I hadn't noticed how much Xbox Live Arcade was populated by short, uneventful, casual games. True enough, that's a significant part of its charm and an aspect that broadens the 360's horizons in a way that would be difficult to achieve with commercial, off-the-shelf releases. But now Metal Slug 3's arrived we've found the sturdy middle ground 'twixt hard and fast gameplay and involved console devotion.
I was in my local off-licence one morning at the end of October buying a few bottles of... breakfast, and there on the counter was a DVD of the original Halloween film. It was £2.49, and I thought to myself "Ah what the hell. Saves me downloading it, and a bit of classic blood and mayhem at this time of year is always nice." I bought the DVD knowing full well I'd probably only watch it that once. I did, and it was great. Simple, available and briefly entertaining.
To suggest that Philip and Andrew Oliver created a mythology with their most well known and best loved character adds a weight of obligation around Dizzy's neck that he simply doesn't need. The Yolkfolk are better remembered as a modern day fairy tale told in a new and exciting way - independent stories of achievement and overcoming adversity that will be told and retold by the kids who sat at their 8-bit keyboards in awe and wonder all those years ago.
The technology of our home systems is an open book, and one we always read thoroughly before making a decision on which machine to pour our thick, syrupy love and devotion upon. But arcades games had the unique fortune of being judged solely on the quality of their games, rather than the silicon that drove them. So let's take a look behind the coin door and see what electronic wonderlands could be found in yesteryear's arcade machines.
Although the word "arcade" carries strong connotations of videogame splendour, our generation has a very unique and, dare I say, limited opinion of what the amusements once were. Our time in them was fleeting but illustrious, and redefined coin-operated entertainment for ever.
The modern retro gamer is really quite spoiled. We've got access to pretty much every old game ever released and, while we used to pay £10 for an average Spectrum game, we can now go online and download that same game for free in less time than it took to open the cassette box.
Already pioneers of the turn based tactics game with the various incarnation of the Rebelstar franchise, Julian Gollop's team put together a sequel that reinvented their own brilliantly innovative concept with Laser Squad.
Creatures was a particularly obscure dichotomy in the life of the Commodore 64. At once a cutesy platformer rife with salacious humour and quirky, puzzle-based gameplay while also something of a blood-soaked gore and snuff fest.
It's true that those crazy Japanese can make a game from anything. And while the obscure premise and gameplay behind Mikie is pretty damned surreal, the scenario was something that was very prevalent in Japanese pop-culture, and goes a long way to explaining how this weird game might have come to be.
The first matter of importance when it comes to discussing Lunar Lander is that it's really not such a great game. It comes from a time when technology was still ahead of design - we had the ability to create games, but no real concept of what games to create. Lunar Lander is the product of that wonderful era of exploration, though not a particularly successful one.
While Gyruss holds a celebrated and respected place in arcade history, it's a distinct shame that game design legend Yoshiki Okamoto didn't deliver it to gamers just a few years earlier. During the Space Invaders craze and subsequent coin shortages that Gyruss' ancestor caused, this game had the potential to perpetuate the world's crippling small change famine.
Though not the game's original name, the subsequent wealth of first class home conversions to all adopted the non-US title rather than the cheap and titular cold war pun, Rush 'n Attack. To that end, this aggressive and pointed little platformer is best remembered as Green Beret, and still provides a thrilling violence fix for today's murder-crazed twitch gamers.
An obscure, coin-devouring attempt at evolving the saturated shoot-'em-up market of the early '80s, Gravitar is perhaps best described as Asteroids covered in oil with a big weight around its neck. Only in a good way.
The white noise of Space Invaders clones was becoming deafening in the industrious arcades, and operators were increasingly turned off by yet another space based shoot out. But Gorf (Galactic Orbital Robotic Force) brought a lot to the table; enough to make the most overfed and bloated arcade owner open their coin fed gullets for one more mouthful. In this one cabinet, gamers were given five terrific variations on the well established theme.
One of (if not the) earliest arcade games to have its own TV commercial (featuring the seductive, if slightly self-defeating, slogan "The Atari game you cannot play at home!") Xevious was an impressive game to behold; even if the play mechanics were less than imaginative. That said, this was one of the first examples of the scrolling vertical shooter, and while a little sparse at times, the incredible clarity and conceptual insight helped inspire an entire generation of shmup games.
The fathomless scope of Gauntlet was a miracle to behold, leaving the four simultaneous players feeling quite insignificant when plunged into the cavernous dungeons and endless multitudes of savage antagonists. Coupled with the sheer size and weight of the mammoth cabinet, Gauntlet was a dominating giant of a game that demanded solemn, coin-operated worship.
3D graphics were the holy grail of gaming for a long number of years, and developers battled tooth and nail against technology to deliver a realistic experience to arcade punters. As we look back now with myopic hindsight, we can see those early attempts were great not because of their pseudo three dimensional visage; it's because the designers were striving to break down barriers.
Videogames were still finding their way when this Japanese answer to American trends appeared, proving a success on many more levels than high volume coin guzzling.
Not all classic games rocked the world as soon as they were released. Defender took a long time to establish itself as a true landmark, but a steady rise to fame can often result in a much longer lasting appreciation.
Placing Commando in the shoot-'em-up category is almost reason for debate. The ground based game mechanics and army assault theme naturally lent it something of a run 'n' gun lilt, yet when broken down into its raw components, we can see that game design legend Tokuro Fujiwara was keeping to a well established and, certainly in 1985, the single most popular style on the arcade floor - the shoot-'em-up.
It's important to cast your mind back to 1983 when considering Spy Hunter, lest the suave, tough guy world of the road warrior gets lost in out-of-context tackiness.
Space Invaders made such a significant impact on the videogame world that for a long time after its release, the only reasonable way forward for game designers was to create weird and wonderful variations on the theme. Centipede is a prime example of how the concept could be modified to produce unique and popular titles that still fed the voracious public hunger for single screen shoot-'em-ups.
Seldom have arcade games been so accurately titled as Berzerk. Not only does it represent the actions of the mental antagonists quite accurately, it reflects the surreal and outlandish design that drives this crazy game to devour our loose change.
I challenge anyone to sit and play a Space Invaders cocktail cabinet for more than 10 minutes without feeling the subtle pinch of boredom nibbling at their fire-button finger, though it's equally impossible to walk past that original Taito coin-op and not say "Wow! I'd love to own that machine!". Perhaps it hasn't aged particularly well, or perhaps it's just massively overplayed (I suspect the latter), but there's something about the grandfather of the modern games industry that, despite its limited gameplay and simplistic design, remains disturbingly appealing.
Gottlieb certainly weren't prolific videogame developers. In fact, it could easily be argued it was a one hit wonder: but what a hit! Q*Bert put his developer firmly on the videogame map for all eternity to see, and although his antics would only really be expanded by way of home system conversions, his well-earned renown places him in the same pantheon as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and... Horace (on account of them both looking so weird).