Video games have spent decades taking players across distant worlds, realistic cities, and even universes just beyond the realm of possibility. Whether it’s saving the planet from an army of aliens, punching trees in Minecraft, or hopping on blocks with Mario, players want to be entertained. While some games have a tendency to try and mimic real life environments, many play around with the familiar, offering a unique spin on players’ expectations.
Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a game has likely seen levels featuring green forests, blue oceans, or grey industrial zones. These tropes have been employed in countless games to varying degrees of success to evoke a sense of place and specific mood. Over the years, casinos have also had their time to shine as game developers find interesting ways to interpret how the look and feel of a casino can be tailored into gameplay. From Sonic to Mario, from fighting games to post-apocalyptic adventure, here are some of the best casino-themed locales from gaming’s history.
Viva New Vegas
Fallout: New Vegas is one of the largest representations of casinos and Las Vegas in gaming. Released in October 2010 as a follow up to Fallout 3, New Vegas takes place in 2281, nearly 200 years after the world has been devastated by nuclear war. Unlike most places across the United States, Las Vegas remained mostly intact and still receives electricity and water from the Hoover Dam.
When players get tired of fighting against mutants and bands of mercenaries they can go to the New Vegas strip to play at one of several casinos in the game. Blackjack, roulette, and slots are available to play and win prizes at. Whether at the high-end Ultra-Luxe casino or the destitute Atomic Wrangler, winning might grab the attention of a floor manager who will give you food, drinks, or a VIP room. Win too much money, though, and you will be permanently banned from gambling at that location.
As an RPG, players can invest experience points into various skills like strength or intelligence. Those who level up their luck will have a better chance at winning casino games which, unfortunately, doesn’t work in real life. Developer Obsidian Entertainment also created their own card game for New Vegas called Caravan, where players can build their own deck by finding cards across the game world.
Mascots at the Slots
Sega’s own Sonic the Hedgehog has multiple games where a casino-themed level makes an appearance. The theme rose to prominence in Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s Casino Night Zone. Just like Vegas, the level is full of bright colors and flashing lights. Various pinballs bumpers and triggers bounce Sonic around the level. There’s even a tiny slots game players can guide Sonic into and then hit the jackpot and maybe gain enough rings for extra lives.
The slot machines and overall level design were based on the developer’s experiences in Las Vegas and their time in America. “Casino Night” levels appear in Sonic games across multiple platforms but the theme is also recycled in the form of carnivals and circuses, where Sonic encounters similar mini-games and colorful worlds.
Despite being one of the biggest video game icons ever, Mario has rarely played the slots in the Mushroom Kingdom. In Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, players can find a secret area called Grate Guy’s Casino. Run by the jester Grate Guy, Mario can play a slot machine type game where he hits a treasure box in an attempt to match three symbols. Players can also win rewards by playing a simple version of blackjack.
Fighting games often rely on one set piece to provide some amount of context and spectacle to two players beating the stuffing out of each other. Street Fighter is one of the most highly regarded fighting games of all time and Street Fighter 2 features a distinct casino-themed stage. Balrog, a fighter in the game, has a stage which features fancy cars, neon lights, a wedding chapel, and “Las Vegas!” plastered at the floor. How could you get any more Vegas than that? It’s an iconic stage from a very iconic game.
Casino of Duty
Call of Duty games are known worldwide for intense multiplayer matches where players gun each other down in a variety of maps and settings. Nearly every kind of locale known to man has been used in Call of Duty, including casinos. Call of Duty: Black Ops has a map called “Hotel” which takes place outside a resort in Cuba that includes a hotel and casino called El Royale. The casino contains a few games that players can interact with if they aren’t busy being shot at. Shooting at the slot machines in the casino will cause them to spit out money and a wheel of fortune can also be spun when shot at. Coins and gold bars litter the map, providing more decoration to this chaotic casino setting.
In Call of Duty: Ghosts, players are ambushed outside of a casino in the mission “Sin City.” After suffering heavy losses, players must fight their way through the devastated remains of the Luxor Las Vegas, complete with crumbling Egyptian-inspired architecture. “Dust to Dust,” the final mission of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, takes place at the Hotel Oasis in Dubai. Before the credits roll, players shoot their way through the heavily defended casino hotel packed with card tables, elaborate architecture, and soldiers with guns.
As fun as it might be soaking up the lights and colors of a casino-themed level in a game, where’s the fun if you can’t partake in some of the real action? Through the years, video games have used things like slots and blackjack as small distractions or ways to earn in-game cash. Recently, some developers have begun to include complete poker experiences into their games.
Rockstar Games, developers of the Grand Theft Auto series, took players to early 1900’s Texas. The Wild West was full of activities for players to engage in but Rockstar included a fully realized poker experience in the game. Though Texas Hold ’em was the only variation included, it was about as realistic as playing online or at an actual casino. Players can engage in high stakes matches, complete challenges, cheat, and even play against friends online. The mode didn’t pull any punches as only the basics were explained, so those already good at poker had a leg up and could use their established skills for success.
Watch Dogs is another open world game set in a near-future Chicago and was released last year by Ubisoft. Poker was one of the many mini-games available to players who wanted a distraction from the main storyline. While it wasn’t as elaborate as Red Dead Redemption, players could engage in various difficulties and stakes to earn more money and face tougher competition. In the game, players were able to hack into security cameras to view the hands of other players or monitor their stress levels to gain an advantage.
Telltale Games, creators of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones adventure games, also created two poker-centric games. Poker Night at the Inventory and Poker Night 2 featured characters from various video games, cartoons, and movies playing hands of Texas Hold ’em and Omaha Hold ’em. Not only did the games have a lot of humor, they featured different card, table, and chip designs to personalize the player’s experience.
As the world of online poker and the thrill of being at a casino provides a distinct image, developers are going to include it in their games. Vegas’ nightlife and decade’s worth of history can make for a fun level or a stellar set piece. Plenty of games have done it, and it is likely a trend that will follow in the future.