Super Zaxxon gameplay screenshot

Super Zaxxon gameplay (all screenshots by the author)

The Internet Archive, the nonprofit behind the Wayback Machine and countless other digital resources, has just launched the Internet Arcade, a free online database of about 900 classic arcade games you can play in your browser. The collection features games from the 1970s up to the ’90s, including childhood classics like Street Fighter II, Frogger, Q*bert, and Paperboy.

“Obviously, a lot of people are going to migrate to games they recognize and ones that they may not have played in years,” writes one of the project’s leaders, Jason Scott, in a blog post. “They’ll do a few rounds, probably get their asses kicked, smile, and go back to their news sites. A few more, I hope, will go towards games they’ve never heard of, with rules they have to suss out, and maybe more people will play some of these arcades in the coming months than the games ever saw in their ‘real’ lifetimes.”

Kick gameplay screenshot

Kick gameplay

Indeed, the greatest pleasure to be taken from the collection is in exploring all the weird games with absurd premises, surrealist imagery, or impossibly wonky gameplay that, for obvious reasons, wound up in the dustbin of video game history. There’s Kick, for instance, which Midway released in 1981, wherein players control a unicycle-riding clown who must either catch, pop, or kick balloons as they fall from the sky. The game also has an improbable Pacman cameo, in that the beloved character occasionally falls from the sky and eats the balloons balanced on your clown’s head — you’d just better have enough balloons to satisfy his hunger.

Another standout artifact unearthed by the Internet Arcade is Mysterious Stones – Dr. John’s Adventure, from 1984, in which Dr. Johns makes Indiana Jones look like the First Duke of Wellington (incidentally, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is also on the site). The object of the game is to plunder as much loot from exotic palaces and temples while fighting their region-specific demon prospectors, like ghost samurai and alligator warriors.

Precious Stones (all screenshots by the author for Hyperallergic)

Mysterious Stones – Dr. John’s Adventure gameplay

A personal favorite discovery is Sega’s Super Zaxxon (1982). The aerial fighter format is nothing new, but something about the design of the game — its garish color palette and jarring blend of sci-fi, retro, and contemporary imagery — is irresistible, never mind that I still haven’t made it through the first level.

For Scott, the project isn’t just about pandering to our nostalgia for all things 8-bit, but should be put to productive uses. As he writes: “My hope is that a handful, a probably tiny percentage, will begin plotting out ways to use this stuff in research, in writing, and remixing these old games into understanding their contexts. Time will tell.”

h/t Mashable

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...