Time for our regular quick-fire reviews and impressions of what’s been under the spotlight at Retro Arcadia this week, old and new and a bit of both… And I’ve been off work again but with not much to do this week, so it’s a proper Holiday Special bumper edition too!
Starting with an appropriately summer vibe, I was watching a compilation of old Irem arcade titles on YouTube the other day, and although most of it was familiar, I’d never even heard of Tropical Angel before, let alone played it. I have now though! It’s a simple affair, with you skiing through gates and avoiding obstacles in the water against a time limit, but it plays great – a nice loose feel to the controls that somehow captures turning in water quite realistically! Very tropical looking, and actually, for the time the sprites are impressive too. Really fun and very addictive!
I was really excited about Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium arriving last week, but all that crossover with the recent Capcom Fighting Collection (which we’ll come back to again later) ended up putting me off the £30 or whatever bundle for all of the games, and instead I spent ages poring through everything that’s on there to decide on nine or less that would justify buying them individually. Which I thoroughly enjoyed doing, but in the end I only had Saturday Night Slam Masters on my wish-list, and I still haven’t bought that yet either! So much for all that excitement, but at least the pack-in freebie Sonson is alright! It’s also way more than alright, with you playing a monkey boy (it’s true!) auto-running up and down six mostly continuous platforms, collecting power-ups and bonuses and shooting formations of enemies from the front and behind. Classic 1984, and I’ve also just learnt that there was a PC-Engine sequel, Sonson II, so we’ll have a look at that here soon too!
Preordering the Capcom Fighting Collection also provided a bonus Arcade 2nd Stadium game, The Three Wonders Omnibus, which is actually three games in one. I’ve not played much of Pengo-style action puzzler Don’t Pull yet, or side-scrolling shooter Chariot, although it seems pretty cool, but I have played a fair bit of Midnight Wanderers. It’s a very pretty fantasy platformer, with you playing some kind of Hobbit in a kind of fairytale Rayman meets Metal Slug. Honestly I did start to get bored pretty quickly, but mileage will definitely vary with this, and it’s at least worth playing for some really gorgeous environments and fun bosses. I might come back to the other two here sometime, but I will definitely now spend a couple of quid on Slam Masters and let you know how that holds up next time!
I’ve played a lot of Kirby games over the years but never really got what the fuss was about. With Kirby’s Avalanche, recently added to the SNES lineup on Switch Online, that view doesn’t really change, but I have found another cool dropping and matching puzzler to add to the collection! It’s Super Puyo-Puyo in an unobtrusive Kirby skin, polished to hell (or HAL!) then packaged up for the West in 1995, and as such it’s something I’ve no doubt I’ll fire up whenever I’m digging around in the collection…. Which, eighty plus hours in (and the same again on the NES version), I’m still doing very regularly!
Cave’s 1999 vertical shoot ‘em up Guwange is unique in many ways, although it never stops feeling like a Cave shooter! It’s set in Feudal Japan, and you’re not only playing vertical, but also horizontal and diagonal as you’re led along the ground rather than through the sky, with three life bars and a supernatural power-up that you can independently control at the cost of restricting your own movement. Sounds weird, is weird, but it plays like a dream, and you’ll soon forget you’re totally grounded as you gracefully and impossibly sweep through walls of bullets. One of the most sinister game over screens you’ll ever see too!
Quick mention of another vertical schmup, Dragon Saber, which finally got an Arcade Archives release a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been trying to get to grips with on Switch ever since. This thing is old-school brutal, although not quite as brutal as the arcade version of its predecessor, Dragon Spirit, which is a favourite of mine of PC-Engine, but the less forgiving original is way too hard! Anyway, this is more of the same, with your powered-up dragon juggling ground and air attacks against swarms of enemies and some very colourful bosses over some absolutely stunning backgrounds. I’m over the moon to finally have a proper version of this because it’s one of those that’s always been hit and miss getting to work on MAME, and it’s a classic!
I don’t want to go too shooter mad here, especially as we already reviewed Cotton Fantasy on PS4 a couple of months ago, but my Switch Collector’s Edition finally turned up this week, and, together with an arcade stick, that’s the place I always wanted to play it! Enormous depth thanks to a load of truly unique characters that change up the gameplay mechanics every time, beautiful soundtrack, looks fine (if not the very best of Cotton) and plays perfectly on Switch, both docked and handheld. Total nerd-fest in the box too, which a mass of Cotton tat that I’ll forever treasure, and actually I’m planning a bit of an unboxing feature, so I won’t spoil the surprise here!
I don’t know why I bothered with MotoGP22 (other than it appeared on Xbox Game Pass last week) because from previous experience I knew I wasn’t getting the photo-realistic version of Super Hang-On I wanted it to be! It does look good though, and if a fully licensed bike racing sim is what you’re after then I’m sure you’ll get past the slightly janky controls and have a wild old time with a ton of modes and tinkering available. Still not really for me though, but I’m sure to try again this time next year just in case!
Continuing my Darkstalkers journey on the several times aforementioned Capcom Fighting Collection on Switch, I’ve now got as far as the third game, Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire, and while I think I still marginally prefer the more primitive boldness of the second game’s environments, there’s no questioning that the trademark animation is now simply out of this world, and as for the fighting… It’s now mostly familiar, with returning favourites and move-sets, but dropping the best of three rounds for a continuous two life bars brings so much more fluidity to proceedings, and it all just feels better than ever. There’s even a hint of a storyline hidden away in the more sinister, more sexualised post-gothic luxury, albeit very much “only in Japan” by the time you see some of the unique character end-games! Anyway, I think I’ve got a surprise new favourite Darkstalkers, and we’re actually going to do a deep-dive on this one here the week after next.
Finally this week, I’ve also been playing the last fighting game I was actually any good at, IK+ on Atari ST, and while I’m not quite as proficient anymore, it’s still an incredible experience! The three player (even solo) contest format, the round scoring system and even the bonus levels feel as fresh as ever, and all those other details… The setting-sun reflecting on the watery backdrop is a stunning example of pixel art to this day, and those falling leaves, submarine periscopes and Pac-Man cameos – not to mention the trouser-dropping – still do their best to distract you from the timeless one button, eight direction action. Just brilliant!
I did also go through Silent Hill 2 again, but I seem to do that most weeks, so we can skip that! In case you missed it last Wednesday, check out My Life With Cobra on ZX Spectrum (but totally avoid the Commodore 64 and Amstrad versions!), where as well as a deep-dive into the murky world of eighties Stallone, we take a look at some favourite movie soundtracks too! And yesterday we also had our regular monthly On The Retro Radar feature, with trailers for stuff of retro-interest on the horizon for August. Next week here is still a bit up in the air, but as a minimum you’ll get two reviews of the brand new Jaleco and Gaelco arcade collections for Evercade VS (in my case) on Tuesday and Wednesday, and if time allows we’ll try that Cotton Fantasy Collector’s Edition unboxing feature I mentioned earlier on Thursday. And I hope to see you on one if not all of those days when they arrive!