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 know it only seems like a couple of weeks since I last said I’d been on holiday (because it was), but apart from a bit of arcade-ing either side of most of the week in Cornwall, it’s mostly going to be Nintendo Switch again if that’s okay!
One of my little pleasures each week is checking out the new releases on the Switch eShop when it gets updated every Thursday afternoon, not least to see what Hamster has in store for us this time in its Arcade Archives Series. Roller Jammer by Nichibutsu in 1984 appeared there a couple of weeks ago, and while there’s not a huge amount to it, what’s there is really impressive for something of that vintage! It’s a series of violent roller-skating races and time trials against increasingly difficult and aggressive teams around a winding course in a big park or somewhere. The racers are big and bold, with loads of detail, loads of colour and really cool animation. Plays nice too, like a simplified Road Rash, but as such is one for short bursts once in a while longer term. Like it so far though!
I have sort of moved on from the third of the Darkstalkers series on the Capcom Fighting Collection, but only as far as 1997’s Vampire Hunter 2: Darkstalkers’ Revenge, which is more of the same but with some new characters, tweaked backgrounds and a few gameplay tweaks on top. What that does mean is even more of that incredible animation to savour though, as well as more supernatural combat to master against more uniquely gothic fairytale environments. Makes me hanker after one of those fancy OLED Switches! Anyway, I’ve had a really nice time getting to know new dark hunter Donovan here, a Dhampir (vampire dad, human mum) with his mix of Cloud-style massive sword, Buddhist and Hindu infused move set and magic finishers. He’s no Morrigan though…
Speaking of video game characters I like to perv over, I did have a quick performance check on handheld Cotton Fantasy when we did our Collector’s Edition unboxing and Switch review update a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve not really spent much time playing this new witchy cute ‘em up on the small screen until now. Most importantly, bikini-clad fairy sidekick Silk still looks fine scaled down, but as for the game, it plays fine too, though I do wonder if some of that is down to familiarity over this being the ideal way to play, especially where things get a bit frantic, making it hard to keep track of your chosen character (let alone their hit box), or when the screen changes direction and you end up stuck behind something when it goes. Which does sometimes happen connected to a TV too, but it’s way more likely here. I’ve still got a bunch of the new characters to get to grips with, and almost every one is a literal game-changer, but you’re probably sick of this one now, so unless anything dramatic happens I’ll leave this in the background after this week!
Of an even earlier vintage, I went back to Alpine Ski on the Taito Milestones collection, which I was inspired to pick up again after playing Adventure Canoe on the new little Taito machine we’ll return to a bit later. It’s no looker, even by 1982 standards, and for the first few games it’s always crash after frustrating crash which runs 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. But then you’re in the zone, and the controls don’t feel that bad after all, and then you’re actually in control and on the other events, and this vertically scrolling dodge ‘em up is suddenly the most addictive thing you’ve ever played! For a few minutes at least… We’ll have to have a look at that one in a bit more detail sometime!
Saturday Night Slam Masters continues to get a workout, although it’s the first time I’ve played handheld. The screen size really doesn’t change anything here, and it’s still a blast, but I’m still conflicted about d-pad versus analog stick. The problem is that I still rarely manage to pull off any finishing moves or specials. I know what I’m supposed to do, so it’s either down to my timing or the controller. If it was timing I’d expect to mail them occasionally but it’s barely ever, and while the manual implies circular movements, the analog stick just doesn’t feel right. Maybe I need to spend some time on an arcade stick tand work it out from there! None of that is to take away how much I’m enjoying this though, and I’m now having a few decent runs regardless. Like Cotton Fantasy, I’ll still be playing this for a while yet, but to avoid boredom won’t report back so often anymore.
That’s on the new Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium, but now we’re heading back to the first one, and 19xx, which I bought at the same time as Progear, but I got so obsessed with that it didn’t really get a look in before now! Of course, that’s a horizontal shoot ‘em up where 19xx: The War Against Destiny is a 1995 vertically scrolling successor to my old favourite 1942, set at the outbreak of a fictional 20th century world war that’s about to go nuclear. Okay, Switch handheld with docked Joy-Cons isn’t exactly the ideal way to learn a schmup, but actually it’s pretty fun trying. As long as I’ve got my glasses on! It’s very polished and very competent over being particularly exhilarating, but there’s some great environments and creative level design to make up for that, and I’ll be hanging around this war for a while yet. But maybe on the TV!
A couple of arcade games to quickly mention too, and, outrageously, I might have been doing Tempest a disservice for more than forty years! I’ve played it a few times in different places, I think without ever really giving it a chance to click, but it finally did while I was digging around the Atari Flashback Classics collections on PS4 last weekend! It jumped out of the menu at me after I’d recently read an interview with its long-time caretaker (and original gaming superstar) Jeff Minter about his new Switch version, but this was the original and for the first time ever it felt good to play with a regular controller for some reason. Vector graphics never age, and this gameplay doesn’t either – great difficulty curve and crazy addictive. Who’d have believed it!
We’ll finish off back home again, and I’ve no idea where I first came across Nightmare in the Dark, but every time it rears its undead head again somewhere I can’t resist! This time I was absentmindedly watching a compendium of obscure arcade games of some sort on YouTube and there it was, this Gavaking / Eleven spooky single-screen platformer from the year 2000. You’re a gravedigger keeping ghosts and ghouls and zombies and their kind at bay by chucking fireballs at them over five levels of five stages each. There’s treasure to collect and bosses to beat every few levels, and it’s all gloriously garish and loads of fun. Actually, it’s just Bubble Bobble in a graveyard, so how could it not be!
Finally, of course I’ve been dabbling with that beautiful Taito Egret II Mini a bit more too. Not as much as I’d like, given that I’ve got a review of all forty games planned for next Wednesday, and then the ones for the paddle and trackball controller expansion the week after, but I suppose we did have a nice holiday instead! And in case you missed it, don’t forget to check out this week’s deep-dive into the aforementioned arcade fighter Darkstalkers 3, or Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire, on Nintendo Switch. Until next time!