Taito Legends and Taito Legends 2 on PlayStation 2 might be getting on for two decades old, but one or the other is generally still in my console at any given time, and apart from Konami’s Coin-Op Hits on ZX Spectrum, between them I don’t think I’ve ever spent more time with any of the dozens of other compilations I own. We did look at the first one here not that long ago, and the second is on my to-do list for fairly soon, although with almost forty games on it that’s going to be quite the undertaking! If only we had something a bit more frugally curated in the meantime…
Taito Milestones collects what I guess is someone’s definition of ten “milestones” from their eighties arcade output, although I’m really curious about what makes some of these more of a milestone than all the other stuff from the same period that isn’t represented here – Bubble Bobble, Operation Wolf, The New Zealand Story or Darius, just for example, but feel free to add a dozen or two others of your own! And I’m left curious after spending time with it too because nowhere does it ever tell me; in fact, in terms of historical information or any other kind of bonus material like arcade flyers, development drawings, cabinet information and so on that you might expect from such a compilation (and got in those PS2 ones), there’s just nothing here. Instead, you’ve got what appears to be seven previous Arcade Archives releases plus Qix, Space Seeker and Chack’n Pop, so if you own any of these already then you need to be aware that you’re getting the same again. On the plus side, you are also getting all of Hamster’s regular display, DIP switch and button customisations (which we might need to make use of a bit later), as well as interrupt save data, online leaderboards and always useful modern instruction manuals. I should also mention that while I do own Arcade Archives Elevator Action standalone, I was kindly provided with a review code for this compilation by the publisher. Let’s now take a quick look at all of the games in turn!
Alpine Ski. While discovery is always a prime factor when I’m looking at a compilation, in the case of Alpine Ski I’d discovered and then dismissed it a very long time ago, and it’s only because I’m reviewing it here that I didn’t just skip it completely. And I’m so glad that was the case! The first couple of games of this vertically scrolling dodge ‘em up were true to form, with almost instant crash after frustrating crash running down the timer to nothing before you’ve gone anywhere thanks to the severe, very black and white collision detection combined with initially awkward controls. Just give those controls a chance though, because with just a bit of practice you’ll work out how to cut into the snow to control your speed as you turn, and then you’ll be flying through the downhill stage and onto the slalom and even occasionally the ski jump without too many problems, and suddenly there’s something fun and addictive here that wasn’t there before! Even by 1981 standards, there’s not much to look at and definitely not much to listen to, so this one stands on gameplay alone, and once you find it, it’s not bad at all!
Wild Western. I could start this paragraph in the same way as the last, but unfortunately with Wild Western the same positive conclusion isn’t happening regardless of how much effort I put in! It’s 1982, and you’re a sheriff on horseback shooting at bandits trying to hijack the train trundling up the middle of the screen. Keep them at bay for long enough and it will arrive at the station and you get to do it all over again. I never saw this in any arcade, but I think it was some kind of early twin-stick shooter, where, rather than what would become the traditional second stick, I also think it used some kind of rotary fire button. Whatever it was and as ground-breaking as it might have been at the time though, it simply doesn’t translate to the default Switch controls! Aside from your horse moving more like a space ship than a horse on the left side of the controller, they have you trying to set the fire direction on the right analog stick and then shoot with the nearby B button using the same thumb, and in the midst of a firefight that stinks! The game knows it too, because before you start it suggests you might want to try the “simple” control scheme where you shoot in the direction you’re heading, but it’s not much better. In fact, the only way you can play this at all is to reassign buttons in the options menu and use a shoulder button to fire, which, incidentally, is how the PS2 Taito Legends version was set up from the outset. It’s still not much fun though, and that’s further compounded by a grating soundtrack, but in its defence there are some neat ideas, like being able to jump onto the train to get at any bandits that make it that far, then jumping back off when your horse gets close enough. I quite like the primitive Ikari Warriors (which also gets twin-stick plus fire right first time on Switch!) vibe to the game’s Wild West setting too – just not enough to ever really want to load it up again though!
