With the anticipated arrival of the Q*Bert cocktail project, the arcade game count in the collection will rise to 31 games. Owning 31 arcade games is a crazy amount and would have probably seemed out of control to even my 12-year-old self who dreamed of owning just one coin-op arcade game. Just like any collector however, I still think about what items I would love to have to “complete” my collection, whatever that means exactly since most collectors will never complete anything they collect in a hobby. So here is my list of the “Top 10” arcade games I would love to see find themselves one day into the arcade.
720 Degrees by Atari Games
Thirst Scale: Why did I eat all these scones?
Ease of Obtaining: It’s grind o’clock somewhere
I still remember the first time I played 720 and how cool I thought the game was. Like most 1980’s kids, I was into skateboarding (I was never very good), but I was more into videogames. 720 has a cool isometric viewpoint, fun cabinet design (I love the boombox inspired marquee), and a unique controller. I wouldn’t be surprised if a 720 finds its way into my collection this year after I get through a few projects that are in the works currently. The cabinet design has a repetition of being a bit fragile. Thanks to the unique design of the cabinet (and the long-term popularity of the game) it seems a lot of nice examples have survived, and it isn’t too hard to find a decent example for sale from time to time.
Discs of Tron Environmental by Bally-Midway
Thirst Scale: Sandpaper tongue
Ease of Obtaining: Getting a Cabbage Patch Kid in 1983 on Xmas Eve
A favorite with collectors for a multitude of reasons (Tron movie tie-in, cool cabinet, cool gameplay), modern collectors often end up spending used car amounts of money to obtain an instance of an environmental Discs of Tron. Originally intended to be part of the first Tron arcade game, limitations on processor technology found it eventually spun off into its own title. Discs of Tron was also released during a downturn in arcade game interest which adds to its rarity. Both traditional upright style and the more deluxe environmental cabinets exist, and some environmental cabinets were modified by operators into uprights losing the unique “standing inside” cabinet design. Additionally, the more interesting environmental cabinets have some dramatic lighting that interact with the gameplay and digital voice samples that the standard upright does not have. Discs of Tron have often been in that “upper level” of arcade collecting and I would imagine its status in this regard will never change. What this all translates too is a very expensive piece of 1980’s nostalgia. Spending 12-18k on an arcade game just isn’t reasonable for me unless I have an unknown rich uncle leaves me piles of money in a will, but you never know.
Gyruss by Centuri/Konami
Thirst Scale: Parched mouth
Ease of Obtaining: Falling off a log
A Gyruss has graced my collection once before and I had the chance to buy what appeared to be my old Gyruss (which was sold due to a divorce like 16 years ago) recently but someone else pulled the trigger on it before I could. Often described as a cross between Namco’s Galaga and Atari’s Tempest, Gyruss offers fast fun space shooting action with an amazing stereo soundtrack. Luckily, Gyruss was made in large numbers and is pretty easy find so once I am ready to add one to the collection again officially it shouldn’t be a huge treasure hunt to find a nice one. It can however be a challenge to find one with the side art in decent shape as the stenciled paint tends to flake off easily.
Pepper II by Exidy
Thirst Scale: Eating Silica Gel
Ease of Obtaining: How hard can juggling chainsaws be really?
Most game titles from Exidy had low production numbers, and Pepper II is no exception. A fun and original combination of Namco’s Pac-Man and Taito’s Qix, Pepper II was destined to be a cult favorite title with collectors. Pepper II was released in two upright cabinet styles that are slightly different. The more common style is a carbon copy of the cabinet used in the popular Exidy game Venture (Pepper II also was sold as a conversion kit for Venture), a second much harder to find cabinet style is known as the “Heaven and Hell” cabinet and features slightly different cabinet artwork. Today Pepper II’s are hard to find and can command serious money. I’ve had some close brushes with adding one to the collection but for some reason or another it just never fell into place. Fun trivia, there is no Pepper I game.
Pioneer Balloon by Rock-ola/SNK
Thirst Scale: Dry mouth after screaming for 2 hours
Ease of Obtaining: Same as the hope of the Talking Heads reuniting
Pioneer Balloon was released by jukebox maker mainstay Rock-Ola in the USA, but developed by SNK and is one truly bizarre game. Having little to do with the American pioneer days, you travel in a balloon fighting off indigenous warriors (who look like aliens), covered wagons that shoot missiles, birds, hurricane winds, and giant apes on desert islands while attempting to land in Death Valley. The collision detection is dodgy, the music is catchy (songs from the film The Great Escape, and the old-time song “The Yellow Rose of Texas” are used), and the game makes absolutely zero sense. Despite all these things, it is also hella-fun to play, and the hilariously historically inaccurate theming somehow just adds to the charm of it all. The game is rather rare today, and I would imagine that many of the original dedicated game cabinets were converted into other games. Luckily a pixel perfect version can be found on the excellent Bit Kit multigame PCB so maybe someday I’ll make a reproduction cabinet since finding a real dedicated one could prove very difficult.
