Category Archives: Arcade Games

Discs of Tron retro arcade game review

Tron: Made for the Arcade

Most of people of a certain age (35 and over) will remember the Disney film, TRON, and the arcade game that it inevitably would have to spawn, given the film’s game-based storyline. One of the scenes involved a deadly game of Frisbee, where combatants battled to the death with electrically charged discs. The original TRON game had planned to include this section, but Bally decided to launch the game in it’s own right.

Discs of Tron Arcade Cabinet
Discs of Tron Arcade Cabinet
As a classic arcade gaming experience, this stands out as one of the first multi-sensory titles, with some cabinets requiring you to stand on a glowing platform, with surround sound and lighting effects linked to the on screen action, and as such drew some big crowds. The game display used a novel mirrored effect that projected the raster graphics onto a glass with hi-res painted graphics behind.

The objective of the game, played in a kind of space-age squash court, is to knock the enemy player (Sark) from the one of his circular platforms by hitting him with your frisbee discs, of which 3 could be in play at a time. You also had to avoid discs thrown by Sark, use the deflect feature, or smash his disc in mid-air with yours. By timing the throws correctly you could knock Sark off before he has a chance to move platforms.

Discs of Tron Arcade
Discs of Tron Arcade

To complicate matters Sark also has green energy balls which he can fire at you, which split into multiples and cannot be deflected but can be destroyed with your discs. There are also special chaser discs which will track you and need multiple hits to destroy.As the levels progress, the number of platforms change, platforms change height or move, and walls appear to block direct shots. You can also shoot each other’s platforms when in raised position, requiring you to visit them in order to keep them.

In stand up cabinet format this game was merely good, but in the surround cabinet it was a real arcade experience. I have not played any of the recent Tron console games, or even seen the long awaited sequel to the original film, but I’d love to get my hands on one of these machines as it just cant be emulated on a PC or even a MAME cabinet.


This review featured in Retro Gamer magazine, written under my Phoenix username.


Tempest arcade classic from Atari

Atari had huge success in 1979 with the vector graphics based Asteroids, followed by 2 further classics in 1980, with Battlezone and the fantastic Tempest. Tempest was host to a number of “firsts” for an arcade game, including the first game to feature to feature a kind of “continue”, based on the player’s performance in the previous game. It was also one of the first games to feature full colour Vector graphics (rather than using coloured overlays), and to great effect. My favourite cabinet was the cocktail version, which had a two player “flip” screen, and a glass top you could balance your shandy on.

Tempest ScreenshotThe design of the game is fairly unique, being a 3D “out of the screen” shooter, where the player rotates around the rim of a 3d tunnel, and aliens emerge from the centre. The shape of the tunnel changes between levels, sometimes not even a tunnel at all, but more of a stepped 3d panel. The player shoots down into the tunnel as the aliens emerge, firing back up the tunnel. The player can also use a smart bomb once every level to destroy everything on the screen. Reach the end of the level, and the player warps down into the tunnel, avoiding debris on the way left by some of the more nasty aliens.

The aliens vary, from basic shapes that just come out and try and crash into you, to electrified beings that can zap you if you linger in the wrong part of the tube. There are basic 16 levels, increasing in difficulty, which then loop in variations including invisible levels, with a total of 99 levels.

As per the standard Atari approach, the game was ported to several consoles, including a rubbish 2600 port, and I remember playing a version on the BBC Micro. No console can really recreate the Vector graphics feel, and it was a crime that Atari never ported any of its games to the Vectrex console which really could have done it justice.

Burger Time Arcade Machine Revisited

Screenshot of Burger Time
screenshot of Burger Time

Burger Time was launched by Data East in 1982 to an arcade public previously starved of fast-food based gaming action.

Long before Gordon Ramsey and other so-called “celebrity” chefs, the hero of this game was burger tosser Peter Pepper. Transported to a massive kitchen with various levels, he has to climb ladders and cross platforms to assemble huge burgers, whilst being chased by angry foodstuffs. The burger components of bun, beef & lettuce must be walked across (very unhygienic) in order to make them fall to the plate at the bottom of the screen.  The falling food item knocks each item below it down one level, meaning that the most effective method of creating your burger is to start at the top and work down.

