A while ago, I detailed why I believe that the music game genre is R.I.P., but the sentiment existed long before I set idea to keyboard. As a former Rock Band owner, I can say with earnestness that the game, while technically quality in terms of peripherals, song selection, controls, and timing, is exceedingly ho-hum. No matter how hard you rock out to “Cochise”, all that you’re doing is waiting for a colored icon to scroll down the screen so you can press a colored fret (or hit a colored drum) in time with it. I often found myself growing restless in spite of the killer tunes. It wasn’t until very recently when conversing with friends about the state of the modern arcade that I realized that I had played a type of rhythm game before, but in a far more enjoyable package: LaserDisc games.
LaserDisc games were titles popular in arcades in the ’80s and ’90s that differentiated themselves from other cabs through the use of live-action imagery, or high-quality animation, that was sometimes blended with traditional video game computer graphics. Priced at roughly $1, LaserDisc games were expensive endeavors for kids used to plunking quarters into Ms. Pac-man and Street Fighter II, but with the premium came a then-unmatched experience–especially those comprised of traditional 2D cell animation. Sure, the gameplay wasn’t radically different from the music games of today–you simply moved the joystick or pressed a button to match an in-game beat–but controlling what was basically an interactive cartoon was mindblowing at age 10, and still appeals to me over two decades later. So in remembrance of these early pseudo-rhythm games, 2D-X is taking a trip down memory lane in a 2D, interactive plane. Note: You can find some of these classics in the Apple App Store.
Advanced Microcomputer Systems changed the arcade landscape by commissioning ex-Disney animator Don Bluth to craft an interactive cartoon that succeeded in its goal of draining many ’80s-era children of their allowances. The plot: After the evil dragon Singe locks Princess Daphane in an evil wizard’s castle, the heroic Dirk the Daring (who is, ironically, somewhat cowardly) grabs his sword and shield in an attempt to free her from their grasps. Gamers had to look for visual cues in the form of light bursts that guided your movement and attacks. It’s immense popularity lead to the a short lived Saturday morning cartoon, which in a hilarious twist, had poorer visuals and animation than the video game.
Released in the same year as the Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace once agan sees Don Bluth Studio delivering superbly animated cartoon visuals to the LaserDisc game genre. The storyline sees the musclebound space hero, Ace, attempting to rescue his girlfriend, Kimberley, from the evil Commander Borf. Yes, it retreads Dragon’s Lair (even down to the fact that it also had a Saturday morning ‘toon), but differs in the fact that when Ace is blasted by Borf’s Infanto Ray, he transforms into a teenaged version of himself. This lets players swap between the defensive, agile teen and the offensive tank of a man, allowing them to tackle challenges in different fashions.
The success of the Advance Microcomputer Systems and Don Bluth collaboration led to Taito dipping into the interactive animation well with 1985′s Time Gal. Featuring visuals from the legendary Toei Animation (the studio behind the Captain Harlock, Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon anime), Time Gal features the protagonist jumping through action packed takes on the past and present. Time Gal’s mission is to stop Luda, a baddie who’s stolen a time machine to alter the timeline to take over the world. The game allows freeze time at certain challenge points, giving gamers seven seconds to come up with a decision.
Picture this: You’re a game manufacturer looking to grab a piece of the interactive animation action genre, but you don’t have the time or cash to animate a new entry into this growing genre. What do you do? If you’re Stern Electronics, you borrow liberally from Miyazaki’s Lupin III flicks, The Castle of Cagliostro and Mystery of Mamo, for 1983′s Cliff Hanger. The story is pretty standard fare (Cliff looks to rescue the lovely Clarissa from the evil Count Draco), but how many time do you get to interact with a Miyazaki classic, albeit in remixed form?
Road Blaster/Road Avenger
Toei Animation partnered with Data East for Road Blaster, which was released internationally as Road Avenger. It’s you typically ’80s action movie scenario: You play the role of a man with a bad ass sports car who is tracking down the punks who murdered his wife. With gameplay that consists of high speed chases, collisions, and wild stunts, Road Avenger is a pretty bad ass “racing” title that delivers copious thrills.