The Fair Shake

Power Drive: Arcade

I rarely cover arcade games and I’m not really sure why.  Lack of access to cabinets, maybe? I changed that recently. A few weeks ago I was at Funspot with my fiance. (Oh yeah, I’m engaged, whoo hoo!) They have all sorts of arcade games there. Shooting, driving, platformers, timed games, and even the button mash games. You know, the games where the ‘skill’ is who can pound a few buttons the hardest, like Track N Field. This one game, Power Drive, has taunted me, hurt my fingers, stressed my wrists, and generally tired me out  since I was a child over 25 years ago.. and I keep going back to it. WHY? What is it about?

Sir, your car is on fire.

Sir, your car is on fire.

Power Drive is an arcade game released by Bally Midway in 1987. Up to three players can simultaneously control some cool looking monster trucks (Hey, these were all the rage in the 80’s) over various tracks and courses. You earn money by winning various competitions held at venues all around the country. The winnings pay for your entry fee into the next event. You can buy in (with real money via quarters) and add to your in game account. Man this sounds like the micro transactions that game companies pull now! You’ll barely make enough money to continue playing unless you’re really good and win consistently, but no worries, you can add another quarter.. right?

Sheriff Perry should arrest Daddy's Girl's father for endangerment.

Sheriff Perry should arrest Daddy’s Girl’s father for endangerment.

The graphics look really similar to other Bally Midway releases like Tapper, Spy Hunter, Timber and the like. Very bright, well defined 80’s sprites. Oh look, the banners on the wall of the track advertise other Bally Midway games. So clever! I love the vehicle names and logos, they make me think of an earlier time when race cars and monster trucks had names. A lifted Corvette, a police car/Jeep, and my favorite, a mid 70’s Ford are among the vehicles you can drive. They all roll the same. A shame, as I wish the police Jeep’s light bar and siren worked. The screen is divided into three horizontal bars, similar to Xenophobe or XyBots, with each player or CPU opponent taking one third of the screen. If you are playing solo, you’ll have two CPU trucks racing you. Game play is all left to right. The events are all varied. Tractor pulls, jumps, car crushes, wheelie contests and even a “crush the bug” event await you.

I think this is the only game with a tractor pull.

I think this is the only video game with a tractor pull.

This brings me to the controls, which define the game. Ugh.  There are two large buttons decorated like wheels that need to be rapidly pressed in order for your truck to move. There’s also a shifter for alternating between two and four wheel drive. Four wheel drive makes the truck go better over obstacles, like cars, while two wheel drive allows for more speed. There’s also a ‘wheelie’ button (Why doesn’t my truck have this button?)  Wheelies allow you to climb over obstacles better or jump off ramps farther. Actually playing this game is a wrist endurance test as you move between tapping wheel buttons and shifting into four wheel drive. See the video, and me, for the pain fun.

I’m not sure why I keep playing this game anywhere I see it. Maybe it’s because ‘ooh cool trucks!’ Maybe it’s that feeling of nothing else mattering except mashing some buttons for a little while. Maybe I just enjoy the game. Swansea Mall in Massachusetts used to have this game in its arcade, aptly titled ‘Just Fun’. I was never very good at it but was always drawn to it. These days I’m somewhat better than my seven year old self. I gradually forgot about this game as time marched on and the arcades closed. So sad! When my retro game renaissance occurred I set out to experience this game again. I finally found one in the American Classic Arcade Museum located at Funspot. I’m sure there’s others around, but the relatively short trip to New Hampshire is worthwhile. MAME supports this, of course, and it’s close, but not the same if you use a joystick for shifting and keyboard for buttons. You must experience Power Drive in a cabinet, just to say you played this button masher. Your wrists will enjoy the workout. Give it The Fair Shake.