Best Games - Area 51
Arcade light gun games are a tough one. I can write about them here, but unless you happen to have an arcade or a barcade near you, I don’t know that there is an easy way to play them. You could always play them using a mouse on an emulator, but I can’t recommend that. It feels pretty bad.
Years ago I bought a light gun that works with non-crt displays, but due to time and old drivers getting it to run on current hardware is challenging. It sits in a box inside my arcade cabinet. It will likely continue to. As a result I haven’t played many light gun games unless I happen to be at an arcade. That’s unfortunate because I truly love some of them. Area 51 is near the top of that list.
Area 51 didn’t break any new ground for the genre. There were already more technically advanced light gun games available when it came out. It did some new things, combining pre-rendered and live action footage was fairly novel. It used some interesting hardware that was across between a home console and a pc. None of that makes Area 51 good. Area 51 is good, because it excels at hitting that ball straight down the middle.
Arcade games are experiences. Some can offer a challenge or provide a way for people to compete head-to-head. Games can create a sort of fantasy or sense of escapism. At their heart, they are experiences, just like amusement park rides. Some of the best amusement park rides give you exactly what you are expecting. No hidden twists, no surprise endings. It’s just exactly what you are looking for.
That might seem like another way of saying ‘mediocre’ or ‘dull’. It’s anything but. It takes real skill to create exactly the sort of experience a player is looking for, and keep that experience going for as long as they are playing. Not only that, but they have to want to come back to play again and again. Area 51 absolutely nails it. It is a consistently solid experience every single time you play.
Here’s where I get to be very specifically nerdy. I used to play Area 51 using both guns. Every Area 51 cabinet has two light guns tethered to it so two people can play together. One day, on a whim, I thought ‘why don’t I just try both’. I wanted to play it that way ever since. John Woo-ing it up at the arcade. I tried the same trick playing Lethal Enforcers and the like, but only Virtua Cop played as well with both guns.
I got pretty good at it too. Like actually good. I didn’t feel like I played well unless my left hand accuracy was above 80% and my score was similar on both hands. I’m not left handed. I probably didn’t set any records, but I was good at it.
It was easy to get good, because the game is easy to love. It’s simple, straight forward, and it does exactly what you want it to do, and it does it very well.
Area 51 might be a simple game, but it’s one of the best games.