Friday, June 5, 2009

Pizza and Pixels

In the late 1970's, before videogaming took off enough to make dedicated arcades viable, and way before home videogaming's strides forced dedicates arcades to devolve into ticket-dispensing Skee-ball parlors, my primary access to coin-op arcade games was at our local Pizza Hut. The restaurant never had more than one game on hand at a time, but as the years passed, I dropped in a quarter and grabbed the greasy controls of quite a few classics:

Circus -- bounce the clown off a trampolene to pop the balloons; inspired by Breakout, and copied ad infinitum in the early days, most notably as Circus Atari on the 2600 and Datasoft's Clowns & Balloons for 8-bit computers. Funnier than Breakout, as it was easy to imagine the white-pixel clown splatting onto the ground in a bloody mess when you missed.

Space Invaders -- Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Voooo-PPSSSHHH. Voooo-PPPPSHHHH. The first time the targets shot back. Simple but addictive.

Donkey Kong -- Oh, man, I loved this game. Shigeru Miyamoto made a stunning debut with this one, repurposing Nintendo's failed Radarscope cabinets into something great. Brilliant (for the time) animation and a sympathetic hero then known only as Jumpman make this a must-play, then and now.

Jungle King -- Taito's original version with the bootleg Tarzan yell and leopard-skinned hero, before it was renamed Jungle Hunt following a lawsuit from the Burroughs estate. Even after the main character donned a pith helmet and white linens, the game was simple but fun, and its multiple playfields were impressive at the time. Home versions were also decent, with the Atari 5200 being a favorite of mine.

Tapper -- if memory serves, this one started out as the Budweiser edition and was later converted to Root Beer Tapper. Always fun, and the graphics were impressively high-resolution at the time -- no home version really captured its look adequately.

Timber -- the Tapper machine converted again, to a competitive lumber-cutting game using the same graphics hardware and engine.

Okay, I stand corrected -- a bunch of classics, and Timber. I don't recall what came after that, probably because I was off to college and rarely visited my hometown Pizza Hut again after that. But when I chance to visit one nowadays, the smell of burnt oil and spilled Pepsi always makes me glance near the door to see which cabinet is buzzing and beeping there, waiting to open my eyes wide with something new.

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