Missing the Old Arcades

No Place for Group Gamings

Does anyone remember the movie "The Lost Boys?". It was one of those iconic movies of the 80's and I remember seeing the Frog brothers meeting at the local video arcade. When I was a child, video arcades were everywhere. You couldn't go into a mall or a restaurant without hitting a big group of arcade machines.

These places were more than just an area to play video games, they were the social hangouts for many teens. You'd go with a pocketful of quarters and spend the next three hours blasting space ships, eating dots and jumping over barrels. The games evolved and soon had amazing graphics and sound. They got bigger and allowed for multiple players and were a major part of the 80's and early 90's.

When console games began to allow people to play similar or the exact games for free at home, the arcades changed. The one players arcade games disappeared and soon were replaced with grandiose machines that had guns or realistic space ship controls. They had to compete with the big guys like Playstation and Nintendo.

As the consoles evolved as well, arcades began to disappear. People could play co-op and multiplayer online and they didn't need to go to the local arcade to meet. People in other states or even other countries could play on the same game. How could arcades compete with that?

They didn't. You'll still find a few arcades here and there, but they are like drive-ins. Relics of an age gone by that are mostly kept around for nostalgia. 


Children’s game: Starfall

This complete preschool reading curriculum is also completely free.

For about a year now, I’ve been hearing everyone in our homeschool community talk about how wonderful Starfall is. “You have to try it!” they’ll say, extolling this learn-to-read program. My daughter is nearly seven so I had been a bit wary to try the program, believing it to be too targeted at a younger audience to interest my child.

That said, we have been playing around on the Starfall website, and I have to admit that it’s not a bad game site. Some of the parts of the site, such as learning the alphabet, are obviously too young and boring for my child, but there are other sections that she finds fun.

This section on books is her favorite part of the website. There are a bunch of interactive books where you can both play with the illustrations as well as follow along as the words are highlighted. Wouldn’t that have been an amazing way to read for those of us who started reading many years ago?My daughter also loves that you can “rate” the books when you are finished reading them, and I know that’s something we all enjoy. How many of us head right to Goodreads after we finish a book, eager to rate it and check it off from our “Want to Read” shelf and add it to our “Read” shelf? What, that’s just me? Never mind… Seriously, though, the rating tool makes it even more fun.

Starfall has graduated levels for reading, too, so when my daughter is finished with the books at her level, she can proceed to fables, comic books, Greek myths, folktales, and more! That excited me because she’ll get to experience many of the things that I loved even earlier that I did, at an age-appropriate level and with support if she doesn’t know a word.

She can choose which ones interest her—or to not read them at all, of course; we are unschoolers—and then have a “reader” help her right away if she wants it (and not if she doesn’t). I couldn’t ask for a more perfect set-up, with the exception of us reading together, which still trumps any computer program.

Still, it’s a really fun way for her to read. Some of the holiday books even let you build snowmen or pumpkins, which she also really enjoys. I’d say check this site out before you decide to buy any expensive reading program; you might just find what you’re looking for, for absolutely free.

Take a Cue From Caine’s Arcade

Let your child spend the summer his or her way.

Have you seen Caine’s Arcade yet? If not, you have to go and watch it now—especially if you have children. It’s only ten minutes long and you’ll be glad you did. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

Did you not love this film, and especially Caine himself? What a marvelous, inventive child! The thing is, I don’t think Caine is special. I think every child is special—and I think that every child could amaze us if we left them to their own interests and devices. Many people have written about how we can learn so much from Caine and his father, but I think the most important thing we can learn is that kids will do some pretty incredible things if we just leave them the heck alone!

I don’t mean to just throw your child out with the dogs, of course; you must take care of your child, feed him or her, and all of that, sure. But we don’t have to throw them into summer school or summer camp or other structured activities, either. In fact, these things could be detrimental to them overall—whey not give them a break and let them experiment and explore their passions?

