Nowadays, those few games that actually get released in arcades are pretty much carbon copies of what you’ll play on a console just a few weeks later — with a few console bells and whistles removed. But it wasn’t too long ago that there were pretty wide gulfs between the shinier, flashier arcade versions of games and their stripped-down 8-bit or 16-bit console ports. For instance: Strider. The arcade game was a a super-fun, super-difficult platform/action game, while the NES port was a piece of shit (at least the arcade version was later ported intact to the Genesis).
But not all those fancy arcade games overshadowed the versions people played at home. In some cases, the simplified, but incredibly fun console games have become the dominant versions people remembered, despite the quality of some of the arcade iterations. We’re here to help you remember.
6) Mega Man: The Power Battle
Imagine a Mega Man game without the frustrating stuff from the levels leading up to the robot master bosses — the jumping on platforms that disappear with no seeming rhyme or reason, the regenerating minor enemies, the pits specifically designed to waste your lives — and that’s nothing but boss fights. That’s pretty much Mega Man: The Power Battle. But it’s no standard-issue fighting game. Just like in the console Mega Man games, you get the robot masters’ weapons when you beat them. But here, it’s robot masters from seven, count ’em, seven Mega Man games. Plus, you can play as Proto Man and Bass who are…well, they play pretty much just like Mega Man, but they look different!
5) SegaSonic the Hedgehog
You probably haven’t heard a lot about this game because 1) it never got a release in U.S. arcades, 2) it hasn’t been re-released in any collections because it was controlled with a trackball rather than a joystick, and 3) that title is weird and stupid. But despite all that (and the inclusion of two other super-generic characters who were thankfully never seen again), it’s worth a quick playthrough. And it will be quick. You can finish the whole Sonic-meets-Marble-Madness thing in about 20 minutes. It’s fun and fast, just like a Sonic game ought to be.
Of all the games on this list, this one is the closest to the one that eventually got ported to consoles (the now-legendarily hard NES version, in this case), with two major differences: 1) the arcade version had no Konami code (luckily, it was easier) and 2) its last level was so goddamn long that they had to divide it up into four parts for the NES. It was a fucking marathon.
The arcade version of Battletoads keeps the irreverent sense of humor and foot-suddenly-bigger-than-the-rest-of-their body beat-’em-up style of its NES predecessor, but it’s definitely its own game. For one thing, you can actually play as all three of the Toads. That’s a big step. And there’s a lot more focus on the pounding on little bad-guy critters than riding around in vehicles solving little puzzles. A weird thing about the arcade version is that it takes Battletoads‘ Looney-Tunes-style cartoon vibe and adds in a hefty dose of gore. But even though it doesn’t completely fit in with the aesthetic, it’s undeniably fun to turn your hand into a drill and bore into a rat’s face or hit a snake so hard you decapitate it.
The arcade version of everyone’s favorite 8-bit boxing game doesn’t include Mike Tyson or even Little Mac. No, here you play as an unnamed green wire frame in the shape of a man taking on all kinds of wonderful ethnic stereotypes like Pizza Pasta and Vodka Drunkenski (in the sequel Super Punch-Out!!). There are also some old favorites, such as Glass Joe and Bald Bull. The major difference is in the gameplay — here there’s no trick to each fighter; you just dodge, block, punch and do your best to connect. It’s not quite as fun, but pretty good all the same.
1) Ninja Gaiden
Ninja Gaiden was one of the hardest games ever for the NES, what with all its regenerating goddamn birds, but it was also widely known as a great one with a badass protagonist and enemies that exploded as soon as you touched them with a sword. The arcade game plays like another game entirely; it’s a beat-em-up where you fight guys in Jason masks. And how do you fight them, pray tell? Well, the best way is to do a ninja flip and throw them over your head. It’s great. Also: The arcade game had the most ridiculously frightening continue screen in all history:
It was only Ryu’s intense ninja training that allowed him to only say “Uunh!” as the blade tore through his flesh, as opposed to the far more natural “HOLY SHIT HOLY FUCK NO NOOOO MOOOOOMMY GYAAAARRRGGGHH.”
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.