When we looked at the Taito Legends collection on PS2, we stumbled upon three tick boxes that might also be the measure of any other compilation; in the order we stumbled, they were value for money, the selection of games on offer and the element of discovery awaiting within. Of course, the latter can be a little difficult to judge until you’ve spent a bit of time with the thing, and you’ve worked out whether or not you’ve discovered a new all-time favourite or a bunch of complete stinkers! And that, in turn, might retrospectively affect your judgement of those other two boxes. Taito Legends did alright though, mostly by throwing so many games at us that no matter how many stinkers you discovered, such as Gladiator or Plotting, there was always a good chance you were going to discover even more favourites, such as Battle Shark, Space Gun and Thunder Fox, with its fancy run and gun weather effects! And in the company of Operation Wolf, Rainbow Islands, Rastan, Phoenix, The New Zealand Story and at least a dozen other stone-cold classics, that thing is coming out well overall regardless. Which is why either Taito Legends or its sequel are always more than likely to be found hiding in my PS2’s disc tray whenever I fire it up!
As I often say, discovery is my favourite thing about this retro gaming lark – you’ll never have seen it all, and however deep you dive there’s always something waiting around the corner that could instantly grab you by the throat, and then that’s just the beginning, for months or years or even decades, although the latter does become increasingly less likely at a frightening pace! And I do wonder if that’s why another compilation that’s not wholly dissimilar to the Taito one in terms of what’s on offer isn’t such a regular feature in my PS2. Or the variant on my PSP. Or the one on the PS3 and the Xbox Series X. Or the PS1. Or inside Lego Dimensions… It might have 24 classics of its own and of equal standing on offer, which the price label that’s still on the case tells me cost an average of 75p each whenever I bought it some time around 2004, and those might also include the arcade original of one of my top ten games of all time, another from the top fifteen, and at least another five not far behind, but what’s to discover? The answer is not very much. Apart from a couple of obscurities, which may well be such for a very good reason, I knew nearly all of them before I came to this, and many of them inside-out. Which doesn’t stop any of them individually being loads of fun whenever you fancy a blast, and as a whole still leaves us with unquestionable value and a mind-boggling selection, but there’s no thrill of the chase and the subsequent kill. Which is a good place to move on before that analogy gets any more graphic than it is already!
Midway Arcade Treasures is just that. Treasures. So who cares about my made-up measures – it’s more than worthy of exploring again every day of the week, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do… We’ll take a quick look at the overall package, and its bells and whistles, but mostly we’re going to dive into each of the 24 games included, in the order they appear there, and have a look at where they’ve come from and how they play now. Ready? This thing was released in North America in late 2003 and then Europe in 2004, trickling out onto PlayStation 2 and Xbox, then GameCube and finally Windows PC. It reviewed okay, with most of the negatives being associated with all the extras that being on a DVD should now afford, but we’ll have a look at those for ourselves in a sec. It’s funny though – to this day, if they’re there I want them done right, but if they’re not I don’t really care (and that’s why there’s no fourth tick box for extras)! Anyway, it did good enough to justify a second compilation of twenty more arcade treasures a year or so later, which does get a bit more love over this way, mostly thanks to Pit-Fighter, Arch Rivals, Cyberball 2072 and Hard Drivin’. And there was a third another year or so later again, but this time it was eight racing games, and that one gets even more love than the second! That discovery thing again, because apart from Super Off Road, I’d never played any of these before, but I still can’t leave Badlands alone almost two decades after the fact, and Hydro Thunder is another I play regularly, although interestingly that one is based on the Dreamcast version. And just to prove that the discovery thing isn’t one and done, I’ve still barely touched half of those games, and there’s another joy… knowing that you’ll get to it eventually!
