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10 of the Worst Arcade Home Ports of the Classic Era

Early home video games were limited in their faithfulness of arcade ports due to restrictive hardware capabilities. Some ports were able to translate arcade titles for home systems in a way that maintained much of the original’s spirit (Atari 2600’s arcade ports of Missile Command and Ms. Pac-Man are good examples of this). Savvy programmers often produced decent home facsimiles of quarter sucking favorites despite hardware limitations. There were also home arcade ports so slapdash they could be considered crimes against gaming humanity, often a result of poor design or care more than underpowered early hardware. While this list is far from a definitive one of “pixel on pixel atrocities", these ten are noteworthy failures of early home gaming arcade ports.

"I divide what I am and that's the sum of what I am" - Popeye

Popeye - Odyssey 2

Magnavox’s Odyssey 2 was a bit of an oddball in the US market. Despite having a built in computer keyboard the system was not competitive against the market dominating popular Atari VCS/2600. Hurting the situation for Magnavox was Atari’s deep catalog of famous arcade titles. Arcade ports were a rarity for the Odyssey 2 system. Nintendo’s arcade platformer Popeye based on the famous cartoon characters was an exception to this rule being ported to numerous home systems and computers (via Parker Bros.) including the often overlooked Odyssey 2.

Unfortunately the Odyssey 2 port of Popeye is laughably inept. Game character sprites are unrecognizable compared to their arcade cohorts, with one character represented as a literal math symbol. The character Bluto is roughly 3 times the size of Popeye, spinach is shown as a green ball, and only one of the three levels from the arcade are included. For anyone who feels the Atari 2600 library was full of lackluster arcade ports, the Odyssey 2’s version of Popeye makes the 2600 version look like a dream. Any kid getting this version under the Christmas tree might have been better off with a lump of coal.

Mom, can I please do my homework instead?

Mr. Do’s! Castle - Atari VCS/2600

A lot of ridicule has been fairly tossed at the Atari 2600 port of Namco’s arcade classic Pac-Man. In my opinion, the Parker Bros. produced port of Mr. Do’s! Castle is much worse. The original Mr. Do! is a classic arcade title from Universal that combines elements of Pac-Man and Dig Dug into a satisfying experience. During the Golden Age of arcade gaming, there were three sequels Mr. Do’s! Wild Ride, Do! Run Run!, and Mr. Do’s! Castle known in other places of the world as Mr. Do! Vs. The Unicorns.

Mr.Do’s! Castle was the first and arguably the best of the sequels with some fun platforming concepts while still capturing the spirit of the original game. The Atari 2600 was capable of decent playing arcade game ports from the era despite the limited power of its hardware, but in the case of Mr. Do’s! Castle for the 2600 it seems no one even tried to create a decent game. Sprites commonly disappear in the game, levels are made up of ungodly color combinations, and the collision detection can best be described as “dodgy”. Only someone well versed in the original arcade version would have an idea of what the heck is going on at all with this adaption. Some of the lack of quality might have to do with Parker Bros. Soon getting out of the video game software business making this title a hard one for collectors to track down, and in turn commanding high prices in the collector market. Despite its rarity, Mr. Do’s! Castle is not just probably one of the worst arcade ports it is one of the worst games ever made for Atari’s classic system.

Burger Time - Mattel Aquarius

Mattel Electronics was a trailblazer offering the world’s first 16-bit gaming system with the Intellivision way back in 1979. The Intellivision offered a superior audio and visual experience despite it’s hard to hold disc-like controllers. Mattel famously fumbled the release of a promised computer keyboard add-on for the system. So it is a bit of mystery as why they decided to enter the already overcrowded home computer market of the early 1980’s with the poorly designed Zilog 80 based computer system Aquarius.

An instant commercial failure, Aquarius was hampered by many factors including requiring the computer to make do with a lengthily character set for sprite driven style graphics instead of programable custom graphics that almost any other computer at the time was capable of. It was a huge step backwards in audio and visual presentation compared to the (at the time 4 year old) Intellivision. These factors made the port of the arcade classic Burger Time (one of the few arcade exclusive ports to Mattel) practically unplayable on the Aquarius. The sprites are unrecognizable to their arcade counterparts and are animated as if they are having a stroke. Thanks to dodgy collision detection and occasional slowdown, what should have been a showcase of Mattel’s little computer comes across as laughably bad even in the early 1980’s. It is no wonder Aquarius lasted mere months on store shelves and was mostly sold at a deep discount.

Defender - Adventure Vision

Entex’s Adventure Vision is a fascinating early small tabletop arcade game system that uses a series of LED lights and a vibrating mirror to produce the illusion of a small television screen in front of the player. The concept is a neat bit of engineering but can be flickery and hard on the eyes. There is also a lack of resolution or definition with the technical limitations of the hardware, making any game with complex scrolling or small graphics difficult on the eyes. William’s fast moving scrolling shooter Defender was probably not a great choice for translation to the system. Despite the interesting technical achievement with the Adventure Vision, playing Defender on the system is a headache inducing endeavor. Entex made less than 10,000 Adventure Vision units and today they are very high priced collector items.