Playchoice Countertop by Nintendo
Thirst Scale: Dry throat in a car trip with no A/C
Ease of Obtaining:
This is another game on this list that I used to own, a Playchoice countertop was the first arcade game I ever owned. Nintendo’s Playchoice is essentially a coin-operated version of its popular NES home video game system, but the countertop variant is interesting to me. On top of all of that I would love to be reunited with an example of the game that started my collecting hobby just for completion’s sake. The countertop version is more obscure than the upright variations of the game, but they do come up for sale occasionally, usually in the 2,500-3000-dollar range. Most examples tend to be in nice condition but are commonly missing the bottom “lazy Susan” style rotating base.
Space Race by Atari
Thirst Scale: In space, no one can hear you have cracked lips.
Ease of Obtaining: As likely as meeting Mr.T at Costco.
Space Race was Atari’s second released arcade game right after Pong, it was also a huge flop that almost tanked the company. Despite the lack of commercial success, Space Race had several firsts including being the first game to essentially use a Eprom style graphic image or sprite, although it was a technical trick using diodes that are shaped as the sprite on the PCB. Space Race today is an obscure footnote in Atari history but despite the crude gameplay it could be considered the great grandfather of Frogger or even Mattel’s Electronic Football game. A few elaborate fiberglass cabinets were built, but most versions come in a very generic angled cabinet.
Starblade by Namco
Thirst Scale: Ack! I put salt in my coffee by accident!
Ease of Obtaining: Scoring free tickets on Space X
Starblade is a boss “on-the-rails” first person perspective space shooter cockpit that uses a unique mirrored monitor in combination with a distorted front lens to give a faux anamorphic view to the player. Although many argue there isn’t a ton of “depth” to the game, I couldn’t care less. The bad ass sounds (there is a subwoofer under the seat), cool early polygon graphics, and fun cabinet design make for a unique experience. They never made a ton of these machines for the USA (maybe less than 500 I would guess) and many suffer from PCB issues, still there is always hope.
Tron by Bally-Midway
Thirst Scale: These pretzels are making me thirsty!
Ease of Obtaining: Same as likelihood of a new Marvel Movie every summer till 2085
Tron was massed produced and is not rare from any account but can still command a high dollar amount for a nice solid example from collectors. Tron machines have also always seemed to command large dollar amounts as far as I have been collecting. I remember several nice examples selling for around 800-1000 dollars in vending auctions in the late 1990’s. Today a nice Tron might set you back 2500-3000 ish, but I would really love to have the harder to find cabaret version of the game despite losing some of the unique artwork in that configuration.
United Artist Jamma Cabinet by UATE/Angle
Thirst Scale: Still hoping they bring back Fruitopia
Ease of Obtaining: Alf is back! This time in POG form!
When I was 15, I worked in a crummy rundown UA movie theatre from about 1988-1989. The theatre chain had their own specially designed arcade game cabinets manufactured by Plateau Inc/Angle Manufacturing. These modular cabinets made changing game titles easy for the operators. UA had a sub-division of the company that just dealt with coin-operated machines both in theatres and in a failed solo arcade venture. Cabinets were often adored with brightly colored laminate, and the light marquees was at waist level to the player. The whole middle section of the game cabinet was a slide out drawer containing the control panel, JAMMA PCB, power supply, and marquee lighting system.
Our theatre had about 7 of these (as well as other arcade games in more traditional cabinets) and most of them were adorned with generic United Artists marquees which may have all been destroyed when UA dropped these cabinets from use over the years. The cabinets pop up every once in a while, and are not very expensive, but are great for quickly changing out JAMMA games.
BONUS! Should I Add a Pinball Machine? These are the pins I would choose…
Doctor Who by Bally – One of the two pinball machine titles I used to own pre-divorce about 15 years ago (the other being a Dracula). I loved the theming, being more of an old school Whovian than the newer series. The rising middle playfield was problematic on mine, but my understanding is that there are some newer fixes for those issues.
Elvira and the Party Monsters by Bally – I have been a fan of Elvira since my childhood for many reasons, but I have a lot of fun memories of playing this title at the workplace of a friend of mine during High School. Although the two other Elvira pinball machines are more sophisticated, this original one is the one I would want.
Funhouse by Bally – Another game I played as a kid in High School and in College, and I know it is a popular title with collectors. I haven’t played one in years, but I remember really liking the talking “Rudy” in the playfield and the overall rules of the game.
Rush by Stern – Newer pinball machines are a universe I know very little about other than how dedicated pinheads are to the hobby these days. Newer machines are also very expensive in the collectable editions and various add-ons people stick on em. Despite all this Rush is my wife’s favorite band so I think it would just be a cool one to have in the collection, but I think I would wait till the prices come down a bit and maybe I’ll pick up a nice used one in a few years.