Remembering Nick Arcade

The other day, I got sent on a nostalgia trip when a friend of mine posted a video of the worst Nick Arcade player ever. Wow, brings back memories.

For those of you who didn’t watch the show, and many of you may be too young to remember it…. Jesus, just the fact that I have to utter that line on this page makes me feel the all-too-real touch of death upon my shoulder… but it was one of the first video-game based programs, from back in the golden (silver?) age of games, the bit-wars. It joined the ranks of the animated series of Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, and Captain N the Game Master in bringing Video Games to a mainstream audience, and was the first video game related game-show, a precursor to G4, and the days before gamers had their own (evil, vapid) network.

The show featured teams of kids playing against each other in pop-culture trivia contests, and then duking it out on one of several game consoles, before entering into a virtual reality game zone for the finals. It is remembered for being one of the first instances of interactive blue-screen technology. I just remember the show for annoying the crap out of me, though.

Annoying though it was, I watched Nick Arcade every week. The questions were incredibly easy, the host one of those really lame, trying-to-sound-hip-for-the-kiddies kind of guys, but you just had to watch if you were a gamer.

I’m not going to give a complete break-down of the show, you can find that on Wikipedia, but in short, it was like this: The kids would play trivia games in order to earn points, and also earn turns moving a digital game character around on an interactive game board. Each space had new questions, puzzles, or maybe instant-win prizes. To advance, the players had to luck-their way across the right spaces, and get their trivia right, in order to be the team that moved the character onto the ‘goal’ space for a load of extra points. In the end, you’d go into a bluescreen ‘VR’ room to battle Merloc the wizard or some shit.

He's where? Dodge what?

That was most of the game, and it was bullshit. What you really watched the show for was when ‘Mikey’, the little game character dude, would get moved onto a ‘Video Challenge’ space. The players that landed on that square would then get moved to a series of arcade cabinets which represented the home systems of the era, SNES, Genesis, Turbografix, and others. The players had a random game loaded up, with a challenge included (ie, gather 60 rings in Sonic), which they had to complete in 30 seconds, very much like Wario Ware. Each member of the team got 1 try, a short, blissful 60 seconds of gameplay shown on-screen.

These scraps were like gold at the time. With no internet, and very little in community infra-structure for young gamers, these little glimpses of games, watching people play, finding new and interesting titles, they were like industry secrets being handed down the pipeline to the masses. Best of all was when a future release would be demo’d on the show, a first look at what the future had to offer. Sonic 2 made its debut on Nick Arcade, and there are a few copies of the beta-build used for the show floating around online.

Not one less shred of fuck could be given.

Despite those warm and fuzzy memories of watching other kids play R-Type on my TV, Nick Arcade was mainly aggravation. Why did the show annoy the piss out of me? Because all of the contestants sucked. I mean, it was enough that the show was pandering to kids, and that host Phil Moore obviously didn’t give a damn about games, but… for the love of Christ, where did they get these kids? They would constantly miss incredibly obvious trivia questions. They failed the simplest of video challenges. The worst was probably the VR rooms at the end. I’ve seen the few competent players on that show crush those rooms in about 40 seconds without the loss of a single life. The patterns were easy enough, but you could honestly just jump in place and pretty much hit all your targets…

No, what I remember most about Nick Arcade isn’t the games, in the end. Its the fact that I could have single-handedly crushed every 2-player team that ever came on that show. I would have been the king of Nick Arcade, an unstoppable force, reigning over its cabinets forever. Every BMX bike, every surf-gear package, every pair of BK Knights, every trip to Universal Studios, mine, MINE FOR THE TAKING!

Sorry, I have to go calm down with a relaxing Silkwood Shower now… I leave you with video evidence. Have a look at these mooks…

  • Anonymous

    Actually, Starcade was the first video game game show.

    • Dustin Hall

      Hmph. Whaddaya know, I stand corrected. I was too young to have watched Starcade (they do exist!). I’ll have to look up some episodes. 

      Wow, and its an 8 year gap between Starcade and Nick Arcade…

  • Dustin Hall

    I also found a clip from the short-lived ‘Video Power’ gameshow, which was out in the 8-bit era. These announcers are on crack!

  • Anonymous

    I watched the hell out of this show, and yes, goddamn was it fucking annoying.

    I mean, look at those crappy graphics!