Thursday, 22 November 2012

REVIEW - Midway Arcade Origins (Xbox 360 / PS3)

Another generation of consoles, another repackaged collection of the same retro 'delights' that kept 80's kids enthralled in arcades everywhere. So how do these coin guzzling arcade games stand up today?

I should start by admitting that I never experienced the early 80's arcade boom, my first experiences of video games starting in 1989 when I was hooked on coin-ops such as Final Fight, Bomb Jack, Ghosts N Goblins and Bubble Bobble. Even then, games such as Defender and Arkanoid seemed dated to my young eyes. I have always had a soft spot for retro arcade games, though, and still play classics such as the aforementioned titles, as well as brilliant games like Mr Do, Rush N Attack, Galaga, Shinobi and many more. It was this love of simple, yet addictive, arcade games that made buying Midway Arcade Origins a no-brainer, especially at such a low price 

The list of games provided here is as follows:

Total Carnage
Arch Rivals
Championship Sprint
Tournament Cyberball 2072
Defender II
Gauntlet II
Joust 2
Marble Madness
Robotron 2084
Root Beer Tapper
Satan's Hollow
Smash TV
Spy Hunter
Spy Hunter II
Super Off Road
Super Sprint
Vindicators Part II
Wizard of Wor

Firstly I was shocked by the lack of Paperboy, a stone cold classic, and a game I still enjoy playing, and then I started to notice other missing games; Klax, Primal Rage, NARC, Roadblasters, Hydro Thunder and STUN Runner. These were some of the best games on previous Midway compilations so I was left slightly perplexed at their absence. I figured Midway would at least provide a comprehensive collection of all their classic arcade games on the Xbox 360 and PS3. I was wrong though, and what we are left with is a strange selection of titles, some fun, some average, and some downright awful. The majority of the games have not aged well, and many are pretty horrible to play, having a punishing difficulty level that may have worked in arcade form, after all these games were designed to rob kids of their change, but in a home environment they are just far too frustrating to enjoy.

The presentation is lacking also. There is a reasonably cool game select screen which shows the original arcade cabs, but that's about it. There are no game descriptions, artwork, or facts about the titles in question. It seems very bare bones and a bit of a rush job to be honest. There are achievements to be had, but most are easily obtained after playing for 5 minutes, but there are some hard ones that will time time and practice to obtain.

The emulation itself is very good, but many of the games lose a lot of what originally made them special due to not having the innovative controls of the arcade machines. Without a trackball controller games such as Marble Madness and Rampart really suffer, and playing Vindicators Part 2 without the crazy twin tank joysticks feels very wrong. The other games fare better, with the dual stick controls working a treat on Robotron 2048, Total Carnage and Smash TV.

I have never really warmed to the graphics or sound of Midway titles. The visuals lack vibrancy, and charm, and the sounds seem very metallic. Something about the music and sound effects really irritates my ears, like nails down a chalk board. Midway also have an annoying habit of cluttering the screen with tiny text and unnecessary info and icons, making gameplay more difficult than it should be. Many of the games leave you wondering what to do, with no real clear set of rules of objectives. The best classic arcade games are ones that anyone can pick up and play immediately, learning the tricks of the game as you play, games such as Pac Man, Dig Dug, Bomb Jack, Galaga, and Bubble Bobble all prove this.

There are some good games here though, Super Off Road offers up some frantic, and extremely bouncy, dirt road racing, which is great with 2 or more player. Smash TV and Total Carnage are fun blasters, but suffer from the ludicrous difficulty level that makes getting past the first level seem like an impossible task. Toobin is original and also fun to play, seeing you floating down the rapids and waterfalls as one of two 'rad dudes' in innertubes. The controls take some getting used to, but once it clicks it becomes enjoyable, and is one of my favourite games on offer here.
APB, an overhead cop racing / arrest-em-up game, also has the potential to be great fun, but is let down by fiddly controls an a visually confusing display. Xybots is an engaging first person shooter (though flick screen rather than the smooth scrolling of games like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom), and is quite immersive, despite its basic appearance. Root Beer Tapper, Bubbles, and Joust also offer some very simplistic gameplay that works well in short bursts.

There are online leaderboards for all games, which is a big draw, and an essential addition to offer any replayability to old arcade games. The online scoreboards are the main reason you will want to return to the games, not only to beat your friends, but to see how you measure up again players all over the world. You will be up against some seasoned pros here though, so don't expect to be getting in the top 20 unless you possess some serious ninja like skills. 

If you grew up with most of these titles and hold fold memories of them then you will get your money's worth, but for everyone else I would err on the side of caution. There is some fun to be had here but I would personally recommend you stick to Game Room if you have an Xbox 360, as the Konami arcade games on there contain more charm, playability and addictiveness than anything on offer here. Also available for a much better 80's arcade experience is the Namco Museum Virtual Arcade collection, though that lacks online leaderboards.

Midway Arcade Origins will offer you some light entertainment in small doses, and is good value for money. It is just a shame that it feels like it was put together with no real care and attention. Not one company seems to be able to get the retro compilation right, Namco failed to add online leaderboards in their otherwise excellent Namco Museum Online Arcade, Sega left out many great titles on their Mega Drive compilation, and Taito split up the games for different platforms on their previous Legends series. Maybe next generation we will finally be given the definitive collection of a developer's lost arcade delights because, unfortunately, you won't find it here. 

The online leaderboards are the main selling point here, though I find the scoreboards to be quite empty. Maybe the people who loved these games the most have already exhausted their entertainment value on the Xbox and PS2 Midway collections. If you are new to these games though this compilation offers enough fun and high score chasing to make it worthy of a purchase.

The Good:

  • 31 Games
  • Some good games on offer
  • Online leaderboards
  • Low price

The Bad:

  • Poor presentation
  • Many of the games are very dated, and frustrating to play
  • Missing many great Midway games

Developer : Backbone Entertainment
System Reviewed : Xbox 360
Also available on : PS3
Price : R.R.P. £19.99