First one first though. And anyway, we’ve got Taito Legends 2 next in line to properly discover before we start messing around with any other sequels! Midway Arcade Treasures has what you might call “unique” presentation. When you load it up, you’re whisked into what quickly turns out to be an Ancient Egyptian pyramid, then around its very ornate corridors and chambers until you come upon two stone tablets with two columns of hieroglyphs down either side and some piles of gold coins, swords and unidentifiable pulsating silver things on the floor along the bottom. There’s also a very sinister pulsating, two-note drone going on that sounds like it’s been pulled right out of the Lakeside Amusement Park in Silent Hill. Not sure what that’s got to do with treasures, but I guess I see where the rest is coming from, as cheesy as it is! The hieroglyphics are how you select the games, and I’ve never liked this! Move your cursor over each, and the magical but very faded-out screen in the middle will bring up the attract mode for each one, thereby revealing its title. Sooner or later. Or you could just learn the pictures – axe is for Gauntlet, bike is for Paperboy, fist is for Rampage and so one. Ridiculous, and I really hope the sequels just give me the names to choose from when we get to them, rather than obscure symbols parodying a language that hasn’t been used since the 5th century A.D!
What’s behind each of the icons is really cool though! As well as starting the game, you’ve got galleries, trivia, histories and interviews. Kind of… Not all games have all things, and I found myself way more disappointed than it really justified every time I saw “no trivia information available on this game” or similar! I think not having any history whatsoever for quite a few of them is a bit crap though – they really can’t come up with a couple of sentences on Super Sprint? Or any pictures of the cabinet or a flyer or anything? But I really like what’s there – while it’s definitely not comprehensive either, I loved being able to zoom right in on the Marble Madness manual or a photo of the limited run Defender pinball table. There’s some dreadful presentation though, with no consistency between games or even categories within the same game, and some of the font size selections are wild! Every game does have a nice set of options though, with access to each machine’s original DIP switches to alter gameplay, difficulty, maximum continues, access to the legendary RoadBlasters t-shirt competition and so on! I am a bit mystified by one of the options that appears for absolutely everything though, which allows you to “view other Midway games” which in turn leads you to trailers for NFL Blitz and NHL Hitz; in their own right this every time is a little bizarre, but I found that watching either caused the PS2 to crash when you tried to return to Ancient Egypt afterwards!
Before we hit the games, one more note that trying to grab in-game screenshots here is a total nightmare, so to avoid any more of that and also to avoid you having to look at even more badly straightened, badly composed photos of a dodgy old telly taken from my phone, I’ll grab most of any more screenshots we need on MAME from this point onwards! But rest assured we’re still playing on PS2 and everything you’ll read is based on that version. However, what you also need to know is that in the compilation itself, everything is being stretched by default to widescreen, as was the vogue on PS2 compilations, it seems, but unlike Taito Legends, for example, I can’t find any way to change back to the original screen ratio. It affects some games more than others as we’ll see as we go, and probably doesn’t help with the overall (and typically) washed-out look, but full disclosure – I actually got all the way to game number 11, Paperboy, before I realised anything was off at all. Such a philistine! Even so, that loss of sharpness is really stark when you put it side by side with MAME, which I’m sure also isn’t particularly representative of the original on a proper screen, but as we’ll also see, there are pros and cons to all approaches, so let’s dive in!
720°. Ironically, the first thing you notice about this game is that being stretched means the skateboard on the title screen is a more realistic shape than the slightly stubby original! Unlike other less official ways of playing, the PS2’s analog stick absolutely nails the controls too, which is quite the thing in a game as hard as this one! The city is a giant skate park, and riding and jumping around its surfaces earns you points to enter four proper skate parks – jump, ramp (half-pipe), slalom and downhill – as well as buy upgrades to boards and the rest of your gear. As intuitive as it is, this groundbreaking isometric 3D skateboarder from 1986 doesn’t pull any punches… Thank goodness you’re not putting real money in here! Give it time though, and there’s huge depth to not only mastering these disciplines, but also earning your way around Skate City, and both avoiding and taking advantage of its many hazards. Fantastic music, though it definitely sounded better coming out of the boombox-styled speakers on the original cabinet! You can keep your dated Tony Hawk and Skate stuff because this one is timeless, widescreen or not! And what a start!
