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njsykora avatar 11:33 AM on 05.07.2008  (server time)
Control Freaks: #5 - Prop Cycle

I've been umming and ahhing over this one for a while as I've been somewhat unsure what arcade games could possibly be described under this banner. Pretty much every form of control pioneered in the arcades has now become a standard and has appeared on the home consoles. From the joystick and steering wheel to the more recent DDR pad, guitar and drum controllers. There is one game however that will never be able to leave the arcades. Welcome to Control Freaks.

Episode 5 - Prop Cycle

The Game
Released in 1996 by arcade giants Namco, riding high off the success of Time Crisis came Prop Cycle. A game with one of the more outlandish stories to come out of an arcade machine. The world was at peace until someone touched the sacred altar and caused the village of Solitar to rise from the world. A search was therefore made to find skilled pilots to complete the 3 stages and bring Solitar back to the ground.

The 3 stages all contained balloons. Popping the balloons got you points and special flashing balloons got you extra time. When the time ran out the game was over. As games go its pretty simple and sounds boring, until you see the cabinet.

The Controller

This behemoth is the Prop Cycle cabinet, something I always admired as a kid when seeing it on TV in shows like Gamesmaster and Sub Zero (Sunday morning CBBC reference is win) but never actually saw in person until I took a trip to Canada in May last year. Upon seeing it I could not wait to mount it up and see if the game I'd always seen as an incredible feat of arcade gaming was as much fun as I'd always thought.

They say you should never meet your heroes, they're often cold, callous and shallow beasts that quickly destroy the aura of glory you always associated with them. As hero meetings go Prop Cycle gave me a blowjob and served me some jelly and ice cream before seeing me onto the train home. It was everything I'd thought it was and then even more.

Moving forwards in the game involves pedalling on the bike to power the fan on the on-screen bike (the cabinets had this fan on the back as well). This is pretty tiring as the pedals put up an almost incredibly realistic amount of resistance when pedalling first starts and it gets easier as you get up to speed. Then its just a case of leaning right and left to turn right and left then pulling up and down to adjust your height. As far as putting the experience of the game into real life its as good a job as could possibly be done and the popping balloons gameplay becomes all the more fun for it.

Prop Cycle didn't take off because the arcade environment it was launching into consisted of joysticks, lightguns and steering wheels (DDR was 2 years away). This big tough manly group of games wasn't something a balloon popper was going to fit into easily. The game has become something to be admired for the sort of originality that the arcade format of game making provided to the industry. As such Prop Cycle was never followed with a sequel, nothing ever used anything like its control again and it became a unique machine. Truly worthy of being called a Control Freak.


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