If you grew up in the 1980s, you probably spent some time in arcades. From Pong to Pac-Man, video arcades had rows upon rows of brightly lit games that captivated the nation. Today we’re used to seeing nearly photorealistic renderings in video games, but in the late 70s and early 80s the idea that you could control something that happened on the screen was still unfathomable.
Arcades spiked in popularity in the early 80s, with over 24,000 full arcades in America by 1981. As of 2009 there were fewer than 4,000 arcades left in the US, though Japanese video arcades are faring much better, with over 20,000 full arcades still operating today. Of course, a lot of that might have to do with the increasingly bizarre, experimental games they’ve been developing. Japan isn’t the only country churning out weird games, though. As you’ll soon see, people are downright strange all around the world.
10. Boong-Ga Boong-Ga
Starting the list is what is probably the most well known bizarre arcade game, Boong-Ga Boong-Ga, better known as Spank ’em. This is, as the promotional flyer puts it, “a fun game of spanking the people who make your life miserable.” The arcade machine comes with a peripheral in the shape of a butt, which you spank. Really, what more do you expect from Japan?
The characters you can spank run the gamut from “mother in law” to “child molester,” because apparently the fetishes in Japan are even more varied than we previously believed. If you get tired of spanking the jean-clad posterior, you can also use the plastic hand to perform a kancho on it – a Japanese and Korean prank that consists of sticking your fingers up someone’s rear end. After spanking the character of your choice, the game will analyze the strength of your hits and print out a card that will “explain your sexual behavior.” We’re not sure what that means, but we’re also not sure that we want to know.
9. The Tablecloth Hour
Remember when you were young and you learned how to pull a tablecloth out from under a set table? At the time, it seemed like the greatest trick ever, and turned into the punchline to more sitcom gags than we can count. The Tablecloth Hour lets you relive the joy and magic of that trick, but without the actual threat of failing and breaking all your mother’s best plates.
The arcade game has half of a round table sticking out, which of course has a tablecloth on it. The player is tasked with pulling this tablecloth out at just the right speed and angle, in order to avoid disturbing the breakable virtual objects placed on top of it.
8. Ultra Low Dining Table
If you’re the kind of destructive person who would rather break everything on the table, there’s a game for you as well. Cho Chabudai Gaeshi!, known in English as Ultra Low Dining Table, is another arcade with a table peripheral. In this case, though, the object of the game is to flip the table peripheral out of anger over an unsatisfying meal, knocking over whoever else happens to be sitting next to it…like your children. That’ll teach them to finish their vegetables.
Strangely enough, this game did well enough to warrant a sequel: Cho Chabudai Gaeshi! Sono 2. In this iteration of the game, you must smash and hit the table until you’re powered up enough to flip the table for maximum destructiveness. The official trailer points out that Ultra Low Dining Table 2 comes with “new gimmicks,” like the powers to burn, stain, and injure. Better you vent all that anger at an arcade than at home…right?
7. Amusement Washing Machine
Does anyone actually like doing their laundry? Lee Wei Chen didn’t, but instead of just grumbling, he decided to do something about it. And so, the Amusement Washing Machine was born. This creation combines the washing machine and arcade game into one design that wouldn’t look too out of place in an arcade. The idea, according to Chen, is to turn all those hours you wasted on Space Invaders into something that can actually help you in the real world. Amusement Washing Machine throws the iconic Space Invaders pixel art into a laundry sorting game, which syncs with the washing machine to create a strange hybrid of a video game and interactive clothes washing.
The washing machine is active as long as you’re alive in the game. If you lose all your lives, the washer stops working until you insert more coins and continue playing. Rinse, repeat.
6. Turnip Strength Tester
Inside the Museum of Soviet Video Games, among other interesting remnants of the past, sits a game called Repka Silomer, or Turnip Strength Tester. Turnips aren’t exactly famous for their physical strength, making this “game” seem particularly bizarre and possibly LSD-influenced until you learn about the story it’s referencing.
