Ten Weird Arcade Games You’ve (Probably) Never Played

Posted by Dave 06 FEBRUARY 2014
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Last week I wrote about The Evolution of the Arcade Machine; an evolution that has taken video gaming entertainment from basic sprite and vector graphics and bleeping noises to incredible immersive experiences with full motion cabinets, orchestral scores and eye-popping graphics. In the same way as biological evolution, however, arcade machine evolution has taken a few odd turns along the way.

Some of these odd turns led to new areas of video gaming, such as the bemani and dance machine craze of the late 90s that eventually brought us to Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Some, as you’ll see below, led nowhere at all, and for that we should be thankful. I’m looking at you, Boong-Ga Boong-Ga.

For me, the first principle of an arcade machine’s design should be to create a unique experience, one that you can’t get anywhere else. One or two of the games I’ve listed have been ported to home consoles, but for the most part they have remained in the arcades (and should probably stay there. Sometimes being unique is not necessarily a good thing). Here are my ten picks for some of the weirdest and most unusual video game arcade machines of the last thirty-odd years, most of which you’ve probably never played.

Wall Street (1982)

Wall Street

A game based on Oliver Stone’s classic movie? Play as Bud Fox and Gordon Gekko and conduct corporate takeovers? I’m sorry, but no. That would be far too normal for this list. This game, which preceded the movie by five whole years, starts off by seeing you moving a trampoline back and forth across Wall Street, bouncing falling stockbrokers into the back of an ambulance. The assumption is that they’re leaping to their deaths, but you can save them, and thus the entire world economy. The fact that the stockbrokers would most likely be too traumatised to return to work after their experiences is never addressed.

The stockbroker-catching levels are alternated with maze-style levels, where you now assume control of a stockbroker, storming the streets of a Russian city. To advance to the next level, you must collect money and girls while shooting tanks with lightning bolts from your bare hands.

Yes, you read that right. We’re just getting started.


Snacks ’n’ Jaxson (1984)

Snacks n Jaxson
If I had decided that instead of listing these games chronologically, I would instead order them by “quantity of hallucinogenic substances needed to come up with the concept”, this one would be at the top of the list. You control a clown, the eponymous Jaxson, whose neck stretches to terrifying proportions and whose nose gets sneezed off at the beginning of every level. Using a trackball, you must move your head around the screen to keep your nose from breaking windows, and to collect fried eggs, sausages and cheese slices. The “sneeze” button is used to blow away hot peppers and soap, placed in the level by Jaxson’s arch enemy (whoever that is). It seems that pretty much any concept for an arcade machine was fair game back in the mid-80s, but Snacks ’n’ Jaxson really pushes it to a new level. 

Frankly, I think this game was designed with ulterior motives. Whether those motives were to scare children, to satisfy some curiosity about how strange a game could be made (and published!), or whether the creator lost a drunken bet and was compelled to make it, there has to be some reason Snacks ’n’ Jaxson exists.


Exterminator (1989)


With Exterminator we return to some semblance of normality: controlling graphically digitised hands, you wander around a house smashing bugs with your fists and with lasers. Wait, did I just call that a “semblance of normality”? Either I’ve been playing these types of games too long, or Snacks ’n’ Jaxson has warped my mind more than I thought.

Exterminator was the world’s first fully-digitised arcade game, featuring ground-breaking graphics and truly offering an experience that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else. The fact that the game was distinctly mediocre was pretty much moot; those were real hands on the screen! The cabinet for the game was itself also pretty unique, being shaped like a house with a roof and chimney. These factors combined to drag you over to the machine, almost against your will, and make you pump 20p coins into it until the disappointment kicked in and you’d go back to Out Run.

Maybe that was just me.



Densha de Go! (1996)

Densha de Go

Densha de Go! (or “Let’s Go By Train!") is actually a relatively normal game, albeit an absurdly hard one. You take the role of a train driver, driving actual train routes in Japan, and charged with adhering to precise schedules. When I say “precise”, I mean “stop within 30cm of the prescribed point, within half a second of the predicted time”. The unusual nature of the game not only comes from being punishing and difficult to the point of sacrificing fun, but also from it having realistic-looking train controls. Levers, dials and buttons abound, appealing to those players who love trains and/or big clunky mechanical controls.

