Atari’s 720: Skate or Die!

In 1986, Atari released what was, at that time, the definitive skateboarding arcade game. The game’s official name was 720 Degrees, although most of us referred to it as simply “720”.

In 720, you must earn money by skating your way through four different events (ramp, downhill, slalom, and jump). You’ll need to score points to earn tickets to enter those events, and you’ll need to earn money to buy better equipment to improve your performance. One of the most memorable moments of the game was when killer bees would come out to chase you and the game would say “Skate or DIE!” in a booming voice.

The name “720 Degrees” literally refers to spinning around 720 degrees, making two complete rotations. In real life, at least back in 1986, pulling off a 720 seemed like an impossible trick. (In the late 80s, Tony Hawk successfully landed a 720. Ten years later he landed a 900, or two-and-a-half rotations, at the 1999 X-Games.)

There are many unique things about 720. The first thing you’ll notice is the uniquely-shaped cabinet with a giant boom box on top (complete with a “cassette” that lit up and two working speakers!). 720 also used a unique controller that looked like a joystick but rotated (off center) like a spinner. There’s no other game that uses this controller, or anything like it. A third unique thing about 720 machines is that they are ungodly heavy. A Ms. Pac-Man cabinet weighs around 250 pounds; 720 machines, due to their oversized monitor and dense base, weigh in at over 400 pounds.

After buying my first arcade game back in 1994, I made a list of “holy grail” games that I would someday like to own, and number one on the list was 720. It took me fifteen years to track down one that was (a) affordable, (b) in good condition, and (c) within 500 miles of my house, but in 2009 I finally tracked one down, not 10 miles away from my home.

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If I look a little smug in that picture, that’s because I was. Note that for some reason, this particular machine was missing the side artwork. Last year I purchased new-old-stock (NOS) decals, and applied them. The thing looks and plays mint (and it should, for what I paid for it!).

I’m a pretty big fan of 720. Not only do I own the machine, but I also own a few other 720 collectibles as well. Like many other popular arcade games of the day, 720 made its way to several home gaming systems. I own a copy of the game for the Nintendo Entertainment System, along with a boxed copy for my favorite retro computer, the Commodore 64.

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When they said this game brought home the “arcade’s ultimate aerial experience” … they were lying.

The Commodore 64 version of the game was released both on floppy disk and on cassette. Those lucky enough to pick up the cassette version received an extra treat: a complete copy of the game’s soundtrack on the back side of the cassette!

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Using way too much time, resources and equipment, I actually converted my cassette to mp3s so that I can listen to the music from 720 Degrees on my iPod no matter where I go. SKATE OR DIE!

A couple of years ago, Nike released several limited edition versions of their SB Dunks shoes. One limited edition pair was the “720 Dunks”. While the shoes don’t resemble the shoes worn by the skater in the actual game, they do incorporate all the colors used in the game’s artwork. In the picture below, you can see how they incorporated the hot pink, orange, cyan blue, yellow, and black and gray from the game’s artwork into the shoe’s design. If you look closely at the back of the shoe you can even see the black and white checkerboard pattern from the flyer.

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These limited edition Nike SB Dunks were offered both as low tops and high tops. I own a pair of each.

You can read more about 720 at Arcade-Museum.com, and check out scans of the flyer over at the Arcade Flyer Archive. Anyone wanting to scratch their 720 itch (and not shell out the cash for an arcade machine!) can track down Midway Arcade Treasures (available on the PS2, GameCube, or Xbox) or fire up a copy of MAME.