Of all the shows that made up Nickelodeon’s original early-90s programming block, perhaps none was more ambitious than Nick Arcade. Combining the elements of classic game shows with groundbreaking video technology, Nick Arcade offered contestants the chance to play inside a virtual world that, at the time, at least, dazzled adolescent viewers at home. How the creators managed to pull this off is the focus of a new documentary short from YouTubers Wrestling With Gaming.
As Nick Arcade co-creators Karim Miteff and James Bethea explain, the show’s success was due to a piece of software known as the Mandala. This was the technology that converted excitable pre-teens into interactive sprites that could interact with coins, switches, and enemies in the “Video Zone.” Looking back, these tense video game showdowns seem about as advanced as the technology used by your local weatherman, but at the time it was pretty cutting-edge stuff.
Ultimately, the blue screen magic behind the one was really just one part of what made Nick Arcade so special. Hyper-energetic host Phil Moore kept things entertaining during the most mundane trivia competitions. The “Video Challenge” segments, meanwhile, featured titles from Nintendo, Sega, and Neo Geo, which seems almost unimaginable in today’s climate of corporate competition. Even the losers got to go home with a comfortable pair of British Knights.
A relic of a bygone era that was still way ahead of its time, Nick Arcade remains firmly imprinted on the minds of TV viewers of a certain age. Given the massive increase in gaming-related entertainment, streaming, and virtual reality in the past five years, it seems like only a matter of time before we get some sort of a reboot.
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