THE ARCHIVE 2011-2015

Arcade Games That Time Forgot: The Great Ragtime Show

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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.

The Great Ragtime Show (Data East, 1992)

To start, I thought I'd go with a game that's definitely odd, but isn't bad enough to be laughable: The Great Ragtime Show, an unfortunately forgotten shoot-em-up from Data East. Forgotten perhaps because its name is as out-of-place as calling Crash Bandicoot "Uproarious Animal Revue."

Yes, Great Ragtime Show (also known as Boogie Wings) is, despite the title, not really about a great ragtime show; tap dancing and jolly piano licks will not be in your face. However, its style is very much inspired by the adventure serials of the silent film days, with a bit of a steampunk aesthetic, too -- you're meant to be fighting an army of enemies who have mastered manufacturing walking assault robots and such.

Beyond that, it's a very inspired shooter. You start off flying a biplane that has a hook attached to it, carrying a spiked ball and swinging freely as you fly around. When you let go of the ball, the free-flying hook can grab onto almost anything in the game that isn't bolted down -- trucks, tanks, enemy soldiers, what have you. You can't do much except let go of the things you grab and fling them across the screen, but it does help kill enemies nonetheless.

Your plane can't last forever, and if you're a beginning player, you'll inevitably get shot down. But that's where the brilliance comes in: You keep playing as the pilot, who bails out and continues the assault on foot with nothing but his pea shooter of a pistol. And though you may have lost a plane, you can quickly gain a motorcycle, horse, miniature tank, or car with a missile on it.

Great Ragtime Show comes from a time when shoot-em-ups were just about to become full-on "bullet hell" games, so it relies on background spectacle more than projectile mayhem, and it's all the better for it. An early stage has you speeding by a Ferris wheel that's gone loose and tumbles through town, and another takes place in a town celebrating Christmas (including evil Santa-bots) which then transitions into a baseball stadium for some reason. It's a bunch of amazing scenes every other second, something that I feel is lacking in today's action games.

But really, as much as I can describe The Great Ragtime Show to you; as much as I can tell you it doesn't deserve to be forgotten in the annals of history, it boils down to the fact that you really have to play it. Or at worst, watch a YouTube clip: