Minigames are a huge part of gaming as we know it. If you start to feel bored with the main quest, what else is there on offer to fill your time? Maybe you’ll turn to fishing. Perhaps a dancing mini-game. If you’re playing something such as Shenmue or Yakuza, maybe you’ll even kill some time by playing some classic Sega arcade games.
Yet, one of the mini-game tropes (and, in some cases, level tropes) that’s often overlooked is the casino area. Filled with gambling gimmicks aplenty, the neon lights and catchy tunes of these slot-filled stages and minigame mazes have often left a lasting impression on me – even as someone who has never actually been to a real-life casino.
And clearly, I’m not the only one. Whether you enjoy playing at one of the top real money casinos or gambling in a no-stakes form, these areas absolutely having ingrained themselves into the fabric of gaming history. As such, let’s go over my top five favourite casino areas from throughout video game history!
The Game Corner (Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver Versions, 2009)
When I think of gambling minigames, the first that comes to mind is the Pokémon series’ Game Corner. This was a staple throughout the first four generations of Pokémon, before disappearing suddenly in Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver versions in 2009, being replaced with the Voltorb Flip minigame.
Traditionally, the main attraction to these areas was the slot machine minigames, where you could rank up in-game coins to spend on items and even Pokémon! Indeed, in Pokémon Red and Blue versions, this was the only way to get the electric soldier Pokémon, Porygon!
The removal of the Game Corner in later games was sudden but perhaps expected. A traditional Game Corner had appeared in the Japanese versions, complete with by far the best version of the traditional slot machine minigame. But, when the games were localized, this minigame was replaced.
Apparently, despite having appeared for nearly a decade with no problems, there had been issues raised in the European Union over the inclusion of a casino area in such a massively popular children’s video game. To avoid any headaches, the slot machine minigame was made inaccessible in the European release of 2008’s Pokémon Platinum Version. Then, in HGSS’s worldwide release, the Game Corner itself was completely altered.
That Japanese version of the area looks incredible, though. Fantastic music, dizzying lights, an awesome overall aesthetic, and even little mini cutscenes that’d appear whenever you raked up combos on the machines. It’s easily one of the coolest casino areas in any video game!
Gold Saucer (Final Fantasy VII, 1997)
Not to be confused with the area of the same name in Final Fantasy XIV, the original Gold Saucer is one of my absolute favourite minigame hubs.
In this brilliantly-themed casino area, you can take part in a number of events ranging from Chocobo Racing to monster battle gauntlets to shooting minigames to even an arcade! Like in any good real-life casino (or perhaps even online at newzealandcasinos casino online), it’s easy to lose track of time in there – for better or worse.
The main attraction for me, though, isn’t one of the gambling minigames. I really love Chocobo Racing. These big yellow chickens are oddly endearing and fun to raise, and trying to win races here offers what feels like an entire game’s worth of content to me – which is an impressive feat, seeing how much content is already packed in across all three discs of Final Fantasy VII!
Overall, this is a fantastically memorable area that’s fun for fans of gambling and non-gamblers alike. If you like watching big birds engage in frantic races especially, you should absolutely check this one out!
Neon District Casino (Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, 2018)
When I first decided to write this article, I knew I was going to include an area from the Yakuza series. However, when it came time to choose one, I opted to talk about a title that’s only technically part of the series!
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise is a game made by the Yakuza devs in the style of the Yakuza games that are based on the post-apocalyptically themed Fist of the North Star anime and manga series. Kenshiro’s adventure here is filled with lots of buff dudes and gory action, but there are also tons of minigames present as well.
Along with bartending minigames, buggy racing, karaoke, and the aforementioned classic Sega arcade games, Lost Paradise also includes a more traditional casino in the game’s Neon District. Four traditional casino games are available here, with those being baccarat, blackjack, poker, and roulette. All of them actually play pretty well. The roulette mini-game, in particular, was a great time-killer for me here!
Lost Paradise is probably one of the most overlooked Yakuza-style titles. But, it really is a fantastic game, and the casino area and slew of other minigames present help make the title feel so incredibly fleshed out.
Waluigi Pinball (Mario Kart DS, 2005)
Waluigi Pinball makes no claims of being a casino area. But, from the look and sound of the area, it’s oh so obvious that it is.
This fantastic track involves you racing through a giant pinball machine themed after everyone’s favourite purple mustachio’d character who isn’t a Smash Bros fighter: Waluigi. Filled with giant pinballs and bumpers, the stage is also garnished with neon lights, a pumping electronic tune, and even a giant slot machine! Slot machine sounds even play whenever you hit an item box, replacing the usual noises.
It’s also easily my favourite track within Mario Kart DS. The shining lights and pumping music make it an absolute blast to race through, especially with friends.
Indeed, it was even my overall favourite track in the Mario Kart series for years. It’d only be surpassed, in my opinion, by the Electrodome in 2014’s Mario Kart 8.
Waluigi Pinball is still a great track, though. Less of a minigame area and mores a full-on stage, it absolutely left a lasting imprint on my mind.
Casino Night Zone (Sonic the Hedgehog 2, 1992)
When it comes to casino areas in video games, none shine quite as brightly as the various casino zones from throughout the Sonic the Hedgehog series. From the pinball minigames of Casinopolis in Sonic Adventure to the pitfall traps of Bingo Highway in Sonic Heroes to even the creative blend of old western aesthetics and pinball bumpers in Sonic Mania’s Mirage Saloon Zone, Sonic has seen more than his fair share of great casino areas.
The most memorable of these, though, is also the original. Casino Night Zone isn’t the fastest-paced casino zone in Sonic. It doesn’t have the best music, either – at least in my opinion. But what it does have is a fine mix of platforming, pinball gimmicks, and even slot machines that might grant you extra lives.
As a kid, this was my absolute favourite zone in Sonic 2. I’d spend up to ten minutes at a time just trying my best to rack up lives, not even noticing the clock ticking closer and closer to the stage timing out. But I didn’t care. It was just plain fun.
Casino Night is eye-poppingly gorgeous to look at. It’s fun to play through. But more than that, it’s memorable. And clearly, Sega thinks so, too, seeing as they’ve brought it back numerous times.
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So with that, these are my top 5 favourite casino areas from throughout video game history. Sadly only Final Fantasy VII is available for PS Vita owners through legitimate means, and even that is through emulation running the PS1 version. But I greatly enjoyed getting to go on this odd yet fun dive into gaming history, and I hope you did too. Writing this article was a great way to clear my mind in-between stints at my local Game Corner, where I am trying oh-so desperately to win a Porygon.