Sunday, April 19, 2015

Zapcon 2015 - Day One the Wizard

When arcades first started, pinball machines dominated. Then came Pong and its ilk that drove out most pinball from the arcades. Home consoles started matching and eventually exceeding the power of arcade video games, causing most arcades to shutter. I grew up in a time when there was a resurgence of arcades thanks to Street Fighter II and the fighting game explosion it created. However I didn’t frequent the arcades as much as I’d like on the basis that I lacked income and a vehicle on account of my very young age.

Pinball was still not generating the revenue that video game arcades were doing but it hadn’t died completely. That is why I’m glad that conventions like Zapcon exist. Here is a new annual event that takes machines, both pinball and video game, from collectors and vendors and allows people to experience some of the classics and even some of the obscure titles from the dimly lit arena of arcades past.

This is my third year of Zapcon and the first year that it is being held in its new, larger digs, which is a relief. I don’t have to worry about rubbing butts up against overweight middle-aged men. Hosted at the Mesa Convention Center are about a hundred pinball machines and about the same amount of arcade video games. I got to spend two days with my friends and significant other chasing high scores, developing gamer fingers and creating new memories and experiences.

Mayor of Suplex City
When I first arrived I met up with my friend Mike and we got started with Final Fight. I played the mayor, Mike Haggard and Mike took control of “Final Fight” Guy. The classic beat’em up still holds up fairly well although it is annoying that we can damage each other. I made a comment that if there was ever a Final Fight movie then Brock Lesnor would have to play Mike Haggard. “Welcome to Suplex City, bitch!”

The next game was Burger Time, which I don’t recall ever playing until this point. Basically ingredients of a burger are laid out and the player has to walk across the pieces to create the American classic whilst avoiding possessed condiments such as ketchup and pickles. Pepper can be used to freeze enemies in place in order to avoid being hit or to freeze them in strategic positions for maximum points. Like most arcade games it is fairly simple but difficult on account of the amount of enemies and having to rely on memorization to get through most stages.

Right next to that machine was Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, based on the infamous movie starring Michael Jackson as a transforming biker rabbit, car, and robot. As well as Joe Pesci knocking out little girls. I’ve played the Genesis version but the arcade version is quite a bit different from the 16-bit iteration. This one has an isometric perspective as opposed to a standard 2D scrolling perspective. The arcade is more of a beat’em up rather than a platformer.

Overall the game was fairly competent and like most video games, it has some utterly bizarre enemies. One of them was a mech that looks innocuous enough until it decides to attack the Jacksons. It has a giant, metal, battering ram penis. This game came out before the scandal surrounding Michael but in light of those events and the fact that kids flock around him after saving them, it really gives that battering ram penis mech a new disturbing meaning.
Fighting goons with dance moves

It was around that time that my other friends showed up and we decided to play some games together. We all huddled around the nearby Simpsons arcade machine. I took control of Marge and her vacuum cleaner and proceeded to bash enemies lifted from the first and second seasons of the show. This was a game developed during the height of Konami’s beat’em up reign which included their run with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle license. There really was nothing new going on gameplay wise in the game, but it effectively captured the overall essence of the show. The primitive and exaggerated art style and animation of the show is displayed in accurate pixel quality. While plenty of the characters show up, any of the original characters fit right in with the style of the Simpsons. There are of course plenty of references to the TV series for any frequent viewer as well as some references to Matt Groening’s Life is Hell comic series.

Since this is a beat’em up, it is unfortunately fairly lacking in replayability and we all agreed to take on other games. This led to the group splitting up and off we went on our own conquests. I went with one of my Travis friends and we got started on Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. I really enjoyed this game when it first game out and played the hell out of the SNES port unfortunately this version of the game had the blood turned off. The controls were also damaged; I couldn’t jump forward and the other Travis could not use the high punch. We decided to ditch that one and play Mortal Kombat 4.
Scorpion always wins, except when he doesn't.

I was never a big fan of this game. The graphics looked bad to me (especially compared to other 3D fighters like Virtua Fighter 2 and Tekken 2) and the animation was terrible. It did control a bit quicker than the other MK games but playing it now didn’t make me a fan of this particular one.

We stopped at one of the many Neo Geo machines and I challenged Travis to a match of Soccer Brawl; after I unsuccessfully attempted to switch between the different games. I believe I was Brazil and Travis was Ireland, which I ended up beating him in a 1-0 match.

From there we just started wandering about playing the various games such as Centipede, Tempest, and After Burner. The After Burner machine had some miscalibrated controls which caused the Tomcat to constantly go to the left. Later on in the day, the machine had effectively crashed and was just displaying a mess of pixels. We basically rounded up the rest of the friends from there and got some lunch.

When we came back we all hatched a plan to play in the five player linked San Francisco Rush: Alcatraz edition. Throughout the day all of the machines were occupied, with seats being emptied and filled one at a time. We just hung around the machines and occupied whatever seat became open. This worked out well except for one machine that had two little girls playing the game and not giving up. I certainly admired their tenacity at the game and we didn’t do anything to kick them off the game; which they ended up leaving anyway. After getting everyone coordinated we managed to do several races together.

I’ve always wanted to love San Francisco Rush but the loose controls and constant spinning of vehicles made it difficult for me to fully commit to the game. Even with the free credits, I didn’t develop enough skill to really make any headway. I gave up my seat for another one of my friends and then went off to see if the Alien vs. Predator game was available.
Rush 5: Not starring the Rock but the Rock.

High score not pictured

The Alien vs. Predator has always and still stands as one of my favorite all time arcade games. I’m a fairly big fan of the Predator and Alien series, even having some of the comics as well as some of the other game iterations. What stood out to me for this game were the graphics and animation. Plus the fact you could play as the Predator. Someone was already helming the machine but I decided to jump in and give him a helping hand. It has been several years since I played this game. The last time I played it was Castle and Coasters for a company outing and used the arcade card given to me to spend on AVP. With that card and some of my own money, I was able to beat the game. Today would be no exception as I got to beat the game and even placed sixth on the top score board.

Beating the game, I decided to the end the night on a high note for myself and I shall continue my conquest the next day. This time I’ll bring my significant other along for the ride.

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