The complete history of Nintendo arcade games

A couple of days ago Nintendo streamed its latest Nintendo Direct presentation.

For many the most notable announcement was that Doom and Wolfenstein II are coming to the Switch, while the five minutes of new Super Mario Odyssey footage was a great way to wrap things up and get people talking after the Direct had ended.

For massively nerdy Nintendo historians (like me), though, the biggest news of the Direct was that Hamster Corporation – the studio currently responsible for the regular Neo-Geo games appearing on Switch and other consoles – will be bringing some of Nintendo’s old arcade games to the Switch as part of its Arcade Archives series.

Most may have taken this news with a “meh, that’s cool I suppose”, while others inevitably went down the “never mind that, where’s my Virtual Console” route. But this could be better than the Virtual Console, at least from a novelty point of view.

Hamster’s games to date – be it its ACA Neo Geo collection or the Arcade Archives games it’s already released on the PS4 and Xbox One – are well-handled emulations of the original arcade ROMs, and generally come with a lot more options than Virtual Console releases have: online high score tables, screen filtering, that sort of thing.

More importantly, some of the games already confirmed will be a refreshing change to the NES games we’ve already had on Wii, Wii U and 3DS. Would you rather buy Punch-Out!! for the fourth time, or try its noticeably different arcade predecessor for a change?

One of the reasons so few people are interested in this is because Nintendo stopped developing its own arcade games in 1990 (and stopped making unique arcade-only titles in 1985).

27 years have passed since then, so there’s a couple of generations of gamers who not only have no interest in Nintendo’s arcade past, but may not even be fully aware of it bar the obvious examples like Donkey Kong.

With that in mind, yer man Scullion has put together this hefty guide to every single Nintendo-developed arcade game, from Computer Othello in 1978 to VS Dr Mario in 1990.

The hope is that it’ll fill some gaps you may have in your Nintendo knowledge and tell you more about what was actually an important part of the company’s evolution.

And if it also happens to get you excited for some of the Arcade Archives games coming to Switch in the near future, then all the better: climb aboard the Impatience Express and join me in counting down the days.

A brief overview

For those completely new to Nintendo’s arcade history, let me give you the basics first so you know the context going into this list.

Nintendo actually made its first arcade ‘game’ in 1973 with the Laser Clay Shooting System.

Japan in the early 1970s was full of deserted bowling alleys: it was a craze which had died out, meaning owners had to figure out ways to use these big empty areas.

Toy company Nintendo stepped forward with its latest invention, created by company president Hiroshi Yamauchi and developed by Gunpei Yokoi (who later created the Game & Watch and Game Boy).

The Laser Clay Shooting System was basically a massive lightgun game, in which a 16mm film projector showed film of clay pigeons and the player shot at them with fake guns.

It was a huge success, and a year later Nintendo redesigned it into Mini Laser Clay, a much smaller version that was the size of an arcade cabinet.

This also allowed Nintendo to make a bunch of separate ‘games’, which were all just essentially different 16mm films that could be interacted with on a very basic level (much like the FMV shooting games that came to arcades later, like Mad Dog McCree).

The likes of Wild Gunman, Sky Hawk, Shooting Trainer and New Shooting Trainer were a success, but Nintendo was aware that video games – as we know them today, with computer generated images instead of 16mm film – were quickly gaining in popularity thanks to the likes of Pong and Breakout.

Soon its 16mm-based shooters were going to be ignored in favour of games that may have looked more primitive, but could actually be controlled.

Nintendo decided it wanted some of the action, so it started making its own video games.

For the first few years it specialised in – to be frank – making knock-offs of already popular games, but in time the original games started to emerge and Nintendo quickly became one of the big arcade names.

I could go into detail, but that’s sort of the point of all the stuff below this bit, so I’ll save it for that.

The VS System

In 1983 Nintendo made its impact on the growing home gaming market with the Famicom (which would later become the NES in the west).

The Famicom was an enormous success in Japan, so Nintendo decided to make the most of its home games by porting some of them to arcades.

The Nintendo VS System was an arcade platform designed to run NES-quality games, with the general aim being that players would compete (or co-operate) with their friends.

It came in three different cabinet types: the VS Table (a sit-down cabinet with two screens nicknamed the ‘red tent’), the VS UniSystem (a standard cabinet with one screen and two sets of controls) and the VS DualSystem (an angular cabinet with two screens pointing away from each other.

A bunch of games were released for the VS System, and not just Nintendo ones: the likes of Namco, Konami and Sunsoft also ported some of their NES games to it.

Housekeeping

The rest of this article consists of a list of every Nintendo-developed arcade game. There are some things worth noting, though.

For the sake of not turning the article into more of a beast than it already is, I’m specifically only counting the games developed by Nintendo.

As noted above, there were plenty of other VS System games developed by other studios but they aren’t listed here. There’s every chance they could make it to the Switch too, but Hamster would need to negotiate that with their respective owners.

I’m also not counting games that featured Nintendo licences or were licensed by Nintendo but developed by third parties. This means the likes of F-Zero AX, the Mario Kart Arcade GP games, Killer Instinct and the Cruis’n series aren’t included either.

