Konami gifts us eight games for the price of one with its Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection. The results are good, but a tad disappointing, based on the other titles the publisher has to its name. The additions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons Arcade, and Contra certainly would’ve livened things up and added more variety, although the latter is getting its own collection soon. A more appropriate name might be ‘Konami Shmup Collection’, as seven of the titles are shooters. Still, there are some gems in here, and hardcore arcade junkies will likely get a kick out of it.
The games included are Haunted Castle, Typhoon (also known as A-Jax), Nemesis (Gradius), Vulcan Venture (Gradius II), Life Force (Salamander), Thunder Cross, Scramble, and TwinBee. Despite the confusing titles, the Gradius games remain solid. They’re famous archetypes in the shoot em’ up genre for a reason, and they remain frantic and fun. Despite being comparatively unknown, Thunder Cross is also a great time. Due to the nearly universal genre, the titles tend to blend into one another a little, but there are quirks here and there that make the cream of the crop particularly satisfying.
Perhaps the most interesting discussion point however, is the black sheep of the group; Haunted Castle. For those who don’t know, this is a reimagining of the original Castlevania, with a love interest and a bizarre change in aesthetic. Unfortunately, whereas its shooter brethren largely remain timeless, Haunted Castle is incredibly dated and sluggish, and despite being impressive for 1988, also looks equally dated. One redeeming factor, however, is the soundtrack, which remains awesome. It packs that signature Castlevania sound, and even features ‘Bloody Tears’ of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest fame.
In terms of the game as a collection, it’s a bit bog standard. The UI is totally serviceable, but it could’ve been so much more. We’ve seen examples of these collections that put a lot of effort into the visuals, emulating the look of an arcade cabinet. By comparison, the simple font and layout don’t quite cut the mustard. However, in terms of functionality, the UI works well. You can save at any point and jump straight back in, which is always a welcome feature. However, due to the unlimited amount of ‘credits’ you have, there’s never a fear of not being able to continue.
Emulation wise, it’s pretty well done. The picture quality is excellent, and the 8 or 16 bit graphics really pop. What’s frustrating, however, are the black borders that accompany some of the vertically inclined games. While this is probably unavoidable, it does make the landscape games more enjoyable to revisit. The sound quality is pretty tidy and the retro sound effects are sure to put a smile on the face of nostalgia hungry players.
Finally, in terms of extras, you’re treated to a lovely e-book, which is surprisingly substantial. Each game gets a decent amount of attention, and it’s really cool to see the concept art and sketches showing initial designs. There are also developer interviews, which are probably the most insightful feature. And for you musicians, the book even provides sheet music, so you can serenade your Mum with Vulcan Venture Stage One whenever you please.
Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection is a nice nostalgia trip, but not an essential purchase. Though all of the games bar Haunted Castle are good fun, none but the Gradius games and Thunder Cross truly stand the test of time. Considering the arcade games missing here, it’s hard to accept this as a ‘classics’ collection, but for what you’re given, you could certainly do worse.