This week's Co-Op Classics features a couple of games that are near and dear to my heart. I've been looking forward to writing about them for quite a while! In my opinion, you will find no better examples of the four player co-operative beat 'em up than this series, especially the second title. Grab some quarters, set down your soda, and pull up a chair, it just might be a long evening of crawling through the Dungeons and Dragons arcade game series!
They say that the true golden age of the arcades was the early 80s, and indeed, there were some awesome, fondly remembered, and innovative games from that time, like Pac-Man and Galaga. To me, though, as a fan of co-op, the best time to be in the arcades was the early to mid 90s. This was the time of the co-op brawler. Take a look at our list of classic co-op titles, and see how many of them are 90s arcade games. There was no better time to be a fan of co-op in the arcades, for sure, with titles like X-Men, Gauntlet, Golden Axe, and many more all available for your enjoyment.
Capcom was the undisputed master of the co-op brawler. Need evidence? Try these titles: The Punisher, Alien vs. Predator, Knights of the Round, Dynasty Wars, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. All from one company, and all brawlers of the highest caliber. It was no surprise then, that the two games that are perhaps the definitive co-op beat 'em ups would come from Capcom.
The first title, Dungeons and Dragons Tower of Doom, was released in 1993. The title alone was reason enough to drop a few quarters in: the appeal of the fantasy setting in arcade games had already been established by many other games. But to see the official character classes, each fulfilling a specific role in a party, just like in tabletop D&D? Be still my beating heart. Gauntlet, the granddaddy of fantasy co-op, had drastically different characters, sure. But in D&D:ToD , each class felt totally different from the rest. The burly fighter was the master of weaponry, and quite strong. The cleric and elf couldn't hope to hack and slash as well as he could, but then again, they had spells! And lots of spells, too, unique to their own class, from Hold Person and Sticks to Snakes to Fireball and Magic Missile. The stout dwarf could really whittle the enemies down to size, as well, often times even better than the fighter. Grafting the D&D character classes into a beat 'em up was a master stroke.
But it gets even better! Not only did each character have sweet skills, they could use different items as well. Not like the pizza boxes or temporary weapons of other brawlers, but sweet magical items taken right from the rulebooks. Daggers, hammers, arrows, magical rings that allowed you to cast spells, the list went on and on. By picking up gold that enemies dropped, or from treasure chests, you could save up and buy items in between levels. In 1993, this was state of the art innovation.
The crowning achievement of D&D:ToD, though was not the setting, characters, items, or gold. No, the greatest part of the game was the choices you made about which actions your characters took. You know, like a ROLE PLAYING GAME. Other beat 'em ups were the most fun the first time through, and lost their appeal upon replaying. In D&D:ToD, the choices you made as a player affected your gameplay. It was just like a Choose Your Own Adventure book: all the choices you made had an impact on the story of the game, and even what bosses you would fight. One playthrough as the elf was fun, and if you played as the dwarf the next time, and chose different routes, it was as if you were playing another game. The replay factor was through the roof for this game, which was brilliant, because it meant you were going to keep dropping those quarters in, for sure.
This article is fairly long already, and I'm just through the first game. I think I'll make a choice (ba dum BOMP) to stop here, and leave the sequel to next time. If you thought I was giddy like a schoolgirl with a crush over Tower of Doom, wait until you see my love letter to Dungeons and Dragons Shadow Over Mystara. In the meantime, I'm off to collect some treasure, buy some throwing hammers, and maybe even cast Lightning Bolt on a dragon or two.