Caine’s father let him have the whole of his shop to explore and build and he made an entire arcade. An entire arcade! And it was complete with a sort of business plan, ticket and prize system—everything you’d expect at an arcade. If you have to peg every single thing kids do into learning objectives like so many adults must painfully do, go ahead; you’ll find every subject covered in his summer-long project.

The value in what Caine did—aside from the absolute joy of it, of course, which is even more important to me—will last so much longer within him than any summer school class or any camp. I know so many people insisting their kids go to summer school now—remember when it was a punishment or compulsory for making up a class you failed? Now it’s an “extension” of regular school hours that my husband calls “Free Summer Childcare”—and I am betting any of those kids could benefit from the kind of freedom that Caine had that entire summer. And though I lamented that I couldn’t afford the camps I wanted my daughter to attend this year earlier, I am now thankful that she’ll get to spend her summer exploring her own interests. I have seen her create some amazing things out of scraps around the house, art projects, and more; who knows what she will come up with?

New Super Mario Bros. 2 Coming to 3DS in August

Another jumper hits the portable

With all this new technology floating around in the gaming world--three dimensions and face recognition and all that whatnot--it's sort of nice to take a step back and just play a good old-fashioned platformer every once in a while. Luckily, Nintendo seems to realize this. They may have pioneered the art of madly swinging a brick back and forth in front of your television, but their core talents have always laid in their ability to build games about making a plumber jump really, truly fun. So prepare to rejoice, fans of the classic side-scrollers, because Mario's coming back in the second dimension once again.

Nintendo's New Super Mario Bros. 2 (creatively titled like only Nintendo knows how) will be coming to the 3DS this August. Even though the handheld console it'll call home is 3D-capable, NSMB2 will strictly reside in two dimensions like the platformers of yesteryear. Players ought to be pleased to learn that both the Power Leaf and Raccoon Mario will be returning to the new title. And Nintendo confirmed through their Facebook page that Luigi will also be making an appearance alongside his brother. 

Don't expect too many surprises from the gameplay, though. Nintendo have a formula that works and they're not likely to stray from it. From the screencaps released into the internet so far, it does look like NSMB2 will have a pleasant ambiance, with rich, full-color backgrounds and softly cartoonish characters and objects. These aren't your grandfather's pixels, but they're also not so aggressively contemporary as to distract from the sweet nostalgia inherent in playing a Mario platformer. The visuals strike a perfect harmony between the classic and the fresh.

Looks like we've got some pretty diverse worlds to look forward to, too. Mario's leaping through a winter wonderland full of golden enemies in one screenshot, vaulting through a sand-colored dungeon in another, and climbing up giant spiderwebs in a lush forest in a third. Your traditional grasslands, clouds and castles all seem to be present and accounted for as well. 

Will the new new SMB differ terribly from its predecessor or progenitor? Likely not, but who cares? You've already made up your mind whether you're going to buy it or not, because let's face it, those of us who still play Mario games aren't doing it for the innovations or the thrilling new storylines. But as far as cute rehashings of old classics go, this is one that ought to satisfy.


Wait… who's going to want that burger, after the chef stepped all over it?


I was recently reminded of BurgerTime by last week's episode of "Bob's Burgers," in which Bob becomes obsessed with a BurgerTime-like arcade game. And just like me, Bob isn't very good at it. In fact, his rival Jimmy Pesto not only gets the high score on Bob's arcade game, he also enters the name "BOB SUX."
This classic arcade game was first released in 1982 to wide acclaim and popularity. Any arcade worth its snuff had a BurgerTime machine. In this trippy game, you play a chef who has to assemble a cheeseburger while being pursued by food ingredients. If the food ingredients touch you, you die. And all the while, the relentlessly up-beat 8-bit soundtrack bores into your psyche.

