Pop-Ed: Our Favorite Arcade Cabinets

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Back in the good ol’ days of gaming, when virtual entertainment was new and innovative, arcades were all the rage. As the home console took over, nostalgia was never lost; most of us remember putting our life savings into many cabinets way back when. Here, members of the Pop-Break staff relive their favorite memories of their favorite old school games that made you stand, operate a joystick, and slam buttons.

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Matt Haviland – Dance Dance Revolution

You feel like a pretty good dancer playing Dance Dance Revolution. The arcade game is one of those public displays that looks absolutely silly until you try it yourself and have instant admiration for the person who could complete a song on heavy mode. Even completing a song on light mode feels pretty boss—and after a few months of practice, one can hope to stumble around really fast (really, really fast) for two minutes and complete a song on standard. But unless you wanted to spend time waiting and exchanging dollars for quarters, your arcade was your bedroom, where most of us trained and slowly eroded the floorboards of our houses. We console dancers referred to DDR games as “the blue one” or “the orange one,” based on the prevailing colors of their game boxes. (One of the most memorable thrills of my life was when the girl I loved, who beat the hell out of me in DDR, said, “You’ve got the orange one? That’s the best one!”) For us console players, playing DDR at the arcade was like joining the Yankees after little league. “The footpad is metal! Everyone’s watching! I’m such a good dancer!”

What a great game.

Michael Dworkis- WWF Wrestlefest
My parents and I would take vacations to Lake George when I was a kid, and the resort town was known for its beaches, boating, parks, amusements, and most importantly, video arcades. There was one on every corner. But there was one which had my all-time favorite, WWF WrestleFest. Produced by Japanese gamemaker Technos, this game has the player feeling as though it was an episode of WWE programming. Featuring cut-scenes with voice-overs by “Mean” Gene Okerlund and wrestler introductions by ring announcer Mike McGuirk, this game was ahead of its time in terms of detail. The game was released in 1991, with classic favorite wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, Earthquake, Mr. Perfect, and The Big Boss Man.

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You could choose one of two modes. The Saturday Night Main Event, in which you paired up two individual wrestlers, or could select the established team of Demolition and fight your way through five rounds to challenge The Legion of Doom for the Tag Team Titles. In some variations of the game, playing it through successfully would earn you a match against Bobby Heenan’s Dream Team of Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase. My choice of team was Mr. Perfect and Earthquake. All signature and finishing moves were available, and I won many matches via Perfect Plex or Quake Splash. The second mode is the Royal Rumble where you select one wrestler and must battle your way through all twenty characters in the game. This one was certainly a quarter-eater, pumping quarters in to regain health or kick out of a pinfall attempt if you had no energy left. This game was awesome, and it was even remade in 2012 when THQ brought it back until the title WWE WrestleFest and included modern-day wrestlers such as John Cena, The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Daniel Bryan, and Wade Barrett. Unfortunately, this new version is only available on the iOS.

Dan Cohen – The Simpsons Arcade Game

Whether it was a restaurant, bowling alley, or even a hockey rink, to discover they had The Simpsons Arcade Game was one of the most exciting things for me as a kid. Seeing that blue with the clouds on the side filled me with the immediate desire to beg my parents for quarters. As an adult, it’s now downloaded into my Xbox, so I can play it anytime I want. That’s pretty cool I guess, but the mystique of the game is certainly lost because of it. It’s sort of how I feel about movie trailers. I can watch them twenty times in a row on YouTube, but as a kid, getting them in the theater was truly special.

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Back to the Simpsons. Everybody remembers this one. Maggie catches a rare diamond in her mouth, and is quickly kidnapped by Mr. Burns. It’s up to the four remaining Simpsons to save the day through some of Springfield’s wackiest locations, including one of my favorite video game levels of all time, Dream Land. The boss is a giant bowling ball. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. Your choice of characters were Marge with the vacuum, Bart with the skateboard, Lisa with the jump rope, and Homer with pure fists. As a kid I was Bart (obviously), but when I play the game today, I’m Homer.

The first time I beat the game was actually with Marge though, because all the other slots were out of order. After what seemed like an endless night of quarters at the Ground Round, I finally beat Mr. Burns who’s in a giant robot suit. I must have blown through $2 in quarters alone just to beat him, but it was worth it. Sadly, this is probably one of my greatest accomplishments in life.

Luke Kalamar – X-Men: The Arcade Game

Due to being born into a time period when arcades are not as popular as they used to be, I admittedly don’t have a lot of choices for my favorite cabinet. I could easily throw something out like Donkey Kong, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, or Street Fighter II, but that would be cheating. I first experienced those games on consoles and grew to love them in the comfort of my own home. They can’t really be my favorite cabinets if I’ve barely played them in that manner. That isn’t to say I haven’t loved visiting an arcade from time to time. Whenever the opportunity arose growing up, whether I was at a ski resort, the Jersey Shore boardwalk, or a random pizza place, I’d play whatever cabinet was available. I have had many, many positive experiences in my time. One that has stood out to me in particular was the incredible 1992 X-Men game.

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I was two years old when this game first graced arcades so obviously I didn’t play it for several years. By the time I finally discovered it though, it wasn’t even in a normal arcade anymore. It was in this roller rink that I was at for either a birthday party or some type of school trip. I honestly cannot remember which. What I do remember though was noticing the cabinet, immediately leaving the rink (I really loved the X-Men growing up, especially Wolverine), and getting right into the fun. I’ve played a ton of arcade games before and simply left after being satisfied, but for whatever reason, I refused to stop playing. No matter how many people came by to join in or quarters I threw into the machine, I kept hammering away in my mission to beat Magneto. Eventually, the previously unthinkable happened: I actually beat the game. Up to this point, and ever since actually, I never respectfully beat an arcade game on an actual physical cabinet. It was a defining moment that still sticks with me even though the game itself has long since faded into the background of my life.

