Do you ever stop to think about what your favorite games have in common? Do you ever wonder what the through line is that makes certain games appeal to you? Recently, that’s something that I’ve done. Sometimes I’ll just look at my shelf of games for various platforms, and try to piece together what it is that I love about all of them.
As is to be expected, not every single game I play adheres to the same formula. Sonic the Hedgehog, Pokemon and Uncharted don’t exactly have many things in common, but I love them all the same. However, there is one commonality that I’ve noticed about certain games that I love, as well as new games that I’ve played this year.
Outside of Sonic the Hedgehog, I grew up playing mostly Super Nintendo games. As such, I have plenty of experience playing platformers, racing games and side-scrolling beat em’ ups. For comparison, a few games that I’ve enjoyed this year are Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, Azure Striker Gunvolt: Striker Pack and Velocity 2x. I’ve also been spending time with some of my older games like Sonic Unleashed and Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed.
I know that all of those games sound radically different from each other, but they all have a design mentality that greatly appeals to me: they are all fun, fast paced and arcade-y. In addition to the aforementioned elements of fast and fun, arcade game design means a few other things to me. They generally feature simple and intuitive mechanics that reward the player for mastery and skill. This also meant that players had to be really good to get the most enjoyment out of the arcade, or else they would go home with empty pockets that once held a dozen quarters.
As I’ve said time and time again, I absolutely adore games that not only encourage, but require and reward skillful play. A racing game isn’t hard to pick up and play, but mastering drifts, navigating turns, knowing each car’s momentum and memorizing the fastest routes go hand in hand. This type of self improvement philosophy made arcade gaming the origins of the competitive gaming landscape that we know today.
Fighting games are another popular arcade based genre. Though I’ve only loosely dabbled in the competitive fighting scene, the little experience I have with it definitely gives me the same feeling. Learning the ins and outs of a specific character’s control and moveset requires the same level of dedication as other arcade games.
To continue off of my previously mentioned point of self improvement, that is probably the biggest reason why I love arcade style games. The feeling of constantly one upping yourself is a facet of my personality that extends even beyond gaming. My favorite way to exercise is running, and I’m always trying to beat my previous personal bests. This is not unlike the way I play Sonic the Hedgehog games and racing games.
Chasing high scores and best times are probably the biggest aspects of arcade gaming. I mean, what kid didn’t want to have their three initials at the top of their local bowling alley’s Ms. Pac-Man cabinet? This only further extends the point about self improvement. As humans, we love to see things improve, and numbers go higher and higher, and arcade gaming is a perfect outlet for this.
My biggest connection to arcade style gaming is Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s been my favorite series ever since I was a kid, as Sonic is all about going fast and having fun. Sonic has been a large catalyst for my exposure to other types of games, and is also responsible for making me obsessed with high scores and best times.
I’ve heard many people describe Sonic the Hedgehog as being a half step between the differing mentalities of arcade and home console gaming. This is a notion that I wholeheartedly agree with, especially when you consider that Sonic’s home is none other than Sega. Sonic served as Sega’s big ticket into the console gaming market, and carried much of their arcade based DNA.
To this day, Sega is one of the titans of the arcade industry. Their arcade roots shine brightly even in some of their other, non Sonic related console games. Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is a classic 2d fighting game, and the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva series are rhythm games that harken back to the days of Dance Dance Revolution. And one of my other favorite Sega franchises, Super Monkey Ball, began life as an actual arcade game.
To me arcade games are fast, fun and reward skillful play. They’re also all about racking up points and combo strings by mastering game mechanics. These types of games will always appeal to me, and I really hope that gaming will never forget its roots in the arcades.
While the days of traditional arcades in America have been on the decline for quite some time now, the culture is more vibrant than ever in places like the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan. I’d love to visit Akihabara one day, as I’m sure the experience would further enhance my love for these fun, speedy games.