The widespread use of CD-ROM formats during the 32-bit era allowed space for decent retro game compilations on the PS1, but the potential of retro collections blossomed into larger libraries and extra features on the PS2 and PSP. The likes of Taito Legends, SNK Arcade Classics, and especially the various volumes of the Capcom Classics Collection set a new standard for any publisher compiling old games. Unfortunately, the messaging around Capcom Arcade Stadium is confusing from Capcom on PS4 by advertising it as a free download, with additional titles that are purchasable in three separate DLC packs. Ultimately, it's simpler to consider buying Capcom Arcade Stadium as a full, traditional retro collection, which continues in the spirit of the PS2 and PSP's compilations.

To take Capcom's puzzling descriptions into account, this review specifically covers the entire package of Capcom Arcade Stadium's 32 games. This includes the free download of 1943: The Battle of Midway, as well as Ghosts 'n Goblins as a bonus, alongside the bulk of the main Capcom Arcade Stadium Packs 1, 2, and 3 – which combines 30 games, all digitally retailing for £32.99 as of May 2021.

When Push Square reviewed the Capcom Beat 'Em Up Bundle, we applauded it as providing a history lesson in Capcom's brawler games, and similarly the Capcom Arcade Stadium presents an even grander scale in chronicling a large variety of arcade games from 1984 to 2001. To access games, you scroll through beautifully presented candy cabinets, all lined-up beside each other in order of release date.

Starting with Pack 1: Dawn of the Arcade ('84 – '88), the first title is Vulgus from 1984, which is apt since the content of the full 32 game collection is gratifying for shoot-'em-up fans. In its essence, Pack 1's games are the oldest, so have simpler presentation, but titles like Commando and Section Z are addictive, and control well.

In Pack 1 it quickly becomes apparent how the 2D visual and audio presentation of late 1980s Capcom arcade games received a technical boost, when you play the two early CP System (CPS) arcade board games from 1988, which are Forgotten Worlds and Ghouls 'n Ghosts. Forgotten Worlds also showcases how the Capcom Arcade Stadium prioritises variety in your gameplay options, as it's fun to spend your saved in-game Zenny currency on better shop weapons as you blast through this horizontal shmup, especially once you've changed to firing with the shoulder button while rotating your aim with the right stick.

The CPS-1 games still look fantastic today — and in a similar way to how The Bitmap Brothers had its own distinguishing metallic visual design — Capcom’s CPS-1 arcade games had a distinctive style. We praised Capcom for inspiring retro modern games in Push Square's recent PS4 Battle Axe review, because its talented developers created high quality parity between both graphics and sound composition. For example, Tamayo Kawamoto's fantastic tunes in Forgotten Worlds and Ghouls 'n Ghosts are as memorable today as they were in 1988.

This sense of style bursts from the screen in the collection's Pack 2: Arcade Revolution ('89 – '92). The artistry of Capcom's composers is a joy to experience, as Manami Matsumae's music was another aspect we applauded in Battle Axe, and her wonderful audio work is evident here in Dynasty Wars, Final Fight, MERCS, and Carrier Air Wing. Pack 2 also has fantastic collaborations, like in 1992 between Masaki Izutani (T. Yomage) and Yoko Shimomura (Shimo-P) on the vertical shmup Varth: Operation Thunderstorm. Furthermore, individually Izutani created funky tunes in Captain Commando, and Shimomura's Street Fighter II: The World Warrior music is legendary. Just looking at the games list for Pack 2 alone it's evident how Capcom excelled during a heyday period in the 16-bit era, due to its strong style in CPS-1 arcade games carrying over to console conversions.

Capcom also organises the 32 titles into three basic genre classifications — so there are 13 action, 15 shooter, and 4 fighting games. In this instance, action could be a platforming hack-and-slash title like the stupendous by 1989 standards Strider, or a beat-'em-up such as Final Fight. Shooter games include sub-genres with top-down run-and-gun games like MERCS, as well as scrolling shmups. Finally, the one-on-one fighting games are self-explanatory as the Capcom Arcade Stadium provides three different versions of Street Fighter II, alongside Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness.