Front Line. Speaking of primitive Ikari Warriors… And actually, when I say primitive, I mean the Atari 2600 conversion is pretty much arcade-perfect! That’s not to say there’s no fun to be had in this 1982 military-themed top-down run and gun shooter though; I think it might even be one of the first of those too, and is definitely years ahead of Commando or T.A.N.K. or Ikari Warriors – hang on a sec, we might be making some headway with this milestone stuff after all! You’re a soldier going Rambo up the screen with gun and limited grenades, which eventually you’ll use to take out a fort, but in-between you’ll also be able to jump in a tank and cause a bit of chaos in that too. Like Alpine Ski, it’s definitely not a particularly welcoming game, but spend a bit of time working out that gung-ho is always best and you’ll have fun making a bit of progress; at the very least you can have a laugh at the comical character animation! That said, they are full of cartoon detail, as are backgrounds, and the explosions when you throw a grenade are a real treat! If you were given a choice of this or Commando then honestly there’s no choice, but as a historic curio that’s on a compilation then I guess it’s fine.
Qix. I nearly really like Qix! The trouble is I suffer from colourblindness; predominantly red-black but there’s all sorts of other potential pitfalls too, and that means the trouble here is that I can barely see the little shape that’s your cursor, and I can’t see the little shapes that are your enemies at all, and that makes for a miserable game of Qix! And that’s a shame because this 1981 line-drawing, shape-painting puzzler is a genius idea! You need to move your cursor to draw lines that enclose and fill a specified percentage of the screen to beat the level, while this deadly psychedelic shape revolves around any space that’s left and those other things I can’t see chase you around the lines you’ve already drawn. Very simple and potentially loads of fun if you can see what’s going on, although one of the most irritating sound effects you’ve ever heard is available for everyone to enjoy whatever their state of vision!
Space Seeker. If nothing else, this is the most ambitious game we’ve seen so far, especially when you consider it launched in 1981! You start with your craft on a map, and you have to move it to intercept enemy air forces or mobile fortresses, when you’ll be moved to their respective screens. Air force combat happens from a 3D spaceship cockpit view, where you need to take down the full wave of enemies, then mobile fortress involves getting to the end of a 2D side-scrolling shooter. Beat the stage and you’re back to the map to choose the next encounter. I don’t know about this one – it’s an impressive concept and it’s fun for a while, but there’s not really any substance to the map section, and not a great deal more to either of the action sections. I don’t know… We’re halfway through now, and just looking at what we’ve seen so far as a whole, the jury is still out on Space Seekers, so the only game I’d really go back to is the only one where I’m still struggling to identify any potential “milestone” feature, and that’s Alpine Ski. Hopefully business is about to pick up for the second half!
Elevator Action. There aren’t many arcade games I can say I played to death at the time, but with this little beauty from 1983 I can! One place short of my top ten games of all time, and a regular go-to on my Switch since it got its Arcade Archives release a couple of years ago – I absolutely adore this! You’re a spy, dropped onto the top of a tower block, and you have to make your way down using a maze of elevators, collecting secret documents and taking out enemy agents on the way before making your escape in a car in the basement and starting all over again in a new building. I love the way it mixes patience with fast reactions, and simple gameplay with strategy that comes with a degree of mastery of manipulating the elevators in particular. Great Spy vs Spy cartoon aesthetic too, and full of bold colour. It’s unique, timeless, and certainly a milestone for me at least!
Chack’n Pop. This one’s going to seem familiar to anyone pining for the inclusion of Bubble Bobble here! It’s a 1983 spiritual predecessor and a bit more besides, as your little yellow blob platforms his way to free caged hearts that will open up the level’s exit while avoiding monsters hatching from eggs, or just lobbing bombs to destroy them, though that’s always a risky business when their explosions spread Bomberman-style and can easily take you out too! That risk is then compounded by some very awkward movement mechanics, where you’re blob is stretching to reach a flat expanse above him rather than jumping, and no matter how much I played that never got intuitive, but did always manage to suck most of the fun out of the experience as soon as you’ve got a monster on your tail. Thank goodness they sorted that out in time for Bubble Bobble! It’s interesting to see the evolution of such a familiar visual and audio style, and as such a big fan of Bubble Bobble I spent way longer trying to like this than it probably deserved. Another case of nearly really like it though.
