Have you ever beaten or seen anyone else beat these old arcade games?

Inspired in part by the PS4 Atari Classics collections I saw in Gamestop again recently. Arcade games with definite endpoints, as opposed to repeating the most difficult level(s) indefinitely, have been around for a long time, of course. But in the early days, it could be really, really difficult. So difficult that most of us probably never even saw the ending, much less reached it ourselves. What are your memories of the following? (I’m going to note various features that made things especially tough.)

Crystal Castles (1983 - no continue): A game which required amazing speed and precision with a trackball, with persistent enemies that killed on contact and got faster and faster as the game progressed. Oh yeah, three lives and one extra life every 70,000 points. And no continue. There were 37 levels in all, and I think I saw someone get about halfway through with the help of the warp. My personal best was about 6.
Marble Madness (1984 - no continue): “How many marbles do you get?” Was the ubiquitous question. After endless hours of maddening gameplay, we got the answer…too many. The margin of error was absolutely nonexistent, and a not-insignificant number of runs ended on Beginner course. I think maybe 2% made it as far as the Silly race, and that may be generous. I personally witnessed ONE incredible player get to the end…with 0 seconds remaining. Lose your marbles, indeed.
Paperboy (1984 - no continue): Hey, did you know that you could lose if you ran out of customers? Too bad that poor kid got battered to a pulp so quickly it never came to that. One clear witnessed; most players got as far as Wednesday before deciding on a new career/game.
720 Degrees (1986 - limited continues): Skate and die anyway. Absolutely merciless in its performance requirements. You had to continually show your stuff in the main city, and you had to come up big in the parks for both points and money for equipment you had to have, otherwise you were flat-out doomed.
Road Blasters (1987 - checkpoints, no continue on final level): As with Marble Madness, you could not mess up at all. I can’t imagine what the pressure of taking on that no-second-chance last rally must have been like. The heck with a t-shirt, anyone who bested that deserved company stock!
Klax (1989 - checkpoints): It is the nineties, and it is time to move past 100-level puzzle games with utterly impossible requirements!

Hyper Sports (1984 - no continue): Their first Olympiad-themed game, Track & Field, was pretty reasonable; I remember quite a few players making it to the final event (don’t remember how many passed it). This, however, was gut-wrenching, both for Archery with its absolutely insane score requirement and the utterly impenetrable torture that was Pole Vault. Did I mention that it was amazingly tiring to play this for any amount of time?
Rush 'n Attack (1985 - checkpoints, no continue): A game that required the reaction times of a ninja, the hand-eye coordination of a pool champion, and the icy nerves of a first responder. I think I almost made to the end of the second level a couple times. Best I saw anyone ever do was about midway through the last level, and once or twice at most.
Jackal/Top Gunner (1986 - no continue): Three lives, with maybe a bonus or two along the way, to get through a very long battlefield against increasingly heavy enemy fire, in a clumsy vehicle that can take a single hit and can only fire its main weapon straight ahead. A “pocketful of miracles”? Several warehouses of miracles would be more like it.
Salamander/Lifeforce (1986 - no continue): A companion game to Gradius, and fittingly, one where most players saw “Game Over” very, very quickly. Something like halfway through the first level was typical (myself included).
Jail Break (1986 - no continue): And you thought Lance and Bill had it rough. Another one of those Konami games where it is incredibly super-duper hard not to get killed. The firepower in the later levels was off the charts.
Combat School/Boot Camp (1988 - no continue): It started out fairly managable. And then threw, in order, a firing range task that require insane reaction times and precision, a one-on-one fight that required inhuman reaction times and precision, and a final mission that required save states. Maybe going home to his mother was the smart move.

