Back when I was a wee lad my folks used to take me, on occasion, to various arcades. I believe that often the arcade in question was attached to a Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza “restaurant” whose food offerings contained all the basic ingredients of what you and I commonly refer to as pizza—your doughy crusts, your tomato-based sauces and your melted cheeses—but the flavors they created were quite unlike anything that you might want to pay actual currency to obtain. I’m still unclear how they managed to fail at a task that can be better accomplished with a Thomas’ English Muffin, a plastic squeeze bottle of ketchup and some Kraft Singles, but that’s hardly the point.
During one of these arcade visits I recall specifically seeing a game in the same vein as the popular Dragon’s Lair which was neither that seminal title nor its largely indistinguishable counterpart, Space Ace. This mysterious game involved, somehow, car chases and some kind of gangster activity. That is as far as my memory went. I don’t think I ever actually played the game but it was one of those trivial items that inexplicably left its print on my brain like a steel-toed boot in mud.
Later, after the spread of the Internet, I located the game online and identified it as Cliff Hanger, but I had never seen it since that one childhood encounter. Until yesterday when I stumbled across a copy of it at California Extreme. I played it and it turns out it is as bad of a game as all those Dragon’s Lair laserdisc-based titles are, but it was kind of nice to draw a close on a particularly mystifying recollection. And I did finally figure out why the game stuck with me for so long: The failure screen (akin to the regenerating skeleton sequence from Dragon’s Lair) features a fairly grim depiction of a hanging. It flooded back when I witnessed it again yesterday as being something less than traumatic but something more than easily forgotten. As a lad of an impressionable age, the invisible fingerprint of that scene has manifested itself repeatedly throughout my life in my darkest of nightmares.
I only wish I’d gotten a better picture of it. I’d make it my desktop wallpaper.