Complicating matters are the evil ingredients Mr Hot Dog, Mr Pickle and Mr Egg, all of whom are out to stop you, possibly in some attempt to get themselves on the menu instead.

Fortunately you can stop the various menu items by trapping them between the burger components, or by spraying them with a limited supply of pepper (perhaps the inspiration for pepper spray) in order to stun them for a few moments.  If you time your spray well you can take out more than one enemy at a time with a single spray, enabling you to walk straight through them whilst they writhe in agony.  Not quite such how pepper hurts a sausage that has no eyes, but then Burger Time is a game about walking sausages..

As well as your burger components and enemy food items, there are also bonuses such as ice creams and french fries which appear pac-man style for extra points when collected.

Assemble all the burgers and the level is complete, and you move to the next, with slightly angrier sausages, and platforms which provide access to bigger burgers including slices of cheese and tomato. There are 6 levels in total before you loop around to the first again with an increased difficulty level.


Home Conversions

Burger Time was released on a number of home platforms, including a classic for the Colecovision console, which was host to a number of great arcade game conversions including Donkey Kong and Zaxxon.  The game was also released on the Nintendo Entertainment System and Atari 2600, as well as a later release on Nintendo’s Gameboy.

In 2011 a remake of the game was released as a downloadable title across all the major consoles, titled “Burger Time World Tour” – a comprehensive revision in full 3D which sticks to the original burger building recipe (sorry).

Burger Time World Tour - XBOX Screenshot

My personal favourite was a conversion by Ocean for the ZX Spectrum known as Mr Wimpy, in honour of the mascot of Wimpy burger restaurants in the UK. Birmingham residents will also note the connection with late night fast food restaurant “Mr Egg”, which presumably was named in honour of this great game.

Hunchback Arcade Game by Century Electronics

Although most people will remember the various home ports for Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and BBC Micro, Hunchback was originally released by Century Electronics in 1983 as an arcade machine. The game itself was a relatively simple “pitfall” style platformer, with multiple left to right flip screens, each one featuring a number of challenges to overcome, in order for for Quasimodo to rescue Esmerelda.

Hunchback arcade machine
Screenshot of Hunchback

The origins of the game are however more interesting, given that the original theme of the game was apparently nothing to do with the famous Victor Hugo novel. As the story goes, the original artist had penned a fairly lumpy version of Robin Hood, that appeared to look more like a Hunchback. After the artist left the company, it was decided to rename the game to fit the artist’s rendition of the main character in the game. Looking back at the game with this in mind, it does appear to fit based on the available clues:

1) Liberal use of arrows in the game as hazards, and the bright green costume, very Robin Hood

2) The seemingly “bolted on” nature of the bells at the of each stage, and fact that the castle ramparts seem out of place on Notre Dame cathedral

3) The soldiers are dressed as crusaders, as featured in Robin Hood, from a war that ended in 129, and the Victor Hugo book is set in 1482

This does not detract from a great game, that clearly captured the public’s imagination, everyone accepting the premise that Quasimodo was on a jaunt to rescue Esmerelda, and nothing to do with Nottingham Castle, Robin or Marion.

The game itself was quite tricky, with increasing levels of challenge as the game went on, most reliant on perfectly timed jumps across ramparts, catching ropes, and avoiding flaming pits and arrows. Faster completion times awarded higher bonuses, with 5 screens cleared in a row without loss of life awarding a Super Bonus. When you reach the end of the ramparts, you rescue Esmerelda, and the game starts again, only faster.


I had fond memories of this game, starting at the end of Southend Pier in the early 80’s, and continuing through ZX Spectrum and BBC versions which I owned. Only putting this review together, almost 20 years later, did I discover the strange provenance of the game, and the alleged links to a Robin Hood game that never was.

What happended to the arcades?

Back in the day, and by “the day” I mean most of the 80’s, the arcade was the place to be. Arcade games development was at its peak with huge amounts of competition from the manufaturers, and there would be new cabinets or upgrades launched every week. Every Friday I would head into Southend (Essex born and bred) with my friends and try out the new games, particularly the multiplayers like Gauntlet or Hotrod. A visit to the arcade was a mainstream activity for us, and an acceptable part of our social routiine – arcade, pint, club, kebab, home.

