There was a time, long ago, before the Internet was mainstream, before home gaming consoles were standard, and certainly before an online casino was even a concept. It was a time when arcade games ruled. We’re talking about those classic old games, presented in enormous, clunky cabinets that relied on mass appeal to draw in the hip 80s and 90s youths. Those who remember these games probably do so fondly, recalling Double Dragon, Final Fight, Bubble Bobble, and many more.
But, remove your rose-tinted spectacles for a moment, and remember a hard reality; those games were nothing more than vacuum cleaners designed to hoover coins out of teenager’s pockets. The core design of arcade games was simple; draw players in, get them to put in a coin, kill them ASAP, and get them to put in another coin.
But this little transaction had a caveat; the player had to be convinced into putting in more than one coin. A tricky prospect, especially since the player may just wonder off to another game. The question became how do you ensure that your player will put in more than one coin? The solution, a continue screen that all but demanded the next coin investment, lest something horrifying occur.
These are the continue screens that haunted dreams, and traumatised teenagers in the past.
Final Fight is perhaps one of the most beloved side-scrolling brawlers of all time. You took on the role of Guy, Cody, or professional wrestling mayor Haggar, and you went around beating thugs with your bare fists. Yes, lest we forget, this was indeed the 90s. The game enthralled with its wide variety of moves, interesting, bizarrely quirky enemies, and more extremities smashing into faces than a teenager could hope for.
The continue screen? Well, your chosen character is pictured tied to a chair, with a lit bundle of dynamite before them. As the counter ticks down, the fuse burns lower. Resist the urge to put in a coin, and the dynamite explodes, killing the character. Manipulative? Not at all.
Cadillacs And Dinosaurs
Another brawler, another set of heroes smashing the faces of quirky enemies, only this time with, as the name suggests, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. The game isn’t as iconic as Final Fight, but still gained a pretty big following. It really does deserve credit for some pretty unique world building, even if the world was nothing more than a background for thugs to get punched against.
The continue screen here has a snarky, cocky thug pointing a revolver directly at the player. A speech bubble gives the thug a bit of dialogue, things like “How dare you challenge us,” and “You fool, I’m gonna feed you to the shivat!” What is a shivat? We don’t know…
Of course, upon the timer hitting zero, the gun is fired and drops of blood are splattered across the screen. Charming.
Would you believe it, another brawler! The Punisher is an excellent game for its time, boasting some extremely good art and animations that mimic the Marvel comic pretty well. You will recognise the second player character here as Nick Fury, who we all now know and love as Samuel L Jackson.
The continue screen here really does take it to the next level, but deserves credit for the sheer creativity in the manipulation. Frank Castle, AKA The Punisher, is shown flat on his back, stone dead. A doctor frantically pumps his chest, applying CPR. The implications are that Frank can be saved and resuscitated, if only the player will provide the coin required for CPR magic to be successful. If the timer is allowed to hit zero, the doctor throws back his head in despair, grasping his hair in pure emotional horror. Yikes. Guilt trip much?
Ninja Gaiden Arcade
You probably sensed the trend. Yes, it’s another brawler. Last we have a true arcade classic that is help in the hearts of early gamers everywhere. Ninja Gaiden. It is an outstanding arcade game for a number of reasons, not in the least because it showed signs of having a cinematic tone, even during the action. Ask anyone who played this game in their youth, and they will recall the moments when boss fights were incoming; the action music dying down, and mysterious oriental tones swell up, building tension.
Interestingly enough, this understanding of cinematic tone was carried over to the continue screen. Honestly, this one really is disturbing. Your ninja character is shown bound, on his back, shaking his head in terror. Above him a jagged, spinning saw blade is descending, on a path for the ninja’s chest. As the timer ticks down, and the saw nears closer to cleaving human flesh, the ninja shakes his head ever more frantically. Thankfully, when the timer hits zero and the blade does finally make contact, the screen only turns red.
But even still, that sequence had a long lasting impact on teenagers everywhere and probably prompted the insertion of another coin just to end the agony. Mission accomplished then.