Ah, the joys of the Arcade: sticky floors; shifty big kids ready to take your change; and (of course) the games. Oh the games we fondly remember shovelling piles of silver into those classics of yesteryear only to find out that the joystick or fire button didnt work properly, or the gun attached to the Operation Wolf cabinet was too sweaty to grip. Thank goodness that Taito, purveyors of some of the finest arcade games ever produced, have finally joined the retro bandwagon and released a compilation of their finest.
First off are the light-gun games Operation Wolf, Operation Thunderbolt, Space Gun and Battle Shark (which originally required the use of a periscope). Although these are not compatible with a PS2 light gun it does little to diminish the appeal as once the sensitivity of the on screen cursor has been dropped a few points it is highly effective. Operation Wolf survives the best of the four, still proving to be great fun. Battle Shark and Space Gun are a little dull and despite still being quite enjoyable, the forward scrolling levels of Operation Thunderbolt are very repetitive with the sheer amount of things you have to shoot meaning it is near impossible to avoid taking damage.
Many people will be pleased to see the inclusion of a number of Taitos classic platform games. Bubble Bobble shows that it has lost none of its charm as players guide their little dinosaur around a screen and try to capture enemies in bubbles. The levels get progressively more difficult so careful planning is needed on later stages. Our heroes can upgrade their bubbles to have a number of different effects by collecting power-ups, something that becomes vital in later stages and during boss battles. Great in two player and still a highly enjoyable solo game, Bubble Bobble is simply one of those titles you need to own in some shape or form and a game that seems to always feel fresh.
Another Taito classic, Rainbow Islands is the follow up to Bubble Bobble. Instead of using bubbles to trap monsters players must now make their way to the top of a tower by shooting out rainbows to walk across. More fiendish platform action awaits, as with all good games what initially seems fairly simple reveals hidden complexities needed to down bosses and monsters quickly for extra points. Just as timeless as its forbearer, Rainbow Islands is another classic everyone should experience.
The New Zealand Story completes what many would see as the classic platform contingent on this compilation. Here our heroic Kiwi must rescue his friends from the evil Walrus who has kidnapped them. Some ingenious level design and wonderfully clever bosses await players who under take the task. It is quite difficult in places but is undoubtedly one of the best games on the compilation and it can prove tricky to find home versions, with it now so easily available it would be a crime for everyone not to take advantage of the opportunity to play it.
Let us pause for a second as we digest the retro goodness we have already uncovered. Unfortunately there are a few games on the disc that few of us would care if we ever played again. The worst culprits are Great Swordsman (an awful fencing game) and Gladiator, one of the worst scrolling fighters in history. Thankfully these two titles are the only truly awful games to be included.
Ninja Kids is a fairly amusing scrolling fighter but after the initial charming exterior has worn off there is little here that will see you returning. Thunderfox suffers much the same fate with its mix of side scrolling fighting and shooting action becoming very stale after even a short burst of play.Tube It, Plotting and Electric Yo-Yo are fairly ordinary puzzle games and though allowing the player to create wonderful smashes Continental Circus feels terrible clunky in this day and age. Unless you remember any of these titles from your youth there seems little chance of them having much staying power.
As you may expect Space invaders gets its share of attention among the games included. Three titles in total- Space Invaders, Space Invaders part 2 and Return of the Invaders. While admittedly the original Space Invaders is a little slow going now it still manages to contain a fair amount of charm and it's easily playable in small bursts. Part 2 runs a little faster and adds some colour to the game. Return of the Invaders sees the black backdrop of the original replaced with a space aged theme and the bunkers used to protect the player altered to only break in one place. The whole thing is a lot more colourful and the invaders change formation as well as some having shields and others swooping down at you, this makes the game far more varied than before and a fair amount more challenging.
Volified and Super Qix are fairly similar in that the games require you to draw lines across a board in order to claim land. Volified has the added dimension of having an alien landscape backdrop but little else separates them. The titles are a nice addition and good to play for small amounts of time, though it is a little pointless that both were included.
Elevator Action, while not as highly sought after as it's sequel is still a highly enjoyable platform shooter. Starting at the top of a building our hero must make his way down to the car pack at the bottom. In order to get down you must plot a route with the stairs and elevators, careful planning can be needed as the levels enemies (who enter via doors along the walls of the building) use the elevators and stairs as well and all it takes it one bullet to dispatch you.
Phoenix is possibly one of the worst games sonically in the history of gaming. The bleeps and more bleeps are enough to drive you insane. That would be the case of course if it was not one of the best games on the compilation. It sounds horrible and the graphics are basic but the gameplay is solid gold. First of all you must take out a couple of waves of swooping space invader-style birds, then some larger birds that sway from side to side before dive bombing you. The final level has you against a flying saucer with the player needing to shoot a hole in the bottom of the ship in order to hit the pilot. Simplistic it may be but it is highly addictive and can eat up large amounts of time as you try to beat your high score.
Sticking with the shooter theme, both Exzisus and Tokio are worthy entries in the side scrolling and vertical scrolling shoot'em up genre. Exzisus is the far more quirky of the two as you control a space man trying to avoid the relentless waves of aliens and meteor storms. Tokio has you flying a small bi-plane over the streets of a large city. There is little in the way of power ups except for special enemy planes that can be shot down and stored. These can then be fired creating varying degrees of explosions depending on the amount that have been collected. Both games are responsive and fun and show a good amount of invention and imagination.
Jungle Hunt and Zoo Keeper are two titles that can be easily dismissed for looking basic, but again like much else on the compilation to do so is to overlook a couple of gems. Zoo Keeper has the player running around a square wall rebuilding it wherever he treads. You need to keep rebuilding the wall as the animals inside the square constantly bash against it in their attempt to get out. If you stay alive until the timer runs out then it is on to the next level. Every few levels the game switches to a side on view where you must reach the top of the screen by jumping on platforms in order to save your girlfriend. Jungle Hunt is a multi-stage adventure game. The game involves swinging on vines, swimming from crocodiles and negotiating a very dangerous cave in order to rescue your loved one. Controls are basic but do the job well and help make the game a lot more fun that it really ought to be.
Rastan will be one of the games that most gamers will have at least heard of if not played. Along with the more high profile titles it was converted to a number of home computer and console systems. The title has stood the test of time with the well drawn sprites and backdrops bringing alive a strange lands of beasts and monsters. The gameplay is fairly simplistic but what the game does it does well and having a few weapons to choose from to bash the living daylights out of monsters adds some variety. It can be incredibly unfair at times but then it was designed to eat up your ten pence pieces, that aside it is still a much loved game and rightly so.
Colony 7 is Missile Command taken to the next level. Here you have two gun turrets protecting a space station. The space station has a thin shield over it and alien ships swoop around shooting down making holes in the shield trying to destroy the buildings below. The player controls the cursor of the gun turrets as you try to destroy the ships. It may be a simple premise but it translates into a highly addictive and very fluid game.
Our last game on the compilation is the rather oddball Plump Pop. The game involves a cute creature being thrown around screen via a trampoline trying to clear it of (among other things) balloons, alien space ships, bones and bubbles. Every third stage you get a bonus game where you have to catch fruit and then a boss battle. The game can move at a ridiculously fast speed at times and because of this can prove to be very tricky. Once you get the hang of it though it proves to be a highly entertaining inclusion and a highly original one at that.
Overall the first collection of games from Taito proves to be a resounding success. There are only two truly bad titles on here and that just goes to show how much quality the company have produced over the years. The next instalment looks to be even more jam packed, but for now this release is completely unmissable and at the low price should be owned by everyone.