Blaster. From timeless to downright bonkers now, and the 1983 “sequel” to Robotron: 2084, where everything is now 3D, on rails and, apart from the nonsensical story that tells us it’s now 2085 and the Robotrons have destroyed the human race, has absolutely nothing to do with its supposed predecessor. Doesn’t stop it being utterly brilliant though! I loved this game from the first time I played it, with its diverse stages that have you flying through magic arches and avoiding giant robots, then rescuing marooned astronauts, negotiating time tunnels, avoiding stuff and shooting even more stuff until you finally reach Paradise, 20 million light years away. Or just plain old level 20! Nothing especially fancy about any of it, but it’s got a kind of Jeff Minter whackiness about it, all perfectly reflected in some great oversized particle effects and impressive early sprite scaling – you just can’t beat the neon-suited spacemen helplessly drifting out of a disco asteroid belt! Looks great here too, and it’s addictive gameplay loop is perfectly at home. I’d have genuinely bought this compilation just for this game, which maybe makes up for the next…
Bubbles. The arcade game that no one ever wanted at home, and as you now know, while I very much like trying something new on a compilation, I’m not sure seeing this on the list of games was going to have me reaching for a pen to tick that discovery box… But how wrong we all were! Okay, if we’re ranking these 24 games then it’s still hanging around the wrong end of the scale, but it’s from 1982, it’s loads of fun, it loves the PS2 analog stick and it’s perfectly happy being widescreen, so we’re cutting it some slack. Even if it is set in a kitchen sink! You start as a small bubble, and you need to suck up all the dirt and grime and little insects to grow bigger, avoiding brushes, razor blades and big bugs. Once you’re big enough to have grown a face too, you can go down the plug hole, enjoy some psychedelic special effects out of the tap and move to the next level. It’s very basic in all respects, but when Katamari meets Robotron then basic is all you need.
Defender. Like Pac-Man, Defender is one of those games where I’ll take a clone over the 1981 original thanks. Actually, in this case I’ll take two, namely Andes Attack on VIC-20 and Chopper Command on Atari 2600, and unfortunately this version isn’t going to be the one to change my mind! It’s a familiar tale – use your radar to fly left and right and stop the aliens harvesting the humans by shooting at them with lasers. Obviously, it’s a classic and I’ll still happily play it for hours, but I really don’t like controlling this with a PS2 d-pad because I can’t get the continuity of movement (possibly because I have girl’s hands) you want to throw that ship around in all directions when things get frantic, and the analog stick is way too twitchy. Get past the controls, and it actually suits whatever the screen layout happens to be, and when anything perfectly hammers out that iconic sound you know you’re in for a good time one way or another.
Defender II. This is more of the same, but more of it! Released in the same year, and also known as Stargate, it’s another side-scrolling wraparound mountain vista, but now there’s loads of new enemies (including the wonderfully named Yllabian Space Guppies), a cloaking power-up and a “Stargate” which teleports you to the nearest human in distress. And even bigger explosions! Again, perfectly suited to the screen as far as I’m concerned, but surprisingly I’m getting on fine with the analog stick on this one. Guess the first one had to be here, but this is the one to play on this compilation.
Gauntlet. Here we are at that top ten all-time favourite I mentioned earlier, but for almost the same reasons as Defender, I’m not sure this is the place I want to play it. Actually, I’d generally rather be playing the Spectrum version, but we’ve gone into that one in nauseating detail previously here, so back to the 1985 original in question, it’s a top-down fantasy hack and slash and magic affair for up to four players (using a multitap), choosing from warrior, valkyrie, wizard and elf, and they’re cooperating to take out the massed waves of monsters in each maze-like dungeon level while also competing for food, potions and treasure as they search for the exit to the next. I don’t do multiplayer very much anymore, but that’s why Gauntlet’s in my top ten of all-time – that mix of gameplay is just perfect! Sadly, the controls here are less than perfect… I need more diagonal control with less effort than the PS2 d-pad can give me, and this game just wasn’t made for that analog stick – needs way more sensitivity in its directional changes, which is another setting that Taito Legends got right, and actually made all the difference on stuff like Operation Wolf. Not the ideal way to play it then, but what I can report is that this works fine a bit stretched out because of the big character stats screen on the right, which leaves the gameplay area not that far off what it should be. And the colours in some of the levels really pop here too!
Joust. Ah, beautiful Joust. What an incredibly simple mechanic that hides such strategy… Although I’ll come clean and say it’s another case of me preferring another take on it, Balloon Fight on NES, over either this or its sequel. But that’s like saying I’d rather eat a whole packet of chocolate Hob Nobs over a Terry’s Chocolate Orange – in reality there’s no loser! It’s 1982, and we’re on a flying ostrich in a lava-filled arena with a load of vultures, trolls and a pterodactyl on the way to get you, but first you’ve got your work cut out with taking down the knights of the armies of evil by landing on top of them! As long as you’re slightly higher than they are, your attack wins, they become an egg, and you collect it for points until they’re all gone and things get hairier on the next level. And it’s all genius, not least the flap and glide mechanic! Plays very nicely with the d-pad here too, and my only real criticism is the washed-out look of the stretched-out graphics again.