When I played Densha de Go!, I put in my 100 yen coin, accelerated my train, shot through the destination stop, ended up on an empty stretch of track between stations, and got fired from my train driving job. The entire process lasted around two minutes. Somehow this irritatingly difficult game has not only spawned a raft of sequels and ports, but also had Japanese home console owners buying dedicated Densha de Go! controllers. Frankly, I can’t see why.

Densha de Go! is available on an absurd number of platforms (no pun intended) ranging from the PS3 and iOS mobiles to the Neo Geo Pocket Color and the WonderSwan.


Prop Cycle (1996)

Prop Cycle

In the far future, a magical village has risen into the air and the Hero of Solitar must ride a flying bike-thing to prove himself (or herself) the champion who can make the village stop being in the air. Yes, that summary is giving me a headache too. Prop Cycle is one of those games built around a gimmick; that gimmick being, in this case, an exercise bike. The idea is to pedal faster or slower to change your height, and navigate through obstacle courses before the time runs out.

While this game was certainly imaginative, and had a great aesthetic that evoked some of Hayao Miyazaki’s best work (particularly Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind), it was both far too difficult and completely exhausting. Having to pedal as fast as possible for some parts of the game, while making precision manoeuvres that are normally reserved for the Red Arrows, made Prop Cycle less of a fun gaming experience and more of a chore.

Our own Michelle got a chance to play Prop Cycle at the Pinball Hall of Fame Museum in Las Vegas. For a summary of her experiences, you can check out her blog post here.



Taiko no Tatsujin (2001)

Taiko no Tatsujin


Taiko drumming is a centuries-old tradition in Japan, usually performed by large groups of men and women playing differently-sized drums in an ensemble. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t exactly sound like the sort of thing that screams “arcade version” to me, especially not with strange drum-shaped mascots skipping around while you drum along to theme songs from animated TV shows. Still, Taiko no Tatsujin (or “Taiko Master”) not only exists, but is quite a lot of fun to boot.

The arcade machine consists of little more than a pair of full-sized taiko drums and a pair of sticks for each player, and in what has now become a recognisable standard of gameplay, tasks the players with hitting the drums in time with the visual cues. The more precise your strikes, the better your score. Anyone that ever played Guitar Hero World Tour or Rock Band will be at home with Taiko no Tatsujin, but Namco managed to precede those games by several years and create something ground-breakingly crazy.

Taiko no Tatsujin can be seen briefly in the film Lost in Translation, highlighting how weird Japanese arcades are to Scarlett Johansson’s character.


Boong-Ga Boong-Ga (2001)

Boong-Ga Boong-Ga

I’m not sure what I can say about this game. I think I’ll let that picture of it do most of the talking, with the added caveat that the purpose of the game is maybe not quite as rude as you were thinking. Only just, mind you. Using your hand, or the plastic finger attachment, the player has to either spank or generally punish characters that make life difficult, from gangsters to ex-boyfriends to mothers-in-law. Yes, I’ve been deliberately vague with the phrase “generally punish”. Use your imagination, or even better, don’t.

Boong-Ga Boong-Ga is quite possibly the weirdest idea for a machine in all of history, as it’s the only game I know of with a plastic bent-over behind for a controller, and it dispenses a small plastic trophy shaped like a pile of faeces if you get a high enough score. Snacks ’n’ Jaxson barely raises an eyebrow in comparison.

Check out the video below at your own risk.


Cho Chabudai Gaeshi (2009)

Cho Chabudai Gaeshi

The title translates as something along the lines of “Overturning a Table in Anger”, which is exactly what you have to do in this game. Smack the table repeatedly while your annoying virtual family ignore you, and then when the time is right, flip it over and send objects flying everywhere. The more objects you send flying with your flip, the more points you get.

