Warning: Before we begin, while I was writing this I posted a couple of the photos you’ll see here on Twitter. My PS2 is connected to an old portable TV and I took most of them with my iPhone perched in front of it. Nothing very sophisticated, but it seems that several experts found the default (not original) aspect ratio of this compilation quite offensive. Now, the last thing I intended when I loaded up a PS2 disc, enjoyed a game and took a photo was to cause offence, but if you are sensitive to the aspect ratio of forty year old arcade games then you might want to look away now. Viewer discretion is advised. You’ve been warned, you massive geeks!
I’ve always been a sucker for a compilation! If you were going to twist my arm and force me to decide on a favourite, I’m going with Konami Coin-Op Hits on ZX Spectrum, released by Imagine Software in 1986. Five absolutely top-tier arcade conversions, even if they’re not all exactly top-tier arcade games – I mean, I was all over the likes of Out Run and Operation Wolf on the Spectrum day one, but I don’t think I’d have picked any of these up individually. As a compilation though, incredible value, and there we have one of the key attractions to any great compilation!
Another one is, obviously, the games, and of the five games included here, two of them were main draws for my brother and me – we’d drooled over our arcade favourite Track & Field’s sequel, Hyper Sports, since the arcade game (along with and Paperboy and 720O) had been used on the BBC kid’s quiz show, First Class, around the same time; and I’m not sure where we’d come across brutal run ‘n gun (or stab) Green Beret – probably magazine reviews – but we’re in peak Rambo and Commando season, so we were all over that too! As much as I was a fan of Shao-Lin’s Road in the arcade by this point (with the fantastic Spectrum conversion following soon after), its “predecessor” if you believe the marketing, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, had never appealed enough for me to spend money on it, but I was more than happy to see it on there too, although it would always be the game I played least! Then there were a couple of outliers that I really didn’t know – Mikie and Ping Pong.
I’ve no idea how to describe Mikie – I hadn’t thought about quite how unique it is until just now! You, Mikie, must collect all the hearts hidden around classrooms, corridors and other places around your school while being chased by your teachers so you can somehow form a message from your girlfriend! Bizarre premise for an arcade game, but it works and it’s great! Ping Pong is a bit more straightforward – it’s table-tennis! Cool scoring mechanic, nine skill levels, and I played it so much I could beat the hardest one with my eyes shut, which, playing it again now, seems totally insane! And those two are perfect examples of the last key attraction for any great compilation, and that is discovery!
I might have kept my ear to the ground (mainly thanks to Computer & Video Games magazine’s Arcade Action section each month), but I didn’t play a huge number of arcade games through the golden ages of the eighties and early nineties in particular. That started to change, though, with the onset of the original PlayStation, where we weren’t talking about the holy grail of the arcade-perfect conversion anymore, but the absolute unthinkable of having the actual arcade game itself at home! I lapped it all up, even though in retrospect we were talking pretty primitive arcade games on the various Midway, Namco, Atari, Williams and so on compilations – the likes of Burger Time and Spy Hunter; Sinistar and Joust; Dig-Dug and Pole Position II. All classics, and all beautifully presented, but the aforementioned Shao-Lin’s Road or Pac-Land were about as sophisticated as we were getting until the PlayStation 2 came along… And now we’re talking the full works, with big “modern” power-houses, from Mortal Kombat II to Darius Gaiden, and Operation Thunderbolt to Hydro Thunder.