BurgerTime combined gameplay elements of two of the hottest games on the market at the time: PacMan and Donkey Kong. Its level design resembles that of Donkey Kong, with brick floors and ladders that have to be climbed. Its gameplay mechanic of being pursued by a flock of intelligent enemies is straight out of PacMan.
One thing which distinguishes this game from all the others - which the "Bob's Burgers" folks lifted, as a wink and a nod to the original game - is the terrifying yet cheerful wobble of the pickle and the hot dog as they run after you. It's as revolting as it is hypnotic. 
I always found this game fiendishly difficult. It moves at a surprisingly fast pace right from the first level. You don't get a lot of buffer room between you and the next ladder, and your enemies are constantly pursuing you up and down the ladders, which means that you are frequently within an inch or two of your nearest enemy. And the only way to kill them is to drop burger parts on them (or lure them onto a burger part which you then drop). You get five shakes of pepper, but the pepper just momentarily stuns them. You have no defense but to run, and you don't run very fast.
The only saving grace is that you only actually have to drop the top buns. At least you don't have to drop each of the other burger pieces individually! 
To be honest, even though I love this game and I have played it many times (especially in the last week since "Bob's Burgers" reminded me of it), I have never, in thirty years of playing, made it past the second level. I hardly ever make it past the first level!

My Return to Snow Bros

It's been at least 20 years since I last played, but my hands remember every move


I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska in the 1980s. If you were a kid in Anchorage before the internet was invented, your options for entertainment were few. One of the biggest draws, especially for geeky kids, was the video game arcade Hanger 18 off the ever-so-seedy Spenard Boulevard.
It was there that I discovered Snow Bros. What is it about a game that captures a person's heart? Snow Bros is, to put it mildly, not a game that set the world on fire. But I was smitten with it from the very beginning. It was something about the combination of in-game physics, cheerful snowmen, wacky monsters, and the way that strategy matters more than your fast-twitch response time.

Snow Bros is usually described as being "very similar to Bubble Bobble." Your snowman throws blobs of snow at the monsters. When you hit them three times, they turn into snowballs. At this point, you have three options: leave the monster (the snow will melt, leaving it only temporarily incapacitated), throw the snowball (it will ping-pong through the maze until the monster hits a bottom wall and dies) or throw yourself at the snowball and ride it to the bottom.
The strategy is to get as high up the screen as possible, then throw a snowball-coated monster down such that it eliminates any other monsters in its path. When you do this, you get little powerups. 
I don't know why I suddenly thought about Snow Bros this morning. But when I Googled it, there it was: available for free play right in your browser! I smiled when I saw the introductory graphics. Even though it had been at least 20 years since the last time I played it, I was able to effortlessly move from one level to another based on the paths that I carved out for myself back in the 80s. 
Playing Snow Bros instantly transported me back to Hanger 18. The threadbare, sticky carpet. The mingled smell of sweat, overheated electronics, spilled soda, and popcorn. The ice cream sandwiches I used to buy from the vending machine. (We were pretty stoked when Hangar 18 got an ice cream sandwich vending machine!)
Returning to my all-time favorite arcade game also made me smile. In hindsight, I realize why I liked it so much: Snow Bros is, if nothing else, relentlessly jolly. From its smiling snowman to its grinning monsters and cheerful, up-beat melodies. Surrounded by games where people punched each other to death and monsters threatened the existence of the planet itself, Snow Bros was a happy little respite. (And I was darned good at it, too!)

Super Mario Bros Converse One Stars

New retro-chic sneakers adorned with jumping Mario
Are you the type who likes to wear their old-school nerd pride on their heel? So far there have been plenty of custom modded Chuck Taylors featuring art from all sorts of video games, but if you want to put your feet in the real deal, the sneaker giants are about to release the third installment in their official Mario Bros line of shoes. This time it's the Converse One Star low tops that are getting the Nintendo treatment. 
The premium leather shoes have swapped out their classic Converse star logo for the classic Mario star icon. Mario himself can be seen prancing around the back of the sneaker, which comes in either white or black. The insides of the shoes have been colored to match the 8-bit heroes famous overalls.
While I'm all about the intersection of fashion and geek culture, it seems to me that the One Star is a little too retro cool to be given the nerd stamp. I'm more a fan of the previously released canvas All Star Chuck Taylor Hi-Tops, which featured an entire scene from Super Mario Bros along their sides. That classic shoe shape screams mid-80s basement-dwelling gamer a little louder than the shiny leather basketball shoe that's now been adorned with Mario imagery. But hey, maybe nerd culture has been elevated to the point where even the snazziest of footwear can be printed with its iconography and no one really takes a second glance. 
Both colors of the Converse Japan One Star Super Mario Bros OX will be available for purchase next month.

