For the arcade game fan who plays arcade games at home,Jess Ragan's "MAMExpose" presents you with the many joys - andpitfalls - of emulation, specifically those found while using our favoriteprogram in the universe: MAME.

Back in the 80's, comparing home games to arcade games was much like comparing your average television show to a big-budget movie... the difference in quality was obvious. Game companies could get away with releasing bombs for home consoles, but when players left their homes and walked into an arcade, they expected only the best in electronic entertainment. This resulted in fierce competition between game developers, each struggling to make the most addictive and amazing arcade games possible in an effort to draw in the most quarters.

However, not every game brought into an arcade was a lovingly crafted masterpiece. Sometimes, smaller, less experienced companies would try to get in on the action with their own arcade games, which couldn't hope to compete with titles designed by the industry leaders. And sometimes, even the big names like Taito and SNK would screw up, releasing atrocious garbage that nobody in their right minds would want to play. The following games are just a few examples.



Sometimes games just don't work when presented in a different perspective. Take Congo Bongo, for instance. Sega's answer to Donkey Kong offered everything that Mario's adventure did, plus an isometric viewpoint that made the graphics a whole lot better... but the gameplay a whole lot worse. I won't even bother bringing up all those side-scrolling platformers that were dragged kicking and screaming into the third dimension by Sony and its third parties.

Downtown is another fine example of what happens when you take a game outside its natural environment. It's a beat 'em up, similar to Double Dragon but seen from a bird's eye view. Unfortunately, it only takes five minutes for the average player to realize that this game really IS for the birds. While the best games in the genre, classics like Final Fight and Streets of Rage II for the Genesis, are fast-paced and exciting, Downtown is slow and cumbersome. You're forced to turn a knob on the top of the joystick to face your enemies. This concept worked well enough in Ikari Warriors, where you needed omni-directional fire to survive against the swarms of enemy soldiers, but in Downtown, it's just an unnecessary nuisense that robs you of valuable reaction time.

The graphics and sound are a real downer as well, and certainly don't offer the player a valid reason to continue playing after they've become frustrated with the clumsy control. The background artwork is surprisingly dull and lifeless for an arcade release, and the droning music makes the already unappealing Downtown experience that much more repellant. I give this weak beat 'em up a five, and only because I'm feeling really generous.

The Glob


You know something is horribly wrong when you pass up the chance to play an arcade game for free. I was given that opportunity with a malfunctioning version of The Glob, which was permanently set to test mode. That meant I could select any level and play as much as I wanted... in most cases, that would be an arcade fan's dream, but when you're playing a game like The Glob, this only prolongs your agony. It didn't take long before I complained to the guy repairing the arcade games that The Glob was torturing me with free credits. He solved the problem by ripping the circuit boards out of the machine and carting the rest of it away. My hero!

"So," you ask, "what makes The Glob so awful that you were actually happy to see it be destroyed in front of your own eyes?" Well, it's very unprofessionally designed, lacking the sense of artistic direction that made Namco's older arcade games so enjoyable. The Glob looks very much like it was created on an old IBM computer with an EGA monitor... you have to wait for each level to draw itself before you can play it, and whenever an enemy steps in front of an item, the part of the character touching the item reverses color. The sound is even more underwhelming than the graphics, comprised of forgettable background music drowned out by a cacaphony of harsh sound effects.

The gameplay is a little better than the audiovisuals... but not by much. The Glob is best described as the bastard child of Elevator Action and Pac-Man. You've got to collect all the fruit in each round while avoiding a selection of stiffly drawn animals. To get every sweet, savory morsel of food, you've got to ride elevators which take you from one level to the next. If the elevator's not on your level, you can "call" it by pressing a green button while standing next to an elevator shaft. If your enemies become a problem, you can get rid of them either by crushing them with the elevators, or sticking to the ceiling and dropping on top of them. So there are some fairly unique ideas in The Glob, but it's tough to enjoy them when it looks as though the game were thrown together on a shoestring budget. Also, after a few rounds, the game becomes so fast that it's literally impossible to play. That's why I give it the low, low rating of three.



Just how bad do you have to be to join the motorcycle gang in Taito's Ka-Ge-Ki? Badder than Michael Jackson? Oh yeah, definitely. Badder than bad, bad Leroy Brown? Yup. As bad as this cheesy, Japanese-y fighting game with a whopping selection of two attacks? Hey now, let's not go crazy here! You're got to be bad, not downright terrible!

Ka-Ge-Ki might look like another fine beat 'em up in the tradition of River City Ransom and its spinoffs, but don't let those hilarious characters fool you... this game stinks. It's got almost no technique thanks to the limited number of attacks available. The bobble-headed hero can punch, and he can punch really hard. That's it. Pressing both buttons at once lets him duck incoming fists, but sooner or later, he'll have to stand up... and that's when his opponent beats him to a bloody pulp. It's technically possible to win fights in Ka-Ge-Ki, but because your attacks somehow manage to slip through your enemy while they use your oversized head for a punching bag, it's not very likely.