Hang-On (1985 - no continue): Your objective, ride your motorcycle from the start of the course to the end. Avoid objects by the side of the road, or you’ll crash and lose a lot of time. Avoid the many, many other motorcycles, or they’ll send you flying off to the side. And be sure to memorize every corner lest you take one too hard and skid off the road. Sounds doable? Didn’t think so.
Pitfall 2 (1985): Theoretically you could brute-force your way to victory on this one, just like theoretically you could go from New York to Los Angeles completely on foot. But if you didn’t know exactly where to go and exactly when to jump, you’d just squander lots and lots of tokens going nowhere. Don’t even get me started on that final climb.
Sega Ninja (1985 - checkpoints): Proceed. Die some. Proceed more. Die a lot. Proceed even more. Die tons. Proceed a little further. Die megatons. Be unable to proceed any further.
Enduro Racer (1986 - no continue): Hang-On on steroids. As if push bikers and explosive obstacles weren’t enough, now you have to avoid rocks in the middle of the road and jumps that often sent you into oblivion. If this really were a metaphor for my life’s journey, I’d be dead by now.
Wonder Boy (1986 - checkpoints): 1. Take Ghosts 'n Goblins 2. Multiply it by a factor of about ten. 3. No, really, that’s how bad it was.
Alien Syndrome (1987 - no continue): As shooters go, it wasn’t especially difficult, but seven levels on three lives? I saw one player get tantalizingly close, getting all the way to the final boss before those damn whirlwinds took out his final life. (BTW, this is the one I actually expect positive responses on.)
Turbo Out Run (1989 - checkpoints): The original Out Run was merciless but could be had with course memorization and sharp reflexes. Now add an even harsher speed requirement with the turbo and no choice of paths. And be prepared to spend a lot of time with the rubber side anywhere but down.

Gun.Smoke (1985 - checkpoints): This was one of those games where you really felt the disadvantage of being one man against an army. For most players, getting to the third level was a monumental achievement. I saw a grand total of one player get as far as the absolutely murderous 6th level. He got about a third of the way through it.
Legendary Wings (1986 - restart the level from the damn beginning if you continue): Sheesh, normal checkpoints were bad enough. With so many ways to die here, it’s a wonder anyone got past the first level. Never saw anyone hack the second.
The Speed Rumbler (1986 - checkpoints): How crazy was it? I have no memories of anyone at all getting past THE FIRST LEVEL. Which is actually not a surprise, as you’re in a clumsy, underarmed car that takes damage like tissue paper, and once it catches fire, you have two options: Stay in and get killed, or bail out and get killed. I got blood pressure spikes from this game. I wish that was an exaggeration.
Avengers (1987 - checkpoints, restart the level from the damn beginning if you run out of time): In addition to, y’know, dying all the lot and all over the place, the bosses get more cowardly as you progress, to the point where it’s almost impossible to harm #5 at all. And I’m not kidding about that time requirement. I vaguely recall someone besting the final boss, but that might’ve been an illusion.
F-1 Dream (1988 - blech): This wasn’t a game. This was an experiment in how many calamities a videogamer could get hit with before suffering a stroke. Answer…quite a bit, actually.
Ghouls 'n Ghosts (1989 - checkpoints): Good news - this one’s easier than Ghosts 'n Goblins. Bad news - you can’t reach the final boss without finding an extremely rare and ridiculously short-ranged weapon. More bad news - that being marginally easier than freaking Ghosts 'n Goblins qualifies as good news.
Strider (1989 - checkpoints): There are just too many ways to die. Until you reach the final level. Whereupon you run into a galactic freakton of ways to die.