Joust 2. Being hauled into widescreen is about the best thing that could have happened to this strangely vertically-orientated 1986 sequel, but apart from that, it’s a far more complex, better looking and better sounding spin on the original, with themed level designs, a powered up ostrich and more monsters – including the fantastic Mutant Buzzards that hatch when an egg drops into the lava! Everything we just said about Joust applies here too; just a shame that by 1986 the arcades held much shinier distractions than just more of Joust.
Klax. This 1990 falling-block (kind of) puzzler came to Midway when they bought Atari Games a few years later; which is probably the case with other stuff here too, but I only thought about it when I got to this! Anyway, they were after an arcade sequel to Tetris, and this emerged out of AmigaBASIC, and as well as the arcade version (and excluding compilations like this one) I’m counting at least 23 home ports, which must be about the most of any game ever – even ended up being the Atari 2600’s last hoorah all the way into 1992! Actually, I know Klax best from one of those, on the Atari ST, where it’s even better than arcade-perfect because my colourblind eyes can actually distinguish between the yellow and green tiles on there! Those tiles are coming at you down a conveyor belt, and you have to flip them into the matching rows or columns or patterns specified for that level below your paddle to make them disappear before they reach the top. You can stack them to build up more complex patterns, and there’s risk-reward in doing this, but mostly it’s a joyfully frantic rush to survive for as long as you can! Colour confusion aside, everything is fine in this version and what I really enjoyed was how solid the tiles feel as you catch and drop them. Really excellent.
Marble Madness. Our tiny minds were blown by new arcade machines on a very regular basis back in the mid-eighties, but I can’t remember many more distinctive reasons for that than the stunning Escher-inspired isometric 3D minimalism of Marble Madness’ level designs, right at the end of 1984. The gameplay is equally minimal, with you controlling a marble down six themed courses filled with obstacles, hazards and enemies in a race against the clock. At this point I’d normally say there’s nothing wrong with that either, but within six weeks of a record-breaking launch, revenue dropped off a cliff because everyone had seen it all. I reckon there’s more than enough challenge in the six levels to get your money’s worth here though, and apart from using the original trackball, there’s no better way to play than with the PS2 analog stick. Beautiful soundtrack and incredible attention to detail for the time too, from the creativity of the enemy movement to the wonderful glass shattering animation when you fall too far, to then be cleaned away with a dustpan and brush. Genuinely timeless.
Paperboy. Just like 720°, this one featured on an otherwise terrible (apart from the delectable Debbie Greenwood) kids’ TV quiz show called First Class. Together with Hyper Sports, it was an unorthodox place to discover such an all-time favourite, much like the unorthodox presentation we’re presented with here… As mentioned before, this is the point where even this resolution, frame rate and aspect ratio denier noticed something wasn’t quite right here! While I’ll give it a pass elsewhere, this just doesn’t look right to the point of being distracting, and not being able to change back to original sizing is such an oversight. To its credit though, the PS2 controller is a fine replacement for the original actual handlebars on the 1985 arcade machine and I guess getting used to the weirdness is an acceptable price to pay for having the original here. Such a great premise too – you control your paperboy on his bike, throwing newspapers to your subscribers, wreaking havoc on non-subscribers and avoiding the neighbourhood crazies. Get to the end of the street and there’s a bonus obstacle course, then you do it all again for the rest of the week, with even more crazies but hopefully not fewer subscribers. I don’t think there’s ever been a game that I’ve played so much but remained so bad at, but I love it all the same; just such a shame it’s so few pixels away from greatness here.
