.
You know what else rules? Cody is totally supposed to be the main guy from Streets of Fire. Have you seen that movie? It’s pretty rad.
ROBOCOP: Robocop is one of those things (kinda like wrestling, or Terminator 2) that I was really only aware of at first from video games. I had the Game Boy game – which may have one of the greatest video game theme songs of all time forever – and while I thought it was weird he ate baby food it gave me a decent understanding of Robocop as a concept. I wouldn’t see the movie for years, and it was both surprising and unsurprising when I finally placed all these things in context.
The arcade Robocop is basically similar, without the gorgeous theme music. Walk right, pick up a gun, shoot guys. It reminds me a bit of Rolling Thunder in the way dudes will appear to shoot you from doorways or windows or whatever. Also, you don’t start every level with a gun, which is odd since Robocop has a gun right in his fucking leg, but what do I know? It was decent.
Between this and Bad Dudes, I’m starting to think the guy who runs Offworld might have some kind of Data East connection. If he can get a cabinet for The Real Ghostbusters, you won’t see me doing anything else that night other than drinking and ghostbustin’. Makes me feel good.
SMASH TV: Speaking of Robocop, I have an all new appreciation for Smash TV now that I’m not seven years old. While I always loved the gameplay, having been a sucker for enemy-packed top-down shooters since I first encountered them (perhaps in Pocky and Rocky, although I may never know for sure), I always thought it was a little…gross, the way enemies would die, and I guess I just didn’t get it.
Well now I’m all old and bitter, and I’ve watched Robocop and The Running Man. Smash TV fits perfectly in that mid-80s-to-early-90s sci-fi milieu, wherein society hasn’t completely collapsed but everything is kinda crappy, and pop culture/the media/whatever has degenerated to the point where stuff like a game show where thousands of people die so some shirtless guy in a hockey helmet can win a new VCR is completely acceptable and cheered for. I kinda miss stuff like that. I’m bored of the post apocalypse, let’s get back to speculative fiction where we’ve all just turned into a bunch of cheery degenerates instead. (And fuck zombies. Seriously. Zombies have been over with for a while, despite what idiot teenagers try to tell you.)
Anyway, Smash TV is super fucking fun even if you’re playing by yourself, the humor still holds up so long as you’re aware of what game shows are and/or you’ve ever been disappointed in television, and I’m still surprised at how gory it is at times. I’d love to write a douchebag thinkpiece about how the gore in Smash TV is just trying to shine a light on what TV of the future (or of the time!) would deem acceptable and how they were just trying to get ahead of the curve, but I’ll leave that for Gawker.
Look, I guess what I’m saying is if you’ve ever given a shit about video games, food, beer, or any combination therein, you need to get your ass to
Mars Offworld Arcade. Especially if you’re a replicant! They love replicants off-world!
And if you see this guy the next time you’re there, and you understand how Tron works, please show him. He just wants to learn.
(Pictures thanks to my girlfriend and partner in crime, Jane! If you like her stuff, blow her up on Facebook.)