Buggy Challenge (1984 - no continue): “Keep the star centered! Avoid obstacles! Pass through the gates!” Make up your mind, dammit!
Great Swordsman (1984 - no continue): 3 opponents where 5 hits ends the match? Doable. 5 opponents were 2 hits ends the match? Big, big uphill climb. 7 opponents where 1 hit ends the match??? Is it too late to take up judo?
Samurai Nihon-Ichi (1985 - no continue): 1st level - routine swordsmen. 2nd level - quick tigers. 3rd level - the most traumatizing ninja assault outside of a Mortal Kombat game.
Bubble Bobble (1986 - no continue): As if 100 levels of misery wasn’t painful enough, you need to have both players in at the end in order to…get the real game with another 100 levels with harder enemies. There are marathons, and there are ultramarathons. Through lava.
Arkanoid (1986): Like Breakout, except with impossible levels!
Operation Wolf (1987 - checkpoints): Y’know, there’s not much sense in putting in 6 levels if 99.99% of players are only going to ever see the first two. I saw one amazing player make it as far as the final level, where he continued something like 20 times and died about a third of the way through each time.
Rastan (1987 - checkpoints): The special weapons made progressing a breeze. Too bad they only lasted about ten seconds, whereupon you’d have to go back to your useless dinky little sword. Don’t even get me started on the hazards.
Final Blow (1988): Beat just 4 opponents and title is yours! In order, they’re: The fairly easy one, the really hard one, the insane murderously impossible one, and the insane murderously impossible one to the 12th power!
Kuri Kinton (1988 - checkpoints): Never has “You are already dead” been more appropriate…

Solomon’s Key (Tecmo, 1986): There’s a place for incredibly demanding puzzle games. I don’t know where, but the arcade was not it, believe you me.
Super Dodge Ball (Technos, 1987): Your opponents get stronger men and more men the further you go. Meanwhile, you’re stuck with the same fairly strong captain and three fragile-as-glass scrubs the whole way. Dammit, that is so TYPICAL!
Ninja Gaiden (Tecmo, 1988 - really get thrown for a loop when you continue) Oh, sure everyone remembers that continues screen. What you don’t remember was every enemy having longer range, one little hit meaning you lost one third of your life, swarms of enemies in two locations, the final bosses being able to kill you outright in one hit, and losing about a quarter level’s progress if you continued. Which you should have, because, yeesh. I saw one person make it to the final boss. Got one knockdown, messed up a bit, got burned, game over.

You got any others, feel free to add them. Remember, there has to be a definite ending (but “looping” games are fine).

Super Dodge Ball wasn’t that hard if you fell in love with it and played it obsessively like I did. I was able to beat it on a regular basis for fun, my favorite team was the All-Stars. The trick was learning how to use the super throws, like running away from the opponents, jumping in the air, spinning around and throwing a shot that accelerates the farther it goes. By the time it hits someone it will destroy him. I was a bit surprised to see this in the list actually.

Karate Champ Player vs Player (that was the standard versions we saw around here. It was the one where you start with a fight on a pier, not the one where you start fighting in a dojo.)

Anyhow, I was like 10 years old when this game was popular. It was one of those games where I could play on a quarter for about a half hour and get a crowd of people around me watching me advance level after level. It was the one arcade game I was really good at. I still have the muscle memory more than thirty years later for all the two-joystick moves.

That said, I only could get up to the second level the second time around. After winning twelve fights, the game starts over with the computer character moving something like twice the normal speed. It’s fucking impossible (or at least my ten-year-old self thought so). It wasn’t until Youtube that I discovered the game actually does have an ending. If you get through the twelve levels twice, the game ends.

The only arcade game I ever remember finishing was the original version of Out Run. I’ve done that one several times, but only the rightmost two finishing lines.

I know I once played this game for over 45 minutes but I don’t remember what level I got to. I know it didn’t cap out, tho; I just finally screwed up too often.

Road blasters hard??? Snce when?

Operating wolf? Is that the shooter with an uzi for a controller? That wasn’t too hard, but did require a few bucks to finish.

Btw, I loved super dodge ball but only ever played it on NES.

I liked op wolf’s sequel operation thunderbolt better tho but man that last level on the plane which you couldn’t continue on …

A friend of mine could finish that one. I got to the last level several times, but never with enough time to finish it. My Achilles heel was the hammers at the end of level 4. Whenever I played, they came up in a sequential pattern that was hard to get through and always burned up some of my time. For my friend, they sometimes came up in an alternating pattern, so he could pause in the middle and not get hit.

The same friend was very good at Joust, but I don’t recall if it had an end. And he could play Major Havoc to the point where it just repeated the same 4 levels over and over.

