Looking like something Leonardo Da Vinci sketched in his notebook, Prop Cycle by Namco is certainly one of the strangest arcade games ever made.

Released over ten years before the Nintendo Wii stormed through game rooms, getting people to get all sweaty while playing video games — Prop Cycle was quite a trailblazer.

I played this game at a Dave & Buster’s in Silver Spring, MD back in 1996.  After playing a few games — I though it was about the coolest thing ever. It was just so unique to be controlling a game by riding a bike, leaning left or right to steer, pulling back on the wheel to go higher, and peddling harder to increase speed and lift. It was just a crazy, unique experience.

The control mechanisms worked perfectly and felt so realistic. Heck the game even blew air through your hair while you were “flying.”

The idea was to fly through the air, avoiding obstacles while trying to pop balloons by flying through them. Some balloons were hidden in caves, some are high, and some are low near other items that can crash your flying contraption. You only have so much time before the clock runs out. Get enough balloons popped and you will graduate to the next level.

Prop Cycle had two game play modes. One was story-based, and frankly kind of geeky. Very Japanese in terms of style and just not very appealing to me. I never came close to completing it. In the story-mode, you have to reach another world or planet or something and save the world from destruction like plenty of typical Anime plots.

I always played the regular mode more often.

Prop Cycle Arcade

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/numb3r

After playing it in the arcades, I had it in my mind that I HAD to get one someday.

When they were new in the arcade these were TEN THOUSAND dollar machines. Yikes! So obviously this was something I would have to buy many years down the road.

Well a few years ago, I found one locally on eBay for around only $300 and pulled the trigger.

I was so excited about it, but in the end the appeal was kind of lost. With today’s Kinect, Wii, and Playstation Move motion games — Prop Cycle just did not capture me as much as it did back in 1996.

Don’t get my wrong, it is still very cool and I would still have it if my game room space were more unlimited. But the deluxe version of Prop Cycle takes about the space of three pinball machines. As cool as it is… It does not deliver three pinball machines worth of fun.

The main thing that was disappointing and probably why it did not sell more; is that Prop Cycle is simply too hard for younger children to play. My kids were dying to play it, but it simply required too much physical strength to pull back on the wheel to gain lift. They always could build up plenty of speed, but never could get much above the ground level. So they really could not even play it.

Possibly there is a way to tweak this somehow and make it easier to pull back on the wheel to increase altitude. If so, it would have much broader appeal.

But either way — it is still an arcade classic and a rare game room gem.