“What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way.”
Chris Issak – “Wicked Game”
Hey folks! Guess what list we’re working on currently for episode 91 of Podcast Unlimited? I’ll give you a hint: it’s the long-awaited sequel to our more popular, and one of our very earliest Top Ten Lists. And like that list, it will contain more than just 10 games. But more of that in a future post.
If I had put a time stamp of the high-water mark of the arcade game, it would be between 1992-1993. After that, the number of arcade games produced diminished, and arcades themselves began to go out of business one by one. There are multiple reasons for this. One of them, which I will get to in yet another future post, was because of all of the quality pinball games being played during the 90’s. (I spent more time playing pinball games than arcade games, but probably less money.) But the main reason was because the home video game systems finally caught up, graphics-wise, with the arcades. Why spend tens of dollars every week losing at fighting, racing, and sports games, when you can play the same quality game at home for free?
What I’m sayin’ is that there will be no trilogy – no top ten arcade games of the ‘aughts.
The 1990s brought us a quantum leap in graphics. But there were a ton of growing pains in trying to bring the third dimension into the arcade. Some manufacturers had little to no problems with this (Midway, Namco). Others were stuck in the “Uncanny Valley” for most of the first half of the decade (Atari, Sega). Most of the 3-D fighting games were so inferior to their 2-D counterparts, that the latter was able to dominate the entire decade.
As bad as choppy, 3-D game with polygon characters were, the FMV games were worse. The FMV concept was big in the early 90’s in video games at home and in the arcade. We can count on one finger how many successful FMV games are out there (“7th Guest”). The acting was terrible. The costumes were bargain-basement Halloween cheesy. And the game play was limited and poor. Despite all of the bargain basement set designs and acting that made it look like DIY home-brew games, these games were more expansive to make than traditional, average video games. It’s no surprise FMV never caught on in the very short window it had before the advent of 3D CGI.
FMV may be considered a sin in some eyes, but it’s a sin born with good intentions. That can not be said about games with too many easter eggs. Easter eggs were not invented in the 90’s – it’s almost as old as video games itself. They consisted mainly of hidden rooms, hidden messages, and hidden items. They were mainly rewards for the gamer that went the extra mile. Many video games easter eggs went undiscovered until years after the game’s release. These bonuses were never vital to the game itself. That attitude changed once certain fighting games (“cough “Mortal Kombat” series, cough) introduced the concept of the “hidden character.” It quickly devolved into an arms race of how many easter eggs one game can have. And it went from being a supplemental bonus for good game playing to absolutely necessary in order to win the game, or getting the “Good” or “Best” ending. It wasn’t contained to just the fighting game. The FPS (First Person Shooter) also got into the act. And because Midway was on a roll, it was a no-brainer to place easter eggs in the sports games as well. Surprisingly, that actually made the games better.
I couldn’t find any examples that contained two or more of these sins. If you know of one, please let me know.
With all that in mind, here is my list.
The I, Omnibus
Top Bottom Ten Best Worst Arcade Games of the 1990’s
- 10. Yo! Noid (Capcom) (1990) – a game based on the Domino’s Pizza mascot. Reason enough.
- 9. Virtua Fighter  (Sega) (1993) – The polygons graphics were so bad, it looked like a beta version. Too bad MK II was already out.
- 8. War Gods (Midway) (1996) – They heavily relied on the 3D gimmick with little to show for it. It looks worse than Mortal Kombat, with a much worse story, and this was release half a decade after MK.
- 7. Ataxx (Leland) (1990) – A puzzle game based on the board game Othello or Go. The problem is that the AI cheats like a MoFo.
- 6. Who Shot Johnny Rock? (American Laser Games) (1991) – Whodunit? Who cares? Nobody at the arcades that I patronized.
- 5. Time Traveler (Sega) (1991) – This game used hologram technology… poorly. I take that back, the hologram were fine. The premise, acting, stunt work, and game controls were piss poor.
- 4. Pit-Fighter (Atari) (1990) – The game was too dark. Not dark as in too violent. Dark as in hard to see the characters. Probably because they were ugly as sin 3D polygons.
- 3. Revolution X (Midway) (1994) – Aerosmith decides to one-up Journey’s self-titled 1983 arcade game. Impossible to win without knowing all the secret tips and tricks. And “Helga” is played by Mortal Kombat 1’s Sonya in a horrendous wig.
- 2. BloodStorm (Strata) (1994) – I can and may do an entire podcast dedicated to this fiasco. More secret characters than available characters. More secret codes than the Pentagon. A backstory that looks like it was written by L. Ron Hubbard, and almost as long as “Battlefield Earth.” I’m making it sound better than it was.
- 1. Quiz & Dragons (Capcom) (1992) – A trivia/fantasy hybrid. You defeat monsters by… answering multiple trivia questions. Apparently, a dragon’s weak point is 1992 current events minutiae. Not only were the questions way too dated (i.e. stuff people forgot about by 1993), but the answers were wrong! Wrong answers are the true weakness to any trivia game. That is much worse than an AI that cheats (e.g. a “Boss” character).
No dishonorable mentions here. But I am open to suggestions and comments.