Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits Volume 1
Blast ('em ups) from the past - Review By Fragmaster
Remember the 80's? Overall, that whole decade was pretty damn awful. The music was atrocious, the clothing was gaudy, and every single show on television was sappy, crappy, or campy. And then you had the Reagan administration, the Cold War, and creepy power tie-wearing executives taking three martini lunches, but I don't dare delve into that. You've all been there. You know.
The only good thing to come out of the 80's (besides me) was the video games. Sure, there were the early home consoles like the 2600 and the Intellivision, but to play the latest and greatest games, you had to haul your ass down to the local arcade. And once you got there, you'd probably discover that the Williams games were amongst the most popular. Williams (for the most part) made the kind of games you'd have to stand in line and "George down" to play. We're talking classics like Sinistar, Defender, Joust, and Robotron 2084 -- games that are still popular and addictively playable to this day.
If the mere mention of these games causes your heart to skip a beat or two, you'll probably be pleased to know that Midway (who bought out Williams a bunch of years back) has collected the aforementioned games -- along with Defender II and Bubbles -- to create Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits Volume 1. Now you can relive those golden days of arcade bliss in the comfort of your own home, which is nice because you can eat your spare quarters, or use them to make prank calls from pay phones instead of squandering four of them to play one minute of some mediocre racing game down at your neighborhood "family fun center."
Now, whether or not you'll want to play nearly twenty year-old games on your Dreamcast is really a matter of personal preference. I suppose that if you grew up on SNES and N64, it may seem absurd to play games with such plain graphics and seemingly simple gameplay. But if you truly value gameplay over graphics, you just might find there's something to the whole retro craze...
Note: One nice thing about reviewing this pack is that here at GameSpy, we have five of the six games in this collection sitting out in our lobby. So, we can compare 'em to the real, original versions quite easily. Yeah, this job has its nifty little perks...
Think you've got fast reflexes? Robotron will laugh in your face and kick your ass.
First off, let me emphasize that out of the six games in this pack, four of them are indisputably bona fide classics that every gamer should play at least once in their lifetime. If you've never played (or worse, heard of) any of these games before, you're really missing out.
If you're into emulation (you know, MAME and whatnot), you'll be interested to know that the games are indeed being run on an emulator. For those of you that don't know what an emulator is, it's a piece of software that pretends to be the hardware that ran these old games. Then the emulator loads the ROMs (program information) from these old games and runs them almost as if it were being run on the original platform itself. Many emulators for a variety of arcade games and older console systems are already out there on the 'net (you may want to check out ClassicGaming for more info), but the legality of owning the copyrighted software (ROMs) is questionable.
Anyways, here's a rundown of all the games and how they work on the Dreamcast:
Robotron 2084 - If you've never played Robotron before, please smack yourself in the face right now. Robotron 2084 is one of the best action games of all time, a game so intense that it can still make the most hardcore, modern gamer cry like a tiny little baby. The object of the game is to save the last human family from hordes of robots. Sound easy? It kind of is -- at first -- but before you know it you're being chased down by fifty charging robots and a group of strafing enforcers while dodging electronic obstacles and trying to rescue a hapless human, all at the same time. Part of what differentiates Robotron from other similarly insane blast 'em ups is its controls, which consists of two joysticks: one for moving and one for firing. This way you can move to your right and shoot to your left or move down while shooting diagonally towards the upper right hand corner of the screen. You'll need a fair amount of coordination and flat-out skill to become decent at the game. It's great.
The gameplay has translated surprisingly well to the Dreamcast. The hardest thing about porting Robotron to other platforms is figuring out how to handle the controls, since twin joysticks are usually not an option. Midway opted to use the D-pad for movement and the buttons for firing, which works out pretty well. It's not quite arcade-perfect (shooting diagonally is a bit weird since you need to hold down two buttons), but perfectly acceptable. As for the graphics and sound, they're pretty much dead-on. My only quibble is that the game looks a little "muddy" and not as clear as the real thing, but this is more prominent on the high score screen rather than the actual game. The sounds are right on target as well. The game options let you adjust lives per game, bonus life score, and difficulty level.
Run! Run! Run! Sinistar's voice just isn't nearly as cool on the Dreamcast, unfortunately.
Sinistar - In Sinistar, you pilot a triangle-shaped spaceship that shoots missiles at floating asteroid-type objects. Sound familiar? While the concept sounds a bit like an Asteroids rip-off at first, the similarities end there. See, you have to riddle the asteroids ("planetoids") with shots in order to mine Sinisite, a crystal that your ship can convert into Sinibombs. And what do you do with the Sinibombs? Use them to kill Sinistar, of course! Sinistar is this big evil dude assembled by groups of worker ships. Sinistar is huge, scary, and merely brushing against him will lead to your immediate demise. What people most fondly remember about this game is Sinistar's voice, which would bellow out phrases like "I Hunger!" or "Run, Run, Run!" as he lurked nearby, just out of the player's view. Thankfully, there's a Defender-like radar screen that allows you to keep tabs on everything. "Beware, I Live!"
As far as the conversion goes, Sinistar is probably the weakest of the bunch. The trademark booming voice of Sinistar that echoes throughout our hallways whenever anybody plays the real machine has been reduced to a scratchy, barely audible growl. The graphics are muddy and lack detail (the alien ships look like red blobs) and the planetoids flicker. But the gameplay is still good and the control is handled neatly via the use of the analog thumb pad (since the real thing uses a 49-position optical joystick, using the D-Pad isn't such a good idea). You can adjust the number of lives per game, the bonus life score, the additional bonus life score, difficulty, and toggle rapid fire.
Defender - Defender is right up there with Pac-Man as far as popularity and profitability goes. But unlike Pac-Man, Defender is one helluva difficult game that takes a lot of practice to learn how to play (new players often don't last more than three minutes). Here's the concept from Defender, ripped from the manual:
I suck at Defender: it makes me cry. Still fun though!
In the future, the galaxy is invaded by hostile alien forces. Attacking in countless swarms, the aliens decimate all planets they encounter. Those who survive the initial invasions are harvested to serve the alien invaders. Mankind's only hope lies in you, the Defender!
Navigate your starfighter through a hideous maze of alien forces. Destroy all those who stand in your way as you race to save the planet's inhabitants from being harvested. If an alien is taking a civilian off of the planet, carefully aim and blast the alien away. You must be quick on the throttle though. The civilian will fall to their death if you don't pick them up in time.
Your ship is equipped with the latest in intergalactic combat technology. Use its Smart Bombs, Warp activation equipment and fast response time to your advantage. It won't be an easy mission, but you're all the galaxy has left!
Once again, this version plays just like the original, but like Robotron, the graphics seem a wee bit washed-out. However, my chief complaint is with the control: in the Arcade version, you had to press the reverse button to turn your ship around. This still holds true on the Dreamcast (you can reverse with the left trigger), except that you can also turn around by using the D-Pad. I found this hard to adjust to, and often ended up turning around accidentally. Grrr... this should have been a changable option. In any case, you can adjust lives per game, the bonus life score, initial difficulty, maximum difficulty, and the number of waves per planet.
Defender II - This was originally released as Stargate, so you may be more familiar with it under that name. To be honest, Stargate really doesn't add that much to the original Defender outside of invisibility power, wormholes, a slightly different wave system, and some new enemies. Oh, and it's even MORE difficult.
Next: Joust, Bubbles, Some Bad, and The Final Word