Logan J. Fowler – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time

Every time I walk into an arcade and see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, I instantly get warped back to my childhood. This game was IT for me. It was the reason I wanted a Super Nintendo (sorry Mario). It was the reason I downloaded the crappy updated version for XBOX, which made me cry internally. The game was a necessity for when I had an emulator on my computer that would play it. To own the arcade cabinet in my household would be a (sewer) pipe dream.

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The year was 1991 and the game took the “in the moment” Ninja Turtles and gave them epic levels to get through. Through a series of events, they are zapped back in time to face down dinosaurs, old fashioned locomotives, and a cast of mutant villains, along with Shredder. Finding pizzas was a joy for a single player, but a battle for any more than that. The initial stage alone had Krang’s massive robot vessel eyeing you as you trek across a bridge. That was the FIRST LEVEL; the scope was insane!

When I see the game today, it’s instantly posted on Instagram with a ton of likes to follow. This isn’t me being egotistical; people LOVE that game. It’s a “beat ‘em up” side-scroller at its best. The fact that it had four ninja turtles as the stars in a time travelling adventure…it’s just the perfect blend of pop culture and gaming. Cowabunga indeed.

Harry Jackson- X-Men vs. Street Fighter

When folks wax poetic about super hero cartoons back in the 90’s, there are always a few staples that are the undisputed best representation of the medium. While many would bestow the crown to Batman: The Animated Series, a close second is the X-Men animated series. The X-Men cartoons and comics spawned many video game adaptations for home consoles, but the X-Men were also part of the revitalized arcade scene in the early 90’s. Even though many fans gravitate toward Konami’s 1992 side-scrolling beat-em-up featuring a massive cabinet that supported up to six players at once, my heart belongs to Capcom’s X-Men vs. Street Fighter.

X-Men vs. Street Fighter debuted in 1996, pitting Marvel’s merry mutants against Capcom’s iconic fighters in their quest to stop the villain Apocalypse from taking over the world. The roster featured classic characters such as Cyclops, Gambit, Rogue, Ryu, Chun-Li, and M. Bison. Unlike previous Capcom fighters like Marvel Super Heroes (check out our featured Pop-Ed: Our Favorite Fighting Games for more on MSH), X-Men vs. Street Fighter abandoned the best two-out-of-three mechanic to unveil a brand new “tag-team” fighting system. For the first time, a player could select two playable characters and change between them during the fight. While the active fighter battles, the “resting” fighter could restore health or pop in for a devastating special team attack. The “tag-team” system would appear again in later games in the Capcom’s “Vs.” series like Marvel vs. Capcom and was a revolutionary change in the way that we played fighting games.

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X-Men vs. Street Fighter resonates with me because this unique mechanic allowed me to team up with my best friend to play the game together in our own version of local co-operative play – we would both control a character and switch spots in front of the arcade cabinet when our character was active in the battle. With his Dhalsim combined with my play as Wolverine, we were the champions of our local arcade, taking on all challengers that dared face us at the cabinet. I can still remember dreading certain opposing computer-controlled teams like Ryu/Cyclops, Charlie/Storm, and Ken/Gambit. After defeating Apocalypse, the victorious fighter had to face his tag-team partner in single player combat, and my friend and I would cheer each other on in this final battle. It is a real tragedy that with the extinction of arcades, the only way to replicate this type of experience is at home on the couch, passing a controller back and forth (or by building a cabinet of your own – on my list of life goals!)

X-Men vs. Street Fighter was the first of many mash-ups between licensed properties, and included characters that were rarely used in subsequent installments like Charlie, Rogue, Sabretooth, and Cammy. It paved the way for future video game crossovers from Marvel vs. Capcom to Super Smash Bros. The game was later released for the PlayStation in 1998, but due to the technical limitations of the hardware, the home version stripped away the bright and colorful sprites and tag-team mechanic leaving a shell of the arcade experience. If you want to witness the birth of the arcade crossover fighting cabinets, need a good blast of nostalgia for the 90’s, or just want to experience Apocalypse’s power before the next X-Men film, get out and find X-Men vs. Street Fighter! BERSERKER BARRAGE!

Bill Bodkin: Area 51

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I’ve never, ever been good at video games, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them. However, if I am good at a game, I absolutely love that game. Area 51, is definitely one of those games. It was one of the many in the line of, “we’re filming real people and putting them in as good and bad guys” style of shooters and video games in the mid-90s (it’s sister game, Maximum Force paled in comparison). Here, you were part of STAAR (Strategic Tactical Advanced Alien Response) and your mission was to kill every alien life form that now inhabited, you guessed it, Area 51. With your trusty handgun, you could headshot your way to video game glory! Of course, upgrades like the machine gun and the shotgun (my personal favorite), helped maximum your trigger happy good time.

I honestly spent hours playing this game, wherever it was. I probably poured a significant amount of money into the game’s location in the Hadley Cinemas in South Planfield, New Jersey as well as the various arcades along the Jersey shore. Even to this day, I still have the muscle memory of exactly where guys are popping up and how many shots I have till reload. Such a game!

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.