Memories of Gaming: II

Hayling Island Beach 2
Soon after my encounter with OutRun in Devon had seen in the birth of my passion for arcade games, I had developed a keen interest in the previously ignored amusement arcades in which they dwelt. Coincidentally, it wasn’t much longer before some good fortune befell me. My good friend Stu and his family had started taking family trips to nearby Hayling Island every Sunday so his dad could practise his windsurfing (indeed, Hayling is supposedly where the sport was invented), and he had kindly invited me to join them.

Hayling Island itself is a fairly small, roughly ‘upside-down T’ shaped island located next to Portsea Island on which the city of Portsmouth is located. Whilst mostly a residential island, it’s also home to some nice beaches (including a nice sandy one, unlike Portsmouth!) as well as some other facilities mostly used in the summer months such as cafes, beach huts, sand dunes, and the Beachlands funfair and arcade as well as several more arcades.

Hayling Island Beach

Although we spent some time watching Stu’s dad impress us with his windsurfing skills as well as generally larking about on the beach, and some more testing the structural integrity of the sand dunes, it was in the various arcades that we spent most of our time. Here, Stu would mostly restrict his gaming to the plethora of fruit machines on which he was highly skilled, but my attention was directly firmly toward the games.

It was here that my gaming heritage really took off, what with the amazing variety of top-quality games available in the arcades of Hayling from all the major manufacturers, and it’s this age of gaming that I miss the most. Arcades today are a depressing place most of the time. I haven’t been to Hayling for a good while but the arcades here in Portsmouth now contain mostly fruit machines, coin-pusher machines, fluffy-toy-grabbing machines, etc. The only game of note here is After Burner Climax, which admittedly is a fantastic game worthy of the great name, but it seems lonely amidst all the crappy novelty machines. Anyway, from the sad present back to happy memories while I remember some of my favourite arcades games (aside from the already-covered-OutRun) from those awesome trips to Hayling with Stu and his family (and a belated thanks to you, mate!) …

Chase HQ - Gameplay Screenshot

Chase HQ (1988)

What do you get if you combine OutRun with a late 70’s / early 80’s style buddy cop film? That’s right – this classic cops ‘n’ robbers racing game from Taito! Taking a graphical cue from Sega’s classic and combining it such a popular movie genre was a masterstroke, and it runs them both close for pure enjoyment. Chase HQ is super-fast, exciting, and, perhaps most importantly, remains one of the few arcade games I can actually finish!

Operation Wolf - Gameplay Screenshot

Operation Wolf (1987)

Another one from the splendid Taito, Op Wolf drew in all who saw it with its cabinet-mounted Uzi machine gun! Whilst rendering it almost impossible to play properly in the subsequent home conversions (except the excellent Master System version), the gun was obviously the main draw of this machine, and it was worth it! Spraying soldiers, armoured cars, helicopters, gunboats, and Lord knows what else with bullets and grenades had never been this much fun before!

Shinobi - Gameplay Screenshot

Shinobi (1987)

I had already given the Master System version of this a good thrashing before I found the arcade version, and the skills I gained doing so were invaluable as this arcade original is a lot tougher! Run ‘n’ gunners are rarely as playable as this one, and with a near-perfect difficulty curve, it’s also worryingly addictive! Nice graphics, authentic-sounding music, and varied enemies only help matters too. Plus, let’s face
facts – ninja’s are just cool, full stop!

Splatterhouse - Gameplay Screenshot

Splatterhouse (1988)

This fantastically-named game from Namco was controversial in its day and it’s easy to see why. As Rick, a student under the influence of an evil mask, you must you battle your way through a mansion filled with unimaginable horrors to rescue your girlfriend! If you take away all the gruesome creatures here, all you’re left with is a pretty basic beat ’em up, but that didn’t matter to most teenagers – the opportunity to slice up zombies and demons with a meat-cleaver was not one to be passed up!

Stun Runner - Gameplay Screenshot

S.T.U.N. Runner (1989)

Probably the first polygon-based game I ever really got into, this was, and still is in my opinion (on the rare occasion a machine can be found), one of the most exciting arcade experiences to be found anywhere! Sitting astride a S.T.U.N. Bike racing down tunnels at hundreds of miles per hours shooting other craft… What more could you ask?!

Gauntlet - Gameplay Screenshot

Gauntlet (1985)

The immortal Gauntlet was already a couple of years old by the time I discovered it but time had not dulled its splendour! Yes, it’s primarily a multi-player game but I still loved ploughing through the endless dungeons, even if it was on my own. It was always exciting to see if I could break my records, and if I could get someone to join me – even better. As long as they weren’t Thyra the Valkyrie. This was superbly converted to almost every system imaginable but nothing beats playing it in an arcade.

Saint Dragon - Gameplay Screenshot

Saint Dragon (1989)

It is just me who likes this one? Perpetually an under-appreciated gem in my view, this horizontal-scroller from Jaleco is among my favourite on any system. I’m not sure about the story as I’ve never owned a home version, but you take control of some sort of metallic dragon creature and must blast the crap out of various other metallic creatures. The dragon’s tale can be positioned to protect its head from enemy fire too. Plus, he just looks awesome! Decent story or not, this is a top game full of non-stop blasting action, and is nicely rounded off with lovely graphics. It also reminds me of the mighty Thunder Force 3 somewhat too.

Golden Axe - Gameplay Screenshot

Golden Axe (1989)

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played this through to the end, but it never gets boring! I still haven’t played a better hack ‘n’ slasher and I’ve been looking, believe me! Everyone know the best character is Gilius Thunderhead and rampaging through the game, slicing up all the stupid Buffalo’s and Grandad’s with his axe is immensely satisfying! I know it’s a bit of a love/hate game, but I’m definitely in the camp
of the former.

