Remember arcades? Their legacy lives on

With the once-popular game parlors a plot centerpiece in the Disney animated feature 'Wreck-It Ralph,' let's look at the hits that resonated with the kids who are today's parents. Some of those titles still are available.

ssloan@herald-leader.comNovember 1, 2012 

The kids heading to see Wreck-It Ralph this weekend are growing up in an era when arcades are just a memory.

Sure, a rare restaurant, gas station or bowling alley still might have an arcade game or two, but the era of the full-blown arcade — a business existing solely to house dozens and dozens of hulking, clunky video games, pinball machines and the like — has long since passed in North America.

But with Wreck-It Ralph, the ever-savvy marketers at Disney are looking to cash in on the nostalgia of parents while knowing kids will love that the movie's about gaming, which is far more popular today than in the heyday of arcades in the 1970s and '80s.

The legacy of the arcade is obvious in gaming today. Consider these past arcade hits, many of which are available as downloadable games on today's in-home consoles. Included, as a nod to Wreck-It Ralph, are some villains that might have wanted to be heroes.

BEAT 'EM UP

About 1990, kids everywhere were maniacal about a heroic band of street-fighting reptiles who lived in a sewer. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game was actually developer Konami's second stab at a title based on the cartoon, but this one met with unbelievable success.

Why? Because it allowed four kids to play, each inserting quarter after quarter to thwart the evil Shredder's plans.

Its legacy was far greater than just the turtles themselves — named Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo. Konami used the engine upon which the game was built to create arcade titles based on other popular licensed properties like X-Men and The Simpsons.

There was a time in gaming when licensed properties were a questionable risk. After all, Atari's failure in the early 1980s was linked in no small part to the bomb that was E.T. This once again proved licensed properties had huge potential.

Villain who wants to be a hero: Baxter Stockman. He was such a mild-mannered scientist before mutating into a giant fly.

RACING

You can still find Cruis'n arcade games on occasion, but the innovator in the genre was Pole Position, which debuted in 1982.

The game came in a large cabinet in which you could sit down, as if in a car, and steer, shift gears, brake and press an accelerator. The premise was simple: Race a Formula One car against a clock and then other drivers.

Pole Position also featured early examples of product placement in video games, with billboards for various companies along the racetracks.

It was so popular it even led to a Saturday morning cartoon.

Villain that wants to be a hero: Pick any other car and driver.

FIGHTING

Street Fighter II is often credited with creating the fighting genre because of, what were at the time, its stellar graphics and excellent controls. The arcade game offered eight playable characters you could use to face off against friends or the computer.

The title was later ported to just about every gaming console in existence and lives on today through release after release.

Games like Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct would enhance the fighting genre, but nothing compares to the original, which was a sequel itself.

Villain who wants to be a hero: Despite his claw hand, Vega always seemed like a decent guy.

SPORTS

There were plenty of basketball games before NBA Jam, but with a roster of top NBA stars except for Michael Jordan and catchy commentary — "He's on fire!" — the game caught fire itself.

Gaming eventually would embrace more realistic portrayals of basketball with five-on-five, but this two-on-two version with over-the-top dunks was a major hit in arcades and ported to home consoles.

The rosters changed quite a bit between the versions with Shaquille O'Neal playable only in arcades. The story goes that much like Jordan, his likeness couldn't be licensed by the time the home console versions were produced.

Villain who wants to be a hero: Detroit Pistons player Bill Laimbeer, who was playable on the arcade, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and Sega Game Gear versions.

PUZZLE/MAZE

And we get to the king of them all: Pac-Man. (Can't you hear the "wacka-wacka-wacka" theme music now?) The title is arguably the most successful arcade game of all time, certainly if you factor in its spin-off Ms. Pac-Man.

The game is often hailed as the first to offer power-ups — or the ability to gain dominance over an enemy by, say, eating a pellet — that have been commonplace ever since.

Pac-Man appealed to both genders and all ages, becoming such a hit that it's still seeing a variety of releases today. The playable Google Doodle featuring it in 2010 was so popular that the search giant created a permanent site for it.

Villain who wants to be a hero: Definitely Bashful, the blue ghost who was nicknamed "Inky."

Scott Sloan: ssloan@herald-leader.com. (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz

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