9 Best Games of the Year…1984
This story was originally published on Invisible Gamer on October 1, 2014.
Thirty years ago, 1984 happened. Update: I still wasn’t alive. Because I wasn’t around back in that time, I’ve been playing a lot of old games in order to educate myself and, hopefully, others. Here are some non-video game things that happened in 1984: Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States of America for his second term, Ghostbusters was the highest grossing film, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ debut album was released. And, yeah, nine great games came out.
Note: Due to the increasingly complex nature of this idea, it’s going to be very difficult to write at length about every game I played. So I won’t, although some help will come in the form of fellow Invisible Gamer writers.
#9 — Flicky
Perhaps Flickies’ greatest claim to fame is their collective plight in the Sonic the Hedgehog games. Before the Flicky race was held captive in metal egg-shaped containers, one confusingly named Flicky, named after its very own species, attempted to save some baby Chirps from household predators. And it made for a pretty good game. Flicky can’t fly, but he/she can hop and slightly glide to the rescue. As mentioned before, good arcade games feature a sort of risk-versus-reward mechanic, and Flicky’s is solid. Upon coming into contact with Flicky, the Chirps follow the blue bird in a line until reaching the “drop off” point. Dropping off more Chirps at once grant more points, but it’s easier for them to be dispersed and leave you vulnerable to attack from the enemy cats when you attempt to scoop them back up. Still, Flicky’s floatiness, while somewhat fitting, makes continued play of the game more frustrating than it should in terms of control. The game’s super adorable, though.
Austin Clark: I would have never played Sega’s Flicky if it wasn’t for an ex-girlfriend of mine. I can’t be sure, but I believe her love of the game spawned from the cute characters that share some similarities with the Looney Tunes’ Tweety Bird. When I played it, it instantly gave me that feeling like I could do better. A higher score was just around the corner. It did exactly what an arcade game should do, only I didn’t have to feed the console quarters. But even though Flicky was addicting, the jumping mechanics were frustrating. On top of being floaty, when you hit a wall Flicky bounces back uncontrollably, usually resulting in a cat snatching you up. I had fun with Flicky, but I don’t need to go back to it. That carnival-like tune is still stuck in my head to this day, though.
#8 — Pirate Ship Higemaru
Pirate Ship Higemaru is kind of a weird game. The titular pirate crew members have no arms, with the exception of what appears to be the ship’s captain. For some reason, said ship has a ton of barrels, in which the pirates like to hide. Momotaro, the player character, is on the scene to…throw the pirates’ hang-out barrels at them. Probably because they’re criminals! In any event, it all makes for a fairly straightforward arcade game in which you attempt to eliminate the enemies with the barrels littering the screen. Eventually, the barrels become other objects like bags and layouts change. Still, the idea is the same; the game illustrates quality arcade design by introducing a simple mechanic/gameplay hook that becomes entertainingly complex as the game progresses.
#7 — Vulgus
Publisher: SNK (North America)
Taking after Xevious in its endlessness, Vulgus is a solid space shooter with no frills, which is to be somewhat expected for 1984. Still, other shooters were doing crazier things visually and mechanically. Vulgus’s main draw is its place in Capcom’s history, being the first game ever developed by the now-massive company. Regardless, the challenging and never-ending action is satisfying and the game is worth playing for a time in that light alone.
#6 — Space Ace
Developer: Advanced Microcomputer Systems
Space Ace was the follow-up to Don Bluth’s beautiful first foray into video games, Dragon’s Lair, and it was just as beautiful. Once again demonstrating the storage capabilities of laserdisc and Bluth’s tremendous animation skills, Space Ace is essentially a series of quick time events; a series of wonderfully illustrated quick time events. Space Ace added one more mechanic, however; the main character, Ace, is transformed to his kid form, Dexter, by the evil Borf at the start of the game. In a few instances, the option is given to the player to “energize” and become Ace again. The difference? Well, Ace’s reactions are typically offensive, as opposed to Dexter’s defensive, or cowardly, mannerisms. Considering Space Ace’s primary appeal is visual, that’s fitting. Otherwise, Space Ace is a very simplistic game, but it has an undeniable charm to it not dissimilar to the same charm found in any of Don Bluth’s animated films.