"People don't want more than 2-3 colors" - Bill Gates maybe

Moon Patrol - MS-DOS/IBM PC

Early IBM MS-DOS based computers became popular in the US marketplace so business Mom’s and Dad’s could do work at home mostly. As good as these machines were for running word processors and spreadsheets they were terrible at playing any kind of arcade style video game. Irem’s lunar themed shooter isn’t overly complex in play dynamics which makes this early IBM DOS port shocking in its lack of playability. Often times the game doesn’t react to controls quickly enough making timing jumps correctly impossible. Adding to the woe are the headache inducing sound effects all too common for early DOS titles. The MS-DOS version of Moon Patrol might resemble the appearance of the original arcade version, but playing it is a futile endeavor.

What if we made Castlevania, but crappy? Crappyvania (TM)

Dragon’s Lair - Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

There was probably a way to translate the click and move Laserdisc classic Dragon’s Lair to the Nintendo Entertainment System into an enjoyable game, perhaps into a nice RPG or traditional side scrolling action title. Instead designers decided to attempt to make the game into some sort of torture test for player controls, lack of play logic, and collision detect that can best be described as “touchy”. One of the stranger design features its despite having a player health bar, one hit from an enemy can kill a player. Dragon’s Lair might be the most frustrating NES games ever made, which is saying something.

I copied your work but don't worry, I changed it a bit.

Enduro Racer - Sega Master System

I was a Sega Master System kid, choosing the system over the more popular Nintendo NES in the US marketplace. Many titles released for the Master System were of a good quality and benefited from Sega’s arcade title library such as nice ports of Shinobi, Golden Axe, and Choplifter. Enduro Racer in its arcade form shares the 3rd person sprite scaling pseudo 3-D hardware used in Space Harrier and Out Run. Even though the Master System didn’t have the hardware chops of those arcade machines, they did a reasonable job mimicking the 3-D like scaling. When it came time to port Enduro Racer however, Sega took an easier and disappointing route.

The Master System version ditched the 3-D perspective and changed to a slightly overhead isometric perspective. As a stand alone game it wouldn’t have been bad, simply an average motorcycle rally title. However, when you compare the game to the original arcade game source it is a bit disappointing considering Sega proved the system could handle 3-D like environments with ports of other titles like After Burner and Out Run. Adding insult to injury, the outside Japan released versions of the game only includes half of the levels as the Japanese version of the game to save money on memory space despite still being sold as a full priced game.

"But it did impair the enjoyment" - Morgan Freeman

Double Dragon - Commodore 64

Taito’s mega popular side scrolling fighter found its way onto just about every home system and computer in the 1980’s. Double Dragon was no stranger to some pretty terrible ports including a questionable one for the Atari 7800. The Commodore 64 software did vary in quality a lot in its lifetime, but did an overall admiral job keeping up with home systems of the mid 1980’s. The game omits many of the features of the original arcade game and instead replaces them with glitchy poorly drawn graphics. Double Dragon may be the only home gaming adaptation that came with an apology from the programmers in the owners manual. You could forgive the C-64 version of the game of just being a victim of hardware getting beyond its years, but most Commodore fans tend to concur that this port is one of the most disappointing ones ever released for the classic home computer.

After Burner (Activision Version) - Amiga

The Commodore Amiga was a powerhouse computer during its time offering visual and audio delights that embarrassed more expensive computers of its era. With these talents and the backing of a major software developer like Activision, creating a good port of Sega’s After Burner was more than obtainable. Instead, Activision seems to have churned out a very patched together port with choppy animation, sloppy controls, and playability about as smooth as barbwire.

To add to the embarrassment for Amiga fans, the 16-bit Sega Genesis version of the game blows the Amiga port out of the water in both playability and visuals. Even the 8-bit Sega Master System version despite the limitations of the system is immensely more playable and enjoyable. In the history of sloppy and half-assed arcade game ports Activision’s version of After Burner is one of the worst ever made for the Amiga. It was crappy arcade ports such as this that sent arcade action fans to game consoles and away from home computers.

Exactly like the arcade in every way, except in every way

Area 51 - Tiger Electronics LCD Game

Some media formats just refuse to die out even in the world of video games. Handheld LCD games became staples of players wanting cheap on the go gaming starting in the early 1980’s, an evolution of LED handheld games. With the introduction of Nintendo’s Game Boy and Atari’s Lynx in 1989 you would think these simplistic uni-tasker LCD games would have finally exited the marketplace.

Tiger Electronics kept on trucking with these little handheld devices all they way into the mid 1990’s despite the laughably outdated technology and limited gameplay possibilities of the format. The low, or high water mark of LED games might be the misguided port of Atari Games’ shooter Area 51 complete with tiny light gun. The small game screen is difficult to see and the guns are fairly inaccurate due to the size of the sensors and their difficultly managing outside lighting. Its release in 1996 is during a time gamers were deep into the Playstation era of gaming, making the idea of spending any time with this haphazard arcade port a laughable proposal. Tiger’s Area 51 port is the equivalent of a party guest not understanding that the party ended hours ago.

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John T
John T
Feb 08

Another great blog post. Love reading your work. Well researched and humourous as always. Thank you - you've made my morning 😀

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