Wednesday, 6 March 2013

REVIEW - Capcom Arcade Cabinet (Xbox 360 / PS3)

1980's Arcade Deju Vu

After the unfortunate failure of the underrated Game Room service, the release of half hearted compilations such as Midway Arcade Origins and the total lack of anything from Taito (boo!), retro arcade games have had a bad run this generation. The exception to this might be the excellent Namco Museum - Virtual Arcade compilation, but even this had flaws. So, while still excited about the prospect of playing old Capcom arcade games on my 360 or PS3, I remained sceptical about what would actually be delivered. Unfortunately it would appear my scepticism was well founded, as what we have here is the most uninspiring selection of 1980's 'classics' I have yet seen.

Capcom have the ability to release wonderful retro compilations, as seen in their collections on PS2, Xbox and PSP. The Capcom Classics packages contained all the arcade games you would expect, with several you wouldn't, and provided excellent value for money. I had hoped that here, Capcom would re-release all those titles again, with the added bonus of HD visuals and online leaderboards. However, 'twas not to be, and instead we are left with an extremely watered down version of those packs.

The presentation is of a high standard, with plenty of options and 
modes to keep you interested, all in an easy to navigate format

The games are being released in packs of three, with the first pack costing 400 points, and the rest, a fairly hefty 800 points. This would, of course, be fine if the games were good. But what we have are a strange mish mash of the good, the bad and the fucking ugly, bundled in a very deliberate way in order to force customers to take rubbish games with the ones they actually want. Just take a look at the full games list and you will see what I mean:

Game Pack 1 – Out now

  • Black Tiger
  • 1943: Battle of Midway
  • Avenger

Game Pack 2 – Out Now

  • Ghosts ‘n Goblins
  • Gun.Smoke
  • Section Z

Game Pack 3 – Available March 19/20

  • Side Arms
  • Legendary Wings
  • Trojan

Game Pack 4 – Available April 2/3

  • Commando
  • The Speed Rumbler
  • Exed Exes (Savage Bees)

Game Pack 5 – Available April 16/17

  • 1942
  • SonSon
  • Pirate Ship Higemaru

Where in the name of holy Hell are the best titles? Where are Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, The Punisher, Alien vs Predator, Willow, Bionic Commando, The Dungeons & Dragons games, Forgotten Worlds, Gigawing 1 & 2, King of Dragons, Ghouls & Ghosts, Mega Twins, Progear, Strider, Knights of the Round, or 3 Wonders? I understand the licensing for many of the franchises such as The Punisher and Dungeons & Dragons would be difficult to obtain, but many of these games were in the original Capcom Classics Collection, so their absence here is baffling.

Ghosts 'N Goblins is a highlight. Great fun, but brutally difficult. It will 
kick your ass but keep you coming back for more

So far I have concentrated on the negatives, so let's look at the positives. For one, the presentation is very good. The game boots up with a faux Arcade Rom boot, before crashing into an energetic display featuring well drawn cartoon imagery for each game. The menu system is accompanied by some laid back, almost elevator style, music and is easy to navigate and very user friendly. You can scroll left and right through the games, lighting up the silhouette that represents each one as you do so. Pressing X switches the display to a timeline, where the games are organised by year of release, where you can view a description of each game. While pressing A takes you into the game's main menu. Here you can look at the leaderboards, achievements earned, a gallery featuring art, music and saved replays. The options are also of a high standard, with plenty of screen customisation settings that allow players to fine tune their arcade experience. Presets include a classic look, complete with scanlines, a full screen mode (pretty ugly on large TVs), and a custom mode that allows you to pick and choose the exact size and filters you want. You can even choose which way around you want the view - I'm not sure how many people are willing to turn their HD TVs on their side to play vertical shooters, but it's nice to have the option to do so. Emulation on all games is spot-on and I was unable to spot any issues with graphics, sounds or controls. It is far superior to some of the emulation seen in the shoddy Midway package or on Game Room.

The vertical scrolling shooters, like Commando, offer the most 
replayability as they are great score chasers

Of course, the main draw here are the online leaderboards. Playing arcade games can be fun, but it is infinitely better when you are tasked with getting the highest score possible with one credit. With your results going onto an online scoreboard that can be compared with your friends, or the entire world. It really inspires you to get better at the game, rather than just dipping in to various games for a quick 2 minute go. I spent hours on Game Room playing titles such as Time Pilot, Shaolin's Road, Jackal, and Missing in Action, coming 15th in the world rankings on the latter title. It was immensely enjoyable and far more engaging than just playing them through the excellent MAME emulator. Here, you can also play the games via online co-op, meaning you can have a 2 player blast on old arcade games without the horrible inconvenience of actual human interaction.

Once you get past the awful music, Black Tiger is a pretty 
good fantasy platform game

The Games

Of course, online leaderboards are irrelevant if the games are not fun to play, so let's take a look at what we have here.

Black Tiger is a scrolling fantasy 'run & gun' game that swaps firearms for throwing knives. It tasks you with killing monsters, smashing vases and chests to gain money and power-ups, and rescuing old men that repay you with loot or, rather cheekily, a shop in order to sell you items. It looks a lot like Capcom's other fantasy sidescroller, Magic Sword, but is better due to the fact you are free to explore the stages and take multiple routes to the exit. It's a fun game, certainly, but unfortunately marred by some truly hideous, off key, tunes that make playing the game with sound on an endurance test. Still worthy of your time though.