Rampage. Like Klax, the excellent Atari ST conversion is more familiar to me than the 1986 arcade original of Rampage, which I think I first encountered on a Game Boy Advance double-pack, together with Paperboy! Another very special multiplayer experience to me though, with you controlling one of three giant monsters, from a choice of George the Ape, Lizzie the Lizard and Ralph the Wolf, and once you’re set, all you have to do is destroy everything in sight! Each screen starts with a bunch of buildings, which you need to climb up the sides of, smashing holes into them as you go until you’ve taken out enough that the building collapses. Get rid of them all and you move on to the next location, and that will have even more helicopters, tanks, snipers and the like trying to deplete you of your energy, which you can also top-up by eating them and any other goodies you come across. Just be careful not to eat something that disagrees with you though, especially explosives, no matter how delightful the visual outcome! Great concept, great attention to detail, and it really comes alive with three players knocking hell out of everything and each other as they compete for points. This version supports that via multitap too, but almost as much as Paperboy, the screen stretching is a distraction here and in general it looks very washed-out in comparison to the original, MAME, GBA…
Rampart. I’ve never liked this game! I don’t want turn-based at the best of times, and definitely not when I’m playing medieval Missile Command! Your little castle has to survive a relentless onslaught from enemy ships off the coast. After each round, you’re given pieces of castle wall to fix your ramparts and generally surround your little fortress, and once you’ve done that you’re given some cannons to place and then you can shoot back for a bit using a crappy cursor, and they’ll shoot at you, and the turn ends and you repeat until you’re dead. Or bored. It’s neither one thing (strategy) or the other (shooter), and you didn’t need to play crap like this in 1985, let alone in 1990 when it actually appeared. As you can tell, I don’t care how it looks or plays on PS2 either, so let’s move on!
RoadBlasters. I do care a lot more about this futuristic combat-racer from 1987, where you “battle evil opponents from behind the wheel of your armoured car with unique special weapons.” Which are mostly a missile and a fancier cannon, but there’s nitro and shields to pick up too, as well as the more precious fuel, which is as likely to be your downfall as any enemies, mines or roadside machine gun turrets. RoadBlasters should be so much fun, and don’t worry, we can skip the screen thing this time because it ends up looking pretty cool, but these controls… As we’ll find out shortly, I’m all for a bit of twin-stick action, but not when I’m driving! We’ve got direction on the left analog stick and gas on the right, and it just feels odd and I really don’t like it. I learnt to live with it though, and unlike some upcoming titles, the game actually plays just fine once you have, but who thought this was a good idea when there’s more than enough buttons scattered about the place to do it properly? By the way, as we’ll be coming back to this again (and again!), while you can edit the controls, there’s limits, and where they’re analog, they stay analog – you can usually just switch between relative and absolute, whatever that means!
Robotron 2084. There’s a time and a place for twin-stick controls, and that time is 2084 and that place is, er, Robotron? Not exactly… Humanity has been wiped out by the Robotrons, and your mission is to defend the last human family on the planet against their endless attacks and rescue any survivors wandering about the place. Even back in 1982, I don’t think it was the first arcade game to have two joysticks, but it was certainly the one that made them stick, and that transfers perfectly to our two analog sticks here, which, of course, wasn’t the case on the mass of home conversions we got back in the eighties! It really feels amazing now though, and combined with the timeless simplicity of shooting stuff in all directions as you glide around the increasing density of dangerous stuff, it’s such a wonderful experience… Apart the graphics, which, unlike its “sequel” that we looked at earlier, are so tiny that they suffer from more significant washout than some of the other games here, but it’s really not the end of the world and you’ll have a great time regardless.
Root Beer Tapper. This is rapidly turning into arcade’s greatest hits for me now! I remember this as plain old Tapper, and it was one of my favourite ZX Spectrum arcade conversions, but far more recently I did spend quite a bit of time on the original, which is possibly why I’m going to level an all-new criticism at this version… There’s a small but noticeable lag on the directional controls, and while you can eventually learn to compensate for it a bit, when things get frantic it’s a real dampener. Back to the plot, this one is interesting because in 1983 it was originally made to go into bars rather than arcades, with Budweiser theming in the game and also on the machine – the controls were actual Budweiser beer taps! All of that sinful stuff was erased when it was eventually adapted for arcades though, and that’s where “Root Beer” got added to the name. In the game, you’re a lone barman who has to slide cold ones from the taps at the side down the rows of bars to the cowboys, punks, athletes and even aliens frequenting your joint, catching any empties coming back the other way and collecting tips, which triggers a can-can dance routine and buys you a few seconds respite as everyone turns to watch. Just make sure you only serve one drink to each customer though, or any extras will smash and that’s a life lost, which is also the case for empties hitting the floor or customers reaching the end of the bar. Serve everyone and it’s the next level, which will eventually lead to a can-shuffling bonus round and a whole new bar to serve. I think I wrote that without taking a breath! The controls aren’t quite a showstopper, but I’d rather play this one elsewhere, even if the forced elongation makes the bars feel a bit longer!
