Online gambling as we know it today owes a lot to the games that have come before it. The industry constantly evolves and develops new ideas and innovations as technology improves. But without those early predecessors, their journey would have been made all the more difficult.
Before online gambling was a possibility, game developers had recognised the interest in creating games around casino gambling and betting. There was no technology available to facilitate real money bets, but these early games still focused on the casino favourites we all know today. While many were released and could easily all bye for the title of best in class, we’ve condensed the field down to our top 3 retro casino video games. With the right console, it’s still possible to enjoy these retro games today.
Vegas Dream (Nintendo)
First released in 1988 in Japan, Vegas Dream is arguably the earliest retro gambling game to reach a mainstream audience. Developed by HAL Laboratory, it reached the US market by 1990, by which time Casino Kid was already proving popular amongst early adopters and tech fans. The game combines a range of gambling mini-games with character interactions, with the aim of increasing your bankroll from a starting fund of $700.
One of the first video games marketed to adults, there are some adult themes running through Vegas Dream. Winning the game comes when you reach a $10 million bankroll, with a video outro showing the player enjoying his new life of luxury. Alternatively, if the money runs out, players are given one last spin on a slot machine to try and recover some bankroll. Win, and the game continues. Lose, and you’re out altogether.
Aside from the gaming and the casino elements of Vegas Dream, the social interactions with characters in the game are a particularly engaging feature. Players will encounter characters randomly throughout the game, some of whom will require help, to be rewarded later, or will attempt to steal your money. It’s also possible to start relationships and marry in the game, which can improve your player’s cash flow at best, or end in financial ruin at worst. Given how old this game is, it’s remarkably sophisticated, and still great fun for gambling fans.
Casino Kid (Nintendo)
Casino Kid is another of the earliest examples of a mainstream casino video game, developed by games designers Sofel for release in 1989. Initially released in Japan, in January of 1989, it was translated into an English version later in the same year, to be released in the October.
The game features a range of casino mini-games, tied to an overall story arc that sees the player hit the town of Lost Wages – a fictional play on ‘Las Vegas’, which was used as the setting for the Japanese game. The aim of the game was to win as much money from the casino games as possible, before taking on the King of the Casino – the player’s sworn enemy, and the ultimate game boss. A sequel was released in 1993, which sees the Casino Kid tasked with overcoming 9 expert gamblers at games of blackjack, roulette and poker, before ultimately unlocking the casino leader, and final opponent, in the game.
As you would expect from a game from this era, the graphics and gameplay are very basic in the original, ranging to slightly less basic in the sequel by today’s standards. The games themselves are still very playable, and the Japanese version even allows a free play setting where players can trial out different betting strategies and techniques, independent of the game narrative. We still recommend this game to anyone looking for a flavour of where it all began.
High Stakes Gambling (Game Boy)
The Game Boy was one of the first truly revolutionary video gaming consoles, offering players the chance to compete in console-style games through a handheld device. The classic Game Boy remains one of the most iconic consoles in history, even today, and continues to entertain children and adults worldwide. One of the early ventures into gambling games for the Game Boy came with the release of High Stakes Gambling back in 1992. Designed by Perry Rodgers and developed by Sculptured Software, the game sets the player in a backdrop of 1930s America, at the height of the Great Depression.
The player assumes the role of Pete Rosetti, an undercover agent tasked with bringing down a crooked Mafia gambling ring through overcoming them in a range of casino games, from blackjack to poker. The final showdown is an additional round of five card draw, and in order to reach this level, players need to continue to raise their bankroll over the required amount to defeat individual gangsters and progress through the game.
One of the major differences in High Stakes Gambling is that because you’re playing against the Mafia, cheating is on the table. The Mafia cheat their way through the games, making it all the harder for you to build your bankroll at their expense. The more they lose, the more aggressively they cheat, so the game becomes progressively more difficult with every winning hand. Players can trade some of their bankroll for their own cheating strategies and tools, which can help make it easier to overcome opponents. But as the opponents get more difficult, it comes down to individual judgement whether to trade bankroll for the benefits of a leg-up against your cheating opponents.
Video gaming has come on leaps and bounds since the 80s and 90s, and is virtually unrecognisable today in terms of the graphics and the complexity, let alone the processing power of the consoles. While your average online casino now offers much better gameplay, the narrative and in-game features of these retro titles mean they still hold some appeal – not to mention the nostalgia factor. If you’re a fan of online casinos, or a retro gaming buff, we recommend you take each of these games for a spin if you ever get the chance – while they can’t compete with today’s offerings, they’re still incredibly fun to play.