Quarter-Munchers: Namco's Classic Arcade Games of the 80's

For many years, the arcade has always be the first place for gamers to see the latest that technology has to offer (gaming-wise anyway). Powerful hardware inside arcade cabinets far outmatched whatever was available on shelves that consumers could take at home. This made arcades extremely important for gamers, and also made operators successfully rich. And by rich, we meant swimming in quarters. Namco (now known as Namco Bandai) certainly made out like a bandit during that time, producing a cacophony of major arcade hits in Japan which were subsequently released in the US. Till this day, Namco's classic arcade hits live on in various homages and special appearances in modern games.

Pac-Man

Pac-Man

Namco's iconic yellow circle of a character is considered to be the most widely known video game icon in the whole world, and also, the most successful. Since the game was first launched in 1980, it has continued to earn plenty -and estimates state that within the first decade of the game's release in the arcade, it has already earned 2.5 billion USD in quarters alone -this does not include the sales of the game on home consoles, ports, and additional merchandise.

So what is Pac-Man all about? This was Namco's attempt at creating a game that targeted both male and female audiences. With arcades being a predominantly male scene, they needed a new genre that was not about blasting aliens or race cars. The term Pac-Man itself came from the Japanese onomatopoeic phrase "paku-paku", which is meant to mimic the sound of a mouth opening and closing while eating (a modern day meme equivalent would be om-nom-nom). Originally written as Puck-Man in Japan, this was later re-written as Pac-Man when it was localized to the US in order to discourage vandals from turning the title into something profane.

The game is simple: you run around a maze and eat the pellets. In the meanwhile, ghosts will try to chase you down. The goal is to eat all the pellets without being touched by a ghost. If a ghost touches you, you lose a life -lose all lives and you get a game over. The mechanics seem simple enough, but once players factor in the varying AI of the four ghosts, the use of power pellets, and the use of the "warping" tunnel on the middle left and right sides of the maze it becomes something so much more.

Today, Pac-Man related material and memorabilia are considered to be major collector's items. The character itself is well known outside of the gaming community. And while video games have long past evolved the original limitations that surrounded Pac-Man, many still consider the game to be as important now as it was when it was originally introduced to the industry.

Galaga

Galaga

This 1981 space shooter had all the basic trappings of what would become the essential elements of a top down space shooter. Inspired heavily by Space Invaders and its own predecessor, Galaxian, Galaga featured a very polished gameplay that would teach gamers about how complex at top down shooter can truly be.

One of the biggest features it showcased was the graphics -the various enemies came in different colors and the pixel effects for lasers and explosions came in a myriad of colors. But beyond the visual depth also game an additional layer of gameplay. Enemy ships flew in and out of the screen in wide sweeping motions -each enemy type had its own behavioral pattern, forcing players to change strategies and aiming techniques depending on which type they were up against. Galaga also allowed players to fire three consecutive shots -allowing for a more varied gameplay.

The most famous feature of the game came with the fact that large type enemies will attempt and can capture a player's fighter. While this leads to a loss of life, it is also a strategic maneuver on the side of the player. By allowing one's own ship to be captured, you gain the chance to earn it back. Players who successfully do so end up playing with two fights linked side to side -allowing them to fire two attacks with a single tap of the button. It is highly possible that players do not regain the ship -if they accidentally hit the ship while trying to hit the alien, or if they fail to acquire it during the alien's descent maneuver, this made the two-ships mode a tactic that was made for the more veteran players. A the same time, novices who saw this were further inspired to invest more time (and money) in the game in order to do it.

Dig Dug

Dig Dug

Rounding up our list of classic Namco arcade games is none other than Dig Dug,. Originally an arcade hit back in 1982, Dig Dug continued to prosper in the age of consoles -and it was later followed by the heavily ported Mr. Driller.

In this game, players took on the role of protagonist Hori Taizo (in Japanese, the phrase "horitai zo" means, "I want to dig"). Hori can dig through the stage -which is basically composed of soil/dirt, rocks, and two enemy types. The goal is to defeat all the enemies by either dropping a rock on top of them, or using the inflator to blow to them up. The game awards more points for rock based kills than when using the inflator.

As a game, Dig Dug was simple and easy to grasp, but as an arcade machine, it was also something that was highly addictive and took plenty of time to master. Ironically, one of the enemy types, Pooka, is actually more famous as a game icon than Hori. The round red-orange creature is often seen making cameo appearances in Namco Bandai titles and even in the more recent Pixar movie, Wreck-it-Ralph. Dig Dug itself has appeared in various Ridge Racer titles, in the form of car teams as well as in race car and track designs.