Metal Hawk - Gameplay Screenshot

Metal Hawk (1988)

Now this is a more curious one. I used to play it every time I went to Hayling but I’ve never seen it anywhere else, and no one I’ve spoken to has even heard of it! Subsequent research has revealed that it was apparently only released on Japan so quite how one managed to end up in a Hayling arcade remains a mystery! Nonetheless, for those who didn’t live near Hayling (or Japan), Metal Hawk is an overhead-viewed shmup by Namco. You control a pretty mean attack chopper, and it’s free-roaming so you can fly wherever you like shooting planes, other choppers, etc. But there’s something different about this one – the cab also features an altitude control enabling you to descend to near-ground level to shoot up enemy installations and ground-based weapons before returning to the clouds to take out more airborne targets. It’s a novel twist on the genre and features some nice Mode 7-esque graphical effects. Lost oddity or not, I loved playing the unique game!

Flying Shark - Gameplay Screenshot

Flying Shark (1987)

More than twenty years old and still the lord of the vertical scrollers to many! It may not have invented everything that it contains, but it popularised a lot of it – super-powered biplane, formation-flying squadrons of bad guys, ground-based enemies such as tanks, gun turrets, some of whom sneakily hide under the trees, etc. It’s such an iconic shooter and despite some cracking conversions, the arcade was, and still is the best place to play Flying Shark. You can always use the home versions for practise though, this is a pretty tough game! I still can’t finish it!

So… there are a few of the games I most enjoyed in the arcades during pretty much the only period I’ve had to regularly visit them. There were a lot more games there of course, including some of the all-time greats like Bubble Bobble, After Burner, Star Wars, etc, and I remember watching people play Time Traveller, the 3D hologram game by Sega (never really fancied playing it myself. though). Finding all these great games there, spending my paper round money on them, running out of money, waiting for the home conversions, getting some of the games for Christmas for my Speccy… It was a great time to be a gamer and I miss it.


It was on a family holiday that videogames first got their hooks into me. Sure, they were around before that, and I was vaguely aware of them, even ‘dabbling’ on occasion, such as when I played the table-top classic, Astro Wars, for practically the whole weekend I stayed over at my cousin’s house, for example, or when I played Frostbite on a school friend’s Atari VCS after school now and then. At that point though, they were never anything more than a passing distraction.

Torbay - The English Riviera

The aforementioned trip was my first vacation and would see us visit the land of my forebears. Namely, the Torbay area of Devon, and we would stay in a rented cottage. I was around 11 or 12 at the time and was very excited about my first trip away, it sounded fantastic, even if it would be occurring in the school summer holidays, thereby failing to ensure that I’d miss any schooltime! For those who don’t know, Torbay is a beautiful area of the Devonshire coast known as “the English Riviera”. It enjoys a mild climate and is home to a sizable marina, some top beaches, three lovely resort towns – Torquay, Paignton, and Brixham, which collectively feature many sights and attractions of magnificent splendour. I, however, ultimately saw very little of all this after I first wandered past an amusement arcade.

OutRun Deluxe arcade machineUp until this point I’d had little interest in arcades. Sure, I’d seen most of the big-name machines like Centipede, Asteroids and the like dotted around here and there and I had a bash on occasion like when my dad would give me a few 10p coins to use on the Space Invaders machine at my youth club, but videogames were still a niche subculture at this time – some games had intrigued me but none had ever truly captured my imagination. Until, that is, I happened upon one of the several arcades in Torquay and something caught my eye. I saw a machine, big, bright red, gleaming like a….. Ferrari! Now cars were an interest of mine at that time. This magnificent-looking machine grabbed me by the ears and pulled me in.

I arrived beside the dauntingly large machine. I felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Amazing images greeted my young eyes. It was fast and colourful. The sounds came booming out of the speakers. There was actual music… The arcade games I’d seen before were pretty impressive, but I’d never seen anything like this – it was amazing! After moaning at my parents for what seemed like an eternity, they yielded and bestowed upon me a shiny fifty pence coin. I finally lowered myself into the large seat armed with the coin and immediately felt more important. I deployed it and selected the music – Magical Sound Shower of course – and began the game. The excitement as I floored the accelerator and zoomed away from the start line was immense.

OutRun game Start screen

I soon reached the first corner of the exquisite Coconut Beach Boulevard, started to turn the wheel and – oh my God! – the whole seat moved! I managed to get as far as the uphill chicane before succumbing to the ever-precarious tree-lined roadside. Upon hitting them for the first time, the whole machine shook around! To say that this was unexpected would be to put it mildly – this was quite incredible! Unfortunately this revelatory experience didn’t last much longer as my time expired, but it was to become an important experience for me. Suffice to say, and the rest of this holiday was predominantly spent in the various arcades of Torquay, and most of that time, sat in an OutRun machine’s seat.

It’s hard to explain how much Outrun means to me. It was the first videogame I ever really played properly – the beginning of what was to become a passionate, not to mention expensive hobby, which has been vigorously pursued ever since. It’s a real possibility that had this encounter not taken place, I may not even be a casual gamer now, let alone the hardcore gaming nerd that I became and remain. The holiday had to end though, and upon returning to Hampshire, the source of my obsession was nowhere to be found. This situation was soon rectified, however. After a hard fought campaign, my parents finally bought me a Sega Master System, on which I had discovered I could play Outrun. I had to pay them back of course, so three years of paper rounds ensued, all proceeds going to this cause. It didn’t matter though – I had Outrun!

OutRun Marquee