And that brings us nicely to Taito Legends, so here’s the plan… We’re going to do exactly what we did when we looked at the Sega Astro City Mini a few months ago as I write this – quick introduction then impressions for each and every game on this beast! There’s slightly fewer games to cover here, with 29 versus the 37 baked-in on that wonderful little arcade cabinet, but I reckon there won’t be quite as many first impressions here as there were there – I’ve played a fair bit of about half of these, which means there’s still plenty more discovery to be had here, to tick that final box. Actually, I only bought this originally because I’d never played the original version of Continental Circus, but there’s some big hitters, including one of my top three arcade games of all time, as well as New Zealand Story that we also covered here recently, so you can bet I’ve already got that value box ticked too with those alone! Which leaves us with just one more box to tick, and that’s the games, and yeah, we could say that we’re already sorted there too, but where’s the fun in that? Let’s dive in…
Taito Legends and its 29 games (or 25 in Japan where there’s clearly no love for Jungle Hunt!) was launched in October 2005 for PlayStation 2, Xbox and Windows. In Europe it was published by Empire Interactive, but an uncredited Sega put out the American versions. And just for completeness, we’re talking Taito, prominent Japanese arcade game company, bit of success in the early seventies and then a bit more with a game called Space Invaders in 1978. And we’re going to find out about what happened next when we look at the games included here, but first a quick note that as well as those, and a lovely Operation Wolf art card, Taito Legends also includes video interviews with Tomohiro Nishikado, the creator of Space Invaders, and Fukio Mitsuji, the man behind Bubble Bobble, as well as a bunch of original arcade flyers and 3D models of some arcade cabinets. It’s nice to have but all a bit low-res by today’s standards, so let’s move straight on to the main course! The games are presented in an alphabetical order carousel, so we’re going to start at the beginning…
Battle Shark. Because we’re going in alphabetical order, we’ll be jumping backwards and forwards in time, but we’ll begin in 1989 if you believe the description or 1990 if you want the reality, and a game I’d never even heard of before I picked up this compilation! Judging by the 3D model of the cabinet here, you’d have certainly remembered coming across it in the arcades though, with a full-on submarine periscope just waiting for your greasy nerdy forehead to peer through! We’re told that the third world war is raging, the land has been ravaged, and we’re expanding the battlefield into the ocean where the enemy has created an underwater fortress while you were messing around with peace negotiations. Now it’s down to you, Battleshark (rather than Battle Shark) to fight your way through the ocean, destroying shipping, mines and aircraft to reach the fortress. We’re talking first-person rail shooter across various aquatic stages that brought to mind a kind of Operation Wolf meets Darius, where you’ve got slowly replenishing supplies of torpedoes to shoot everything including bonus mines that power-up your weaponry. It’s really good too! The periscope control translates well to the PS2 controller, with a cursor keeping up with the often frantic action very well, and every stage is mixed up with boss battles and occasional forays above the surface. The graphics are relatively simple but with some huge enemy designs, and it has a few tricks up its sleeves to create plenty of underwater atmosphere, complemented by some futuristic cutscenes between levels. The real star is the sound though – proper submarine pings with a load of sampled speech, alarms, explosions, jets roaring, helicopter rotors spinning and a nice bit of Jaws-esque music. What a fantastic start, and a completely new experience too that I’ll definitely be coming back to!
Bubble Bobble. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a game I need no introduction to. I love Bubble Bobble, though I have to say that my experience until fairly recently has mostly been on a different type of Spectrum, as well as the Atari ST! This is classic 1986, with two kids, Bub and Bob, transformed into dinosaurs by an evil wizard who’s also kidnapped their girlfriends, who are currently 100 fiendish single-screen platform-based levels away! They run and jump around the platforms, blowing bubbles to capture monsters then bursting them to release bonus items, and there’s power-ups and all kinds of strategies hidden away to rack up massive scores. But don’t worry about all that perpetual motion, 12-second counting and diamond mines for now – just have fun and enjoy the simple concept, the cute graphics and the unforgettable soundtrack! Absolutely timeless and very close to perfection.
Colony 7. We’re heading all the way back to 1981 now, where alien ships are attacking Colony 7, intent on breaking through its shields and destroying its buildings while you try to keep them at bay with two exposed cannons at each side of the screen and a limited supply of rockets and mega-blasters. This is Missile Command meets Galaxians, and while not the most original game here, that makes it an awful lot of fun to play! It’s easy to get to grips with, but things quickly become chaotic as you’re trying to protect the shields and the buildings and your two cannons from all directions. It’s not much to look at or listen to today, but there’s a lot more to having fun than that. I like this!
