The cupboard is somewhat bare, and populated with games that I have memories of, good memories, but hardly games that made me steal coins from my mums purse and sneak off to the shop to play.
In many ways they sum up quite nicely those games which were just always about, not the top draw ones, but the space fillers. You could always get a go on them because most kids were keeping the hard earned coins for the ones they really loved.
Elevator Action was ok I guess…up and down you went, evading what seemed to be spies of some sort, probably Russian – it was the eighties after all – in search of stuff behind red doors. That was kind of it. Sometimes lights went out, and other times it would slow down and the agents sped up if you took too long.
Actually it was pretty shit. Not that I didn’t play it a lot though – I still did.
Exerion was in the same mould really. Fly along, shoot things, explode. The machine was everywhere, so you played it. Felt like it was a predecessor to GYRUS, and had this slow cumbersome side to side that left you feeling ridiculously exposed, but an ok distraction on the way home from school I guess!
I put enduro rider in because I remember you sat on a bike and actually had to pull up on the handle bars to effect a jump as you went through the track. We used to play it at Fotis Cafe, but it didn’t last long as I remember it was always out of order. I think, perhaps, because it took a right hammering from kids piling onto it. I do remember mailing a jump though and it felt bloody amazing…Funny what sticks with you isn’t it because I can barely remember the kids being born…
Oh this is very much about the Double D’s! There are no weird stories, no shenanigans, just the joy of…actually no wait. Let us start with the nearly rans, and maybe a wee smattering of shenanigans, because they are absolute corkers indeed.
You have to start with Donkey King, right? I first played this in 1982 inDurban in South Africa. We had moved from the UK in the December and soon after went down to Durban for 3 weeks. I remember the smell of the hotel to this day whenever I smell a plastic beach ball, and I recall as clear as day having these little pop cycle motor bike toys you pulled a rip cord on and fired them down the hotel hallways. It was also the first time I had a Samosa. Oh and I got my first Album – Eye of the Tiger, because it was the year Rocky 3 came out with Mr T! Funny what you remember isn’t it…
And sweet baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph I remember Donkey Kong in the hotel foyer! Everyone knows it I know, but what a game. It was so bloody hard though, do you remember how hard? And of course it gave us our first introduction to Mario. Pacman, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong – it is up there in the pantheon of greats and rightly so.
I was pretty shit at it mind, but that did not matter. It was a bloody work of art and persists as a thing of beauty to this day! I played it again this morning and yup, I am still as rubbish as ever and completely panic when those oil barrels come careering after me!
A ore significant game for me though is this beauty, Dig Dig. It was just always around and even now I can hear the theme music in my head. The thing about it was that when you started you could achieve something. You would inflate enemies or drop rocks on their heads and you felt like Billy Big Bollocks. You felt like you could conquer it. And then it just got faster and faster, with no other real change in dynamics and you were well and truly screwed. the music sped up to and it filled you with a pure terror as you knew you were finished.
But oh baby there is a reigning champ that cannot be defeated in the D category. The Double D. The game that I played for so long with my mates Granville and Mouse, a game that was just there down at the Palm Tree shops for what felt like forever.
It was clumsy and brutal, and I wasn’t great but I just loved it. Kicking, elbowing and crowbar face smashing my way across the screen after school every day was such a joy.
Like a lot of the games I love, I think it was just the right game at the right time. It isn’t that special for many reasons, but it was to me and my god those brutal whip wielding bitches in purple were packing some ass in those jump suits!
I don’t have my computer because my eldest has taken over the room where my computer Is so I am having to dictate this voice to text because I’m not very fast at typing on my phone.
anyway, whete were we. Oh yes, C.
C is for Centipede as I mentioned in the title.
As it turns out, Centipede is not a game I enjoyed. In fact, I bloody hated it.
It was difficult, far too fast moving, confusing, but more than anything it had a track ball as a controller which when you’re 11 years old might look pretty cool but you soon realise that you have neither the dexterity nor the hand eye coordination to be any good at all.
It matters to me though because I remember very clearly moving to South Africa and there being a hotel nearby and in the foyer was centipede.
