The 12 Best Arcade Games Nobody Played

By Todd Ciolek in Daily Lists, Video Games
Friday, July 20, 2012 at 8:08 am
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Arcade games lived in a cruel world. Even in the happy, profitable days of the '80s and '90s, they were at the mercy of capricious players, and any game that didn't pull its own weight in quarters was soon replaced by something more popular. Some games never got a good chance in the first place, as language barriers and poor distribution sentenced them to short careers.

This was particularly unfair to the young arcade rats who liked these underappreciated games. If it didn't make enough money, that inventive shooter or cool four-player beat-'em-up might be gone the next time your mom dropped you off at the arcade. And you'd never see it again until decades down the road, when MAME brought all sorts of arcade obscurities as close as any computer screen. If you got to play any of these games in the wild, count yourself lucky.

12) Battle Circuit
You'll see several games like Battle Circuit on this list. They're called brawlers, belt-scrollers, beat-'em-ups, and Those Arcade Games Where You Rescue Your Girlfriend From A Palette-Swapped Street Gang. Started by Final Fight and Double Dragon, the brawler craze dominated arcades in the late 1980s, but its quality didn't peak until the early '90s. Sadly, that was when Street Fighter II and other head-to-head fighting games took over, and plenty of excellent brawlers went ignored.

When it came to Battle Circuit, Capcom was their own worst enemy. Released in 1997, the game was overshadowed by Street Fighter III, Darkstalkers, and other Capcom-made fighting games. And that's a shame, because it's a solid little brawler with that sharply animated Capcom style. The characters include an ostrich jockey and an alien plant alongside more mundane heroes, and the player can expand their moves by purchasing new attacks between levels. There's also a weird sense of humor about the whole thing, starting with an Elvis-like boss who turns shorter and fatter once he's defeated.

Why No One Played It: Aside from the fighting-game competition, Battle Circuit had a limited release. It skipped North America entirely, and even arcade patrons in Europe and Asia rarely saw the game in its full four-player glory.

11) Bubbles
Some see the early 1980s as the best years of the arcade, an age when video games were a stunning new trinket and companies were throwing all sorts of bizarre ideas into the arcades. Of course, this made the scene highly competitive, and some promising creations withered away before their time. John Kotlarik and Python Vladimir Anghelo's Bubbles was one of them.

It's a game built from everyday abstraction: you're a googly eyed bubble picking up dirt and ants and other debris in sink, growing larger with each item you soak up. If you get big enough while avoiding the deadly clutches of various sink obstacles, you can slip down the drain and into another sink. Bubbles shows off a unique idea in turning the player into a more vulnerable target as the bubble nears its goal, and the controls mimic that idea without being too slippery.

Why No One Played It: If records are to be believed, arcade-goers just didn't take to a smiling bubble as well as they did to Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. It was enough of a rejection to make Bubbles a B-lister in arcades... and only in arcades. Bubbles was never ported to home consoles or computers in its own time, and it only came home in compilations of Williams arcade games decades down the road.

10) R-Type Leo LEO
The R-Type series is hardly obscure. Made by Irem back in 1987, the original R-Type set new standards with its relentless difficulty, its novel design, and the freaky alien embryo boss of its first level. And its sequels were similarly appreciated. Well, most of them were.

R-Type Leo is the odd one of the family. It has the familiar formula of a sleek starfighter using a remote attack pod, but it's not as rigid as its cousins. Your ship gets two enemy-seeking satellites, weapons are easy to find, and the game doesn't demand that you beat it a certain way. You can continue right where you left off, and a second player can join in as well.

Why No One Played It: It's hard to find much evidence of R-Type Leo being released outside Japan. Though there's a "World" version, the game was a rare sight in arcades. Sadly, R-Type Leo was never brought to home systems, as Irem preferred to make the all-new R-Type III for the Super NES in 1994.

9) Asura Blade/Buster
There aren't that many underrated fighting games from the 1990s. The arcade-going public embraced most of the good ones and even a couple of the really awful ones. This makes Fuuki's two-game Asura series all the more curious. It's a little trite in its premise (a post-apocalyptic world where magic and technology meet!), but the artwork is solid and there's a creative character or two sprinkled amid the beefy swordsmen and busty swordswomen. It looks like a cross between Capcom's Darkstalkers and SNK's Samurai Shodown, and Asura Blade borrows from both. It's faster than the usual weapons-based fighter, and there's a good dynamic to the battles. The sequel, Asura Buster, improves on all of this in various little ways.

Why No One Played It: Neither Asura fighter was released in English or on a home system, and Asura Buster's 1998 launch missed the chewy center of the fighting-game craze by a few years. When Asura Buster arrived in 2000, it simply wasn't different enough.

8) Undercover Cops
Undercover Cops is all about the details. This brawler finds three vigilantes cleaning up a thug-infested city, and every piece of that city shows the dense, grimy graphics that Irem designers did so well (and later did in SNK's Metal Slug series). And Undercover Cops has plenty of little gameplay touches: the heroes can swing around girders and stone pillars, while everything from fish to junked Humvees can be thrown at your greasy opponents. In fact, you can even install-kill the first level's boss by chucking him into a trash compactor. And he can do the same to you, because fair's fair.

Why No One Played It: Spotlight-stealing fighting games weren't the only problem facing Undercover Cops. It was also rushed. Back in 1993, Irem released a scaled-down version of the game in Western markets, while Japan got an improved edition with more moves, music, and visual touches. Irem later tried to make up for it by releasing the Japanese version overseas as an "Alpha: Renewal Version," but no one really cared by that point.

7) The Legend of Valkyrie
The arcade games of old weren't much for long epics. Most were short, easily grasped quests that followed a straight line. So Namco's The Legend of Valkyrie stood out when it featured a sprawling world and gameplay that resembled one of Nintendo's early Zelda titles. A superior sequel to a mediocre Famicom title, The Legend of Valkyrie sends a Norse battle-maiden hopping all over the place in her mission to save all humanity. It's part shooter and part action-RPG, and Valkyrie gains new magic and weapons in each branching stage. A naked lizardman joins her for the two-player mode, even though he's probably not part of the Norse pantheon.

Why No One Played It: Only Japan got The Legend of Valkyrie back in 1989, and it wasn't until 1996 that the game was translated into English (for a PlayStation compilation). In fact, most of the games that feature Namco's Valkyrie heroine aren't released in North America.

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