Sunday, 7 October 2012

GAME ROOM on Xbox 360 - Why it is still Great!

So here we are, 2 and a half years after the launch of Microsoft and Krome's GAME ROOM. A service that promised retro gamers their very own arcade. An arcade they could fill with all their favourite arcade games and relive the glory days of dingy, smoke filled rooms (smoke and dinginess not supplied) awash with the sounds of coin-op gaming. But alas, twas not to be, and as the Atari 2600 and Intellivision games started flooding in so did the doubts. The disappointment began to set in, and then Venician Blinds was delivered to the service. It was like a slap round the face to all the people who had been supporting it and they began to flee like rats from a sinking ship.

So what has GAME ROOM got to offer now. The answer is plenty, but you have to overlook the fact it will not be updated, and avoid all the dross clogging up the store. You could even have a group of chain smoking teenagers stand behind you while you play, shouting instructions like a back seat driver. Thus perfectly recreating the arcades of our youth. Maybe your mother could come in half way through and drag you away from the game, complaining about 'wasting money' and 'bad influences'.

GAME ROOM still has a loyal following, so the High Score leaderboards, the bread and button of classic arcade gaming, are still constantly changing. If you can drum up a few people in your friend's list to join in challenges then it is still great fun, and a good way of connecting with your retro gaming friends. Heck, just add people from the leaderboards of the games you like the most and see if they want to join in some challenges, you will be surprised by how many people are excited about playing.

The games themselves are a mixed bag, it is best to avoid the Atari 2600 and itellivision games (except the wonderful Pitfall! and H.E.R.O.) as this is not what the service was designed for. The Arcade games are the main draw here. Atari bring the usual selection of predictable classics, so if you are into the truly old school games like asteroids, centipede, missile command etc then you will be happy with the selection. For gamers like myself, who joined the party slightly later, there are some great games from Konami on here. Missing In Action, Jackal, Devastators, Road Fighter, Shaolin's Road, Time Pilot, Scramble, Pooyan etc. All great score chase games and perfect for GAME ROOM.

If Konami had released a 'Namco Museum' style compilation with these games on for £30, I would have lapped it up. So buying all of them on GAME ROOM was a no brainer for me, and the entertainment value I have had from them has been worth every penny. Once I had mentioned in a thread on the wonderful Retro Gamer forum that I wanted people to get back into GAME ROOM, the offers came flooding in. Suddenly I was engaged in weekely challenges with 10 or more people. This is where the service excels, but it lets itself down by not allowing you to play 2-player co-op on games. It's high scores only, so the enjoyment is all down to how much you enjoy replaying a game and perfecting levels in order to beat your score.

The emulation can sometimes be a bit iffy, with missing music or sounds, and graphical discrepancies. Iron horse is completely missing any background music, for example. But on the whole it is pretty accurate. Only the hardcore will probably notice, and how many of us have actually played (or can remember) the actual arcade machines of these games?

Being that the Service is free to download and you can play demos of all the titles on offer, there really is no excuse for not giving it a whirl if you enjoy old arcade games even a little bit.

As for us loyal fans, I think we all need to face the horrible truth that GAME ROOM will not be resurrected. Even though seeing the unreleased Sunset Riders in the GAME ROOM videos brings a tear to our eyes, we have to accept that it is what it will ever be. So lets just make the most of, and enjoy, what's on offer!

For your convenience I have rated the arcade games below. I am sticking to the Arcade titles, but be sure to pick up Pitfall! and H.E.R.O. for the 2600 as they are excellent games, and don't just rely on nostalgia to make them enjoyable to play.

7  Black Widow
7  Red Baron
7  Tempest
6  Major Havoc
6  Millipede
6  Centipede
6  Crystal Castles
5  Super Breakout
5  Battlezone
5  Food Fight
5  Gravitar
5  Liberator
4  Warlords

10 Jackal
10 M.I.A. (Missing In Action)
9  Scramble
9  Shaolin's Road
8  Time Pilot
8  Super Cobra
8  Juno First
8  Detana! TwinBee
8  Devastators
8  Road Fighter
7  Yie Ar Kung-Fu
7  Mega Zone
7  TwinBee
7  Trick Trap
7  Jungler
7  Hyper Crash
7  Iron Horse
7  City Bomber
7  Pooyan
6  Gyruss
5  Amidar
5  Kitten Kaboodle
5  Mr Goemon
4  Battlantis
4  Blades of Steel
4  Jailbreak
4  Konami GT
4  Konami's Ping Pong
4  Strategy X
4  Super Basketball
4  The Main Event
4  Tutankham
3  Rack 'Em Up
3  Galactic Warriors
3  Scooter Shooter
3  Video Hustler

We all had our fingers crossed for Sunset Riders, but alas, it never materialised.
It can be seen in action when Game Room shows video clips of games you can buy from the store, making the fact it isn't there an even more bitter pill to swallow.

But it wasn't all bad... Sunset Riders was off the cards, but at least Game Room was generous enough to give us the amazing Venetian Blinds instead. *

The biggest insult to consumers since the discovery of the ingredients of Soylent Green.

* This is, of course, a joke. Venetian Blinds is the equivalent of Microsoft & Krome building a pipeline into your living room and firing hot, raw sewage into your face.