18 May 2009




































Stuart Campbell was so taken aback by the universal popular acclaim for his videogame pinball spinoffs feature in RG45 that by public demand, he’s written one about fruit machines too.

There are two different basic kinds of people who read Retro Gamer. Some of you just want to be reminded nostalgically of happy times spent playing the games of your youth, while others see the magazine more as a chance to discover games they missed the first time round and to look at gaming as a timeless whole in more depth than shallow, hype-obsessed “current” games mags do. (Which is why RG also covers games which have just been released, but are “retro” in style rather than by calendar date.)

Viewers in the first group should probably move on to the next feature right now, because this piece belongs very much in the latter camp – to this reporter, there’s hardly anything in gaming more fascinating than an attempt to translate highly distinctive gameplay values to totally unsuitable-seeming platforms, whether it’s making a boardgame out of Centipede or converting Tempest to the ZX81. And there can be few more challenging tasks for a game designer than bringing an all-action arcade game into the low-tech money-sucking realm of the fruit machine.

The modern amusement arcade is a very different place to the one of the golden coin-op era of the 80s and early 90s. The actual number of arcades hasn’t declined all that significantly in the last 20 years, and most of them are still in the same place and look the same on the outside, but where the interior used to be full of videogames, almost all city-centre arcades (and even a lot of seaside ones) are now mostly or entirely populated by no-armed bandits. But the superstars of gaming weren’t going to be pushed out as easily as that.

We’ve seen in previous issues of RG how classic videogames have colonised other formats like board games and pinball tables, and fruit machines (or AWPs as the arcade industry calls them, standing for Amusement With Prizes) were to be no different. With vastly varying degrees of success, coin-op companies have for years been bringing your favourite videogame stars, like washed-up boxers greeting casino visitors, into the adult world of gambling. So grab your fake ID, quickly grow an convincingly manly moustache (you too, ladies), and try to look like your dad as we sneak into this magical palace of – quite literally! – forbidden fruits, and try not to get ourselves grabbed by the bouncers. Madam.



For no particular reason, we’re going to look at videogame fruit machines in roughly the chronological order of the original games they’re based on, so we start with what’s actually one of the more recent AWPs to hit arcades – Crystal’s interpretation of Taito’s seminal Space Invaders. While we’ll see games later on that are more faithful to their inspirations, there’s a pretty decent Invaders vibe here, not least in the shape of the large squadron of space baddies that form the central feature board. Once you’ve earned your way onto the reel loop below, you build up Laser Base “lives” to access the feature board, and moves that allow you to aim at specific invaders on the board and collect the cash values or features they guard. You can also shoot down the Mystery Ship to get yourself into the Big Money bonus area.

The AWP game employs lots sound and visuals reminiscent of Space Invaders 95 (see The Definitive Space Invaders in RG issues 41 and 42) to capture the atmosphere of the 1979 original, and much like its monochrome predecessor it’s an absorbing and tense game which balances risk and reward on a tantalising knife edge. All fruit machines do that by their very nature, of course, but it’s rarely put into such sharp relief as it is here by the constant thud-thud-thud of the trademark Space Invaders heartbeat - making the two artforms, on this occasion, a particularly good match for each other.

Fans of cheap double entendres will be delighted (in addition to the “bouncers” joke in the intro)
to hear that this particular style of gameboard is known in the AWP industry as a “lapper”.



Almost 30 years after making his debut, Pac-Man is still videogaming’s greatest figurehead – or, if you prefer, videogaming’s biggest tart (and him a married man, too). In addition to an almost countless number of actual videogames, the yellow dot-chomper has sold his services to board games, pinballs, card games, scratchcards, mechanical versions and just about anything else that you could possibly fit under the banner of “games”. Of all the many attempts at transferring Pac-Man gameplay values to other formats,  the AWPs are perhaps the least successful of all, and the first one set the tone.

There’s very little Pac-Man DNA on display here – the gameboard is simply a makeover of the standard “double trail game” AWP design of the time, and except for the traditional Pac-death sound when you land on a ghost or Game Over square none of the arcade game’s trademark features make an appearance. It’s a moderately entertaining AWP in its own right, but a vastly lazy use of the Pac licence and it was briefly the least impressive of all the videogame fruit machines, until its sequel came along.  

At least there’s been a half-hearted attempt at depicting some sort of
maze in the background, since the game features no maze elements at all.



Curiously echoing the name of the most famous bootleg version of the original, the second attempt at a Pac-Man AWP was barely any different from the first. Despite moving to a completely different manufacturer (JPM rather than QPS) and hardware standard, Plus is in most respects basically the same game as its predecessor. (There's also a slightly different version by Mazooma.) There’s still the same trail-based main gameboard, with a second and more lucrative board which can be reached from the first one, and there are still multiple types of win trail, although this time you get three rather than two.