I haven’t listed any PlayChoice-10 games. PlayChoice-10 was an arcade system Nintendo created which essentially consisted of up to 10 NES games which could be played for a set time.

Since this was essentially just NES games with a timer, then, it would be a waste of time going through all those. You can find the list of all 54 PlayChoice-10 games here.

Finally, I’ve tried my best to put this list in chronological order. Arcade games are notoriously difficult to pin down an exact release date for: since many were tested in a small number of locations and were then made available to order rather than simply ‘sold’ like home games, generally only the release month is known (and even then, this is rare: it’s usually just the year).

You generally only get exact release dates for arcade games when they become iconic and their studios retrospectively declare the day they count as release for the sake of anniversaries.

Donkey Kong? 9 July 1981. Street Fighter II? 6 February 1991. NBA Jam? “Um… 1993. Maybe the summer.” That sort of thing.

That said, I’ve used a combination of Nintendo arcade flyers and the limited information I’ve been able to find in magazines of the era to try to put together as best as possible a rough chronology. This probably won’t be the exact order, but until Nintendo confirms it I’m confident it’s the best we can get.

That said, enjoy!


Computer Othello (1978)

Nintendo had already briefly dabbled with video games with the Color TV-Game 6 and Color TV-Game 15, two home consoles that played built-in variations on Pong.

While Computer Othello wasn’t Nintendo’s first ever video game as such, then, it was at least its first arcade video game (in the way we describe them now).

Released in June 1978, it’s a computerised version of the board game Othello (otherwise known as Reversi), which was hugely popular in Japan.

Its tabletop design meant two players could sit down opposite each other, place their drinks on the cabinet and play against each other with their own individual set of controls.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Zero. It’s such a primitive-looking game that absolutely nobody will buy it, and the Othello trademark is now owned by Japanese toy company MegaHouse.


Block Fever (1978)

In the early days of arcade gaming, when ideas weren’t yet flowing like burst dams, a large number of games were just rip-offs of existing titles that were already successful.

Without an established creative force yet, Nintendo was just as guilty of this as everyone else, making its own fair share of knock-offs.

Block Fever, released shortly after Computer Othello, was nothing more than Nintendo’s own take on Atari’s Breakout released two years earlier.

The aim, as in the Steve Jobs-created original, is to use your bat to hit a ball and destroy all the blocks. Come on, you know this.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Zero. Not only are its blocky graphics (ahem) the modern equivalent of cave drawings, Nintendo’s never really shown any interest in acknowledging its early knock-off days.


Space Fever (1979)

Nintendo’s “we’ll have some of that, thanks” policy continued the following year with its take on the latest craze, Taito’s Space Invaders.

To its credit, Space Fever did at least have some original ideas in the form of three different game types.

Although Game C was your typical Space Invaders style, Game A split them into two ‘blocks’ of aliens which moved in opposite directions and bumped off each other.

Game B, meanwhile, was an endless affair in which rows of aliens continued to slowly descend down.

It came in two flavours: a normal black-and-white version and a colour version.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Next to zero. Nintendo hasn’t entirely distanced itself from Space Fever over the years: a sequel called Space Fever II was actually built into the Game Boy Camera. It would take a hell of a clever marketing push to make it appeal to modern gamers, though.


SF-HiSplitter (1979)

Keen on continuing to ride the Space Invaders wagon while the wheels were still firmly attached, Nintendo quickly followed up with a sequel of sorts.

SF-HiSplitter once again offered Space Invaders style gameplay in three different forms, but this time the enemies were double the width.

Depending on where you shot them, they’d either die right away or split into two ‘normal’ sized enemies.

This meant accuracy was now just as important as simply hitting them.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Next to zero. Maybe a two-in-one version with the original Space Fever could work, but again it’s probably a bit too basic to appeal to anyone other than keen Nintendo historians.


Space Launcher (1979)

Nintendo’s first properly ‘original’ video game was Space Launcher. Despite looking like yet another Space Invaders clone, it actually played very differently.

In fact, it probably shares more similarities with Frogger than anything else (although Konami’s game wouldn’t be released for another two years).

You have to fly a rocket up into space, avoiding obstacles and enemy bullets. When you reach the enemies your forcefield is turned on, allowing you to plough through them and land on one of the four bases at the top of the screen.

After doing that, you then have to fly back to the bottom of the screen, dodging everything again, at which point the process repeats.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Next to zero. We’re still in the ‘far too simplistic looking’ era at this point. Again, maybe some sort of compilation gathering all of Nintendo’s space-themed games – as a sort of ‘museum piece’ game – might just be a way to do it, but other than that don’t get your hopes up.


Sheriff (1979)

The first Nintendo game to feature a human protagonist, Sheriff has you cornered in the desert as a gang of bandits approaches.

It’s up to the sheriff to shoot all the varmints so he can reach the damsel who’s been kidnapped.

At this point, Nintendo still didn’t have a properly established American arm, so the flyers promoting the game were badly translated versions sent from its Japanese office.

“The sheriff must repeat mortal combats to rescue the beauty who is kidnapped by rogues,” it explained. “The sheriff who wishes her rescue and the beauty who is waiting for help… where do their fates go?”