Continental Circus. As said a while back, this was the sole reason I bought this Taito Legends collection! I’d played all sorts of home ports but never the original, and I just fancied a go! This is a 1987 arcade racer where you travel through eight countries, fighting your way through the pack to qualify for increasingly challenging races. As well as passing enough cars to progress, you need to be getting through the checkpoints in time. Hit any other vehicle or obstacle and your car catches fire, which means you need a trip to the pits, but leave it burning too long or take another hit and you go up in smoke as the car explodes. There’s also weather at play, and you’ll also be wanting to head into the pits for new tyres when it starts raining, which is my greatest bugbear with the game because it doesn’t seem to affect any of your fellow racers! All the same, I’m a big fan of Continental Circus. It falls short of the likes of Out Run (which amazingly came a year earlier) on all fronts – thrills, polish, visuals, some of the greatest music ever heard from an arcade machine and so on, but as an updated take on something like Pole Position you’ll get plenty of racing kicks from it.
The Electric Yo-Yo. Clear your screen with your yo-yo is what happens in this 1982 block-collector. Each screen has a different pattern of blocks, and you need to move your yo-yo over each one to clear it until they’ve all gone and you move to the next. You need to avoid the snake-like Trions and Bions with their touch of death as you go, collecting occasional immunity power-ups and scoring big by throwing long strings between blocks. And there’s my problem with it – the movement mechanics in this game are too clever for their own good, requiring a level of mastery that would come from throwing in way more 10p’s than I’d have been motivated to do based on my first couple of games. I get that it’s trying to not be Pac-Man versus Dig-Dug, but actually that would have been a lot more fun than it is! I’ve lived without Electric Yo-Yo for almost forty years as I write this, and I reckon I can happily go the same again without any more.
Elevator Action. We’re on sacred ground with Elevator Action! I might not have played a lot of arcade games back in the eighties, but I did play a lot of this one for several years after its 1983 release, and it currently sits just one place outside my top ten games of all time! You are Agent 17, code name Otto, and you’re dropped on the roof of a top-security building that you need to work your way down through to steal secret documents and make your escape in a waiting car in the basement. Elevators and escalators link the door-filled floors in each building, gradually becoming more complex to navigate with increasing numbers of enemy agents coming out of said doors to shoot you. As well as being quicker on the draw, you can flying kick and even shoot out the lights to conceal your escape, also dropping them onto an enemy’s head if you’re lucky! It’s as unique as it is simple, with some great Spy vs. Spy-style character sprites and slapstick animation, and a real sense of mastery as you work out how to manipulate the elevators to avoid damage and progress more quickly. I can literally spend hours at a time playing this, and over the years I have done just that, and no doubt forever will!
Exzisus. I love a game that can describe itself so perfectly in so few words! “The planet is infested. Fly over the surface and annihilate the waves of enemies. Collect power-ups for improved weapons and defences.” This is a 1987 horizonal shooter that looks a lot like a cartoonified Dropzone, with some so bad it’s good parallax scrolling and relatively primitive but well-designed gameplay. It’s alright and I’ll happily play it whenever I fire up this compilation, but there’s an awful lot of horizontal shooters I’d play before this one when I’m in the mood.
Gladiator. You are The Great Gurianos, who’s not a Working Man’s Club magician from the early seventies, but the gladiator of this 1986 game’s title, and he has to fight his way through a castle full of enemies with his shield and collection of swords. And I hate this game! It’s an auto-side-scroller, meaning your giant armoured sprite is speeding towards all manner of bland enemies that you have three corresponding attack buttons to have a go at, low, middle and high, as well as a shield to block. The attract mode seems to hint at some cool enemies further along, but I’m generally dead way before I’m past the fire-breathing bats in the initial bland marbled corridors. I don’t think I have any need to ever come back to this, so let’s move on!
