ah, the glory days of the arcade. the sound of quarters clinking in my pocket, the cacophony of explosions from fifteen different games all bleeding into one another, those guys standing at the back in a cloud of smoke who definitely aren't posted up dealing drugs or anything. i miss it so much. i especially miss it since i wasn't born yet and wouldn't end up going to an arcade until years after the glory days were dead and gone. but don't worry! because with the magic of home video game consoles, we can play the classics of the arcade right on our own televisions! this reasonably priced Super Nintendo cartridge comes with 5 games and hours of entertainment until the kid realizes this same system has Donkey Kong Country and Sunset Riders. but before that? well, their naive and stupid little hearts and minds will be filled with wonder, curiosity, and abject goddamn terror. so let's get into it!
!!!some of these embedded videos feature flashing lights!!!
ok, let's get this out of the way: i suck at Defender. it was my least favorite game on the cart when i was a kid, and there's two of the damn things on there. i probably didn't like it because i suck at it. but it's okay! i'm slightly better as an adult. (not really.) so: Defender is about shooting aliens before they can abduct humans. you have to be pretty precise with your aim and your movement or you'll end up just flying straight into a UFO and dying. if someone's being abducted you have to grab them and help them back to the ground. or, if you miss your shot, you can accidentally shoot the person. or, if you were a kid who sucked at Defender, like me, you could just fly along the ground shooting the people on purpose. not like a psychopath, though. just as a goof.
so Defender II, believe it or not, is very similar to Defender. it was originally named Stargate, because in this one whenever you rescue a human you have to fly them through a stargate to get them to safety, rather than just setting them on the ground. these aliens, i mean, damn, they kidnapped dozens of folks. it's crazy. some of the graphics are busier and more complex this time around, and you have a new weapon that acts like a spread gun. it's a bit more fun than defender i think, but still. Defender isn't really my thing. i'm just trying to get to the other games. don't even bother watching the embedded clips. because i suck at Defender. just. . . this page is really the "Joust & Sinistar" page, okay? deal with it.
now Robotron 2084 is some fun shit. it takes place in a horrible future in which evil robots have taken over the earth and eliminated basically all of humanity except for one very lucky (or unlucky?) family. you play as some type of mutant with a gun that has committed their life to shooting the robots and protecting this family and their many cousins in each level. you have 8 directions to shoot, a ton of things to shoot at, and the rounds are fast and punchy, so it keeps your interest. there's multiple types of enemies that can do different things, including turn the family into enemies themselves. while the next two games on the page were my favorites when i was a kid, nowadays i really like Robotron 2084. it's still really solid.
i'm gonna say something controversial. very controversial. is it controversial? here it is: joust is one of the greatest video games of all time. in a time where pretty much every flying game was about spaceships shooting things, joust set itself apart with its unique setting and playstyle that, seriously, still holds up. the idea is: you are a knight riding an ostrich, fighting evil knights riding buzzards. (in co-op, player 2 rides a stork.) you are all trapped in a battle arena fighting for your lives. there is lava below you. you have to fly around and kill the other knights by bouncing your bird off the top of their heads, making strategic use of the few platforms available to stay alive. there are also pterodactyls that occasionally swoop through the arena, and (once the lava burns away the bridge) gnarled claws that reach out from the spicy soup to drag your ass in. it's pretty intense. by approaching the flying action game from a different perspective, the developers saw opportunities for radically different character designs and settings from what the arcade player was used to, and with just a few details, created a world unlike any other. a world of jousting tournaments held on birdback, of prehistoric beasts and humans being hatched out of giant fuckin' eggs. you begin to wonder: who are these knights? what is this world? it sticks in your head more than any little spaceship sprite. even today.
TERROR WEARS A SPACE STATION MASK. imagine being a child. can you? i can't. imagine walking into an arcade, wanting to play Pole Position or some shit, but someone's already on it and three other kids already have their quarters lined up on the machine. so you start looking around. and you see this. . . thing. this metal abomination with glowing red eyes and fangs, inexplicably, and it says to you, I AM SINISTAR. BEWARE, I LIVE. you take a step closer and it screams at you, and as you run away on a tidal wave of tears and urine, you hear it mocking your cowardice. SINISTAR hates you. it knows you're there, and it hates you. so you better grab that joystick, mine some asteroids, and make some bombs, so that when that evil skeleton face space station is fully rebuilt and it comes zooming out of the damn kuiper belt to eat you, you're ready for it. you'd better hope you have enough bombs. because it's much harder to mine when you are experiencing pants-shitting horror. and you know what? i suck at Sinistar too. i'm sure it was much more responsive with the original 49-direction joystick, but on a Super Nintendo pad it can be a little finnicky. also did i mention the horror? i think i did. that's an important point. i really want to emphasize the sheer terror of this fucking game. seriously.