Where indeed. Actually, keen-eyed Nintendo fans will already know the sheriff’s fate: the game was a bonus unlockable in the first GBA WarioWare, while the sheriff himself appeared as an assist character in Super Smash Bros for 3DS & Wii U.

Chances of it coming to Switch – It’s possible. It would be the oldest arcade game Hamster Corporation has ported to date, but not by a lot (it released Crazy Climber and Moon Cresta on PS4 and both launched in 1980).

On top of this, the sheriff’s recent Smash Bros appearance means he’s at least slightly relevant to modern audiences.


Monkey Magic (1979)

Here’s a bizarre one. At first glance, Monkey Magic looks like another Breakout clone, and to be fair it does involve using a bat to hit a ball off objects.

However, this time the ‘objects’ in question are part of a giant monkey face, with the game divided into four stages.

In stage one you have to hit the ball off arrows, which travel up towards the monkey’s mouth. When one reaches the mouth it opens, leading to stage two. Here you have to knock all the monkey’s teeth out.

After this you have to turn the monkey’s entire face green by rolling your ball over every part of it, before finally destroying its hat.

It was only released in Japan. I’ve played it: we weren’t missing out.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Next to zero. It’s just a weird game, and I’m not sure Nintendo needs the press if PETA notices it and decides it’s actually about torturing a monkey by knocking its teeth out and skinning its face.


Head On N (1979)

Head On is actually a Sega game in which – one year before Pac-Man, it should be noted – the player has to collect dots in a maze while avoiding an enemy.

In this case your character is a car constantly travelling forwards, and the only control you have is changing lanes when you drive into a gap.

Why am I telling you about a Sega game? Because later the same year it released a sequel, Head On 2, which was basically the same game with a slightly different track design.

Head On 2 was licensed to Nintendo, who renamed it Head On N and released it in Japan. So now you know.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Zero. It was never really a proper Nintendo game to belong with so if Hamster was ever to release it, it would probably have to do a deal with Sega instead: in which case it would be the normal Head On instead of Nintendo’s version.


Radar Scope (1979)

Here’s one you may have heard of, but not for the reason Nintendo originally intended.

Radar Scope is another space shooter which feels like a mix between Space Invaders and Galaxian (in that the enemies swoop down towards you).

It was popular in Japan, so Nintendo Of America – which had just been set up – decided to order a load of them.

Sadly, it took months for the order to arrive in the US and by then nobody cared about Radar Scope any more. Nintendo was stuck with a load of unsold Radar Scope systems.

What did it do with them? You’ll find out (if you don’t already know) in a couple of games’ time.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Very slim. The game itself actually isn’t too bad, but since it now has a reputation as ‘the game that nearly killed Nintendo’ you’d expect the Big N to just leave it as one for the history books.


Space Firebird (1980)

Yet another space shooter, once again based on Galaga.

This time some of your enemies are Firebirds, large baddies that can take a few hits to kill and have more elaborate movement patterns.

In each level you’re able to activate ‘warp mode’. This shoots your ship to the top of screen while protecting it with a forcefield, letting you fly through a bunch of enemies and kill them.

It’s hard to get excited about this one, even though it does have a cool ‘fade in’ effect as enemies appear from a distance.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Next to zero. As with all of Nintendo’s other space games, there’s not a lot here to make Space Firebird appeal to modern audiences.


Heli Fire (1980)

You guessed it: it’s another shooting game. This time though you’re a submarine instead of a spaceship, so at least that’s different.

As per the game’s name, for the most part you’re firing at helicopters as they fly above you, while at the same time dodging other boats and… um, fish, for some reason.

Don’t be too fooled by the change of scenery, though: to all intents and purposes this is still another Space Invaders clone.

It’s just that it’s a Space Invaders clone with sharks in it.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Very slim. Nintendo may be tempted to give this one the nod because it’s not a typical space-themed shooter, but it’s still far too niche for most people to care.


Donkey Kong (1981)

Now you’re talking. Remember those unsold Radar Scope machines? Well, Nintendo came up with the idea of converting them into a new game, so it asked its employees to come up with ideas.

The best of the bunch was that of 28-year-old Shigeru Miyamoto, whose game was what would eventually become Donkey Kong.

The result was one of the most popular arcade games of all time, one that turned Nintendo into a powerful player in the games industry overnight.

What’s more, it also marked the debut of the industry’s most popular character, Mario (initially known as Mr Video then later Jumpman).

In case you somehow aren’t familiar with Donkey Kong, it’s a four-level game in which Mario has to reach the top of each stage before eventually making the titular gorilla fall to his doom so he can rescue Pauline.

Chances of it coming to Switch – High. Although not one of the first officially confirmed games, it would be crazy if Nintendo didn’t eventually give the nod for Donkey Kong to get the Arcade Archives treatment.

Nintendo has been pushing the fact that its arcade games had extra features not in the home versions, and the arcade Donkey Kong has a level that was missing from NES game (though Nintendo later modded it back in and released it on Wii and 3DS Virtual Console as Donkey Kong: Original Edition).