The game is based on a Russian folk tale about a farmer who grows a giant turnip that’s so large and so firmly rooted in its place the farmer couldn’t pull it up on his own. The farmer’s wife tries to help, then the granddaughter, the dog, the cat, and finally the mouse, forming a fairy tale conga line that finally managed to pull the stubborn turnip out of the ground.
The Turnip Strength Tester assigns you a level based on how hard you pull on the “turnip,” which corresponds to the characters from the story. Put your back into it, or you’ll be labeled as weak as a little mouse.
5. Urine-Fueled Arcade Games
Now that washing your clothes is more fun, arcade games tackle another necessity that you probably don’t typically associate with “fun” – going to the bathroom. The Exhibit Bar in London has some unique games for you to play on your potty break, on mounted 12-inch displays above every urinal. And slowly but surely, the concept has started catching on around the world.
These games aren’t played with your hands, though, but with an all-natural, ahem, joystick. Compete against the high scores of other men in games like skiing, fueled by your urine. See how you stack up against others in stream strength, aim, and endurance, and earn a very different kind of bragging rights. For what should be pretty obvious reasons, these games are only found in the men’s restroom…for now.
From potty humor straight to torture porn, the next arcade game on our list is the infamous Chiller. Chiller is a one or two player shooter in which you have to kill as many people as you can, as fast as possible.
It might not sound too bad for today’s day and age, where every other game is about putting bullets through people. But this is a game that was released in 1986, and is still pretty ridiculously graphic and gratuitous even by today’s standards. Chiller features naked people chained up in a medieval dungeon, and has you use torture devices and the light gun to torture, skin, cut off the limbs, and generally maim the poor chained up prisoners.
Amazingly, the game made it to US shores without much censoring, although the story was softened up to explain away the torture. See, you’re not killing innocent humans by crushing their skulls, you’re defeating evil demons…by crushing their skulls.
3. The Typing of the Dead
Zombies are attacking! Quick, do the only logical thing: whip out a computer keyboard and type things at them. Everyone knows zombies can’t withstand the powers of…accurate typing skills?
The Typing of the Dead is a House of the Dead spoof by SEGA, which you’ll recognize as probably the only arcade game to have a computer keyboard attached to it. As zombies come at you, you must drive them back by typing scary phrases and words like “sexual Tyrannosaur” or “dripping wart goo.” There is some semblance of a story, but since it features protagonists running around with keyboards strapped to their fronts, it’s safe to assume it’s not meant to be taken too seriously. You can actually experience this great arcade game on your PC now, since it’s available on Steam.
2. This Cow Milking Game
Somewhere in Phoenix, Arizona, a lone fake cow stands in an arcade, urging you to milk it. We’re not even sure what this game is called, to be honest. There are plenty of cow milking games, which is actually kind of frightening to a degree, but there’s something especially off-putting about this particular iteration.
Players crouch by a strangely life-like cow, pulling on the rubbery udders as they light up. Judging by the only videos we could find of this strange game, it plays like a very awkward version of Bop-It, where the only command is “squeeze it.” It’s all the fun of being a farmer without those pesky things like “hard work” or “horrible smells” that come with the territory.
Strangely enough, the most notorious game on this list may not have even existed. Polybius is the abominable snowman of the arcade games, shrouded in mystery and conspiracy. As the story goes, Polybius first made an appearance in 1981 in Portland, Oregon. No one really knows what happened in the game, but apparently it was bad enough to, at best, give players nightmares and swear off video games, or at worst, cause fainting spells and loss of memory. The manufacturer, Sinnesloschen, sent men in black to collect data from the machines. After a month, the cabinets were removed forever, and were never seen again. It’s become so legendary that it actually made a cameo in an episode of The Simpsons.
Chances are Polybius never really existed, but that doesn’t stop people from searching for it. Some ROMs are supposedly being closely guarded by collectors, while the Vintage Arcade Preservation Society has three people who claim to own it. According to one, every time he plays the game “my head gets warm and I have the urge to urinate.” Just saying, we have another game on this list that might come in handy for that second part.
So is Polybius real, or an urban legend? If it does all the things it’s supposed to do, maybe it’s best that we don’t ever find out.
Check out Yuliya’s online writing portfolio.