It was supposed to be for hotel guests only but occasionally you could sneak in and if you weren’t too unruly and especially if you were on your own then there was a jolly good chance you might get to play it. The excitement soon wore off though when you realise just how difficult it was, and oh how unrewarding. But then there you are stuck in this horrible limbo because this was the only game that was in the lobby of the hotel, so you didn’t have a choice of anything else.
Even now I can remember playing it over and over again just because it was there , and it was new, and made loud noises and had shiny lights and it was just part of this wonderful new world of video games that was there for us to conquer. It’s a bit like asteroid really, there was just something about it that I found almost impossible to love but I still played it far more than I ought to have. We were compelled, drawn in and consumed by the hunt for the high score…
Now if you want a list of games beginning with the letter C that I absolutely adored, well that was pretty easy. I had to reduce it to just a handful, And like each of the games I’ve talked about so far I can remember where I played them and when I played them and how I felt at the time.
Secunda, where I grew up, had a shopping centre and in that shopping centre was one of the many sort of café places you would get in South Africa which were effectively a combination of a takeaway and a small supermarket. In the entrance to almost every one of these cafes you would find a number of arcade machines.
I played both Commando and Cabal at the place which we called the ‘OK shopping centre’.
I was probably about 14 or 15 and I clearly remember one day having spent a couple of hours with a few friends playing Cabal, walking out and there was this girl who I thought was rather lovely. Her name was Lisa.
For a reason which escapes me even now I started to swear profusely. Just pointlessly dropping s and f bombs. Maybe even a c bomb.
Perhaps I thought that by swearing it made me some sort of bad-ass. I must have figured that girls were drawn to filthy mouthed young men. I also remember that I was wearing a pair of white shoes that day, mocassin kinda things, so I’m not really sure that the combination of some sort of strange sailor shoes and profanity was ever going to catch any young lady’s eye.
Might explain why I was almost 17 before I got my first girlfriend.
Maybe if I’d offered some cunting bastard flowers that might have worked. No? You’re probably right…
It’s funny that even 35 years later I remember that moment so very clearly and thinking, what a stupid twat you are Michael.
Anyway let’s finish this piece with mentioning Circus Charlie which was an absolutely brilliant little side scrolling game where you were a circus clown and you had to jump through hoops and ride lions and do all sorts of ridiculous things. It was just great fun and pretty easy and it made you think you could achieve great things.
And then of course there is Chopper Lifter, which was an absolutely stunning helicopter shooter kinda thing and my God I spent so many hours playing that game. I played that after school down at the Palm Tree shops for what seemed like years and whilst I was never any good even now when I play it the memories come flooding back and every pixel and Beep is a memory from my childhood
There were a few contenders here, and when it came down to it I ended with a top 3 that I found it hard to separate. All games that I love for different reasons, games that I remember feeding endless 20 cent coins into, coins that I tended to steal from my mum’s purse.
The memories associated with these games are not necessarily what I was playing, but where. I grew up in Secunda in what is now Mpumalanga in South Africa, and after a few years living in a trailer we moved to this house below. Its changed very little in 30 years, and was not far from what we called ‘The Palm Trees Shops’. Named so because there were a load of palm trees around the car park there. It was at that small complex that we played most of our games in the eighties. Whether on the way back from school or because I had been sent to the shops, or simply because I had a few Rand to spend, that is where we tended to end up.
But that was not the case for these 3 games. Oh no, for these beauties we had to travel. We would get on our bikes and head across town to Fotis cafe (I think that was the name), and it was there that I recall playing these 3.
Bomb Jack, Bubble Bobble, and Bermuda Triangle.
They were all amazing for different reasons, and having played all 3 today they still are. Bermuda Triangle and Bubble Bobble offered simultaneous 2 player – so that was a great shared experience, whilst Bomb Jack was a single player.
Bermuda Triangle was a shooter, standard fare in many ways, though a bit different in that you would scroll both up and down the screen as you progressed, whilst upgrading speed and weapons as many of the flight shooters did – and still do. There was also a time travel element – though this served to mostly offer new environments and enemies – with no real explanation. I made little sense but it was a lot of fun.