Ultimately, if Nintendo’s allowing Hamster Corporation to port some of its arcade games for the first time, it would be madness if its most popular arcade game of all wasn’t part of the list.


Sky Skipper (1981)

Here’s a rare one. Sky Skipper is an action game where the player has to fly around in a plane dropping bombs on gorillas.

These particular gorillas (who wear headphones and carry baseballs for some reason) have taken over the Wonder Kingdom and are causing a general ruckus.

It’s up to you – as the oddly-named pilot Mr You – to rescue the King’s seven family members, all named after playing cards (King, Queen, Joker, Spade, Club, Diamond, Heart), while smacking the gorillas with bombs.

The reason Sky Skipper’s so rare now is because it was never fully released: it failed the initial play testing results (in other words, it didn’t make a lot of money in the small number of test venues where it was set up).

Of the 12 cabinets that were sent to the US, almost all of them were converted a year later into Popeye games (more on that later), meaning Sky Skipper is all but dead: except, that is, for one cabinet in Nintendo Of America’s archives.

Recently, a group of dedicated Nintendo fans recreated Sky Skipper using one of the two known arcade boards for it, along with the artwork from Nintendo’s remaining cabinet. It’s making its UK debut at the Play Expo in Manchester on 14 and 15 October.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Maybe. There’s no denying it’s as niche as you can get, but the recent restoration project means it’ll be on Nintendo’s radar and if it markets it as ‘the lost Nintendo game’ and build up some mystique behind it, it could do well. It helps that it actually isn’t a bad wee game.


Space Demon (1981)

If you thought the space shooters were dead, you were wrong. Wrooooong.

Nintendo had one last crack at it with Space Demon, a pseudo-sequel to Space Firebird.

It was almost identical to Space Firebird, except this time your ship was a lot bigger and you were now dealing with demon faces, not flaming birds.

This is another one that’s quite rare, especially in the west. The ‘Nintendo Arcade’ Twitter account, which specialises in finding and collecting Nintendo’s coin-ops, only spotted a Space Demon cabinet in the US for the first time a couple of years ago.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Almost zero. Space Firebird is unremarkable as it is, so its even less common follow-up wouldn’t be worth porting.


Donkey Kong Jr (1982)

The enormous success of Donkey Kong meant a sequel was inevitable. Sure enough, the follow-up came the following year but it did so with a twist.

This time Mario was the villain: having captured Donkey Kong in the first game he was now keeping him in a cage.

It was up to Donkey Kong’s son to run, jump and climb his way through four stages and eventually unlock his old man’s cage, freeing him from Mario’s clutches.

Although its more complex controls meant it wasn’t as immediately accessible as its predecessor, Donkey Kong Jr was still another hugely popular game for Nintendo.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Good. The arcade version of Donkey Kong Jr has some cool wee animations that were never in the home versions (including Donkey Kong booting Mario up the arse at the end), so it would also fit into Nintendo’s sales pitch that these games offer something different from the usual NES Virtual Console offerings.

That said, Nintendo may not be so keen any more to promote a game in which Mario’s the bad guy, so for that reason it may not be quite as likely as the original Donkey Kong is.


Popeye (1982)

When Nintendo was in the early stages of developing Donkey Kong, it was supposed to be a Popeye game.

Mario was supposed to be Popeye, Donkey Kong was supposed to be Bluto, Pauline was obviously Olive Oyl and the hammers Mario collected were cans of spinach.

Ultimately Nintendo couldn’t sort the licence in time and so Miyamoto and co were forced (thankfully, it turns out) to create original characters instead.

After Donkey Kong became a smash hit, Nintendo was finally able to get the Popeye licence (funny, that) and so a new game was created with those characters.

In it, Popeye has to capture items that are thrown by Olive and float down the screen (either love hearts, musical notes, letters from the word “help”, depending on the level).

While doing this he must dodge Bluto and punch any other enemies or obstacles he encounters. And yes, naturally, he can eat spinach to become invincible for a while.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Almost zero. Although Popeye was a fun game, Nintendo would need to get the licence again to be able to re-release it. It never bothered to do this with the NES version (which was never on any Virtual Console service), so I don’t see why it would now.


Mario Bros (1983)

Following his debut appearance in Donkey Kong and (what would eventually emerge to be) a rare villainous performance in its sequel, it was time for Mario to get his own starring role.

He wasn’t alone, though: as per the game’s name, Mario Bros saw Mario sharing the spotlight with his sibling Luigi (making his first ever appearance).

This is the game that established the Mario Bros as plumbers: set in a sewer, the pair have to defeat creatures that have started gathering there.

They do this not by jumping on their enemies (that’s a schoolboy error most modern gamers make when they play it for the first time), but hitting them from underneath then running into them while they’re stunned.

Mario Bros can be played either solo or in co-op mode, with both brothers on-screen at the same time.

Chances of it coming to Switch – 100%. Not only has it already been confirmed, it’s the only game with a release date so far: 27 September.


Punch-Out!! (1984)

Donkey Kong may have been a big game for Nintendo, but it went a bit overboard with its order and ended up with a load more monitors than it needed.