There is variety to Capcom Arcade Stadium's selection, but like with the SEGA Mega Drive Classics collection, overlap with past releases occurs in Packs 1 and 2 as pre-requisite inclusions like Final Fight and Street Fighter II have appeared many times before in previous bundles. However, Pack 3: Arcade Evolution ('92 – '01) has a more obscure list, which is full of beloved cult CPS-2 darlings. Pack 3 is particularly enticing to shmup fans, as it highlights different developer talent — with Takumi Corporation's gorgeous 1999 Giga Wing, plus Eighting/Raizing's work on 1944: The Loop Master, as well as the very welcome inclusion of CAVE's Progear from 2001.

Extras here focus upon gameplay based options, such as adjustable difficulties, increasing the number of bonus lives, save slots and tailored controls. The collection allows rewind functions, and even lets you change the Game Speed of the gameplay to alter the challenge. However, there are no separate music menus, or historical special features like development videos or museums of art.

Display settings are comprehensive including scanlines, earned unlockable wallpapers, 3D rendered cabinet surround frames, and each are well thought-out. Graciously, display orientation preferences are available for bodybuilding retro gamers who'll want to lift a hulking CRT TV onto its side to view shmup TATE modes. The Capcom Arcade Stadium also goes the extra mile by allowing you to switch between English and Japanese ROMS, although some titles like Tatakai no Banka (Trojan), Senjō no Ōkami II (MERCS), and Powered Gear (Armored Warriors) are only the Japanese versions.

The volume levels of music and sound effects can be balanced in the menus, but we encountered an unusual audio issue in Street Fighter II where some sound effects didn't crunch when connecting with a hit. This could possibly be a result of Capcom Arcade Stadium using tried-and-trusted emulation that is running on the newer RE Engine.

As is inevitable, some notable games and genres are missing. Capcom didn't release many arcade racing titles between 1984 and 2001, but titles like LED Storm and the System 32 racer Slipstream could've increased the variety of genres. Also, licensed games like Cadillacs and Dinosaurs and The Punisher are still listed M.I.A. Regardless, the 32 game selection is generous, and it feels like a mini console's line-up. Therefore, while you could alternatively play missing games like Alien vs. Predator and Darkstalkers on the Capcom Home Arcade stick instead, yet the Capcom Arcade Stadium impressively already has 10 of this micro-console's 16 games.

Online leaderboards are competitive ways to chase high scores, with Timed Challenge Trophies for those who like to speedrun, and Score Challenge sessions that motivate you to see how far you can progress in a single credit. This rekindles memories of visiting smoke filled arcades back in the day, with not much spare change in your pocket. Various games have two or three player options — and the brilliant 1997 beat-'em-up Battle Circuit even has four player local co-op — but Capcom Arcade Stadium has no online multiplayer. In regards to Trophies, the Capcom Arcade Stadium is frugal, as all 20 of its Trophies are Bronze only achievements. Surely — and don't call me Shirley — any gamer who invests time to play any of the games a total of 1000 times, or who'll play for at least 100 hours, deserves Gold trinkets.

There are also Special Challenge and Bonus Challenge dates that'll have you target extra tasks over the coming months. Most fun of all is the addition of a rewarding replayability loop that has the player constantly achieving a higher Class status by earning Capcom Arcade Stadium POints (CASPO). This reminds us of the fun replay value found in the slot machine unlocks in the PSP's Capcom Classics Collection Reloaded. Repeatedly playing for CASPO encourages you to purposely flit between the games, meaning the 'Play for at least 10 hours' Bronze Trophy will ping in the blink of an eye. Replaying to earn CASPO makes the entire 32 game package feel like one big Capcom celebration party. In this sense it's good value for money, or in regards to Capcom's retro currency, Capcom Arcade Stadium on PS4 is worth every Zenny.

Conclusion

Viewed as a traditional 32 game retro collection, there's value in journeying through PS4 Capcom Arcade Stadium's history from 1984 to 2001. It's a pleasure to revel in the origins of CP System, as it evolved from CPS-1 to CPS-2. There's a celebratory feel in the balance between Pack 1 and 2's popular hits, alongside Pack 3's cult favourites, plus targeting leaderboards to achieve Timed and Score Challenges is addictive when earning CASPO to reach a higher Class. As Zac Zinger's infectious song, A Brand New Day, plays over Capcom Arcade Stadium's title screen, there's a party vibe to dancing between game selections, especially when discovering Pack 3's superb, less widely available shmups like CAVE's Progear.