#5 — Paperboy
Austin Clark: My time with the original Atari Paperboy is limited. I was probably 4 when I played it and only remember really diving into the NES and Game Boy versions, but I want to say there was one reason I loved Paperboy so much when I was a kid. It was one of the first games I remember playing that made our mundane “real” world, filled with everyday activities, fun and exciting. Think about the rest of this list, and most of the other lists from other years. Nearly every game takes place in a fantastic, fictional setting with outrageous, cartoon characters. Paperboy showed that games could warp our own world into a fun game and help pave the way for games like Cooking Mama, Harvest Moon, Nintendogs, and more.
It’s somewhat ironic that Capcom, a Japanese company, would develop a game in which the player controls an Allied ship attempting to destroy the Japanese air fleet during World War II. It’s also strange that Capcom released two SHMUPs of vastly different quality within the same year. 1942, released 42 years after the year it’s set in, is a tight shooter that could really be considered Capcom’s first major success. By today’s standards, it may not seem like 1942 is all that different from many other shooters of the time. And it could be argued that it’s not. But it was different enough, at least with its premise alone, that it brought in players to experience its tight and challenging gameplay and unique enemy patterns.
#3 — King’s Quest
Michael Burns: It might not look like much, but King’s Quest is so important to the ever-evolving landscape of video games that it’s almost too important to rank. Taking the basic text-parser system of text-only adventures like Zork and the graphic interface of Sierra’s Hi-Res Adventure series, and then improving both aspects in significant ways, King’s Quest laid the foundation for a decade of graphic adventure games on PC, and its influence is still felt today in the extremely popular Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us series from Telltale Games. King’s Quest and its first three descendants evolved text-based input into an art; no longer were you limited to barking basic verbs and nouns like in previous text adventures, but you could actually type in whole sentences, and even if they weren’t relevant to the task at hand, the game could usually figure out what you were saying. Combine that with a fully animated, colorful world based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, and you’ve got the very first in a long line of games that actually trusted players to figure things out for themselves… something that the vast majority of games today is still afraid to do. Long live King Graham!
#2 — Gaplus
Publisher: Bally Midway (North America)
Gaplus is also known as Galaga 3. Namco and/or Bally Midway realized that the “Galaga” name was much more valuable after the game’s initial release, in spite of the fact that there was no Galaga 2. I mean, Galaga was the sequel to Galaxian, so it was the second of the series, but — anyways. Following up a game like Galaga must have been a difficult task, but Gaplus wasn’t a disappointing step back. While Galaga maintains its nostalgic place as a deceptively simple game, Gaplus made things much more crazy. Whereas Galaga had a subtle power-up option, Gaplus introduced more obvious opportunities to improve the ship’s capabilities, such as a massive multi-colored tractor beam that press-gangs enemies into your service. Eventually, a lot of bullets can fly across the screen, upon which the ship can move horizontally and vertically (!) a bit, in a way reminiscent of Centipede. But at the core of all the shiny new enemy models, background changes, and physically impressive abilities of “Galaga 3” is, as you would expect, Galaga. As such, Gaplus is an incredibly tight shooter that only benefits from the weird additions to its base formula.
#1 — SonSon
SonSon’s lasting impact on the world of video games may be the appearance of the titular character’s granddaughter (weirdly, of the same name) in Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes. Or it may be that it stands as the first Capcom game released in America. The game may potentially be described as a 2D platformer, but truly, it plays like a horizontally scrolling SHMUP. SonSon runs automatically and must shoot the pigs, golems, and more standing in his way, ascending and descending tiers to do so. No real platforming challenge exists, but the result is a fantastic execution of shooting action. SonSon, quite obviously, eschews the space theme of every other game in the genre of the time and takes on Chinese folklore. The story and characterization of the game is very loosely based on the novel Journey to the West, much like another ’84 Japanese creation, Dragon Ball. While the gameplay is fairly simple and, admittedly, not quite superior to even other contemporary games, SonSon’s unique charm only makes it all the more enjoyable.
You may have noticed the prominence of Capcom on this list. That’s due, in part, to the wonderful Capcom Arcade Cabinet, which should set the standard for retro re-releases, but it’s also because of the emergence of Japanese developers into the market. With a few exceptions, most games on this list were developed by a Japanese company, and that’s very telling of the direction the industry would take for a time. Have you played any of the games on the list? What are your favorites from 1984? Let us know!