Great Swordsman. “Prove yourself as the greatest swordsman in the world.” But how, you may ask? Well, you’ll need to build your skills at fencing, striking your opponent while keeping your guard up. Defeat three opponents and you’ll face the archer, whose arrows you need to deflect with your sword. Do that and you progress to the Kendo stages, where you face-off against five different warriors. Beat them and it’s off to Rome for sudden death, where a single strike brings victory or defeat. If you’ve ever played a game called Gladiator, you’ll be familiar with low, middle and high sword fighting, but fortunately this is a very different game! That’s not to say it’s great – it’s a fencing game – but it’s a nice take on the traditional fighter even if it is more reminiscent of a stage from something like Hyper Sports than deserving of being a game in its own right. In its defence, there’s probably more to it than I’ve given it credit (or credits) for, but it’s not really for me.
Jungle Hunt. Now we’re talking! Not just a classic, but one of the happiest-looking games ever created thanks to its jungle environments that are coloured as wildly as their inhabitants! “Bag yourself the biggest game!” is what the flyer from back in 1982 encourages us to do, as, driven by love, our hero has to cross the jungle to save his girlfriend from the cooking pot of cannibals that you’ll eventually find her dangling above. On the way, you’ll be swinging from vine to vine like Tarzan across the jungle canopy, steering clear of angry monkeys, then diving into the river and either fighting or avoiding crocodiles, but definitely avoiding “the snare of the bubbles” as you also keep an eye on the air in your lungs. Actually, the game was originally called Jungle King, but our man’s likeness to Tarzan became a copyright issue and it was quickly updated with a Roger Moore-style safari suit and renamed! Once you’re on the other side you’re running uphill, avoiding falling boulders until you reach the cannibal camp, where you need to avoid the thrust of ceremonial spears to rescue your girl from the boiling cauldron. I love Jungle Hunt, whether here or on the Atari 2600 – the multiple stages, one of the very first examples of parallax scrolling, those colours, and it’s got an ending that you can get to in about three minutes (before it starts again harder)… such a ground breaker and still so much fun, and just think, without it we’d have no Pirate Pete (which sadly wasn’t included on this compilation)!
The New Zealand Story. Surprisingly, this is the first game we’ve covered here so far that we’ve also covered in great detail previously, although I don’t remember using the included flyer or game description from Taito Legends when I did that, so let’s quicky recap from those. 1988’s New Zealand Story has you playing Tiki, a kiwi, trying to rescue your fellow birds after they were kidnapped by an evil walrus. If I remember right, the arcade version’s story did differ slightly from either or both the Atari ST and PC-Engine versions that I’ve also played a lot of, but for now we’re going with this version! And apparently that means that because you’re flightless and only the size of a chicken, you remain undaunted and follow the trail to a zoo! Anyway, once you’re there you’re running, jumping, swimming, shooting spitting water at enemies and hijacking things to help you fly to reach the caged kiwi in each section of the zoo and then various other locations around New Zealand. I’ve often maintained that this and Xenon II were the best-looking games to ever grace the Atari ST, which was incredible considering they came out within days of each other, and this version goes a step further, possibly even stealing Jungle Hunt’s crown from a few seconds ago as being one of the happiest-looking games ever created! Those early stages are so gloriously yellow, with enormous detail in the character and background designs, and the animation and music and just everything. It plays like a dream too, and there’s ridiculous depth for the expert player to get their teeth into, with hidden exits and levels and bonus stuff everywhere. Two total classics on the bounce there, and not a rubbish sword control in sight, so where next?
The Ninja Kids. Being rubbish at games, even when I have played actual arcade versions I’ve very rarely finished them. Apart from Jungle Hunt… And The Ninja Kids! Not sure why, but when I picked up this compilation and had played Continental Circus to death (which, in my defence, I have also beaten), I then played this 1990 beat ‘em up to death too. According to the very brief and hard to read title screen, “…In the 7th month of 1999, a great king of terror flyed down from the sky. Now is the end of a century. Because of the “SATANISTS” who wished the resurrection of satan realized, the town became an unlawful town. But, there is a ray of hope. Four young men who have mysterious “NINJA” power: people call them as “NINJA KIDS”.” Absolute arcade gold! The game itself has a really unique cartoon look but the gameplay is far from unique, being a less sophisticated and less polished take on Double Dragon or Streets of Rage. It’s ridiculously violent despite the art style though, with people being decapitated and left with a shocked look on their tumbling face, or exploding or being flattened, and there’s some lovely animation all over the place as your fight back against “The SATAN” but it’s by no means a genre classic. Fun while it lasts though!
