The 80s were a fertile time for arcade gaming, and home conversions followed for most of the popular arcade games. But from time to time, a coin-operated classic would slip through the net and fail to appear on machines like the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 or Nintendo Entertainment System. Here are our top 10 favourite games that never left the arcades, many of which are available to play on Antstream! If you enjoy the article, please check out our Facebook page or join our mailing list to get more great retro game content!
#10 Avengers – Capcom, 1987
Resembling a bizarre mash-up of Gauntlet, Commando and Street Fighter, it’s perhaps no surprise that Avengers’ chief designer, Takashi Nishiyama, went on to have a hand with the development of that latter famous series. Marching up the screen, the player is accosted by numerous thugs that can be despatched using a hefty kick or punch, with the aim of rescuing six ladies captured by the evil Geshita. It’s a solid, if unremarkable, arcade brawler which surprisingly failed to make it home. Perhaps publishers were worried that the confusing absence of Captain America and Iron Man would disappoint customers.
#9 Fast Lane – Konami, 1987
By the time Konami released this quirky racing effort in 1987, arcade fans had been treated to amazing experiences such as Outrun’s bespoke cabinet and exciting, beautiful gameplay. So it shouldn’t be particularly shocking that this odd maze game hardly got the pulses of home software houses running, and consequently remained in the arcades. The object is to ‘eat’ the road within the Pacman-esque maze while jumping, shooting or ramming the enemy vehicle. Spiritually, Fast Lane patently draws comparison with Sega’s 1979 game, Head On, while its central premise – avoiding an ominous large truck – recalls the Steven Spielberg classic, Duel.
#8 Tumble Pop – Data East, 1991
All across the world, monsters and ghosts are appearing! Who ya gonna call? The Tumble Pop boys of course! These two vacuum-wielding ghost hunters can suck up those troublesome nasties, before spitting them out in a springy little ball. Reminiscent of Bubble Bobble and Pang, we’re cheating here slightly, as this gloriously cute suck-‘em-up did see release on the Nintendo Gameboy in 1992. But we love Tumble Pop so much that we thought we’d include it anyway. Suck it!
#7 Vendetta – Konami, 1991
Actually a sequel to another conversion-less game, Crime Fighters, Vendetta is an attempt to hang on the coat tails of a more successful game, Double Dragon. The player takes on the role of a Cobra gang member, spitting and striding through the streets in an attempt to rescue fellow serpent, Kate. Boasting up to four-player simultaneous play, the ability to stomp on fallen enemies is a novel, if slightly disturbing feature, and each playable character has a real-life inspiration, including Jean-Claude Van Damme (Boomer) and Mr. T (Sledge). Fortunately, Vendetta doesn’t require silly dances, or getting on no damn plane.
#6 Nitro Ball – Data East, 1992
Take a dash of Smash TV, a spoonful of Mercs and a huge bowl of pinball and you get Nitro Ball (Gun Ball in Japan), a bizarre run ‘n’ gun game that lets your character loose on a variety of themed pinball tables.
Apparently based on some sort of futuristic game show, the player advances up the screen, battling enemies and destroying the various elements of the tables such as bumpers and lights.
There are powerups galore, the most interesting of which turns the contestant into a human pinball, a destructive force that careers across the screen, flattening anything in its path!
#5 Dino Rex – Taito, 1992
This is most definitely one of the strangest games to have been released in the wake of the all-conquering Street Fighter II. Featuring a selection of strangely-coloured dinosaurs, it’s another one-on-one beat-‘em-up starring those extinct beasts that infamously have very little to offer in the way of offensive limbs. As a result, the game is frustrating to play and over-reliant on combo moves, with the odd colour scheme lending the fearsome beasts a somewhat comical look. The large sprites and detailed backgrounds no doubt made Dino Rex a difficult prospect for home conversion back in the early Nineties, but in any case, we don’t think arcade-shy gamers missed out with this one.
#4 Boogie Wings – Data East, 1992
Although ‘merely’ a side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up, Boogie Wings is such effervescent fun that it’s impossible not to love. Set during World War I, it was apparently unpopular in the arcades, which while bemusing, does at least explain the lack of home ports. Apart from the wonderfully quaint graphics and music, two other elements set Boogie Wings apart. Firstly, the main bi-plane vehicle wields a hook from its tail, which snags enemies, rubble and other vehicles and swings them into other enemies. And secondly, the player can jump into different vehicles (and er... giraffes and elephants), making Boogie Wings a huge slice of shooting fun. Plus you get to kill Cyber Santa.
#3 Shadow Force – Technos, 1993
This obscure scrolling brawler comes from Technos, the Japanese developer most famous in the west for Double Dragon. Sure on the face of it, it's a fairly simple brawler, but the special moves are really special - like the ability to possess enemies. Yes, you read that right – in the tradition of The Exorcist, it’s possible to jump into the bodies of enemies and utilise them (and their unique move sets) for your own gain - although the ability to projectile vomit pea soup is sadly absent.
#2 Chaos Heat – Taito, 1998
Chaos Heat (not to be confused with the totally different Cisco Heat) was released in an era when home consoles had begun to finally catch up with their arcade peers. As such, home ports became less common, although ironically Chaos Heat pays homage to one PlayStation game. Given the player battles zombie-like creatures within a mysterious biotech lab in an overhead 3D view, we’re awarding no prizes for guessing which particular survival horror series we're talking about here. And to bring the story full circle, Taito avoided the arcades altogether for the semi-sequel Chaos Break: Episode From Chaos Heat, which went straight to the PlayStation in 2000.
#1 1944: The Loopmaster – Capcom, 2000
Capcom’s legendary 1942 series has seen a lot of action on home consoles and computers, although not this excellent sequel from 2000, or its predecessor, 19XX: The War Against Destiny. Harking back to the original games, there are a mass of enemy planes, ships and ground forces to annihilate, assisted by the usual range of powerups, and a useful ‘charge’ function that renders the player’s aircraft temporarily invincible. As a very late arcade game, developers for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox were no doubt too focused on 3D games to consider converting this retro-esque, but hugely enjoyable, shoot-‘em-up.