• Graeme Mason

Stuck in the Arcade - Part 3

Updated: Mar 27

This week Antstream Arcade presents another select band of games that avoided a home conversion and were left behind in the arcades. If you enjoy this article, please check out our Facebook page or join our mailing list to get more great retro game content.


Snap Jack – Universal, 1981

As a relatively early arcade machine, it’s perhaps no surprise that Snap Jack failed to make it to a home computer or console, which is a shame given it’s a highly entertaining little game. The star is Jack, a jovial rotund character who likes to munch on dots – sound familiar? – and like Namco’s Pac-Man, he can also gobble the occasional power-up pill that allows him to turn the tables on his enemies. There’s a key difference, however: Jack is supported by a pair of stretchy elongated legs as he traverses a constantly scrolling landscape that resembles another famous arcade game, Konami’s Scramble. With its wacky opponents such as jellyfish, kettles and old boots, Snap Jack is a quirky, fun game that belies its derivative nature.


Horizon – Irem, 1985

Irem produced several classics in the mid-late Eighties, and with this 1985 game it riffed on one of its most famous efforts. In Horizon, the player takes control of hovering spaceship as it hurtles from left to right across an assortment of landscapes. Enemies fly above and to each side; fortunately, as with Moon Patrol, your vehicle has both forward and upward firing guns with which to take them down. The twist here is the three roads or paths that the player can jump between, either to avoid enemy fire or the numerous vehicles that attempt to ram you into oblivion. Similar enough to be dubbed as ‘Moon Patrol 2’ by many arcade fans, it’s easy to believe the idea that Horizon even started life as a sequel to that illustrious 1982 game.


Prehistoric Isle in 1930 – SNK, 1989

This Thirties-set shoot-‘em-up proved very popular on the Antstream Arcade stand at Play Expo Manchester earlier this month, so we thought we’d include it here. It’s an exciting combination of the Bermuda Triangle myth and films such as The Land That Time Forgot, as the player jumps into a bi-plane and discovers a mysterious uncharted island. Before you can say ‘Doug McClure’ the aircraft is being accosted by a range of dinosaurs and cavemen, all boasting abilities and powers that may not be historically accurate. Taking its cue from classic shooters such as R-Type, the bi-plane can also pick up power ups such as a powerful pod that upgrades its firepower, as well as helping to protect the fragile aeroplane. Utterly bonkers in places (how is the bi-plane able to convert into a submarine? Why are giant bats carrying cavemen?), Prehistoric Isle is such fun that you shouldn’t really care. Just shoot!


Willow – Capcom, 1989

While there is a NES game of the 1988 fantasy movie starring Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, it is unrelated to this arcade game from Capcom, which greatly simplifies the gameplay over its Nintendo cousin. Alternately guiding either the titular star of the movie or Kilmer’s character, Madmartigan, the player must combat the queen’s soldiers and hounds who seek to eliminate Elora, a baby who has been prophesised to usurp the evil ruler. A cute and charming platform game, Willow and Madmartigan can visit a shop regularly throughout the levels to upgrade their abilities, which compensates for the sometimes-frustrating sudden deaths that pepper the game. A decent movie adaptation.


Blood Bros – TAD Corporation, 1990

8 and 16-bit home computer fans will remember Cabal, a shoot-‘em-up of some pedigree where the player controls a commando, assaulting forces in front of them in a faux-3D view. Cabal was a minor hit, and superbly converted to the ZX Spectrum in particular by Antstream’s own Jim Bagley, which makes it even more curious as to why follow-up Blood Bros never made it out of the arcades. In Blood Bros, the player assumes the role of one of the plasma-bound siblings, hunting down outlaws for cash. As with Cabal, buildings and other scenery can be demolished in spectacular fashion, and there are extra points and weaponry to pick up. As with its converted forebear, it’s enormous fun.


Aliens – Konami, 1990

Of course, there have been countless Aliens games on home systems, but none quite as bizarre as this 1990 arcade game from Konami. While on the outset it appears to follow the plot of the movie closely, Aliens arcade introduces new antagonists and situations throughout, from pink aliens to Ripley wielding a smart gun, something only the marines Vasquez and Drake did in the 1986 film. But gameplay is what counts most, and Aliens has that in abundance, from its ridiculous weapon upgrades to a just-plain-daft variety of xenomorphs. A neat two-player mode and shifts in perspective complete this acid-free package, and with companies such as Activision licensing the film directly from Fox, we got exceptionally different games for our home computers.


Aqua Jack – Taito, 1990

3D games – where the player flew or piloted a vehicle ‘into’ the screen – became popular in the mid-Eighties thanks to Space Harrier and Thunderblade, but it wasn’t until 1990 that Taito released this nautical 3D shoot-‘em-up, gliding across the water (and sometimes land) on technically similar lines. Taking control of a nifty hovercraft, Aqua Jack is as tough and manic as those earlier peers, as hordes of enemies throw themselves at the player, not to mention the copious ground hazards that must be dodged. Fast, powerful and frenetic, it would have been a huge task to convert to the home computers of the time, not that that often stopped developers trying.


Dead Connection – Taito, 1992

It’s the 5th September, 1953, and the city is under control of the mob. But on this momentous day, four detectives have chosen to fight back, so put on that trench coat and load your gun: it’s payback time! Dead Connection is what we imagine an arcade game of 1987’s The Untouchables would look like. With its film noir ambiance and contrasting backdrops (such as an elegant hotel foyer or a rusting junkyard), the detective moves energetically around each level, shooting mobsters while dramatically destroying swathes of each environment. Unique and lively, Dead Connection is a fantastic game where you get to play an Elliot Ness look-a-like and destroy the interior of a posh hotel. What other games can say that?