It was decided the next game would have a two-screen display, with two monitors stacked on top of each other. That game was Punch-Out!!, the first in what would become a series of boxing games.

In it, the player – as a wireframe character, he wasn’t Little Mac yet – has to defeat six opponents by learning their fight patterns and exploiting them to expose their weaknesses.

Right from the very first game the basic foundations of Punch-Out!! were pretty much spot on, and its subsequent sequels – be it on arcade, NES, SNES or Wii – played in a similar way.

Chances of it coming to Switch – 100%. Although it wasn’t mentioned by name in either the Nintendo Direct presentation or the subsequent press release that followed, the Direct did show footage of Punch-Out!! running on what appeared to be the Arcade Archives emulator.

It’s clear, then, that it’s definitely coming. What’s less clear is whether it’ll have the option to rotate the Switch in handheld mode to get a vertical display. Fingers crossed!


VS Tennis (1984)

The first VS System game, VS Tennis was released in February 1984. Like the other VS System titles, it’s mainly based on the NES version of the game.

I’m going to blow your mind here: this particular one is a tennis game.

Being a VS System game, though, meant it could be played in different ways. For example, its dual-screen setup meant each player could play their own solo game against the CPU and not worry about the other person.

This screenshot I’ve taken isn’t two separate screenshots. It’s a single VS System ROM running the same game on two monitors. As you can see, each player gets their own screen and gets to see the game from their perspective. There are a couple more dual-screen examples like this below.

Alternatively, both players could play against each other, with each viewing the game from their own perspective at the bottom of the screen.

Even better, since each screen came with two sets of controls, you could have a doubles match with two players per screen. This meant VS Tennis was also Nintendo’s first ever four-player game.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Average. The fact there are other VS games coming to Switch is positive, but Tennis is a basic game so Nintendo might not be in a rush to let Hamster release it.


VS Mahjong (1984)

Mahjong is one of those games that is massive in one region but more or less ignored everywhere else.

Adored in Eastern and South Eastern Asia, it’s a tile-based game for four players similar to Rummy.

It’s not to be confused with mahjong solitaire (often called Shanghai Solitaire), the single-player game in which you remove tiles two at a time.

Since Mahjong is barely known in the west, it should come as no surprise to you that VS Mahjong was only released in Japan, where its four-player tabletop cabinet went down well.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Practically zero. On the miniscule chance Hamster does port VS Mahjong to the Switch, it’ll only be in Japan since no English language version exists and it’s far too niche to be worth translating.


VS Baseball (1984)

When the VS System launched in the west it did so with two games: VS Tennis and VS Baseball.

Also based on its NES counterpart, VS Baseball let two players compete against each other using their own viewpoint.

This meant that while one player was batting with the camera behind their player, the other could be pitching but still have the camera behind them too.

VS Baseball is a fun wee game with some of the cheeriest music you’ll ever hear in a sports game. It’s really only got legs as a multiplayer game these days, though.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Unlikely. If Hamster make it so that some Arcade Archives games can be played with two Switch systems, then this would be an ideal release. If not, this is just the NES version.


VS Pinball (1984)

Developed by Nintendo R&D1 (Donkey Kong, Metroid), Pinball was a basic pinball game with a table laid out over two screens.

As in the NES version, it’s your standard pinball game, albeit one with a special bonus level starring Mario.

Switching from flippers to a Breakout style, the bonus area has you trying to hit the ball off targets in order to rescue Pauline who’s trapped at the top of the screen.

The arcade version doesn’t offer too many differences, other than a weird tension-building noise that continually plays in the background (the NES game is just silent except for sound effects) and a different font design for the scoreboard.

Chances of it coming to Switch – 100%. It’s already been confirmed by Nintendo.


VS Stroke And Match Golf (1984)

Otherwise known as simply VS Golf, this is another arcade offering based on one of Nintendo’s NES sports titles.

Much like the NES Golf, it features a variety of holes and a golfer who looks suspiciously like Mario.

Despite its age, Golf still holds up quite well today, mainly because its three-press stroke system continues to be used by many modern golf games.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Decent. Although it’s yet to be officially confirmed by Nintendo, it would be a good fit for the Switch. Hamster also has previous in this field, having already ported Neo Turf Masters to the Switch.


VS Ladies Golf (1984)

Listen, you sexist pigs, women can play golf too. Just because back in the ‘80s a lot of them weren’t allowed to join golf clubs, that doesn’t mean they can’t thwack the hell out of a ball.

Nintendo obviously agreed, which is why it released a second version of Golf which replaced Mario with a female golfer instead.

Other than this replacement, the rest of the game is more or less the same, meaning it’s just as fun to play as the moustachioed version.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Decent. There’s no reason why VS Ladies Golf shouldn’t have as good a chance at seeing a Switch release as its male counterpart.

Indeed, seeing as Hamster’s Neo Geo ports let you easily switch between the US and Japan versions before launching the game, it would be cool to see a version of this which let you choose the male or female game before playing.


VS Wrecking Crew (1984)

Wrecking Crew is one of the Mario games most people forget about, which is a shame because I reckon it’s decent.

It’s a sort of puzzle platformer in which Mario has to destroy all the doors, walls and ladders in a stage while avoiding enemies.