1943 : Battle Over Midway, the only title here deserving of the 'classic' tag. The second in the 194x series, this installment does away with lives, giving you an energy bar instead. Aside from that, it's business as usual. Scroll upwards shooting anything that arrives on the screen, collecting power-ups, unleashing your smart bomb should you get overwhelmed, and face a boss at the end of each stage. It is still extremely enjoyable due to its simplistic, yet challenging gameplay, and is the best game here by a country mile. 1942 also appears but is nowhere near as good so seems to be included for completion's sake.

Avengers is a hideous title, both visually and in terms of gameplay. A vertically scrolling beat-em-up featuring a cast of characters that resemble zombie clowns, requiring you to kick and punch a constant stream of goons. It is absolutely horrible to play, and I cannot think of a single redeeming factor. Avengers just makes me want to never play another old arcade game again.

Why Capcom feel the need to constantly include detritus 
like Avengers is anyone's guess

Ghosts 'N Goblins is a wonderful, and brutally hard, platformer set in a fantasy horror world. As well as its difficulty, it is also memorable for the hero, Arthur, being stripped down to his boxers when he is hit. Its cartoon horror graphics and catchy tunes are still charming today, and it remains a lot of fun to play. Due to its punishing difficulty it is incredibly satisfying when you finally beat a stage. Anyone who can get past level 2 on 1 credit deserves a medal and / or sexual gratification from the movie star of their choice.

Commando and Gun.Smoke are both enjoyable verticle scrolling shoot-em-ups, set in a war and cowboy theme respectively. They are both extremely challenging and, along side the 199x games, offer up the most incentive for high score chasing in my opinion.

Section Z, Side Arms, Legendary Wings and Exed Exes are all average shmups, offering nothing new or particularly gripping over the many other arcade shooters of the 1980's. Exed Exes is probably my favourite, despite being the most basic looking. Legendary Wings throws in the bomb attack for ground targets, as first seen in Xevious, and also horizontal sections, but it isn't much fun.

Despite its basic appearance, Exed Exes (Savage Bees) is 
actually pretty good fun 

Trojan is a fairly bland 2D romp through a ruined city, whacking enemies with your sword and using strange 'jump' icons on the floor to propel yourself skywards in order to hit enemies in high places. It plays a little like Irem's Vigilante or the even older, Kung-Fu master, though with the fiddly jumping and constant need to block projectiles, I found it far less enjoyable than those two titles.

The Speed Rumbler is an overhead combat racer in which you control a machine gun clad car in a Mad Max style environment. It plays like Commando mixed with Konami's excellent Jackal, and is just as difficult as both of those titles. It is actually quite fun in short bursts but it doesn't have the addictive qualities needed to keep you coming back to improve your skills.

SonSon is an ancient looking, but nevertheless reasonably enjoyable, sidescroller in which you move between horizontal planes as the screen constantly scrolls, shooting enemies and collecting fruit. It is the most 'Japanese' of the games here, even though it is based on a Chinese folk tale called Journey To The West, probably more famously known in the West from the camp 1970's TV show Monkey.

Pirate Ship Higemaru is a quirky maze game which has you throwing barrels at evil pirates. You can pick up any barrel that make up the maze walls, and roll them along the ground to take out enemies. It is actually fairly engaging, though not quite as good as the similar puzzled game, 'Don't Pull', one of the three games in Capcom's Three Wonders title, sadly missing from the line-up.

Despite looking like one of the weaker titles, Pirate Ship Higemaru 
is actually pretty damn playable. 

I have to admit to being a little tired of most of these games, having played them many times over the years. I pumped many hours into the home console ports as well as 10 pences into the actual machines as a kid. The ones I never played in my youth have the least appeal today, which shows how much many of these titles rely on nostalia. To me, games like Shinobi, Street Fighter 2, Wonder Boy, Bubble Bobble and Volfied are all arcade games that I still love to this day, and will do until the day I get the ultimate game over. There simply isn't anything here that can make that claim, but I imagine anyone who grew up with these Capcom titles may feel differently. For me, it's yet another example of a company missing the opportunity to bring out games that may never have seen a home release before. Choosing instead to include the same titles they have been releasing since the invention of the arcade compilation. 

1943 : Battle Over Midway is one of the best games here, 
still playing beautifully today

In its current state and price point I cannot really recommend Arcade Cabinet.   Capcom intend to reduce the cost of the entire package to 2000 points once all 5 packs have been released so, if you must buy this compilation, I recommend waiting until then. If the rumours are true and Capcom intend to continue releasing games after these first 5 packs, then it could still be something great, but currently Capcom Arcade Cabinet is a lukewarm affair that isn't worth investing the high price of admittance. Stick to the excellent Capcom Classics 1 & 2 on the last gen console of your choice and enjoy more games for less money. 

The Good

  • Excellent presentation
  • Faultless emulation
  • Online Leaderboards & Co-Op play
  • Some good games on offer...

The Bad

  • but also some very poor titles
  • Same old titles we have seen many times before
  • Many of the best games from previous Capcom packs are missing
  • Expensive price point and bizarre package plan

Developer : Capcom Co. Ltd.
Availability : Xbox 360, PS3
Price : 400 points / $4.99 for pack 1. Each thereafter costs 800 points / $9.99 (reduced to 2000 points in May)