Satan’s Hollow. I know an interesting fact about this 1982 single-screen shooter – the arcade cabinet had the same flight-style joystick with a trigger on the end as Tron! Okay, not that interesting, but there is more to it than just being the Galaga rip-off it might initially seem like… “Defeat the menacing gargoyles who swarm down in formation and attack. Battle the egg droppers who release flaming eggs of fire and bombers who seek to destroy unfinished bridge. Avoid the deadly flaming breath of Satan’s head, who grows larger each passing second.” What that nonsense doesn’t really explain is that shooting gargoyles will cause bridge pieces to drop, and once you’ve finished it, you can cross into the valley to battle Satan himself. The attract mode actually alludes to multiple Satans though, from Lucifer to Beelzebub to, er, Big Satan or something! Doesn’t matter. None of it matters! It’s a fun shooter with a twist that looks like a Commodore 64 game, which might be why that’s the only place that ever got a home conversion. Guess what though! The aspect ratio is correct! Hallelujah! Or hail Satan, maybe! I’ve got a huge soft spot for this game, and for once here there’s no place I’d rather be playing it.
Sinistar. Of all the games here, this multidirectional space shoot ‘em up from 1983 is probably the one I could do without the most so far. Just never clicked. Imagine Asteroids, but you’re shooting at the space rocks to mine crystals; not too much, mind, or they’ll just disintegrate into nothing. Like Asteroids. Anyway, each crystal is used to build the Sinibomb, and when you’ve got enough of them it will automatically target the evil force known as Sinistar – a big spaceship with a face that’s being built by enemy workers while you’re busy collecting crystals. Eventually it will go down and you’re warped off to do it all over again somewhere else. There’s some wonderful digitised speech when Sinistar appears… “I am Sinistar! Beware I live!” But I’m just not into the rest of it. It also suffers with that twitchiness on the analog stick and lack of finesse on the d-pad we saw earlier with Gauntlet too. Not for me, this one, even if we are experiencing the miracle of original aspect ratio for the second game on the bounce!
Smash T.V. This one was developed in 1990, and is much more of a sequel to 2084 than Blaster ever was! It’s set in a violent television game show in the far-flung future of 1999, with waves of mutants and other assorted maniacs being unleashed into a series of single-screen arenas that you need to survive to progress to a level boss, then eventually the show’s host himself in a final showdown. There’s loads of weapons and power-ups to collect on the way, as well as secrets and bonus levels and lots of very buxom, very eighties ladies in bikinis to enjoy if that’s still your thing in this enlightened age! We’re back to widescreen again, but it’s not offensive, and the presentation overall remains outstanding. It plays like a dream on those analog sticks too!
Splat! I’ve changed my mind. When I said I could do without Sinistar the most, I’d forgotten that this was on the way! This one’s by the guy that did Joust back in 1982, and was apparently inspired by the insane food fight scene in National Lampoon’s Animal House. Food fight!! You’ve got food dropping down from a conveyor belt at the top of the screen, which you need to catch in either hand and then chuck at your opponent. If you get hit your head falls off, and you need to get it back before you can throw anything else. There’s keys and doors and occasional pie-hitmen, but the instructions are a ridiculous, long, badly written poem and I really can’t be bothered working out the rest because what’s the point? The controls, which are very similar to Smash T.V.’s, feel a bit clunky, and the graphics deserve a good pulling, and I’m done talking about it!
