In 1982, Disney’s TRON arrived on the silver screen starring a young Jeff Bridges as a hotshot programmer prying into the dirty laundry of a corporate bad guy who stole his work years earlier. Bridges ends up being pulled into a mainframe run by a megalomaniacal AI called the MCP where he also meets up with TRON, a friend’s security program that was designed to act as a “cop” to protect the system from threats like the MCP and adventures soon ensue across a revolutionary set featuring gobs of cutting edge CG. Though it wasn’t a huge box office smash, it became a cult hit over the years that eventually culminated in an official sequel in 2010 nearly more than 28 years later.
The film also had a number of games come out for it over the years, but the first, and one of the most remarkable, was an arcade cabinet that arrived in the same year with elements based off of an earlier draft of the script. This was an awesome game.
The ad above was true to the cabinet that I played on — a huge neon blue joystick with a flourescent bulb built into the panel to give it that kind of electronic “glow” found everywhere in the film. It was a small cinematic taste of what the game took after. And as a game, it was also a movie tie-in that most definitely didn’t suck.
The stick was used to control movement and the dial thing you see to the left of it was used to help aim TRON’s arm or a tank turret when it came to shooting stuff.
Players were free to pick from one of four different zones to start the game at — a duel between tanks in a maze, lightcycles, the MCP cone, and fighting net bugs to enter the IO tower before time ran out and each one was based off of parts of the movie. Well, at least the parts that weren’t changed.
The maze battle was a top-down challenge as you drove a tank around to shoot other tanks that were trying to do the same thing to you. The lightcycle portion pit you against enemy cycles in a top down arena where you traced walls to force them into by racing around the map, taking care not to get trapped yourself. The MCP cone was kind of like Breakout, only you were being pushed from the bottom towards a slowly rotating wall of colored light you needed to shoot a path through.
Last but not least, the IO tower pit you against net “bugs” that multiplied constantly. You had to shoot through them, using the dial control on the left side of the stick seen in the pic above, to rotate TRON’s arm around to aim. You were also timed and had to get past them and into the IO beam before it counted down.
After beating the four sections, the game sent you to the next difficulty level and so on — each one named after a programming language with the last one being simply called “User” and which repeated itself. At the higher levels, the tanks in the tank mini-game would be replaced with the two-legged Recognizers from the movie.
All in all, it was close enough to the film for fans to forget the differences such as the use of yellow for the enemy lightcycles. The net bugs in the IO tower segment were also supposed to be an enemy in the movie, but ended up being cut. You can briefly see what they were in the Solar Sail sequence but nothing else came of it.
Though multiple games based on TRON came out, the arcade original didn’t arrive on consoles until nearly 26 years later in 2008 for Xbox Live. Though Midway had a number of its classics released over the years as part of compilations, TRON had always been left off — probably because Disney owned the IP the game was based on. It would be under their Interactive Studios label that the Xbox Live game found its way to the public after so long.
TRON was a fantastic arcade game and one of those rare movie tie-ins that was a lot of fun. The cabinet was also something else with its stick and knob combo, the freedom to pick which challenge you wanted hit first, and music from the movie along with plenty of sharp audio. Flynn would’ve been proud.