Chasing Ghosts: One Quarter at a Time

There’s a Monster in my Pizza Barn! Rampage series is a childhood fantasy

The following is part of a series about my past experiences with arcade games and running them in MAME. I will only write about games I remember playing in an actual arcade, not games I only discovered through MAME.

It was a monster movie come to life in the Pizza Barn.

During a visit to my grandparents house, we’d occasionally go out to eat at the Pizza Barn in Waldron, one of those stereotypical mom and pop pizza places that proliferated the 1980s.

The pizza was decent, although they could have cut down on the amount of cheese. What made Pizza Barn great though was the game room off to the side of the dining area. A handful of pool tables, a jukebox, numerous arcade games (Mercs stayed there through the early 2000s) and pinball machines (Elvira is the one I vividly remember).

But this trip to Pizza Barn was memorable because of Rampage. Here was a game where you got to climb buildings, eat people, and blow up helicopters. For a kid who was about 7 or 8 years old (the year eludes me, but the game had a 1986 release date and was at least a few years old at this point), this was the virtual version of all those games you played with your toy cars and tan army figures. What little boy didn’t want to be a monster stomping through a giant city full of skyscrapers?

I doubt I lasted very long during that initial play through, but I was hooked. It just felt like there was so much to do. You could climb this building, or that other little building. You could eat this person, or attack the helicopter instead. I think the game was very smart to give you that sandbox, albeit timed, that you could go through, instead of some generic platformer. Sure you had one specific goal, destroy the city without dying, but letting you do it on your own terms within that time period added to the charm for this little kid.

And then something magical happened: The game was on the Nintendo Entertainment System. That arcade game I had to put quarters in was something I could play on my uncle Brett’s NES? Sign me up! So we rented it and I stayed up playing it all night. And despite the lack of Ralph, the giant wolf, the game was a lot of fun that weekend, especially seeing cities I knew on the list (my grandparents lived two hours from Little Rock, and my actual home was Memphis during this time). Prior to this, Mike Tyson in his NES game was the only time I had seen something from the real world included in a video game (I wasn’t playing simulation sports titles at this time).

After that weekend, I didn’t think about Rampage very much. It was a fun game sure, but felt very repetitive even to the elementary school version of me. Sure the game puts you into the role of a monster (much better than King of the Monsters, by the way), there’s sadly not a lot of depth to it. And I had to play that game by myself that night, which was a much different experience than playing it with someone in the Arcade. I never saw the arcade version again as a kid.

However, while I had “forgotten” about Rampage, the people running Midway didn’t. So in 1997, Rampage World Tour was released in the arcade. And after a few quarters spent on that, I was flooded with nostalgia for that dark night in front of the NES. It was an excellent sequel, improving everything about the original while still retaining that same gameplay. The cities were massive compared to the original which kept you in front of a handful of buildings. There were powerups that would change you into a flying purple bat who could shoot fire as well. And the minigames that saw you flying on a rocket are a welcome diversion from the building smashing.

World Tour also had a more “adult” sense of humor, showing actual vomit when you eat something like a toilet, a very busty lab assistant who monitors your progress (spoiler: the end of the game shows Lizzie jumping into her cleavage), and a greater variety of people to eat. In the original you’re mostly eating army soldiers and the occasional woman in a red dress, but World Tour lets you eat all sorts of people, including a group of nuns and a priest in Chicago.

This is probably inappropriate.

This is probably inappropriate.

I could see where you might be put off by its sense of humor, but it’s silly fun that really harkens back to ridiculous B movies.
So I saved my money like crazy for the N64 version, which came out a year after the arcade game, and my friends and I played it and had a great time. Again, look at that keyword: friends. When you play the game by yourself, it gets old pretty quickly. When my friends lost interest in playing Rampage WT with me, I lost interest as well (completely skipping over the sequels that came after that). It has far more depth than the original, but nothing that would last you more than 25 minutes of gameplay at a time.

But when you have a buddy or two, Rampage World Tour might be one of the best co-op arcade titles ever made, with the exception of NBA Jam and Konami’s beat-em-up titles.

Playing in MAME.

There are two huge obstacles in running the Rampage series on your MAME cabinet, depending on your setup. Performance and controls.

Let’s start with performance: the original Rampage should run fine on nearly any computer you use from the last 10-12 years. Anything with Windows XP should do the trick. However, the same cannot be said for Rampage World Tour.

Running it on my 1.87 ghz Windows 7 64-bit Pentium dual core laptop with 3 gig of ram, it runs great. The same can be said for our Media PC, which is 2 ghz 32-bit Windows Vista Pentium dual core with 2 gig of ram. But for the longest time, the only computer I had was a 2005 eMac which was a 1.42 ghz PowerPC 7447a G4 with 1 gig of ram, and you could only play the game with the sound disabled. With the sound enabled, the frame rate skipped way too much to play it. I realize most people are going to use computers close to my own specs to power their MAME cabs, but I do realize a handful of people are going to use older machines that are just lying around. If that’s you, be warned if you trying playing Rampage World Tour.

The other problem is controls. Rampage never released a two player cabinet, it was always three people in the arcade. Which means there is no character select screen: each set of controls is permanently attached to a specific character.

If you have a MAME cab that is set up for four players, this won’t be an issue. But I suspect many people buy cabinet kits that only have two sets of controls next to each other, especially those that have cocktail cabinets. In this case, it means one character is permanently omitted from gameplay unless you take 3-5 minutes before each playthrough to remap the controls. But even then, it’s a hassle that takes some of the fun out of immediately firing up this game.

One workaround I suppose is to have three copies of the game in your MAME folder with different controls enabled for each character, but that’s more effort than most people would go through, and if you change your mind halfway through the game, you have to pause and remap controls. I prefer to play with Ralph and Lizzie, so that’s my default setup.

Also, before you go through the effort of getting this set up (or if you buy a legit Rampage arcade machine), make sure you have someone to play with. Playing by myself even as an adult, I really missed the camaraderie that came from two or three people all beating each other up. The graphics actually hold up really nice: I’m more partial to the art style in World Tour, but the actual character sprites in the original really hold up nicely (the buildings, not so much, just boring shades of tan).

My Wife Plays Rampage

In an effort to get my wife to play more games, I have given her this space at the end of the article to voice her opinions on each of the arcade games I play. Oh, and follow her on Twitter, @alliwait

This game (World Tour) gave me ADD. I found the controls to be a little on the difficult side. I kept punching the wrong thing.

The game didn’t tell you what to do either. Do I punch and kick the helicopter? What things am I supposed to eat or pass up? I know the actual arcade cabinet might have given you instructions on gameplay, but playing this in MAME, I had no idea what to do.

I definitely would not spend any more time playing this game.