There are lots of other minor changes, but this is an even poorer translation of Pac-Man to a fruit machine – there are even fewer authentic sound effects (the previous AWP’s rudimentary attempt at a “wocka-wocka” as you travel round the gameboard is now gone, though this time you do get a cursory blast of the start jingle when you get the jackpot), and even incredibly tenuous connections to the videogame such as the ability to earn an extra life have bitten the dust too. Pac-Man Plus is one of the weakest uses of the licence in history, and the worst videogame fruit machine “conversion” of all time. 

Some artist was up for literally minutes designing the layout of the Pac-Man Plus cabinet.



Maygay’s AWP interpretation of Donkey Kong is a much better effort than anything we’ve looked at so far. Firstly it’s covered in proper DK artwork (from the Donkey Kong Country era), with Kong and Mario both well represented and the classic logo both prominently displayed on the top and bottom glasses and incorporated into play (lighting up the letters via the reels gets you onto the feature board). More importantly, though, the action on the gameboard actually feels like playing a sort of turn-based version of Donkey Kong.

Laid out like the first stage of the videogame, there are ladders to climb (both full and broken), barrels to jump (using the hi-lo reel) and even powerups to collect (pressing the Super Mario button gets you a one-time bonus, from extra cash or an extra life to opening up the ladders and letting you zip to the top in half the time). It really does capture something of the feel of the original arcade game, and the many features and relatively generous structure make it an unusually enjoyable fruit machine too.

Has it ever been adequately explained why a giant ape is wearing a huge groin-length kipper tie?
You’d imagine it could cause terrible asphyxiation hazards while swinging between treetops.



When fruit machines started having “games” on their upper halves rather than simply lists of the prizes you could win on the reels, they started out as simple trail boards, where you progressed along and simply hoped to avoid the death squares. The first great innovation of the era was the concept of the “chase” game, where your character would be pursued by an adversary, and it was into that genre that Mr Do made one of the videogaming world’s unlikeliest comebacks. (To be fair, it wasn’t quite as out-of-the-blue as it might seem – the Do! AWP showed up in the early 90s, during a brief attempt to revive the brand via a Game Boy remake and Amiga/ST ports of the last coin-op in the original series, the splendid and excellently-named Do! Run Run. We don’t talk about the unpleasant pastel-coloured Neo Geo remake which came along later.)

The Mr Do! Fruit machine is a tremendous piece of design, both looking and playing (within the parameters of the format, obviously) like its videogame counterpart. Pretty much every element of the original makes some kind of appearance – monsters, cherries, cakes, powerballs, apple-dropping, multiple routes and even the E-X-T-R-A extra life feature are all there, and the iconic artwork instantly catches the eye of any veteran coin-op connoisseur. The machine comes from the low-jackpot days, so you get plenty of chances to tackle the gameboard too. It’s a lovely bit of work, and well worth snapping up if you see one on eBay.

Actually, forget that last bit – if you see a Mr Do! AWP on eBay, what you should do is email me
immediately. You don’t want one in your home because, um, they explode. Infamous for it, they are.



As with pinball, fruit machines skipped the second age of videogames entirely and didn’t come back until the 16-bits took hold, although the chronology didn’t keep pace – Sonic’s AWP, for example, came out at more or less the same time as the Donkey Kong one. Appropriately enough, sound is the area where it really shines – almost every spot effect, jingle and tune is lifted straight from the videogame, with coin deposits accompanied by an unmistakeable chorus of “SE-GA!” and the trail-type gameboard backed by the classic Green Hill Zone melody – but the visuals were also superb, and almost as eye-catching to videogamers among banks of ordinary fruities as the Mr Do! cabinet.

In gameplay terms the Sonic board is very similar to that of Donkey Kong, a fairly basic trail with a few ladder-type shortcuts (this time accessed by the hi-lo reel rather than being unlocked with a Super Mario bonus), and with the higher jackpot the gameboard is more inclined to kill you off quickly (when fruit machines went from £4 jackpots to £6, then £10, then £15, without increasing the price per play, they obviously couldn’t afford to pay out as frequently). But there are a handful of Sonic-specific hooks thrown in too, such as the loop-the-loop feature and the collection of rings to grab the elusive super repeater. Drop a couple of quid into this machine, though, and you’ll be in no doubt that you’re spending a few minutes in the Sonic universe.

Y’know, I’ve been playing this game for about four years, and I’ve only just
this minute noticed the “Super Sonic” bit at the top left. I wonder what it does?



Nintendo had obviously been pretty happy with Maygay’s first shot at a Mario-related fruity, and the company’s rarely-seen Mario Kart 64 AWP was an even better distillation of its source material. Perhaps surprisingly, it doesn’t go for the immediately obvious solution of a chase trail (with Bowser hot on Mario’s tail), but instead sees the player zipping around the course collecting powerups to help Mario, Yoshi and Donkey Kong race each other towards the Super Jackpot. The MK64 gameboard is pretty engrossing in its own right, regardless of the fact that you’re mostly trying to win cash - it’ll take many laps to experience all the board’s many ways of pocketing some dosh. You can profit from the reels, the three central prize trails or the six character-based special features, and if you can find one set to the lower jackpot values and 5p/10p play you should get plenty of opportunities.