I talked earlier in this article about dead-ends of arcade evolution. I can’t really imagine that this is anything but an evolutionary dead-end; I don’t really see Cho Chabudai Gaeshi spawning an entire genre of arcade experiences. Still, Taito have published some of the true classics of gaming, from Space Invaders to Cooking Mama (as well as the aforementioned Densha de Go!) so perhaps they’ll prove me wrong and 2014 will be the year of furniture-throwing arcade games.

There have been arguments in the media over whether video games desensitise people to violence. I don’t know about that, but they certainly desensitise you to weirdness. I barely even blinked when I saw this game, yet on reflection, it’s completely bonkers.


The Tablecloth Hour (2010)

The Tablecloth Hour

Oh, go on then, just one more absurd Japanese arcade machine. The Tablecloth Hour tasks you with performing that one trick you’ve seen on television, or perhaps even tried yourself, where you pull out a tablecloth without disturbing all the items on top. That’s really all there is to it. I’m not sure what the market for this game is, and certainly don’t expect it to be in arcades on UK piers any time soon, but the fact that it exists is cause enough to celebrate its weirdness.

Whenever I’ve been at a wedding I’ve felt a compulsion to try pulling a tablecloth out like a magician, though since I know it would probably result in a lot of noise, a ton of damage and me getting removed from several Christmas card lists, I’ve never actually done it. Next time I’m in Taito Station in Shibuya, I’ll work out some of that pent-up energy on this machine instead.

On a side note, this is probably the game title I understand the least on this list. Even “Boong-Ga Boong-Ga” is just meant to be a sound effect. What is it about the tablecloth that takes an hour? Cleaning up the mess?


The Last Barfighter (2012)

The Last Barfighter

This machine actually has taps on the front that dispense beer. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that this is one of the greatest ideas in arcade history. 

Developed for a brewery in North Carolina as a publicity stunt, The Last Barfighter is a fighting game with a unique hook: it pours a beer for the winner. Though sadly I can’t say I’ve played it myself, the game itself doesn’t look especially groundbreaking. Being just a one-on-one fighting game made for an advertising campaign, I can’t imagine it has the subtle balance and tight gameplay of a Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom game. What it does have, however, is a tangible prize as well as the bragging rights that come with victory. Beat your opponent into submission and then drink a free beer while he has to buy one? You can count me in.

Sadly, I think this is the machine least likely to get a home console conversion on the entire list, as Big Boss Brewing (yes, they’re really called that) would have to supply sufficient beer with each copy to keep you playing for quite some time, otherwise you’d have to use your own beer and I can’t see that being popular with their advertising department. So congratulations, The Last Barfighter, on being the only game less likely than Boong-Ga Boong-Ga to appear on Xbox One, PS4 or Wii U.



Honourable Mention: Polybius (1981)

Polybius achieved legendary status in the early 80s as an arcade machine that could cause you to go insane, have epileptic seizures, or even drive you to suicide. Some claimed that the FBI, CIA or some other organisation monitored the machines and collected information about how the game was played. I’ve given it “honourable mention” status on this list, purely on the strength of the fact that it probably didn't exist.

While it’s true that some games have caused epileptic seizures in those with extreme photosensitivity, there has never been any solid evidence of a game like Polybius existing and causing mental stress to the point of driving people mad. However, lack of evidence has never stopped people in believing in anything, and so rumours of Polybius continue. Having seen the games on this list, arcade games are sometimes stranger than fiction, so perhaps a machine will one day turn up, or at least a playable ROM on an emulator.


So, those are my ten weird arcade games that you’ve probably never played, plus one that probably no-one has ever played. Arcade machine creators are certainly getting more inventive as time goes on, and while many of these will be forever consigned to history as nothing more than oddities, some may turn out to be the forerunners of the next generation of arcade gaming.

Are there any games you think I should have included in this list? Do you think I’ve been unfair to any of the above? Have you played Boong-Ga Boong-Ga, and need an adult to talk to? Get in touch with us through the comments below, via Facebook, Twitter, Google +, or email [email protected] and let us know!

Written By: Dave Morgan

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