Bubble Bobble involved collecting things and popping bubbles and capturing enemies, and Bomb Jack was all about capturing…well, bombs…You would fly around the screen, leaping and floating with all manner of mechanical creatures trying to kill you.
So none of them made a lot of sense, so what , that wasn’t really the point. What mattered was progressing further, clearing more levels, attaining higher scores. This mattered. A lot.
They were more fun though because we were on other peoples turf. Hit a high score and unseat the local champ I you felt like the king of the fucking world as I typed MIC next to the new high score. You knew that some local kid would be along at some point, and pick up that gauntlet, knowing we had been over and messed about on his patch.
Hell, we might as well as fingered his sister so personal was it. (We only went as far as discussing light fingering back then as we were still rather young.) Not that any of us had partaken in such things, but we’d heard about it. From the older kids.
I chose Bomb Jack as number one because I remember one of the lads that used to be rather good at it, and he was a real Dick. Vincent. There was this back and forth, month after month, with my mate Granville ending up being his Bomb Jack nemesis. Vincent did end up being the winner I think, and then one day the machine was just gone – and that was it, challenge over.
Curiously they never actually bumped into each other at the machine, though if I recall correctly I think Granville did actually finger his sister in later years.
Games have been, and continue to be, a big part of my life.
Atari, Xbox, Nintendo, Playstation, Civilization, Oddworld…oh the things that spring to mind that could fill endless blogs, and for almost as far back as I can recall there has been something pinging away as a soundtrack to my life.
In the early days that soundtrack was a blissful 8-Bit, and so, for the next 26 posts, I am going to explore an A-Z of those early games that I continue to play today, and the memories that accompany them.
I have the pleasure of owning an arcade machine, and inside it sits a rather old laptop. And on that laptop sit about 4000 games, stretching back nearly 50 years.
Ready for A?
Well without a doubt the game that stood out for me was ALTERED BEAST! It was a side scrolling monster horror kinda vibe with a Greek god thing going on, and you played a loin cloth wearing chap who would transform to a variety of curious overpowered creatures as you punch and kick your way through the levels. It was almost impossible to defeat as you progressed through the levels, unless of course you pumped in coin after coin…
What makes this so special though was where and when I played it. I grew up in South Africa you seem, and I played it on a trip with my friend’s family to Sun City. Sun City was this entertainment and holiday paradise set up to allow international acts to bypass the international restrictions associated with anti apartheid bans. Or that is how I remember it, I don’t plan on doing too much research here, we all know how the truth can spoil a good story.
I remember it like it was yesterday, me and Granville pumping in 20cent coins and pressing ‘continue’ in an attempt to progress further and further. The levels became more and more ludicrous, the enemies more difficult, and by the time we realised we were never going to defeat the game the money had ran out. But god what a glorious failure it seemed at the time. Nearly 40 years later I remember it more clearly than the birth of my kids. Seriously…
A notable mention must also go to Amidar, which I played in Durban in 1982 at the age of 11 on our first holiday down to the coast. It was hard, despite seemingly simple demands of moving your character over a series of lines to enclose squares to clear the level. Again, such insanely vivid memories still from 4 decades ago, and the smell of beach ball plastic still reminds me of that holiday. Take a kid from Hull to Africa and show him the Indian Ocean and those kind of things stick with you forever. I still find it impossible to this day, and when I pressed start earlier today so many memories came flooding back.
Oh and god this one…it very nearly won top slot. It was a close call.
The endless hours me, Granville and Mouse spent playing this at Fotis Cafe in Secunda. The TV show was out at the time, remember that? Stringfellow Hawk (Jan Michal Vincent) tearing up the skies and defeating all manner of Foe in his helicopter. So very badass. And at the end of the show Stringfellow Hawk would often be seen playing the strings of his cello on the edge of a lake as a Hawk flew by. I kid you fucking not. Literally stringfellow hawk being a fellow playing strings to a hawk.
Oh and don’t forget Afterburner. But Ill shut up now. But you remember it right?
And I know I didn’t mention Asteroids. It deserves a place right? Well not with me. It is a game I found so difficult that even no I cannot bring myself to play it. From the off you know you are doomed, and I could never get into it because it offered me no hope at all. So I simply declined to allow it to tempt me, because it was better than me. I know that.