The game's got a couple of nice touches... the charicatures of the gang members are hilarious, and so are the comments you'll hear during each fight. You're bound to crack up when you hear your fallen opponent snarl, "You son of a gun!", in a voice that will instantly remind you of a certain angry chihuahua from a certain Nickelodeon cartoon. However, all the funny dialogue in the world can't make Ka-Ge-Ki's rotten gameplay any more enticing. I give it a three... and you'll want to give your quarters to Renegade or Super Dodge Ball instead.

Hear it NOW.

Marvin's Maze


SNK released this to address the utterly appalling shortage of Pac-Man clones available in the early 80's. Yes, I'm being sarcastic, and no, I'm not being entirely fair to SNK... there are a handful of noticable differences between Marvin's Maze and Pac-Man. Unfortunately, those differences are what make the game a lot less appealing than Namco's smash hit.

Marvin's Maze stars (who else?) Marvin, a little blue creature with huge bespectacled eyes. He looks like a geeky chocolate chip, which would certainly explain why everyone else in the game is always chasing after him. His enemies are the Robonoids, a gang of vaguely human, extremely blocky machines who patrol the playfield, hoping to corner poor Marvin and bake him into their Toll House cookies. Luckily, our hero can fight back, and not just by raising the Robonoids' cholestorol level... if he collects one of the power cells scattered throughout each round, he turns red and can fire a deadly laser, reducing his foes to a pile of metal shavings. If Marvin can catch several Robonoids in his line of fire, he gets an even larger reward for their destruction.

Sounds pretty exciting so far, right? Unfortunately, it goes downhill from there. SNK went a step too far trying to differentiate Marvin's Maze from Pac-Man, giving the game a clumsy isometric perspective and packing two mazes into each round. It does spice up the graphics to some degree, but mostly, it just makes the gameplay awkward. The supports holding one maze over the other double as transportation shafts, sending Marvin up to the top floor or back to the bottom one when he touches them. The only problem is that you'll be forced into the shaft on contact, even if you just wanted to walk around the edge of the maze to escape a Robonoid. Marvin is also a little too slow for his own good, making the game less intense than Pac-Man or its many clones. Marvin may taste great in a cookie, but you won't find much of that ooey-gooey goodness in his video game. I give it a five.

New York, New York


In the early 80's, there were great shooters like Galaxian, Space Invaders, and Asteroids... and then there was crap like this. Originally created to promote the Japanese cartoon Captain Harlock, this game was rather hastily hacked and brought to the United States with a simple background featuring a handful of buildings and the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, the game blows regardless of the scenery... they could have pasted naked pictures of the Coors Light models in the background and gamers STILL wouldn't have noticed New York, New York.

What makes the game so completely uninteresting? For starters, the graphics are pretty atrocious. Your fighter is perhaps the least streamlined spaceship you’ll ever find in a shooter, and all your enemies are drawn with a single color. Even the background is nothing special… its most impressive quality is that it’s recognizable as the Statue of Liberty. If New York, New York’s graphics don’t put you to sleep, the monotonous dirge that passes for its soundtrack certainly will.

The only thing in New York, New York that will provoke an emotional response from the player is a frustrating target I like to call “the big tease”. It’s a spinning pinwheel that’s constantly surrounded by a swarm of enemy ships. Even if you can peck a hole through the pinwheel's nearly impenetrable defense, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to destroy it… the big tease takes a ludicrous amount of damage before it finally explodes, and it has a nasty habit of vanishing as you’re pelting it with bullets, only to return at full strength moments later. You’ll encounter the big tease dozens of times in one game, but you’ll be lucky to destroy it even once.

Unless you’re extremely desperate for an old-school shooter and you’ve already played all the good ones, you won’t want to be a part of this New York, New York. This game just barely earns a rating of four.

MAME TIPS: Hold onto your older versions of MAME! You never know what nasty surprises the developers will have in store for you with new releases of the emulator. Some games may be removed, and the MAME drivers might be tweaked, reducing their speed or causing conflicts with your current hardware. Also, don't be afraid to experiment with different variations of the emulator. You may find that they work better on your computer than the official version of MAME.

In the next edition of MAMExpose, we're ditching the themes and giving you a cornocopia of random game reviews, in honor of Thanksgiving and Christmas. And oh yeah, Ramadan, and Boxing Day, and Hanukkah, and Festivus, and all those other wacky holidays, too.

You've played plenty of bad games on game consoles, but what about bad arcade games? In the next MAMExpose, we'll look at a few titles that aren't worth a second look, let alone a second quarter.

A new "MAMExpose" can be found herearound the 10th of every month!

For "back issues" of this column, click HERE.

Go to Digital Press HQ
Return to Digital Press Home

Last updated: Monday, July 04, 2005 10:03 PM