Operation Thunderbolt. As much as I’ve always loved Operation Wolf, I’d never played this 1988 sequel on any format until this compilation came along, and regardless of how good either is, a PS2 controller isn’t necessarily the best way to play! The D-pad isn’t quick responsive enough while the analog stick is the opposite by default, and even messing around with absolute and relative sensitivity settings never got it feeling just right. All the same, there’s a lot of fun to be had here, rail-shooting your way into the screen as well as sideways as a crack Green Beret (or a pair of them in two player mode) to try and rescue hostages from a hijacked airliner. You drop into enemy territory and have to make your way to an intelligence agent, then locate the hijacker’s camp and take out its infantry, helicopters and tanks, freeing the hostages there before infiltrating the enemy HQ and finally the airliner, where you need to free even more hostages and then fly on to freedom. It’s definitely a sequel to Operation Wolf, with a extra few bells and whistles plus some priceless spelling mistakes on the between-level cutscenes! Real looker, and would have been impressive as hell in an arcade with an Uzi controller, but not so much here.
Operation Wolf. Seems weird following Thunderbolt with the original, but anyway, this is the same Green Beret dude but a year younger in 1987, and he’s been drafted in to free hostages from a heavily armed group of radicals. Soldiers, armoured cars, patrol boats and helicopters are swarming everywhere, and you need to shoot and mortar your way through communication facilities, jungles, ordnance factories, villages and concentration camps before leading the hostages to a waiting plane at the airport. It’s more of the same, or more of the other way around, and with the added bonus of a bit of nostalgia for this all-time classic, I can live with the shortcomings of the PS2 controller to have the proper arcade version of this on my console!
Phoenix. Another all-time classic, this time from 1980, and it’s all about shooting wave after wave of alien birds in different outer space settings until you reach the mothership, which you need to strip of its defences and then destroy the alien commander nestled away in its middle. I’ve got a bit of form with this take on arcade shooting at invaders from space, as well as the Atari 2600 version, which is another absolute corker of a conversion and still plays beautifully. As does the original version, where you’re moving your little ship left and right at the bottom of the screen, shooting birds or using your timed shield to deflect their diving attacks. There’s so much to love in Phoenix – the shimmering classical music that comes and goes between some quite terrifying sound effects; the evolving, dense starfield; the sense of panic on the Galaxian-type levels with giant birds that hatch and then just keep on coming; and, of course, that wonderful mothership that at the time was the biggest and most visually impressive enemy you’d ever come across in a video game! Also worth mentioning the hints and tips that you get for every game here, which are generally repeating the instructions or stating the obvious, like in Operation Wolf you don’t want to shoot nurses. This one’s a better example though, because as well as insights such as “shoot enemies” it includes a cool secret which I did know about but only from looking it up in strategy guides, and that’s when birds attack in sets of three, allow them to reach the bottom of the screen and then when they travel back up you shoot all three in quick succession to get 200,000 points rather than the regular 200. You can only do it once though, as subsequent attempts will lose you 200,000. Nice tip and nice touch!
Plotting. Here’s one I’ve never heard of, so definitely haven’t played before, and I can probably say with reasonable certainty that I’m unlikely to play much more of in future either! This is a 1989 block-buster for one or two players, though it looks crap when you’re solo and the other half of the screen is taken up by a big black box saying game over! Anyway, you’re trying to clear half of the screen of blocks before the time runs out by matching the symbol on your block with the ones on your side of the pile on the right of you, then chucking it so the similar blocks connect. As you might have just worked out, or not, I don’t really get this game! There’s qualifying amounts of blocks to clear before you proceed to the next lot, which I found a bit odd when half the screen is still full, but overall it’s just a bit boring! Nothing to look at or listen to either. Come on 1989, you can do better than this!