The Fairyland Story. This is more like it! It’s also more like Bubble Bobble too, introducing a few familiar faces as well as more than a few familiar gameplay mechanics, though there’s also a whiff of The New Zealand Story about it, resulting in something that also feels a lot like the possibly more familiar Rodland, although that wouldn’t appear for a full five years after this did in 1985. Anyway, you’re a witch and you need to fire magic at the increasingly despicable monsters spread around the current series of platforms. That then turns them into cakes which you can push around to take out other monsters or simply destroy, and once they’ve all gone one way or another you go to the next level. There’s a few interesting techniques to discover for bigger scores, but nothing like on the scale of Bubble Bobble’s, and they certainly don’t detract from the raw fun of playing like those can when you know they’re there! I guess that makes it diet Bubble Bobble, but this won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, especially with so much character in its menagerie of fantasy characters and some classic Taito tunes playing in the background. It’s a hit!
Halley’s Comet. I’d never played this before, and at first glance assumed it was just another simple old-school vertical shoot ‘em up from 1986, but a few games in and it was very much way more than that – an obvious, proper milestone even, would you believe! It’s like a prototype Cave shooter, with loads of bullets and loads of powered-up firepower as you defend loads of planets across three stages each of space and in-comet combat. It’s more than just your surviving these stages while you rack up scores too, because if you don’t shoot enough of the stuff flying down the screen at you, it’s also game over for the planet. An epic Dambusters meets Star Wars tune drives the action along amidst the cacophony of space war, while some really cool visual effects, background transitions, explosions and great use of colour serve up an impressive variety of enemies, including some really forward-thinking bosses. Great speed and a great level of challenge too, and overall possibly the hidden gem in the whole package!
The Ninja Warriors. Why is this game so strangely widescreen? I’m guessing some kind of triple-display, like Buggy Boy or even that Darius game that isn’t included here… But another milestone credential that unfortunately gets a bit lost in translation to Switch – if only they’d actually tell us that was the case, and we might forgive the extended aspect ratio that even a philistine like me thinks is weird! In its favour though, you can’t beat the premise… “Control the cyborg-ninjas, Ninja and Kunoichi, as you take down the Demon King, Banglar.” A cyborg-ninja called Ninja. It’s all just genius! The Ninja Warriors is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up from 1987 set in the far-flung future of A.D. 1993, pitting you against endless waves of goons and more besides coming at you from all directions. Really good game that’s not a million miles away from something like Shinobi, but is certainly less punishing. Great SNES follow-up too, which was eventually followed up by one of my favourite games of 2019, The Ninja Saviors, but I’m more than happy to be able to play the original here despite how it’s presented. Oh yeah, it’s got an absolute corker of a soundtrack too – eighties action movie in the flesh, and that goes for the gritty art style and exaggerated violence of the gameplay too. Perfect way to finish!
Right, I’m concluding on a high with The Ninja Warriors, so let’s also just recap my other highs, namely Alpine Ski, Elevator Action, The Fairyland Story and Halley’s Comet. Qix could quite feasibly also be another high for anyone not in possession of my dodgy eyes, and that makes for more than half of the ten games on offer here. There’s certainly historic value in all of the others to some degree, and no doubt a few pockets of nostalgia lurking among them too. And that’s what you need to consider when you’re also considering spending £34.99 on this wide-ranging but otherwise barebones and still curious collection, especially when you might have picked one or more of them up individually already; and when most of them are also still on sale individually at £6.29 each. I know what I’d do, but by reviewing it in this format I also hope I’ve helped you decide too!