Stern Electronics was one of the icons of the pinball scene in the late 70s and early 80s, but they had also dabbled in stand up arcade cabs.
The year 1982 was another busy one for the pinball icon as they distributed games from Konami such as Pooyan and Tutankham or Valadon Automation’s Bagman. But on occasion, they also rolled their own cabs together such as the action adventure, Lost Tomb.
Lost Tomb was a sort of top-down maze game filled with giant spiders, devious traps, and plenty of treasure. Players parachuted onto the pyramid nestled deep in the Amazon and made their way through its 91 rooms split between 13 levels. It was a twin ‘stick shooter — the left stick controlled the movement of your guy and the right stick controls where they shoot with a huge clip of ammo. “Zaps” is your whip attack (Raiders of the Lost Ark had come out the year before in 1981) which swirls around you in a limited range, destroying everything including walls making for some interesting strategies for surviving.
There’s also a giant time gauge at the top of the screen that slowly runs down. If it runs out, a “trap” is set off and an earthquake starts shaking the room and making the walls shoot at the player until they pick up a treasure chest to fill the time bar back up. I know, it’s weird — traps are supposed to keep nosy adventurers from trinkets, but in this case, stealing them is all that’s keeping one from being triggered (as well as supplying you with points, ammo, and “zaps”.
After exiting a room, the player is sometimes confronted with the option to head down stairs and enter a new room to jump ahead. If they take too long on that screen, bats come up and fly at the player. They can be shot, but it’s really better to just rush through this screen and into a nearby doorway — there are no health bars, just instant death from touching anything remotely dangerous.
There are also special “throne rooms” in the pyramid where players must follow a specific path and pick up the two chests in the room. Points also increase for each chest snagged making it particularly tempting for high scorers.
Lost Tomb was a tough game but it also threw the player a few ancient bones. Players could continue from where they died after losing all of their lives as long as they had the quarters. They could even buy extra whips with those same quarters giving them an additional edge. It was also a long slog to the end, easily going past an hour or so of play if you were the type of player to go through everything.
Reaching the finale revealed what the promised “surprise” was — 50 whips, 100,000 points, and a “bunch” of lives — before starting you back at the beginning for another run with all of your goodies. And that was it.
After its run in the arcade, Lost Tomb became lost itself to the pages of history. As far as I’ve been able to tell, there hasn’t been a “Stern Arcade Hits” collection of any sort such as what Konami did with its own collection of games over the years. The Internet Archive, though, has managed to do its part in preserving the game through its Internet Arcade initiative making it freely available for everyone to try.
Despite its fate, it still had a few interesting ideas such as allowing players to pick a way through the pyramid by choosing which room they wanted to go to along with being able to buy extra whips using quarters. In 1985. Gauntlet would allow players throw in quarters not for whips, but to buy more health with which to survive its challenges and in a way, Gauntlet was a far more advanced version of its own Lost Tomb complete with treasure chests, monsters, and a huge array of deadly challenges.
Lost Tomb might not have been a huge hit in the arcades, or a very memorable game. But a few pieces of its ancient wisdom can still be found lurking the shadows, especially if they involved a certain secret agent a few years later.