A few that I always wondered if they had an end were Tutankham and Berserk/Frenzy. Berserk looked like it would just generate different mazes, but Frenzy had different elements in the mazes that made me think there was an overarching plot and perhaps an end.

I beat Arkanoid once on an NES emulator, using a mouse as the controller.

Get the gems, Bentley Bear! :slight_smile:

This is the only arcade game I ever beat, but back in the 1980s I got to the point of being able to do so fairly regularly. It helps that there are shortcuts from (IIRC) level 1 to level 3, level 3 to level 5, and level 5 to level 7. (ETA: with each ‘level’ being a group of 4 castles: 9 levels of 4 castles each, plus the final castle on Level 10.)

I got through the arcade version of Arkanoid - okay, it was on MAME, and had the “unlimited lives” cheat on (that last level is murder), but still…

Also, how many people got through the original Simpsons arcade game (the one with Marge’s vacuum cleaner and Lisa’s jump rope) without having to add tokens?

That Simpsons game was just a re-skin of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, wasn’t it? But yeah, both of those were designed to vacuum quarters out of your pocket.

Nothing in the OP.

I could beat the arcade game, Heavy Barrel more often than not. I can still hear the game saying “Heavy Barrelllll!!!” when you completed the super weapon. Even when I didn’t a single quarter was still good for most of the 45-50 minutes full play through.

My brother and I tried to play and beat Rolling Thunder in the bowling alley as kids.

We never could. We saw a guy get to the final screen, but he died before beating the final boss.

I watched it on youtube as an adult and smiled.

At my first son’s first birthday, my MIL joking gave him a Sega with Sonic the Hedgehog knowing it’s what i wanted, he would sit there and watch me play, several years later, she game the the Sega32 plug in so that I could play Sonic 2 and 3, I beat all three games multiple times, they have definite ends…that was the last video game I’ve played on a consistent basis although my wife and I did get into the Wii bowling and tennis for a little bit…

In undergrad (1980-84), several of my friends and I got so proficient at the original Asteroids that the challenge became getting the high score - the high score rolled over to zero after 99990 (or 999990, I don’t remember, but I do know 10 was the smallest score one could get), so the key was to get close, then lose all your lives one at a time to the largest asteroids as they were the least score…I got a ‘perfect’ score many times, i.e., closest before it would roll over…

My brother “flipped” the Atari 2600 Asteroids. My whole family gathered around and cheered him on. It was great.

I remember one of the Ghost n Goblins games sends you back to the beginning when you get to the end and you have to replay the whole game over to get the final boss.

I loved that game, early in our marriage, I came across an original quarter-fed Asteroids game, Mrs. soon-to-be BLTC patiently watched me play twice, once we were married, I saw one, she said, “No way, we’re going THIS way…” Now that we are empty-nesters and actually have some discretionary income, I’ve been looking online…shoot, that’s right, she wants a new kitchen…sigh…

Mahaloth - I knew I forgot one! Glad to oblige.

Namco :slight_smile:
Rolling Thunder (1986 - checkpoints): The ultimate “Oh, come on!” game. The hero has a powerful gun (and can obtain an even more powerful gun) and can leap a tremendous height. Those are the only positive qualities about him. No jump control, must be perfectly still when attacking, and worst of all, so much as grazing an enemy costs half his health. That’s really not a big deal, though, since getting shot, bombed, zapped, or knocked into lava, which are much more common occurrences, are instant death. And the levels, pretty challenging to begin with, get downright obscene near the end. There’s a stretch where you have to jump through tires with two electric guns continually firing in to the spaces. There are a thousand ways to die here, and you’re going to experience every single one of them before you’re through. The main reason Shinobi was such a breath of fresh air was that the nimble, resourceful Jo-Musashi was the hero Albatross should have been.

There’s nothing especially tough about the boss, at least compared to the Nine Hells you have to endure to get to him. The main danger is running out of ammo, as he can take a massive beating.