The twist is that since Mario can’t jump here, you have to make sure you destroy everything in the right order so you don’t end up wrecking a part of the stage that prevents access to untouched areas.

The arcade version features different stages, as well as one other major addition in the shape of a simultaneous co-op mode.

While the NES Wrecking Crew was a two-player game, each player had to take turns. In VS Wrecking Crew both Mario and Luigi share the same screen.

Chances of it coming to Switch – High. Nintendo hasn’t confirmed it yet, but the arcade version’s co-op mode would be the perfect fit for Switch’s two-JoyCon multiplayer.


Super Punch-Out!! (1984)

Nintendo followed up Punch-Out!! with a sequel offering five new boxers to take on.

For the most part Super Punch-Out!! plays exactly the same as its predecessor, only with different opponents.

There’s one interesting feature, though: you can make your boxer duck by pulling the joystick (as if you were trying to yank it out).

Needless to say, that’s a control method that didn’t really catch on, and it’s probably a good job too.

Chances of it coming to Switch – So-so. Although the original Punch-Out!! is coming – and as such there’s no reason why its sequel isn’t technically possible either – Super Punch-Out!! has its own baggage which might mean some extra work.

One of the boxers you face is a Russian called Vodka Drunkenski. The idea is that, because he’s Russian, he must therefore be an alcoholic.

He was renamed Soda Popinski for the NES version of the game, but this means if Hamster was to port the arcade version it would need to modify the ROM image, something Nintendo might not feel is worth the hassle.


VS Balloon Fight (1984)

Balloon Fight is a unique entry in the VS System series in that it actually made its arcade debut before it was even released on the NES.

Much like the home version, VS Balloon Fight has players floating around a series of stages, bursting enemies’ balloons while making sure your own aren’t popped.

Fans of the NES Balloon Fight may be disappointed to learn that the arcade version is missing the addictive Balloon Trip mode.

Its main mode, however, has completely different levels, mainly because the arcade version features vertical scrolling rather than just single-screen stages.

The two-player co-op mode, then, gives each player the option to have their own screen focusing on their character: this means if one player floats upwards only their screen will scroll.

Chances of it coming to Switch – 100%. Nintendo has already confirmed it. That said, it hasn’t confirmed whether the dual-screen option will also be available for those with two Switches, or whether players will be limited to playing together on a single screen.


Donkey Kong 3 (1984)

The last in the arcade Donkey Kong trilogy is a bit of a black sheep, in that Nintendo doesn’t tend to talk about it much.

That’s partly because it doesn’t actually star Mario: instead players take on the role of Stanley the Bugman, a pest exterminator armed with a can of bug spray.

It’s also partly because it wasn’t really a platformer: it was actually more of a shoot ‘em up, with Stanley firing spray at insects descending towards him while also trying to prevent Donkey Kong from reaching him.

That’s actually because it was based on elements of Space Firebird. Nintendo, you pesky sods, stop trying to secretly force your space shooters on us!

Chances of it coming to Switch – Moderate. Donkey Kong 3 wasn’t the best game ever made but it’s an interesting curio in Nintendo’s history.

Stanley has also appeared in a couple of Smash Bros games (as a Trophy in Melee and a sticker in Brawl) so it’s not like Nintendo is ashamed of him.


VS Clu Clu Land (1984)

Clu Clu Land is an odd little maze game in which players control a balloonfish called Bubbles.

Bubbles has to reveal all the gold ingots in each stage by swimming over them: most of the time, they’ll form an image.

The twist is that Bubbles can only move by grabbing onto a post as she passes it and swinging round. This means you have to think ahead and figure out how you’re going to move around.

The arcade version is probably more different to its NES version than any other game in the VS System series.

The number of puzzles in the game has doubled, there’s a new enemy and there are a bunch of new level themes.

Incidentally, in case you’re curious about the game’s name, it’s a mistranslation. The Japanese version is actually called Kurukuru Rando, with ‘Kurukuru’ meaning ‘spinning round’. It should actually have been called Spinny Land.

Chances of it coming to Switch – 100%. Nintendo has already confirmed it.


VS Excitebike (1984)

Excitebike is the ultimate misunderstood game: the number of people who think it’s a load of rubbish is disappointing, partly because these days people don’t read the instructions.

Once you realise it’s actually about maintaining your bike temperature, hitting as many arrows as you can (to cool your bike), leaning the right way as you come off jumps and landing as flat as possible, it’s addictive as hell.

VS Excitebike is an odd one in that, despite its name, there’s actually no multiplayer element to it. It’s just a single-player game.

Still, it’s at least different from the NES version in that it’s laid out differently. Instead of offering five tracks either solo or against the CPU, you race through seven tracks and have to do both: beat a certain time in solo to qualify for the race against CPU riders.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Moderate. Despite its different structure the arcade version of Excitebike isn’t a massive improvement over the NES version.

That said, since Mario Kart 8 Deluxe featured that Excitebike DLC track and Virtual Console is still to be fully revealed, VS Excitebike is relatively relevant for Switch owners so you never know.


