When it comes to classic games, shoot 'em ups have definitely stood the test of time so let's celebrate Konami's 50th anniversary and check out 7 of their Arcade Classics in this new collection. Oh, and Haunted Castle, too.
5 decades ago, Konami began as a humble company in Japan that produced amusement machines. Nowadays, they're renowned for top-notch classic video game series such as Castlevania, Metal Gear, and Dance Dance Revolution. They also made some of the best shoot 'em ups back in the '80s and this Arcade Classics compilation contains 7 of them along with a quirky arcade adaptation of Castlevania.
Anyway, over the past few years, Hamster Corporation has been porting many retro arcade games under their Arcade Archives brand and each of the games included here are in fact "Powered by Arcade Archives" which basically means that this is a collection of 8 Arcade Archives releases. However, these are not as fully featured as the individual Arcade Archives games as they're missing options such as the points needed for an extra life, certain display settings, etc. The most significant exclusion is the ability to play different region versions of each game. Instead, you only get to play 1 version of each title so you better enjoy goofy synthesized voices!
It's time to discuss the actual games. First off, we have Scramble from '81 which is an undeniably old-school shooter where you have to shoot and bomb enemies for points and fuel so you don't run out of energy. It's a fun classic but having to weave through tight maze-like bases still gives me a headache. Next, TwinBee is an incredible vertical shmup with an innovative power-up and scoring system that relies on your ability to catch falling bells and Gradius (referred to as Nemesis here) is Konami's most iconic shooter and for good reason. Its power-up gauge and intricate stages make it an addictive and rewarding arcade experience. Speaking of which, Life Force (AKA Salamander) is a fantastic follow-up to Gradius that features co-op multiplayer and a blend of horizontal and vertical stages.
List of games included in Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection
Moving on to the late '80s, Typhoon (AKA A-Jax) is a very challenging yet satisfying vertical shoot 'em up yet it features an annoying first stage where you're shooting at oncoming enemies and missiles in an awkward third-person perspective only to take on a massive ship at the end. Haunted Castle is actually an arcade version of Castlevania and it's the only game here that isn't a shmup. Unfortunately, it's maddeningly difficult and super-clunky so look forward to Castlevania Anniversary Collection so you can play 8 much better games. Back to the shoot 'em ups, Gradius II (or Vulcan Venture) is a fitting sequel with memorable and elaborate stages while Thunder Cross is a standard horizontal shooter that's quite challenging with its liberal use of homing projectiles but it's still a ton of fun.
Each of the games is emulated quite well and even features occasional annoying slowdown whenever the onscreen action gets too hectic just like in the original arcade releases. That being said, I found the audio in many of the games to be gratingly tinny. I even booted up the Arcade Archives versions of some of the games to compare and my ears weren't lying because the audio in those releases is much clearer and more refined. I hope they release a patch for this soon because I had to turn the sound way down.
In addition to the 8 included games, you also get a Bonus Book that features dozens of pages filled with text and images which is a great extra feature. You can read about Konami's arcade history, browse some original design documents and illustrations, view a few music sheets, and read an interview with Kengo Nakamura and Toshiaki Takatori as well as another with a few Japanese gaming journalists. I would have liked to watch videos and listen to music, too, but this book is still a welcome inclusion.
If you're as much of a Konami shoot 'em up fan as I am then you'll have an enjoyable time with Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection. However, don't expect a ton of options and refinement before diving into this retro gaming compilation.
- + Comprehensive collection of 7 iconic and obscure Konami shoot 'em ups
- + Bonus Book is a pretty cool addition
- + Aside from audio, emulation is well done
- - Haunted Castle is an almost unplayable stain on Castlevania's legacy
- - Only 1 version of each game is available
- - In-game audio is exceptionally tinny