There was a huge amount of choice, with all of the latest games at the front of each arcade, showcasing some fantastic cabinets like the ride-on version of Space Harrier, or the sit down Star Wars model. I remember a huge crowd around Dragon’s Lair, a rubbish game as it turned out but there was an incredible amount of interest in the technology. The previous “hot game” would not stay hot for long, and would find itself shuffled backwards in the arcade to make room for the latest model. At the back of the arcade you could find the very oldest games, which would stay there until they broke down.

Even back then I was already thinking in terms of retro gaming, what would happen to Galaga and Phoenix cabinets when they broke down and no-one wanted to play them anymore?  How would I be able to play these games in 20 years?  Thanks to projects like MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), which is aiming to make the old software, literally extracted from the ROM chips on the old PCB boards, playable through a PC emulator.  So there should be no reason why we cant be playing these games 20 years from now.  There are also the arcade hero’s from the Arcade Barn, who have taken it on themselves to collect, restore, and maintain these games, but even more importantly make them available for the public.

Nowadays,  those Southend arcades are still there, but nothing like they used to be.  Many of them are full of fruit machines, and the classic games are nowhere to be seen, amongst the dancing, shooting and driving games that seem to be all that remain of the arcade industry.  Of course we now have so much more choice, accessible from the comfort of our homes, but I do miss the social element of those Friday night trips.

Phoenix arcade retro game review

Any lover of retro arcade games will remember their first – the one that got them hooked. For me this is Phoenix from Centuri, a game I first came across in the early 80’s.

Phoenix Arcade screenshotI was 11, on holiday in Spain with my parents, and in the bar of the hotel were two arcade games. The first was Pacman, which was all the rage, but after a couple of tries I just didn’t get it. The other was Phoenix, resplendent in a cabinet with huge alien graphic on the side. With the attract mode running, you could see all of the 5 different waves of gameplay, including the huge boss level at the end, and I knew I just had to get to that 5th level.

25 pesetas later (this being before European currency integration and the European) and I was committed, this was how I was going to spend the rest of my holiday.

Phoenix Arcade Gameplay

A classic vertical shooter, the first 2 waves are reminiscent of Galaxians, with alien ships in formation at the top of the screen, and then swooping down to dive bomb your vessel, shooting all the way. The first screen allowed you one laser blast at a time, and care had to be taken to take out the aliens accurately. The second allowed multiple bullets, and you could wipe out most of the aliens in the first few seconds. The last aliens would try and ambush you by lurking next to your ship where you couldn’t shoot them, but a well timed force field activation could dispatch them.

Waves 3 and 4 were identical, with large alien eggs slowly hatching into winged Phoenix, whilst swooping across and down the screen. Placing your ship on the left hand side meant that you could shoot them as they slowed down to change direction, and avoid the first bombs from the birds. Miss the body and the wings are destroyed, hit the body and get a bonus. Wait too long and the birds dive at you.


Battle your way past the 2 waves of blue and purple phoenix, and you have made it to the boss level, siren sound effect announcing arrival of the huge mothership. Aliens from the first levels defend the massive saucer with rotating forcefield, which must be blasted through to get to the Octopus-like boss. You need to shoot at the middle of the ship, whilst avoiding bombs from both the boss and the diving alien defenders, surviving long enough to break through the shield and destroy the ship in a huge slow motion explosion.

The first time I managed to beat the boss was a pivotal moment, the first time I felt I had mastered a game – I was the guy everyone was watching to get tips before they tried to play themself. Over the course of two weeks I improved my technique, learned the attack patterns, found the helpful glitches, and developed flourishes in my gameplay. By the end of the holiday I could complete 3 rounds of 5 waves on one credit, only let down by the sometimes iffy collision detection.

Phoenix Home Conversions

Phoenix was ported to a number of home platforms, but the most popular was for the Atari 2690, a faithful if not graphically identical conversion. A similar game entitled Demon Attack was also released for the Atari 2600, featuring swooping bird-like aliens.

Phoenix was Not the first arcade game, or the most innovative, or even that popular with other retro gamers, but as my first it will always bring back fantastic memories of the early 80’s arcade scene.