The arcade industry went from strength to strength, not only in the volume of games released and the staggering quantity of coins that they raked in, but also in technological advances. Several now classic franchises were born, as was a very special plumber…
To think, one of the most enduring game series of all time started as a way to clear out a bunch of unsold arcade cabinets! That was the story behind Donkey Kong, which not only gave us one of our first ever platform game experiences, but also spawned two of Nintendo’s most enduring characters in the titular ape and a little bloke named Jumpman who, of course, was later rechristened Mario.
In 1981, computers weren’t seen as something that anybody could hook up at home and get busy with -well, not until Commodore released their VIC-20. Marketed as “the friendly computer’, it provided colour (eight of them!) and the fairly easily programmable language of BASIC. You could make your own games, or buy them premade on handy cartridges or finicky tapes. It was the first computer to break the million-unit sales mark, and the catalyst for many careers.
There likely wasn’t a bigger year for sheer creativity in the arcade game space than 1981 – and space figured prominently. Defender and Scramble both introduced us to side-scrolling shoot ’em ups, and Tempest and Qix were set somewhere that we assumed was space, while Galaxian upgrade Galaga became a genuine classic. Meanwhile, closer to Earth, critters gave us all the fun of Frogger and Centipede.