VS Urban Champion (1984)

Urban Champion was an interesting one-on-one fighting game in which the aim wasn’t to deplete your opponent’s health bar but to knock them off the side of the screen.

The idea was that this was supposed to be an epic street brawl with two guys punching each other all over the place.

As you knock your opponent off the pavement and onto the road, they roll onto the next street (i.e. the next level) and the fight continues, until you eventually knock them into a manhole.

Unfortunately though, it’s quite a basic game. There are only two attacks – a light punch and a heavy punch – meaning it gets repetitive quite quickly.

For what it’s worth, the arcade version is one of the rarest VS System games out there. It doesn’t really add anything major, though: the music is different and a scoring system has been introduced.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Slim. It’s not exactly the best game ever and it’s so rare – there are actually no known ROM dumps of it out there, so Nintendo would have to hope it has the game in its archives and if so re-rip it – that it doesn’t seem worth the hassle.


VS Ice Climber (1985)

Modern Nintendo fans will know Nana and Popo from Super Smash Bros Melee and Brawl, where they fight together as a single entry.

They originated back in 1985, though, in the NES game Ice Climber. This vertically scrolling platformer had them scaling mountains to get back a bunch of vegetables that had been stolen by a large bird.

The aim is to climb up all 32 mountains by breaking the ice above you and using your giant mallet to batter any enemies who come close.

Although the NES version already featured co-op play for two players, the arcade version adds 16 extra mountains, some new enemies and wind effects designed to throw you off course.

Chances of it coming to Switch – 100%. It’s already been confirmed.


VS Hogan’s Alley (1985)

Joystick-based games were only part of the arcade scene, don’t forget. A large chunk of the market was also dedicated to lightgun games.

The NES version of Hogan’s Alley supported the Zapper gun and consisted of two main modes, inventively named Hogan’s Alley A and Hogan’s Alley B.

The first puts you in a shooting gallery which quickly reveals three cardboard cutouts. You have to shoot the criminals and avoid hitting the innocent civilians.

The second does the same, but in a street setting in which the screen scrolls. That’s about it, really: it’s quite a basic game, as were most Zapper titles.

The arcade version features both modes in one, and alternates between them. Beat a shooting gallery level and you’ll go straight onto the street level.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Slim. With no lightgun support, the only way this would work is if Hamster borrowed a trick from Tomorrow Corporation’s Switch ports of World Of Goo and Little Inferno, and created a cursor that can be controlled using a JoyCon’s accelerometer.

Even then, it’s such a limited game that it wouldn’t be too well received.


VS Duck Hunt (1985)

Most people know Duck Hunt, the classic Zapper game that launched alongside the NES.

Like Hogan’s Alley, the arcade version of Duck Hunt takes two of the NES game’s modes and sticks them together to form one game.

In the first stage, you have to shoot a certain number of ducks in order to progress. The ducks come two at a time and you have three shots to take them both out. Mess up and your dog will appear, laughing at you.

The second stage is a similar idea but this time you’re shooting clay pigeons instead of ducks. Same deal: shoot a certain number to progress.

The big difference here is that VS Duck Hunt has a bonus stage that doesn’t appear in the NES version. Here you can go wild and shoot loads of ducks, but – brilliantly – you can also put a bullet up the dog’s backside: that’ll teach you for laughing, ya dick.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Unlikely. Much like Hogan’s Alley, VS Duck Hunt would need some serious workarounds to get its Zapper gameplay working on the Switch (and using the touchscreen would be too easy).

The only thing going for it is that Duck Hunt is a more iconic title than Hogan’s Alley, meaning if Nintendo and Hamster ever were to bother looking into porting lightgun games, it’ll probably be the first.


Arm Wrestling (1985)

Nintendo was happy enough with the response to its two Punch-Out!! arcade games that it decided to make a spin-off based on arm wrestling instead of boxing.

Although the controls were different, the general idea was the same: take on a series of opponents and figure out their attacking patterns so you can counterattack.

The five opponents you face range from the normal (a Texan wearing a cowboy hat, a sumo wrestler) to the bizarre (Frankenstein’s monster, a robot monkey being controlled by a young girl).

This was the last game Nintendo made specifically for arcades: after this any other arcade games based on Nintendo games were created by third-party developers.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Maybe. I’d imagine this is one of those games where it depends on how well the Arcade Archives series does, and if the sales are decent this might be part of the next round of titles.


VS Mach Rider (1985)

Mach Rider is one of those first-party NES games that seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth over the years.

It’s a motorbike racing game similar to Hang-On, but it’s set in a Mad Max style post-apocalyptic wasteland.

As well as taking corners and avoiding obstacles, then, you’re also using your bike-mounted machine guns to destroy enemies in your path.

I used to really like Mach Rider back in the day, but I suppose it hasn’t aged quite as well as other Nintendo games over the years.

The arcade version is more or less the same game except it’s a bit harder, and each time you beat a level a small part of an image is uncovered. When you beat all the levels the full image is shown, revealing that Mach Rider is actually a woman. DRAMA!

Chances of it coming to Switch – Low. Mach Rider is all but forgotten these days, other than the music appearing in the last three Smash Bros games. A return would be something of a surprise.


