Updated: Aug 1, 2020
Back in the nineties, the real world could be escaped by way of a 4.7" disc known as a CD-ROM. Windows 95 and Windows 98 further upped the entertainment ante, giving the average consumer access to increasingly impressive-looking games. Sadly, many early-to-mid '90s titles relied heavily on full motion video (FMV), wherein digitized actors conveyed the action, delivering stunning (for the time) graphics with minimal replay value, a la a good chunk of Sega CD games.
During my formative high school years in the late '90s, there was a local Internet coffeehouse which instilled in me a "drive" for amassing CD-ROM games. The place was called Cyberlink Cafe, and it had a wall adorned with the disc's huge boxes. Used as a deterrent to shoplifters, these "big boxes" are now niche collectibles, and they looked great as a means to advertise the cafe's pay-to-play offerings. This business model was completely illegal, but no one cared! I would buy an espresso, pummel some fools in Road Rash, and maybe even pop into a chat room before my computer time ran out. It all felt very high tech. Best of all, Cyberlink had a full-fledged arcade in the back of the house! Through a circa-2012 series of events involving Craigslist, I scored for fifty bucks the same Atari RoadBlasters cabinet I played as a kid at Cyberlink. The former Cyberlink location is now a Mexican restaurant, which is admittedly quite good. There seems to be an unrelated Cyberlink Cafe in Tennessee, if you can trust a website with stock photos and awkward copy.
Our local Mexican place doubled the original Cyberlink footage, which was the middle storefront in the below photo.
As my high school finances would allow, I would hit up Electronics Boutique and buy the cheapest CD-ROM games with the best box art. These boxes would be adhered to the basement wall of my parent's house, just like at Cyberlink! Sure, I would end up with some stinkers, a couple of Beavis and Butt-Head titles among them, but the CD format itself automatically made games more exciting. If you were there, you know what I'm talking about. I held on to some of those empty boxes for pushing twenty years. No, I'm fine.
Update: I found a photo of one of those boxes, taken years ago to ease my OCD in parting with it. (If this picture had been intended for the blog, I would have included a CD jewel case for size comparison.) I loved playing Samurai Shodown II on the PC with my trusty Mad Catz controller. Today, I own the game for my Neo-Geo systems. They're all in the below video, along with that RoadBlasters!
Unearthing my Addiction Pinball CD-ROM...
Our pending move from New York to Arizona involved transporting an entire arcade. During this frenzy, I discovered a cache of my CD-ROM games, among them being the Microprose-published, Team17's Addiction Pinball. I bought the pictured disc new in 1998. I popped this baby into my laptop's DVD-ROM drive, which was the clincher for my purchase of the computer. Sure, you can stream entertainment and download games, but as I waxed in my tribute to tapes, there's something inherently special about interacting with a tangible object. The game of legal drinking age ran on Windows 10 with no issues. Bill Gates has your back.
Addiction Pinball includes two virtual pinball machines: World Rally Fever and Worms, the latter "table" being released as a PlayStation game in Europe. (Worms is a long-running PC gaming franchise also created by Team17.) Both playfields can be viewed from five different perspectives, changeable anytime with, appropriately enough, keys 1 through 5. You can even view the table from full overhead, which requires standing your monitor on end! Launch the ball with the enter key and use the shift keys to work those flippers. Put some English on the ball with the space bar if you must, but watch out for the dreaded tilt.
With most of my gaming gear being nine states away, I've taken up Addiction Pinball once again, and I have to say it's aged surprisingly well. The playfields look great to this day and the music is catchy. The sound effects and narration are exactly what you would expect from a real machine. The tables even rock virtual monochrome dot matrix displays (DMDs), typical of what would be found on actual arcade machines of the time. These displays continually show you animations, pertinent info, mission menus and the top ten high scores. If certain criteria gets met, you can even play mini games on them.
Toss in real-world physics, a multitude of goals for each table, the ever-popular multi-ball mode, and Addiction Pinball proves itself as a top-notch pinball simulation. Obviously, video pinball will never be as intoxicating as grappling with an actual wood-and-metal behemoth. But with zero maintenance and a laughably low price point versus the real deal, Addiction Pinball makes for a fine waste of time.
The '90s made great strides in virtual pinball; it's hard to believe the shareware favorite Epic Pinball was released only five years prior to Addiction Pinball. CD-ROM offered a huge upgrade over the limitations of floppy disks, not that the humble 3.5" diskette didn't have its own charm: Who among us never overwrote an AOL free trial floppy? And how could you forget, try as you may, the insipid "Don't Copy that Floppy" rap?
I'm not sure which Addiction Pinball table I like better. I've heard some people say Worms is boring. Those people are wrong.
A copy of Addiction Pinball can be found on eBay for less than ten bucks. As long as you have an optical drive, and you're running something more recent than Windows 3.1, you won't need to upgrade your system to play it. Yeah, you could take the easy road of downloading the game, but the anticipation of something coming in the mail should be worth at least $6.50.
What was your favorite CD-ROM or PC game? Tell the world about it in the comment box below. Make a compelling case, or risk looking like a poser!