Dragon Spirit (1987 - checkpoints): I honestly have to wonder what they were even thinking here. Big target, fragile as glass, one little-bitty fire attack that goes straight ahead (unless you get a powerup, and those are easily lost), separate ground attack that’s slow and almost impossible to aim, attacks from all directions, and in the later levels the environment works against you, and in the second to last level you can barely see anything. 9 levels in all; in my whole life, the farthest I’ve seen anyone go was 4.

Pac-Mania (1987 - board resets if you continue): First level, piece of cake. Second level, about average. Third level, painful. Ghosts everywhere, lots of tight cornering required, and the jumping ghosts enter the fray. I’ve seen players enraged by this level. The last…Pac-Murder. Ghosts swarming everywhere, power pills barely work at all, long stretches where it’s easy to get pinned down, and the black jumping ghosts (which cannot be jumped over) enter the picture. Sure, you can continue all you want, but that just throws you right back to were you started, so all you get is even more frustration.

Galaga '88 (1988 - no continue): I didn’t find anything in that was extraordinarily difficult, but just the fact that you have to get through the whole thing on one credit, meaning that one little mistake anywhere was crippling, made reaching any of the endings a hopeless proposal. The absolute best I ever saw was about halfway.

Dragon Saber (1990 - checkpoints): A smaller target and more effective attacks than the hero of Dragon Spirit…good. Being only to take ONE hit before dying…bad. Having to repeat even early sections dozens of times…abysmal. May this never be the future of our arcade games.

Rolling Thunder 2 (1990 - checkpoints): Truly remarkable. They kept everything that was incredibly brutal about the first game (immobility, fragility, split-second reactions required, super-hardy boss), and made everything that was kind of brutal (limited ammo, unusual enemy movements, time limits) incredibly brutal. “Rolling Thunder” must refer to the screams of the players trying to reach the end of these crazy games.

Atamasama - “All-Stars?” “Super throws?” You’re talking about the NES version, right? I had that once. It’s a lot of fun and I got good enough at it that I could sweep through the game on any difficulty. Not much to it: Use Spear to repeatedly drill holes through the opposition without allowing them to do anything in response, then mop up with Compressor, Lightning, or Blaster (in order of preference). Against Kenya, where the dirt court makes running supers nearly impossible, an all-out offensive with Compressor (switching to Lightning if Randy took too much of a pounding) did the trick. The original arcade version was a much different beast. Here’s a video.

pulykamell - Oh, right, Karate Champ. Friggin’ Karate Champ. :stuck_out_tongue: What made this killer was the two-joystick mechanic, which were completely unlike anything that had come before (or since). I never got to first base with this; IIRC I got wiped by the second opponent. There was no continue, meaning that one setback anywhere ended your quest, and the computer’s reactions got godlike in the later stages.

Kudos for reaching the end of Out Run. I didn’t include it because I did witness several other players reach an ending, but it was not simple by any means.

nightshadea, snfaulkner - I’d really like to hear some elaboration, because in my experience, YES. THAT HARD. Although both had continues, even unlimited funds wouldn’t help. Operation Wolf required you to complete the entire level, start to finish, on a single credit; Road Blasters did the same and didn’t allow continue on the final level. Dreams were crushed by games like these.

Robot Arm - Joust was endless. So was Frenzy; after a certain number of levels the window dressing would repeat.

RTFirefly - The funny thing was, it technically wasn’t required to get even a single gem. The enemies collected gems as well, and once the board was clear, you were moving on. In fact, it was actually worse for you if they didn’t, because if the level takes too long the swarm would arrive and very aggressively hunt you down.

Didn’t know there were other warps. Guess our players weren’t that sophisticated back then. That and no Internet to share discoveries.

I’m curious: What was you reaction when you discovered that this game had an ending, in an era where that was just about unheard of for an arcade game?

DinoR - That one allowed continuing without any drawbacks, so I don’t consider beating it especially noteworthy (no offense). I always liked Data East because they were always very cool about this. Even Breakthru, which had checkpoints, wasn’t a tenth as painful as, say, Gun.Smoke.

This whole thing is starting to remind me of the NES-a-day challenge thread we had going for years.