1995: Pang! 3 (Arcades and a Time Before Emulation)

InfernalMage “The following is a contributor column by the Infernal Accountant Mage.”

I don’t remember much about Pang! 3. Well, that’s not really true – I’ve played it as an adult. It’s a shooter where you choose one of four characters and blast away with hooks at bubbles, bombs and other targets in an effort to steal famous works of art. Shooting a bubble would cause it to split apart into smaller bubbles, so Pang! 3. ends up feeling a bit like Asteroids; you have to balance your destructive impulses with the necessity of keeping the stage free of obstacles. Beginning players would tend to overextend themselves, resulting in a flood of tiny but no less deadly bubbles that made it impossible to move around. Death and, soon, the loss of a coin were soon to follow. Pang! 3 is more brutal than it might seem.

The characters were the most memorable part of the game for me, and I remember preferring the Pink Leopard, who was probably the weakest option. He was immune to negative environmental and item effects, which wasn’t all that great…but he was a PINK LEOPARD, so of course I’d pick him most of the time. Young me was often fond of “weird” or “monstrous” characters like that.

As usual, I’m not really here to talk about Pang! 3. There’s not a whole lot to say about it after the fact. Thanks to MAME, I can play it whenever I please, and while it’s a perfectly fine game most of the magic I associated with it growing up is now gone. As a kid, though, Pang! 3 was amazing, because it was a Neo-Geo game and those weren’t readily available to play outside of arcades.

The most recent generation, perhaps the most recent two generations, probably aren’t familiar with arcades. It’s a stretch for me to say I am, really, since by the time I could drive and certainly by the time I could afford my own entertainment, arcades were a relic of the past. You can still find the odd cabinet here and there, but by and large the arcade as it once was is a novelty you’ll have to travel to beach boardwalks and amusement parks to find.

Even then, much of the appeal is gone; I can play any of these games whenever I want. I’ve got a very nice Korean-style arcade stick, even. The experience is about as authentic as one can get without looking for PCBs and building a cabinet. Emulation is a wonderful thing, and I’ll always prize the ability to play otherwise-inaccessible games and reclaim little bits of one’s childhood…but it’s not an arcade.

Young me was fascinated by arcades. That’s probably not going to come as much of a surprise. There were entire buildings full of video games! What’s more, they were video games you couldn’t play anywhere else! In the 8 and 16-bit eras, arcade games could boast significant hardware advantages over home consoles, so stepping into an arcade was often like stepping into the future of video games. Sure, you could play Samurai Shodown on your SNES, but it wouldn’t compare to the fidelity of the arcade version…and even then, you still couldn’t play Samurai Shodown II or III at home. The arcade was a wonderful and mysterious place.

My memories of arcade games, then, don’t really match up with those who are slightly older than I and who were able to live through the golden age of arcades. Those are just stories now – tales of teens and young adults lining up to play the latest fighting games, sharing tips in an age before the Internet when games had real secrets hidden within, becoming part of a whole culture that bloomed around each arcade. Naturally, the reality was certainly somewhere between the stories and “arcades were dingy smoke-filled pits full of creeps and losers,” but it’s nice to think about what it would have been like to visit an arcade during their heyday.

As it stands, young me wasn’t often able to visit arcades, but when I did it was an experience. Unlike gaming at home, quarters – or, since most of my young years were spent in Spain, fat gold 100-peseta coins – were a limited resource. Choosing which games to play was a critical decision matched only by choosing which games to rent from Blockbuster or Hollywood Video on the weekend. Make the wrong choice and you’ll have wasted a precious coin to an experience that was far too difficult or far too uninteresting; the latter was rare, given how most of these games were new to me, but the former was distressingly common.

Young me didn’t really understand the concept of “quarter-munching” yet, the idea that arcade games would be especially difficult so you’d keep feeding them money, so many a quarter was lost to infamously brutal titles like the shmups of the era. I’d often find myself going back to my parents and asking for “un mil” – another 1000-peseta note, just so I could keep going for just a bit longer. They’d often give in. There is some joy in this world.

The arcade I remember most, Sega Park in Jerez de la Frontera, wasn’t the one that held Pang! 3. That cabinet was just a sideshow, an oasis of light in the dark back room of an airport cafe where I’d sometimes accompany my parents. Regardless, it was magical, and I’d look forward to the trip every time just for the chance to check it out again. I don’t think Pink Leopard and I ever really got anywhere, but the chance to taste the future of games, just for a moment, was enough to ignite my imagination and send young me’s thoughts into a wild spiral of joy. It was pretty nice, if only for a little chunk at a time.

Other games held similar fascination – Gunforce 2, RoadBlasters, Metamorphic Force and the glorious S.T.U.N. Runner, one of the first fully polygonal games I was able to behold. Every trip to a new shopping center held the promise of a new arcade and new arcade games to blow my mind just a tiny bit more. I didn’t include Marvel vs. Capcom 2 on the annual list, but playing it in an arcade for the first time and gaping at how many characters you could choose from was a memorable moment that persists to this day. Arcades represented a whole unexplored world to a game-obsessed young me. In a way, they represented the unknown.

As for Sega Park? We’ll talk about that one next time. It had The House of the Dead, y’see.

Now that was a game.

 

The Infernal Accountant Mage believes the pen is mightier than the sword…well, depending on how sharp the pen and sword are. A child of the ’90s and a prolific writer, he strews his work about like Legos made of words, just waiting for your brain to step on them. He enjoys a devilish challenge, so when it comes to talking about some of the more difficult games out there, you might just run into the Infernal Accountant Mage. Some advice: hold on to your soul around this guy, and don’t sign anything. Read more at popzara.com

 

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