Welcome back to the May edition of LRM’s Retro-Specs! We have been in the 80s for a good amount of time, so let’s give the 90s some love again! Nintendo and Sega initiates the video game boom in American households. At this time, video games make the way from the arcades into the homes of kids becoming much more accessible! Nickelodeon is already one of the major players in children’s programming. Add a gameshow atmosphere like Double Dare, combine the video game popularity and what do you get? The awesome Nick Arcade!
Nickelodeon Takes The Opportunity
As mentioned, Nickelodeon is known as one of the TV giants for kids. Shows such as Double Dare, Guts, and Legends of the Hidden Temple are some of the more well-known kid-centric game shows. In 1992 they take the opportunity to capitalize on the latest craze for kids: video games.
Fans of the show will definitely remember the awesome host, Phil Moore. He is also on Figure It Out. That is something I always fondly remember about Nickelodeon shows: the charismatic hosts. The outline of the show is interesting for the time and does not focus on athletic skills like many of the other shows, but showcases their gaming skills. The current numerous individuals being able to share their amazing gaming skills on YouTube is the norm. However, Nick Arcade is the first of its time. Think 1989s The Wizard, but actually put the kids in the video game as well. More on that later.
Looking back at videos from Nick Arcade can be awesomely cringeworthy based on today’s standards and computer effects. However, for the time it is quite amazing. It is also a great way to showcase many of the games for home consoles. Prior to this we could only really read about games in magazines such as Nintendo Power. That or hope for the best going to Blockbuster.
Two teams compete against each other. There are “evil wizards” (Mongo, Merlock, and Scorchia) each episode who contestants could face at the end of a show. Long story short, teams answer questions, play video games in hope of reaching the interactive video gameplay at the end. If you make it to the final stages, you play some minigames then move on to the final boss in hopes of winning a trip.
Even more than the interactive video game near the end, I remember the gameboard the most. It is divided into boxes/grids almost like a video board game. As teams progress, the video character, Mikey, moves along the grid revealing one of the Four P’s: points, puzzles, pop quizzes, and prizes as teams advance. Again, for the time, the graphics are pretty good.
Some of the Four P’s consist of video challenges and scrambled 90s music videos where contestants are to identify artists. Nick Arcade is a pop culture showcase.
I love the video challenges. There are at times some obscure games. However, there are also extremely recognizable games making appearances. During a Video Challenge, one team member chooses from one of five games to play. There is also a Wizard Challenge. Here the contestant has to earn a certain amount of points in 30 seconds. Like a big speed run (and yes, that is Melissa Joan Hart)!
The awesome part is that every home console is used. From NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, TurboGrafx, and Neo Geo. Again, this is the only way to see many of these systems all in one place aside from a toy store. There are great games at times like Sonic the Hedgehog. Other times they are completely obscure. Nickelodeon gets a large chunk of money from the companies for a great way of advertising.
So the idea is to get Mikey across the board to the finishing point. However, this rarely happens. I do not ever remember it happening. Moore asks a final pop quiz question to help promote winners to the final round. In typical Nickelodeon show fashion, the dramatics and esthetics are always on show. In come the props. The winning contestants of the two rounds are ready for the Video Zone. Before they go, they must enter a huge metal (looking) door with smoke and darkness behind it.
Inside each contestant gets a round having to collect certain items leading to the pairing as they compete against one of the Wizards in round 3. Hindsight Bias always came about as I knew my friends and I could do so much better than the kids on the show. Viewers can see Phil Moore’s screen which shows the contestants actually in the 16-bit game.
Now I know that I would have probably done much worse than the contestants on the show. They are pretty much in front of a green screen and they have to adjust their movements by looking at the TV monitor. Think like what a weather person does everyday, but having to collect gems and fight a Wizard.
When you see it now, it may not look all that great. But, at the time it is definitely some 90s magic.
While the show is great, you can tell it is created by grownups and not kids. Just as contestants did not have the time to navigate Mikey across the board, they rarely have the time to beat all three levels (the video above may be the only time I have seen it happen). They have a total of 60 seconds to complete all the levels. I do not think it is intentional, but that they tried to fit too much into a 30 minute show. Or maybe it was intentional so the show did not have to give out as many prizes. I mean, it’s fine. Looking back, I think it actually reminds me of many video games of the time. Difficult as hell to beat.
I know I have said this before, but reruns made me think that these shows last forever. However, like so many others it only has two seasons. The show’s ratings begin to sink. But, it is connected with Figure It Out. The company supposedly has an issue with Moore not being able to guess hidden talents of contestants on the show. Due to this the kids won trips and Nickelodeon wanted him to reimburse the money. Weird and stupid, right? So Moore refuses and both shows are canceled. Seems like the company needed a scapegoat to me.
Paving The Way
I am sure the show takes inspiration from The Wizard. However, I think it really paves the way for gamers today. The idea of watching people play video games is not new. I remember going to the mall’s arcade to watch the master gamers play while I blow so many characters on the other games.
Nick Arcade takes this to a national level with the show. Even though it only lasts two seasons I again believe that the show is partially responsible for the fascination of watching gamers on their YouTube channels.
Where It Can Be Viewed
With nostalgia comes the hunt for where the gems of yesterday can be seen. You can access Nickelodeon Games and Sports for all the reruns. YouTube has a few episodes as well.
ALSO SEE: The Best Video Game Movie (About Video Games?) To This Day: The Wizard! I LRM’s Retro-Specs
Do you remember Nickelodeon’s Nick Arcade? What did you like about it? Where does it rank in your Nickelodeon shows? Leave your thoughts in the usual spot, and thanks for reading!
Sources: Destructoid, TV Tropes