Plump Pop. It’s funny how we go from a bunch of classics to Gladiator and Great Swordsmen or Plotting and 1987’s Plump Pop, but while it’s another game that I don’t know, I’m going to give it a chance! Balloons have appeared everywhere in the sky, and you need to choose from a baby pig, cat or dog then move your trampoline left and right to bounce your animal into the air to burst the balloons. There’s clouds you can walk on and bonuses to catch, and crows and dragons and the big boss behind the escaped balloons, but I have to say that so far this sounds like a stinker – should have just jumped in and avoided the instructions until later like everything else we’ve covered so far! And actually, that would have confirmed that this is pretty good – like a slightly more cute and chaotic version of Arkanoid! It’s clearly aimed at younger players, and on some of the earlier levels you can pretty much not move and you’ll still clear them, but it’s got a kind of Fantasy Zone vibe, and, despite the instructions, I think it’s rather cool!
Rainbow Islands. It’s 1987 and that means it’s time for the return of Bub and Bob, who’ve escaped from Bubble Bobble and transformed back into regular children, but somehow got stuck on Rainbow Islands and surrounded by evil creatures. Once again, they’re running and leaping from platform to platform, avoiding nasties, collecting bonuses and using their new-found magical ability that allows them to shoot rainbows! This killer new movement mechanic allows you to walk on them to get higher quicker and take out enemies either with the original shot or by jumping on one while they’re under it, but you’ve got to move quickly because they don’t last forever and the water level is rising behind you as you race to the top of the various stages that make up the seven islands. Like Bubble Bobble, there’s a depth behind the super-cute boldness of the visuals and joyful music that you need to get to grips with if you want to score big, but also like its predecessor, you’re better of just having fun with this one! Some nice cheats included here to help you with that too – constant double rainbows, fast rainbows, fast boots and the like all possible with key-press shenanigans on the title screen, and all explained in the hints and tips area. Absolutely stunning in its simplicity, and ridiculously addictive as a result.
Rastan. A hack and slash classic from 1987, with you as a barbarian on an adventure across a fantasy land full of strange creatures to bring back the head of an evil dragon! There’s climbing and swinging and jumping, but mostly you’re finding cool flaming weapons, magical power-ups and potions and taking out monsters! It’s ridiculously hard too! After very extended play, I can just about get to the second stage boss but there’s a whole other four multi-part stages, each with their own bosses waiting beyond there. It’s kind of a big-sprite take on Ghosts ‘n Goblins, maybe a bit more methodical too, but hang around and there’s a subtle day / night cycle that’s going to drop a ton of unwanted extra nocturnal enemies on you to make it even more miserable… But in the best possible way – I love my Rastan! There’s loads of variety as you travel above and below ground, and inside and outside, fighting all kinds of monsters with all kinds of weapons, and the difficulty might be harsh, but it also encourages you to keep going with extended play rewarding you with a bit more progress every time. Sadly the infamous nude female enemies from the Sega Master System port’s instruction manual don’t make an appearance here, but there are some proper stunning moments every now and again – especially in the mountainous backgrounds near the beginning – that elevate the otherwise detailed but slightly average character sprites. The scrolling is pretty impressive too. And the nuanced controls. And the music. And the fire-breathing lions… Yet another classic!
Return of the Invaders. We’re covering sequels before originals again, but we’re probably all familiar enough with Space Invaders to give this one a pass! All the same, this has never really been my favourite offshoot. It’s 1985 so it’s all a lot more colourful now, with new and more complex attack patterns and boss battles, but it just plods a bit and I’d much rather be playing either of the previous two instalments, or, indeed, Super Space Invaders ’91, which did the same again but in a far more interesting and relatively revolutionary way. It’s alright, but big sprites and some fancy backgrounds don’t really cut it for me here.
