$5 Gamer: Let’s Play Venture


Venture is a classic arcade game released in 1981. This is a game I have never heard of or seen until I started exploring the emulation scene. I find that strange because I think this game has much more compelling gameplay than most seminal games we remember like Asteroids, Pacman and Galaga. Not to say those games aren’t good or don’t deserve credit, but Venture brings many new things to the table which are obviously under appreciated.


Venture has the player controlling the protagonist “Winky” as he tries to raise dungeons and steal the treasures while avoiding monsters. Windy wields a bow and arrow with unlimited arrows, although only a single arrow can be on screen at a time, and it travels pretty slowly so you need to pick your shots.

The game begins in a zoomed-out overworld and Winky is just a tiny red pixel (actually I think it’s 2×2 pixels). Each level contains five rooms which have doors Winky can enter. Also populating the overworld are the hall walkers, which looks like jellyfish and are completely immune to Winky’s weapons. They just kill you, so obviously you need to just avoid them by dipping into one of the rooms.

When you enter a room the game performs a pretty cool zoom-in transition and until Winky is normal sized and the room takes up the entire play area. Each room has a single treasure and monsters or other obstacles. The goal is to grab the treasure without dying and escape the room. If you mess around too long one of the killer jellyfish will break in and attack you, so time is of the essence. Shooting enemies will kill them, but their bodies will remain and decompose for what seems like forever. Often it seems better to just dodge them rather than kill them.

Once you collect a treasure from all five rooms the level is beaten and you move on to the next, with a fresh batch of rooms! I have personally been unable to get passed the second level although I often get close. From watching some plays on youtube I discovered that there are three unique levels and then the game loops back to a more difficult version of level two.


It is hard for a 1981 game to have bad graphics. They have a very stereotypical retro look and everything looks pretty charming and timeless. I would compare the graphics to Pacman the most. The background is black and all the gameplay elements are bright and colorful. The sound design in this game is absolutely hilarious. You get these small snippets of famous songs you can ALMOST put your finger on and music changes when you grab the treasure and attempt to escape the rooms which is nice. Considering most old games (Pacman, Mario Bros, Galaga) have no gameplay music at all, this is pretty awesome.


I find Venture very compelling because it taps into my sense of wonder. I really want to see what the next level or next room looks like. I am curious what monsters and music are waiting for me. Pacman and Galaga do not tap into that. The next level in those games are just the same thing but slightly harder. Venture keeps on bringing something new and interesting to the table. Getting good at venture is fun.

I also think it’s pretty great that this game has a narrative that makes sense. It’s basically the plot of Tomb Raider but in 1981. I can feel for Winky, I can be in the dungeon with him. The level and gameplay transitions are also very unique and give the game an extra layer of charm.

$5 Gamer: ESP Ra De


I have fallen in love with these SHMUPS lately. Look out for more of them in this series. I feel like there is something so zen and relaxing about just dodge bullets. It’s nothing but me, the bullets and my finger movements. But can I handle this hardball game with only 20 credits!?

This game actually has more of a story than most shooters. Something about telekinetic children that have to fend off some kind of military invasion by an equally powerful telekinetic overlord. It takes place in a futuristic version of Japan I think… The setting and concept are all very much like the anime classic Akira.

There is a selection of three child prodigies and they all have slightly different firing patterns. One of the buttons fires some sort of special spray which recharge relatively quickly and the three characters aim this in different ways as well. Like many of these bullet hell games, you have a special attack which makes you invulnerable and fires a massive beam for a limited time.

If you hold down the primary fire button for a little over a second your character slows down, which might sound like it’s bad, but it’s actually great. Moving very slowly and precisely is exactly what you need much of the time. If you simply let up off the fire button you regain your max speed. It’s actually a very awesome mechanic and surprisingly easy to get used to compared to something like an actually speed change button.

I will admit I had lots of practice playing this game, although usually when I play these I only put in 1 credit because all of the top score are always called 1-Credit-Clear. Although I am not EVEN CLOSE to a 1CC, it seems like the way to play it, so I am good at the first couple of levels and then I sort of lose it. That being said, I had a pretty easy time beating this game on 20 credits.

Enjoy my run and let me know what you think about this game! If you want to see me try another game, leave me a comment.

$5 Gamer: Smash TV


Smash TV is one of my absolute childhood classics. I challenged this game many times on arcade, SNES and later on Midway arcade treasures on Xbox. All of the times I have given this game my all I have never beaten it, ever. Has anyone? I got my $5 and I am feeling motivated to win some big money and big prizes. This time I find out once and for all, if I have what it takes.

Well unfortunately some things never change, I got about halfway into the third round before I was forced to succumb to the endless streams of snakes and tanks. All things considered, it isn’t a bad run. The third round is the last round and I was probably only a few rooms from the boss.

