Arcade Games That Time Forgot: Strength & Skill
This article originally appeared on GamePro.com.
Arcade Games That Time Forgot is a feature about weird, brilliant, kooky, terrible, or just interesting arcade games. Why just arcade games? Because while arcades gave us plenty of amazing games that are now classic franchises, it wasn't unlike the PC market, where any ol' group of people could make and distribute them, and with that sort of freedom, crazy ideas had a better chance of making it through. And for better or worse, quite a few did.
Strength & Skill (Sun Electronics, 1984)
Some games become so popular, there's no avoiding the reality that they'll be ripped off. In the '80s, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., and many others established whole genres of games that didn't end up too different from one another. Konami's Track & Field was also a popular arcade game, but didn't spawn nearly as many rip-offs as those other heavy-hitters. Maybe because Track & Field was a recipe for destruction: the constant slapping of the action buttons in order to do anything in that game could destroy a cabinet's control panel in a matter of weeks -- maybe, provided the game was popular enough.
One of the few games that really took the spirit of Track & Field and ran with it was Sun Electronics'/Sunsoft's Strength & Skill (or its more amusing Japanese name, "The Guinness," due to the loose ties to the Guinness Book of World Records.). On the surface, it's pretty much the same game: you play a lithe man in shorts and a jersey trying to qualify in a series of events, all requiring you to mash on two action buttons to maintain speed and power... or, er, strength and skill.
The difference, though, is that the events are increasingly absurd. It starts with Log Sawing, where you must slice off a wheel of a log as fast as possible, then it's on to Pile Driving, where you must pound smaller logs into the ground. Then, a sprint up a steep hill, a ring toss over the gap of a canyon onto a small branch at the other side, plate spinning, skateboarding, and so on.
Really, it's nice that Strength & Skill doesn't take itself seriously. Its makers could have stayed with the less-crazy events, but instead included old-timey TV variety show events like the plate spinning and ring tossing. There are cute little details in some of the events, too, as strategically-placed animals can net you extra points if you manage to hit them: If you accidentally pound the ground in Pile Driving, a mole pops up. If you then hit the mole, you get 3,000 points. OK, maybe that's more cruel than cute.
Though it's mostly unchanged from Konami's game, one thing Strength & Skill adds to Track & Field's formula is a joystick. In addition to pounding on two buttons (which is what Track & Field only had), you also had to move your athlete in order to direct his saw, properly throw rings, or walk around keeping the spinning plates up. But those two buttons are still there, and still need to be pressed rapidly. To account for this, you gain power faster in S&S, since you'll have to have only one of your hands dedicated to the buttons. And with both hands occupied, it cuts down on cheating (if you're playing it on an actual cabinet, that is).
That doesn't mean the game is easy. You can get the hang of Log Sawing and Pile Driving fairly quickly, but the ring toss requires certain timing, and you'll probably start cursing more often once you reach plate spinning, because your guy isn't moving nearly as fast enough, and you need to keep seven plates spinning just to qualify. Like Track & Field, this is a game designed to get at least two coins out of you before you finally leave the machine.
But is it any good? As mentioned, the amount of games directly inspired by Track & Field was slim, though many games tested your stamina in other ways, like Arm Champs. Despite the change of pace, Strength & Skill falls into the same trap as Track & Field: either you dedicate yourself to finishing it and never play it again, or you give up early and never play it again. There are punishing games, and then there are punishing games.