Television Programs Turned Into Arcade Game: Dallas

One popular show television show that was turned into an arcade game is "Dallas". This television show aired at night and told the story of the most important family within Dallas, Texas. The show was on television between 1978 and 1991. The main Dallas family within this show where the Ewings with John Ross Ewing being one of the central figures within the television show.

The family is involved in oil and cattle and J.R. Ewing is notorious for his greedy dealings. During the show's lifetime the phrase, "Who shot J.R.?" was on the lips of many fans. This television programs is considered by many to be a evening soap opera, and the show was very well-watched during the time it aired on CBS.

Based on how well "Dallas" did, it is understandable that there would be an arcade game created to harness the popularity of the television show. Dallas Quest was released in 1984 by the manufacturer Datasoft. This game really had nothing to do the plot of the actual television program other than using the character names.

In the game, the player must discover where Jock Ewing has told his family the mysterious map is hidden to find the location of oil in South America. The player uses a series of clues that really don't help. J.R. Ewing sets on the quest, but his wife who is hoping to leave him wants to find the oil for herself and then divorce J.R. Overall the graphics are quite poor and the game play is not enough to keep everyone entertained.

Television Programs As Arcade Games: Gilligan's Island

Here on Gilligan's Island...

One television show that was popular in the 1960s is "Gilligan's Island". It aired between 1964 and 1967. The show told the story of a group of people who go for a day trip and end up being stranded on a deserted island. The episodes show how they cope with life on the island and various attempts for them to leave. Quite a number of people are stranded on the end, but it always ends with the person not helping everyone leave the island.

The show had Bob Denver playing the role of Gilligan, Alan Hale, Jr, played the role of “The Skipper” and Jim Backus was  cast to play Thurston Howell, III. He is the rich millionaire that is stranded with his wife.
There was an acade game produced from this television series. This arcade game is quite basic. It only features simple scenery from the island. In the arcade game, Gilligan must protect himself from a group of monkeys. For example, during the first level, the monkeys steal a telescope and Gilligan has to remove it from them by knocking it out of their monkey’s hand.

The only weapon Gilligan has is his sling shot. The monkeys throw bananas at him and the aim is to destroy the bananas before they hit Gilligan. The whole premise behind the arcade game is to stop Gilligan from being hit by the monkey by knocking the item from the monkey’s hand. This is not the only “Gilligan’s Island” arcade game. Other arcade games include a pinball machine made by the Bally Company in 1991.

Television Shows Turned Arcade Games: The Fonz

Oh Happy Days!

"Happy Days" is one hit television show that many people will remember. It aired on ABC television from 1974 to 1984. The original series was the brain-child of Gary Marshall and it showed the perfect live in America during that time. 
The show was based in Wisconsin and the main focus of the show was the Cunningham family. The father Howard was acted by Tom Bosley. The mother Marion was acted by Marion Ross. The son Richie was acted by Ron Howard, with the younger sister Joanie, played by Erin Moran. Richie was also friends with Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli, played by Henry Winkler. The show was quite popular during its run, so it would be natural that an arcade game would be created about it. 
“Fonz” was created in 1976, just when the show had aired. It showed The Fonz on his motorcycle and gamers had to race and challenge other motorcycle riders. The arcade game was created by Sega and it was a single player game. 
In order to win, The Fonz had to make it to the finish line first without crashing into other riders. This would require the gamer to ride the motorcycle as fast as possible. However, the potential to skid and crash increased when this happened. 
The arcade game did have handlebars that could simulate the feeling of really driving a motorcycle and the handlebars would vibrate if a crash did occur. As the game was created early in the season of “Happy Days”, this arcade game only focused on what The Fonz was wearing and showed him racing his motorcycle.