Although it will probably be a LONG TIME until I play this again, I love this game. I challenge you to beat me 1-credit score!


$5 Gamer: X-Men


Some of my best childhood memories were had on the X-Men 6 arcade machine. It was the first game me and my friends would run to when we were unleashed into the arcade. But does it hold up? Check out my $5 play-through and see for yourself!

Well it is an X-Men game, which gives it a considerable head start because X-Men are awesome. Compared to other beat ’em ups it is certainly above average. Let’s do a quick run down.

Special Powers

To begin, let me give some attention to the special power system. Although I hate the idea of Cyclops loses life when he uses his eye laser, I understand the convention. This was simply the status quo in beat em ups of the era. Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Turtle in Time, King of Dragons, and Knights of the Round all used the same life loss mechanic to offset the power of the special ability. However X-Men does a much better job of it in two ways.

First, the mutant power in X-Men auto kills every single enemy in the game except bosses. It’s WAY more powerful then any of the other beat em ups mentioned. In those games the specials simply do a set amount of damage, often not enough to kill even the basic enemies. Trading life to “hurt” enemies is almost always not worth it. Killing the entire screen often is.


Second, you get one free “desperation” special move per life. Next to your life bar you have one blue power orb which you use if your life is at 4/10 or lower. This means at least once per life, you get to use your power! Finally, you are encouraged to use the special. Do you know how many time I have seen Leonardo’s sword spin move in Turtles in Time? Probably zero times, because it’s a bad idea to use 100% of the time. At least I get one free use in this game.


Combat variety is another thing worth talking about. In this game you have exactly 3 basic attacks: standing attack, jump attack, and quick jump attack. There is a grab, and a ground attack but they happen automatically and only in special cases (although they do visually add considerable variety to the combat). Despite this seemingly simply combat system, each character does feel very different. This is more than I can say for some other games like Turtles in Time and Knights of the Round.


Enemy variety is where this game really lacks. The sentinels come at you like M&Ms, and like M&Ms they are all the same aside from the paint job. Other than sentinels you have some other various monsters but nothing makes you act differently to kill them other than mini-bosses. There certainly could have been more to this game in the enemy department.

The bad does not even come close to overpowering the good in this classic. It does a few things wrong, but so much right. Even today, this game remains one of the best arcade games. Play it alone, play it with your friends, but totally give it another play-through.

$5 Gamer: Metal Slug


Metal Slug is one of the best side scrolling shoot em ups ever made. This is the first game in a long and successful series, which pretty much stays true to this core gameplay through all of it’s iterations. It has coop mode, excellent sprite graphics, awesome music, and a sense of humor about itself. I would compare gameplay to Contra.

There is something specific about Metal Slug that stands out. How fast paced it is, and I think I know why.

I am interested in limited resources in games, special powers, magic and especially ammo. I often find myself analyzing how useful they are, and how the game chooses to limit them. Metal Slug has two limited resources, special ammo and grenades.

I guess it’s also fair to count lives as a limited resource, although there isn’t any decision making when it comes to rationing the resource of life. You simply always try to preserve your life.

You get special weapons from POWs who you rescue throughout the stages. Each special weapon has a predetermined amount of ammo. Other than grenades, you have no alternate weapons. You must use your special weapon ammo constantly because this isn’t really the kind of game in which you ever stop shooting. It is slightly frustrating to “waste” rocket launcher or flame shot rounds on enemies that only take one bullet from your pea-shooter, but you have to do it.

The good news is, Metal Slug is very liberal with special weapons. You probably have one more often than not, using all the different weapons keeps the game fun and varied. Compare this paradigm with a game like Contra. In Contra once you get spread shot, homing missiles, or whatever your favorite weapons is, you AVOID other power ups like the plague. No one wants to get the machine gun on accident when they have spread.

What is more interesting is the grenades. Every time you begin a life you spawn with ten grenades. This is a pretty high number considering the life expectancy of your character is about ninety seconds. Even though they are a limited resource, you are being wasteful if you try to conserve them and end up dying with eight in your pocket.

Even though limited resources usual add tension, in Metal Slug they force you to hit the gas and play it fast. It’s part of the reason this game feels so awesome. You shoot all of them ammo, you pitch all the grenades, you die with everything exhausted. Respawn and run amok all over again.

The scarcity vs abundance dichotomy of this game creates a fast and action-packed burn.

$5 Gamer: Mortal Kombat


Playing arcade games through an emulator isn’t the same as really playing them. Knowing you only have 15 quarters left in your pocket and every single life counts is a thrill that doesn’t exist when there is an “insert coin” button. That is why I imposed a $5 limit on myself, that is often how much money my parents would give me when they let me loose in an arcade during my childhood.

How deep into the classic Mortal Kombat can I get with only $5? Watch and find out!