Space Gun. Not another Operation Wolf sequel from 1990, but it could be. Could be an Alien tie-in too, but it’s not that either. It is a another very cool first-person rail shooter though, and very cool here because a quick switch from absolute to relative analog controls in the settings makes it feels just great! I’ve never played this version before, but it reminds me a lot of Michael Jackson’s favourite game (seriously, look it up!) Beast Busters, which came out a year earlier in 1989 from SNK and is more horror-themed, though while it plays much the same, I’d never really made the connection playing the Commodore 64 version of Space Gun some time ago. This must have been one of Ocean’s last licenses on there and the Spectrum, and is definitely about the only light gun game I can think of for the Atari ST and Amiga! Anyway, the year is the far-flung future of 2039 and we’re exploring deep space. A ship approaches us, drifting silently through the void, so we investigate and try to find survivors, but they’re not alone! There’s automated defences, bug-eyed aliens smashing out of everywhere, face-huggers, slashing claws and all sorts of danger to point and shoot at. There’s also some lovely little touches to make use of what must have been decent hardware, for example shoot one of the big windows in the background at certain points and it will crack, then keep shooting and it will shatter, eventually blowing into pieces into space as an automated metal shutter drops down to seal the ship again. Deeper inside the ship you’ll get aliens hidden behind stuff you need to get rid of this way too, and all of this really adds to the immersion. As does all of the brightly coloured gore! Some great-looking almost cartoon-like sci-fi environments and brilliantly animated aliens, and it’s all just great! Fantastic game, and of all my discoveries here so far, with this and Battle Shark the rail shooter is coming out pretty well!
Space Invaders. I’m guessing you’ve heard of this one, but just in case, it’s Taito, it’s 1978, and the invasion has begun! Endless waves of alien ships are descending on Earth, and if they land we’re all doomed. Your little tank can save the day though, moving left and right along the ground, ducking behind disintegrating building and blasting the invaders and their flying saucers out of the sky. I’m not an expert on different versions of the original, but what I think we have here is a graphical representation of the upright arcade cabinets, which used a CRT monitor and a semi-transparent mirror with a plastic cut out of the moon attached to a star-scape background! As I said when I reviewed the Space Invaders Invincible Collection on Nintendo Switch this past summer, I have more nostalgia for how it sounds than how it plays, but it still plays wonderfully, with a purity and simplicity that translates to timeless addictiveness. It’s a classic, don’t you know!
Space Invaders Part 2. This 1980 sequel was also in the Space Invaders Invincible Collection, and it’s also probably my favourite version of classic Space Invaders! They’ve regrouped and returned for more Earth action, but this time they’ve brought some serious tech to the fight – some of them can now split into two and the flying saucers can launch reinforcements. Look out for the legendary rainbow showers too! Gaming’s first attract mode and its first cut-scene after you beat a level, and those ominous sound effects have got even more ominous. If you’ve only got room for one Space Invaders from this collection in your life, I’m recommending this one!
Super Qix. I love 1987, but I’m not a massive fan of its Super Qix! I will admit it’s a decent concept though, evolved from the original Taito America Qix from 1981, with you drawing lines around the screen to close off sections of a hidden picture in the background, avoiding the evil gremlin and roaming skulls as you go. Clear enough of the picture and a witch appears to fill in the rest and take you to the next level. The trouble is it gets way too hard when you’re close enough to competing a picture, with the evil gremlin taking up so much of what blank screen is left that you’ve got little chance. I can just about get to round three, but completing each one is just frustrating, and while there might be something I’m missing here I’m afraid I don’t really care enough to find out!
Thunder Fox. No messing around with fancy plots here – you’re a super soldier and you have to shoot, kick, jump and fly your way to victory over an army of terrorists in this 1990 run and gun that’s like Rastan meets Green Beret until you beat the first big tank boss, then it’s a horizontal shooter, then it’s platforming and shooting, then you’re riding a jet ski, and the whole thing is like being part of a Steven Seagal movie! There’s about as much finesse to the gameplay as that too, but it’s all the better for it, and you’ll have a literally blast blowing stuff up with bazookas and stabbing the relentless onslaught of every bad-guy cliché under the sun! Plenty of finesse in the graphics though – some absolutely glorious backdrops, just about the best weather effects around at the time and a ton of character in everything else too. It does get repetitive and a lot of it is a bit primitive by 1990 standards, but it’s great for a quick go every time you fire this collection up.
