For this Top 5 I’m continuing my focus on nostalgia to bring my Top 5 Arcade games of all time. These are games that released first and I played first in the arcades.
5. The Lost World – Jurassic Park
Light Gun games may be all but gone, but their legacy lives on in first person shooters. Sega dominated the light gun landscape until the end and for all the classics they made like Virtua Cop, House of the Dead, Confidential Mission and Ghost Squad, one stood above all others. Funnily enough, it also happened to be one of the only ones not to get a home console port.
The Lost World Jurassic Park was simply spectacular. It took all the best components from Sega’s light gun lineage and melded it perfectly with the Jurassic Park license in ways that few licensed video games do. This I assume would relate to the fact that AM3 had access to the film’s original script for source material. It’s a shame we never got to see the Carnotaurus in the movie as it was in the original script (based on the book) and AM3 assumed it would be in the film so put it in the game. To this day I still remember the chills I felt reading about the fear Chricton’s Tyrannosaurs felt going near the Carnotaurus area at night. The fabled chameleon dinosaur whose abilities were so evolved it could turn near invisible. Seeing this played out in the video game was pure joy for me as a 17 year old still gripped by my love for dinosaurs and Jurassic Park.
I’m still annoyed the Dreamcast wasn’t around long enough to receive a port. But maybe licensing the title was too much trouble to port anywhere. I guess we’ll never know.
4. Virtua Tennis
Sega perfected Pong with Virtua Tennis. Or should I say, AM3 did. Virtua Tennis was the perfect balance of simplicity and depth dressed exquisitely in as many official ATP accoutrements as the license at the time would allow. But the game was so good no one cared it was missing many of the big name players of that era.
AM3 managed to provide players the ability to pull off a full suite of shots with nothing more than the stick and 2 buttons. One button for regular shots and one for lobs. The depth came in the players ability to apply real tennis strategy and correct use of the stick to get the type of shot they wanted. But the whole range was there, cross court drop shots, down the line top spin winners, back hand slices and more were all able to be pulled off if you were a big enough fan of the sport to use your nous in the game.
Virtua Tennis received sequels both in the arcade and on console that iterated on the formula slightly and were all worthy successors, but none of them captured that delicate balance of simplicity and depth that the original did and given the landscape of tennis games currently, no one ever will.
3. Virtua Fighter 2
The Virtua Fighter series is the closest gamers will ever get to playing a “fighting sim”. Virtua Fighter was always about the purity of fighting. No pomp, no flash, just fists and feet and the brutal ballet that all the best fighting games are known for. Outside some rather large jumps, basically everything in Virtua Fighter could be theoretically performed by professional fighters. The game allegedly started life internally at Sega as Martial Arts Simulator. Introducing a physics based fighting system and life like animations were revelations back in the mid 90s.
But like all of Sega’s earliest 3D games, it was rendered with flat lifeless polygons. Virtua Fighter 2 took the rock solid foundation laid down by the original game and cranked everything up to 11. It ran at higher resolution, 60 frames per second, used motion captured animation and texture mapped visuals. All this, while further improving on the depth of the realism based fighting system initially developed for the first game.
Unfortunately for the series, its meticulous commitment to realism was both its biggest strength and weakness amongst fighting game fans. Over the years it has garnered an incredibly dedicated and passionate fanbase that still plays and participates in small tournaments on various versions of the franchise, but the majority of fighting game fans preferred the pomp and flashy nature of games like Street Fighter and Tekken and the series never managed to reach the heights of other fighting game franchises.
While Virtua Fighter 4 is arguably the pinnacle of the series, Virtua Fighter 2 is when the series established itself as the standard bearer for all 3D fighting games to follow.
2. Street Fighter II
What can be said about Street Fighter II that isn’t already known or hasn’t already been said? It’s hard to argue that Street Fighter II wasn’t the game that kickstarted the fighting game revolution back in the early 90s. In the same way the Xbox brand only exists because of Halo, the fighting game genre exists because of Street Fighter II.
There is no arcade game I pumped more money into in my youth than this one. There’s also no game franchise I’ve spent more money on since. I’ve bought it’s iterations on nearly every platform in existence.
Street Fighter II laid the foundations of the “cat and mouse” and “rock, paper, scissors” gameplay that has been tweaked, refined and evolved ever since. Street Fighter II’s depth is timeless and laid a foundation for the genre that no game has managed to match since.
1. Daytona USA
I’m not sure how anyone could argue this isn’t the greatest arcade game of all time. It was released in 1994 (outside Japan) and is still seen and played in arcades, move theatre lobbies and pool parlours today.
During 3D gaming’s infancy, Daytona USA was revelatory. This was AM2’s magnum opus, the flagship title for Sega’s newly developed Model 2 arcade board. Daytona USA introduced us to blistering 60 frames per second racing with texture mapped visuals and multiplayer gaming the likes of which the world had yet seen.
The visuals were so astonishingly good, no one even baulked at the $4AU asking price to play the game. Now don’t forget, this is during a time when the most expensive arcade games were $1 to play while 20c and 50c games were still commonplace. No one cared. People were willing to pay whatever it took to play this game.
I still remember my first time seeing it vividly. I walked into the TimeZone super arcade on Bourke Street in Melbourne late in 1993 with my father lagging behind trying to catch up as I rushed in to nonchalantly fritter away money for 3-5 minute fixes only arcade games could provide. But on this day it was more crowded than usual and I had to know why. As I got closer to the crowd I could see the top of what had to be a monstrous gaming cabinet, at the time not realising it was more than just a cabinet. Once I made my way through the mosh pit and got my first look at the game in front of me, I struggled to comprehend what was before me.
The cabinet was literally the back half of the iconic Hornet Racing Stock car on hydraulics that would move the car to lean with your car’s in game turns and shake with bumps and crashes. All in front of an absolutely giant projection screen. It was incredible and it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. But while its industry leading visuals gave Daytona USA its initial impact on the industry, it was its ridiculously tight and perfectly tuned gameplay that kept gamers coming back for years to come. I still play the arcade perfect (and technically improved) 360 port today.