Aesthetically the MK64 cabinet fits right in with its parent game, with a liberal sprinkling of authentic sound effects and music, and the huge main display and typefaces are instantly recognizable to any passing gamer looking for a more enjoyable way to chuck a few quid down some hungry bandit slots.  

Does anyone remember Roadkill on the Amiga? “GET THE SUPER JACKPOT!” Ah, those were the days.



As we’ve seen already, poor Pac-Man hasn’t enjoyed the same luck with fruit-machine translations as his fellow gaming luminaries, and things didn’t improve a very great deal with the third and so far final attempt (despite a move to yet another new publisher and hardware standard). The Pac-Mania AWP at least adopted the most logical chase-style gameboard, with eternal nemesis Shadow pursuing our gaping-mawed hero towards the big money, but otherwise it was largely the same game again as with Pac-Man and Pac-Man Plus, save for a needlessly confusing double-trail system which detracted from the game’s focus.

Once again, too, the cabinet design lacked any sort of identifiable link (bar the presence of Pac himself, of course) to the game it’s supposedly based on. There’s absolutely nothing specific to Pac-Mania (as opposed to ordinary vanilla Pac-Man) in either the art or the gameplay design, and basically all you get is a totally generic fruit machine with the Pac-Mania logo and a couple of little Pac-Man stickers slapped haphazardly over the top. (A later £25-jackpot model did at least triple the size of one of the Pac-Men.) The chase aspect makes it a marginally better game than the previous two efforts, but in the context of this feature it’s still rubbish.

I apologise for the poor quality of this screenshot. Everything
else that’s poor about the machine is the designers’ fault.



After Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Mario and Sonic, videogaming’s biggest icon is probably Lara Croft, and poor Lara, too, has been whored out to almost anyone with a few quid to front up for a licence. (You really don’t want to know about some of the indignities she’s been subjected to in the mobile-phone market, for example.) However, the implausibly-endowed heroine has come out of her AWP adventures rather well. While the gameboard of Tomb Raider brings The Crystal Maze to mind rather than any of Lara’s graverobbing escapades, it’s one of the most complicated and involved fruit machines ever made, and manages to simulate the feel of the videogames better than anyone could have hoped.

You get a varying trail to explore, weapons and items to collect, and even a health bar to help you survive combat with various pyramid-dwelling creatures. It even holds your hand less than most AWPs do, so you actually have to learn your way around the reels and levels if you’re going to have a chance of reaching the treasure. As with the videogames, Lara’s input is limited to the occasional “Uh” and “No”, which only increases the authenticity, and by trying to capture the atmosphere rather than the gameplay mechanics, the JPM designers have taken a clever and effective lateral approach.

Dammit. I should probably have saved that “bouncers” joke for this bit.



You might think that something as abstract as Tetris is the sort of game that couldn’t possibly lend itself to conversion to a fruit machine - however, you’d be completely wrong! Wait, no you wouldn’t. Tetris is obviously an insane choice for this sort of venture, and Mazooma’s coders clearly threw their hands up in horror and gave up pretty much straight away. Rather than even try to work the classic Tetris pit into some sort of prize playfield (something which had already been handled rather more directly in the Prize Tetris arcade game a few years previously), this is a game that focuses, rather like Tomb Raider, on the broader themes of the original rather than directly replicating any of its core gameplay elements.

So you get your favourite Tetris tunes as you Cossack-dance your way around the gameboard, a comedy Russian announcer commentating in a sinister accent, and the iconic pieces are reduced to collectables which, after a fashion, form “lines” earning you guaranteed-win spins. As AWPs go it’s not brilliant (the auto-collect features are especially annoying), but it does have the best music you’re likely to hear in a fruit-machine arcade, which is at least something.

And that’s about it for our exploratory and informative jaunt through the crazy madcap world of videogame-based fruit machines. Join us next time when we’ll be heading into some more uncharted lands and taking a fascinating look into the strange phenomenon of videogame-based bubblegum scratchcards! (Or possibly won’t be. – Ed)

For an extra videogame-related thrill, by holding reels two
and three you can make the comedy announcer say “Zuma”.


The extra-specially exciting thing about the gaming age we live in, of course, is that you no longer have to go to arcades to play arcade games, and you no longer have to blow a fortune to experience the gameplay discussed in this feature. (Indeed, from a gamer’s perspective emulation is by far the best way to explore the stuff we’re talking about, since you can play every feature without having to fret that you’re giving up a big win to do it.) With the exception of Mr Do!, Pac-Mania and Mario Kart 64, all of the games on these pages can be enjoyed via the magical power of emulation, specifically the AWP emus MFME and JPeMu. You can find them, along with everything else you need to get started, at www.fruit-emu.com

*Title courtesy of The Advertising Slogan Generator, located at:  http://www.thesurrealist.co.uk/slogan.cgi

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