It used to be a hotbed of the very best games, as pixels, vectors and sometimes the odd polygon got shifted around by some very heavy and very expensive hardware. All that computing power could be bought for just 10p a credit, leaving countless bedroom coders to stretch their skills to the limit and beyond to bring these arcade wonders to our humble home computers.
Back to the future
I have spoken before of the Arcades of the 70's and 80's, the surly bloke in the change booth, the only illumination coming from screen burn and neon, electro pop blasting out and smoke so thick you could cut squares out of it. The good ones were an assault on the senses that created a barrier that your parents just couldn't penetrate for long. The deeper you went inside the less likely Mum and Dad would follow, and a shout and a wave was the best I got, as they had no hope of getting me out until my stack of ten pence pieces dried up. However, if there was a Tron machine inside, I could make my credits last an eternity.
No more Stack 'n' Grab...please!
I am a hopeless nostalgic, but that is a major asset as I am a writer for RetroCollect! I really do yearn for simpler times and I fully realise that the modern Arcade fans wants to play Stack 'n' Grab or use one of the several billion crane machines (to pay £20 into before the threshold is reached and the crane actually works, depositing the fluffy toy that cost the 'Arcade' owner 7p per dozen). I realise this is in no way the fault of the owner, he couldn't care less what is in his Arcade as long as its fairly legal and turns a large profit. Bye bye Galaxian, hello glass box full of questionable SpongeBob Squarepants plushes. It's what the punters want, so shame on the punters!
I am lucky enough to live in Greatstone in Kent, right on the coastline of the United Kingdom- supposedly the natural habitat for Arcades. Whilst the majority of near by arcades have since lost their charm due to the hordes of cranes, mindless light gun games, and redemption machines, there is one tiny light in all this doom and gloom, an arcade in Dymchurch that is almost as I remember. While the pixels are outnumbered by cranes, the very back of the building is home to many great games that are pure magic.
I discovered Side by Side way back in 2005 when I moved here. Even then the game was nearly 10 years old. Built by Taito in 1996 it is a two person racing game that is based around the (then) Japanese obsession of 'Touge'. This loosely translates into 'pass' as in winding mountain pass, that a number of very special cars race along. In real life this is incredibly dangerous, very illegal and not something you see too often. But in video game form, it is exciting, competitive and fun. Fans of the anime 'Initial D' will immediately feel at home here, the cars from the EG6 to the immortal Hachi-Roku, to the lesser known but equally important PS13 Silvia will be very familiar. Indeed the mountain sections from Forza can trace there existence directly to games such as these.
Simple but effective
The game is old and for the most part, simple. The graphics are cartoony and colourful, the handling is what you would expect from the mid 90's but that really doesn’t matter as the game play makes your stack of coins vanish like power pellets. It's this single game, and the atmosphere in the arcade that pulls me back time and time again. The overwhelming feeling of a time gone by coupled with an urge to better my last hi-score, only to be limited by what coins I have left. Each time I have left with a sense of achievement, my name in lights (albeit in second place) and the pleasure of pushing a close friend into third both on the track and on the leader board.
Play it while you can
The sad thing is, I noticed only one side of my beloved arcade machine was still working on my last visit. I hope that this doesn’t spell the end for this fabled arcade game, as it is most likely more expensive to repair due to age than it is to remove. This is the last little defiant ember from an age where gaming was brilliant and we had our very own temple to worship inside.
Side By Side (Taito 1996) Gameplay Video
You can hear the immortal cry of 'RIDGE RACER!' in the video, it is the machine next to it, and its also the quite rare and very tricky clutch version.
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