Tokio. Not to be confused with Tokyo. Actually, it is Tokyo, and you’re flying over it in your bi-plane shooting down enemies doing the same. It’s very much a 1986 vertical shooter, in the vein of 1942 but unfortunately not a patch on it. The hook here is collecting wingmen, which you can kind of strategise with by changing their formation to alter your attack, but I’ve never found it a lot of fun. It looks like crap too, with a washed out and indistinct city below and even more washed out and indistinct enemies around you.
Tube-It. We’re as far into the future as we get in Taito Legends with this falling-block puzzler from 1993. It’s a bit Tetris and it’s a bit Pipe Mania, although in my opinion it’s not really a lot of either! You’ve got sections of pipe constantly falling down the screen, landing at the bottom and filling it up, which you don’t want… You need to select then rotate the different pipe sections down there to form complete pipes, connecting the little electrodes (I think) that line the sides. Do that and they disappear, allowing more to fall down. It’s alright, but it’s by no means a classic – there’s not much you can affect a lot of the time, and when it eventually starts filling up and getting a bit more frantic it’s all a bit too hard and too fast to be much fun. If you want falling blocks or filling pipes, I’d go with one of those other games I mentioned a minute ago!
Volfied. It’s sci-fi Qix from 1989, but a trip into outer space certainly hasn’t made it any easier! You’ve had an SOS call from your home planet of Volfied, where aliens have laid siege and captured most of it already. You need to get it back, and the only way to do that is by connecting beams from one wall to another to reveal the scene below, obviously while avoiding the attention of the aliens. The aliens are even more intent on getting you here than they were in Super Qix back in 1987, and being two years more colourful hasn’t made it any more enjoyable, unfortunately. One game left and we’ve had a bunch of crap for the last few, so let’s cross our fingers for…
Zoo Keeper. This is a very odd game! Your girlfriend, Zelda (not that one), is trapped in the zoo, where the animals have escaped and are running riot. To rescue her, you first need to trap the animals by constantly rebuilding walls which they’ll constantly try and break out of. This is done by running around the edge, kind of “painting” new bricks as you go, and avoiding any escaped animals by jumping over them. Pen them in enough and you move to the next lot. A couple of levels down and you switch to having to make your way up the screen by jumping on moving platforms, jumping over more stray animals and avoiding the coconuts being chucked by the monkey in the tree next to your girlfriend at the top. Then it starts again! There’s nothing wrong with it, but everything is so basic and without any real identity that there’s not a lot right with it either. Which, I’m sorry to say, is a very average way to end our journey!
I’ve had fun though! Those two rail shooters that I hadn’t played before, Battle Shark and Space Gun, were definitely the highlights and I’ll certainly be returning to those – probably here too – in the future. I think there was an element of quantity over quality with some of the 29 games included in Taito Legends, but who cares about a crappy fencing game when you’ve also got The New Zealand Story and Operation Wolf and Space Invaders. All in your home too! And, of course, I got my hands on Continental Circus, which I remember spending several years getting good at, only to reach the final race and failing within sight of the finish line, then binning it off until the next time, but I did eventually beat it, and that was worth the price of admission alone!
It’s a fantastic compilation overall that definitely ticks my three boxes of value, games and discovery, and it would go on to spawn Taito Legends II, which, I’ll let you into a secret about… Apart from SSX 3 and Silent Hill II, that disc has spent more time in my PS2 than anything else has, and I’ve got loads of PS2 games! A lot of that is down to G-Darius, but there’s a whopping other 38 games on top of that, from 1979’s Lunar Rescue to stuff like the Legend of Kage and Arabian Magic and Puzzle Bobble 2, spanning almost twenty years. And do you know what, I reckon we might be doing the same all over again with that sometime soon!