(Article by guest contributor Daniel Harper of Liberty Games)
Arcades soon became the playground for big entertainment properties looking to engage their fan base. Gone were the days of passively viewing your favorite show or movie. Not only could you watch them but you could immediately go and play them, taking the role of the hero you just admired a few short minutes ago.
Gaming allowed us to step into that world and become a part of it. Such a powerful shift in perspective was revolutionary and changed our entire world in the process. While the movie and TV adaptations over the last 20 years have gained a reputation as profit-driven uninspired attempts at entering the game space, there was a time when game developers made a concerted effort to create the best possible experience...
….and much of this happened in the arcades of the 1980's.
Tron (released a year earlier in 1982) which effectively wet the appetite of gamers across the globe. Being a movie centered around surviving what were essentially computer games, there is literally no other entertainment property in the world (then and now) that lends itself better to creating a game based on it.
The movie involved an expert computer hacker named Kevin Flynn who is transported into his own program, where he must survive deadly “games” in order to destroy the mainframe and get back to real life. These gladiator-type events made their way into arcade adaptation in the form of Light Cycle races, Battle Tank melees, I/O Tower defense, and a mano-y-mano fight against the MCP Cone.
The arcade game Tron was such a success that it handily eclipsed the film’s box office total, proving to developers that they just struck digital gold. This epiphany immediately led to the direct sequel Discs of Tron which focused on the famous disc battles that made the movie such a classic. While less successful from a financial standpoint, Krull and Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom were the two other well-received standouts in the fledgling years of the crossover.
With evidence that gaming could literally double your profits and increase visibility, the tie-in craze officially began with what is now the most famous entertainment crossover of all time, Star Wars: The Arcade Game.
Following the success of Star Wars, video game licensing became a household occurrence with some of the most popular TV and movie properties of the decade adapting into surprisingly solid gaming experiences. The RoboCop arcade game nearly outshined the film version, expertly capturing the gritty feel of the movie.
On the other end of the gaming spectrum, WWF Superstars (1989) was the first high-quality wrestling title ever created.
It was not all good times though. One glaring omission of a movie/game adaptation everyone wanted was The Last Starfighter.
But no tie-in discussion would be complete without the mention of everyone’s favorite "heroes in a halfshell," the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In what started as a one-time parody by artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the original drawing of an upright, masked turtle rocking a pair of nunchucks was just too humorous to leave behind. In no time at all, TMNT became a mega-popular IP, extending into nearly every area of popular culture, with their action figures and the 1987 animated television series being the highlights of the TMNT golden age.
Without any end of popularity in sight, and murmurings of a feature-length movie in the pipeline, Konami decided to enter the fray and use their extensive arcade experience to create what is still considered by many to be the greatest tie-in ever: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game.
By today’s standards, the technology used to power the arcade games of the 80’s is considered rudimentary, but that does not take away the fact that these games were revolutionary. For those of us who were lucky enough to witness such an amazing time, the memories will forever rival even the greatest of technological advancements.
Image credits: Geek.com, coinopspace, arcademuseum, giantfreakinrobot, gogreenmachine