VS Soccer (1985)

You can tell if an NES sports game was an early release if it has a generic title. Golf? Yup. NES Open Tournament Golf? Nope.

Baseball, Tennis, Volleyball: all these no-nonsense titles belonged to original ‘black box’ NES games, and naturally Soccer is no different.

Each team consists of five players (plus a goalie) and while the gameplay is as basic as you can get it’s actually still surprisingly easy to get addicted.

Tackling is as simple as walking into the ball, while shooting is controlled by an arrow which constantly moves back and forth along the goal line and requires you to press the button at the right time.

Against the CPU it’s a bit meh, but with two players involved Soccer can still be a good laugh, meaning it was ideal for the VS System (even though very little had been changed).

Chances of it coming to Switch – Maybe, if the first batch does well. Of all Nintendo’s early multiplayer sports titles, I reckon Soccer is the most enjoyable with two players, so it would be a good fit.


VS Super Mario Bros (1986)

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by pretending you don’t know what Super Mario Bros is.

The only reason you may be unfamiliar with it is if you came here checking to see if the chocolate in the middle of a Feast ice cream is real chocolate and Google sent you here because of this sentence.

(Incidentally, it isn’t, it’s a ‘chocolate flavoured centre’ made up of other weird shit: that’s why it’s still soft and not rock hard despite being surrounded by ice cream.)

The VS System version of one of the most influential games of all time – and my personal favourite game ever – starts off much like the NES version but eventually gets much harder.

The positions of some enemies and items are switched around, and some Warp Zones don’t take you where they used to (4-2 only takes you to World 6 now instead of either 6, 7 or 8).

What’s more, some of the stages are simply flat out replaced with much harder ones, which were later reused in the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros 2 (aka The Lost Levels).

Nerdy fact: how can you tell right away if a screen is from VS Super Mario Bros? The coin counter has three digits, not two.

Chances of it coming to Switch – 100%. Nintendo’s already confirmed it, and as someone who has literally bought every incarnation of Super Mario Bros (NES, All-Stars, GBC, GBA, every Virtual Console etc) I’m legitimately massively excited to be able to buy VS Super Mario Bros for the first time.


VS Gumshoe (1987)

Gumshoe was actually a really clever game, and was Metroid co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto’s attempt at making a platform game that could be played with the NES Zapper gun.

You have to help a detective called Mr Stevenson rescue his daughter Jennifer by finding five ‘Black Panther’ diamonds (oo er) and delivering them to the mafia boss King Dom.

You do this by aiding Mr Stevenson, who despite being a presumably smart man is only capable of walking right (maybe he’s stunned by the shock of his daughter’s kidnapping).

As well as shooting the enemies that approach him, you can also shoot Mr Stevenson himself to make him jump.

The twist is that you lose ammo every time you shoot (unless you shoot him), so you have to keep guiding him into the red balloons that give you more bullets.

Chances of it coming to Switch – Unlikely. As with Duck Huck and Hogan’s Alley, Hamster is going to have to work out how to emulate the Zapper first and that might not be considered worth the effort.


VS Dr Mario (1990)

The last game in the VS series came a few years after VS Gumshoe and was more or less a straight port of Dr Mario, which had arrived on the NES earlier that same year.

If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a puzzler in which you have to match up coloured pills to make them disappear. The main aim, though, is to match them up with viruses in an attempt to clear the stage of them.

It’s a well-kept secret that two-player Dr Mario is one of the greatest puzzle games you can play (especially on the WiiWare or Wii U versions).

The VS System version is essentially the NES game with a couple of option tweaks (there’s no Low Speed setting and you can’t turn the music off… as if you’d want to, it’s ace).

Chances of it coming to Switch – Maybe. Although there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be a viable option, the fact it’s so similar to the NES game means Nintendo may just wait and release the home version once Virtual Console finally launches on Switch.


Enjoyed this article? Want to read something similar? Check out my articles on the complete history of Bomberman and the complete history of Mario Kart. There’s a Street Fighter one coming soon.

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7 thoughts on “The complete history of Nintendo arcade games

  1. I actually love the role reversal of Donkey Kong Jr, where the original hero from the first game is now the villain! And many years before MGS2, lol.

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  2. There’s one snafu with Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. The source code to both games is owned by a company called Ikegami Tsushinki. Apparently, there was a lawsuit concerning the rights to the source code. This probably explains why Nintendo stuck with revealing Mario Bros. first instead of Donkey Kong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is what I was gonna say as well. The pre-DK games like Radar scope are also rumored to have been made by them, which means none of them are likely to come out either unless they can get exceptions for those.

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  3. Very informative and helpful. I was wondering what Nintendo Arcade games would have a chance at coming out, although I do have to point out that Hamster normally doesn’t give a single crud about releasing ultra obscure arcade titles. Lots of UPL and Nichibitsu games are out on the NA PS4 despite most of them lacking a NA version, and sometimes in the case of something like Gradius II, they’ll even salvage an ultra rare version like Vulcan Venture, so I think VS Urban Champion will be coming soon. I sure hope so, as I actually like that game and having a high score leaderboard would make it actually worthwhile.

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