While I know Google Play and the Apple Store are bursting with wonderful puzzle, maze and arcade style games for you to pull out during you train commute or while you drink your coffee at the cafe I still regularly seek out and play vintage games from the 1980s. The best vintage games like Frogger and Tetris helped show what video games were capable of but I mostly go retro when I want a taste of the ridiculous. There is a wonderfully naive quality to a lot of 1980s games that’s missing from contemporary games, an unfortunate side effect of video games becoming a multi-billion dollar industry.
1. Bouncing Babies
Let’s start with the game least likely to get rebooted, the three colour MS-DOS gem Bouncing Babies from 1984. In this game, you control two firemen who rescue babies thrown from a burning building by bouncing them on a stretcher into a waiting ambulance. In a game (il)logic common to the era the better you get at saving babies, the more babies get thrown out the window until your juggling quint, sept or hextuplets. Drop a baby, lose a life – at least that part makes sense. Even as a kid I wondered what kind of sicko would recklessly hurl multiple babies out a window like that but the game’s simple mechanics make it weirdly addictive.
I had forgotten about 1983’s Tapper until I saw it referenced in Wreck-it Ralph. In Tapper, you play a busy bartender who serves customers drinks, grabs empties and runs around collecting tips. The better a bartender you become the busier the bar gets and each time you level up (because ’80s game logic) the bar you work in gets worse, by level 3 your in a very dive-y Punk Bar.
I grew up playing the 3 colour IBM PC version that’s very similar to the online version I linked to. I recently learned that the original arcade version was sponsored by Budweiser but was quickly altered because of the ChildrenTM! I do remember the Mountain Dew logo from my youth and, frankly, beer is probably healthier, but that’s just my two cents. Apparently, the game has been repackaged as Root Beer Tapper because of the ChildrenTM! redux and versions of it are available for mobiles and modern consoles. I still like the old school version on DOS-Box, it’s actually harder because faster computers make the space bar more sensitive.
3. Lock ‘n’ Chase
I’m just going to come out and say it, Lock ‘n’ Chase is better than Pac-Man. It’s not as groundbreaking because it came out afterwards and it clearly owes Pac-Man its existence but I maintain that it’s more enjoyable to play than a robber collecting coins and avoiding capture than it is to play a yellow circle eating dots and avoiding ghosts. Apparently, the original game is available on Nintendo Wii as part of the Data East Arcade Classics compilation.
I use to play BurgerTime on the Intellivision. I would play this game until the Intellivision overheated and the graphics went all wonky and then, and only then, would I reluctantly go outside into the sunshine. This is the first game I remember getting really excited about and I still get weird urges to make a chef run frantically over giant hamburger ingredients, armed with only quick reflexes and pepper shaker.
The arcade version came out in 1982 and the Intellivision port was Mattel’s most popular console game for quite a while so I definitely wasn’t the only one who became a gamer because of BurgerTime. The games spawned a wealth of clones and official sequels and, like Tapper, an updated version is available for modern consoles but who needs 3D when you have DOS-Box amirite!
5. The Three Stooges
Growing up reruns The Three Stooges were standard Sunday morning viewing in my home and I remember my Father being really, really excited when we bought this game at a flea market. In hindsight, The Three Stooges is not a particularly memorable game but there are still a number of things about this obscure 1987 Amiga game that I enjoy. The graphics and sound quality were, for the era, top-notch and even now you can still appreciate how much work must have gone into designing it. The game consists of a series of mini-games (based on Stooges films) you play to earn money to save an orphanage from an evil man with a twirly moustache. If the overall premise strikes you as extremely hokey, that’s because it is. The Three Stooges filmography doesn’t exactly give creators a deep well of source material to work with but they do faithfully capture the humour and silliness of the troop so if custard pies and slap-stick are your thing give this game a go.