SpyHunter. Right, now I’m in a suitably bad mood to talk about this one from 1983! In theory, this top-down, vertically scrolling James Bond-inspired car chase is right near the top of my favourites on this here compilation, but there’s a “but” coming. And not just one of them! Firstly though, you’re a spy who was originally planned to be James Bond but that didn’t work out, and you’re driving your armoured sports car through various environments either shooting or bashing tooled-up enemy vehicles while protecting innocent motorists out minding their own business. There’s weapons lorries that occasionally turn up and drop a ramp down so you can drive in without stopping, and I genuinely think is one of the coolest things in any game ever, and they’ll provide missiles, smoke-screens and the like. Sometimes you’ll need to switch to a speedboat too, and take the chase to the waterways! Now, I’ve played the original arcade machine with the fancy steering wheel setup, but not as much as both the C64 and ZX Spectrum ports that managed all of the above on a single-buttoned joystick. Forward to accelerate, back to brake, fire to shoot and so on. The PS2 version has other ideas though… Gas on the right analog stick. Nothing else, just up on it to go faster. So what happens when you need to change gear on one of the buttons on the right? Well, you let go of accelerate and slow down as a result while you’re doing it. What’s a bit of unplanned deceleration while you’re surrounded by a load of bladed wheels though? And then there’s the fire and smoke-screen buttons all the way up on the shoulder buttons… A literal stretch to use those! And speaking of stretching… None of this is the way I want anyone to see this masterpiece. I’m out!
Super Sprint. Behind the curtain, I made a few notes on each of these games as I was playing. For SpyHunter, you pretty much just got a word-for-word transcript, but in the case of Super Sprint, my notes simply say “All as above. Stinks here!” For context, outside of SSX 3, assuming that counts, this is my favourite racing game of all time… Assuming that also counts! If not then Out Run, and if not that for any reason – like it’s not a race – then Virtua Racing, and no quibbles there! Whatever, this is sacred ground, and overall it currently sits at number thirteen in my big list of favourite games ever. Outside of Kick Off on Atari ST, I don’t think I’ve ever played a multiplayer game more than this one either – some of it arcade, a lot on ZX Spectrum, but mostly three player on ST too – youngest plays on keyboard! It’s top-down, single screen racing across eight perfectly designed tracks from 1986. There’s oil slicks and tornadoes, shortcuts and gates and Dukes of Hazzard-style jumps, as well as spanners to fight over so you can upgrade your traction, acceleration or top speed. It’s supposed to be perfect… Which the ST pretty much managed and the Spectrum wasn’t far off doing either, but not the PS2! Analog sticks have no place here, especially for the gas pedal. Again!
Toobin’. I know we’re going long here, but just two games to go, and for this one just replace the words “Super Sprint” with “Toobin’” above and you could save a whole bunch of time! That said, this one does take the controls to a whole new level of convoluted, although as we’ll see, they could be worse… In its defence, the original arcade game from 1988 could have played simpler, but where that was fairly quick to pick up and enjoy even while you mastered it (and that goes double for the wonderful Atari ST port), this is horrendous! It did make me laugh that the instruction manual mentioned throwing stuff in the direction your feet are pointing by pressing X, but not a hint of any of the rest… To quickly set the scene, you’re in a rubber ring racing either a computer or human opponent down three classes of five rivers, going through gates, collecting bonuses and avoiding obstacles. Great concept and great fun to play, as long as you’re not playing here! Here goes… Left analog stick controls your left hand for paddling, while right is your right. We know from the instructions that X is throw, but you’ve also got left forward and left reverse on the left two shoulder buttons, and right on the right again. And no combination of any of those makes for anything like ideal. There’s way too much going on for only two hands, but in terms of presentation it’s the best-looking thing on here, and the aspect ratio is all good, and I’m not leaving another all-time favourite on a downer!
Vindicators. Let’s leave something I don’t especially care for on a downer instead! You’re in a sci-fi tank making your way through fourteen evil space stations, shooting stuff and collecting fuel and power-ups until you get to the control room, which you loot and destroy before moving to the next. I was always annoyed when I had to get in a tank in Ikari Warriors, and I definitely don’t want to make a career of it in this 1988 twin-stick drive and gun game, but I will say it’s another real looker, something like Speedball meets Zaxxon! Positives over, check out these tank controls, which make Toobin’ feel like Robotron in comparison! Left analog stick is left tread and right is right. There’s movement on the d-pad. Moving upward to the shoulder buttons, you’ve got left tread forward and left tread reverse, and the opposite over on the right ones. Then onto symbol buttons, triangle is turn turret right and square is turn turret left, while circle is special weapon and cross is fire. And for me at least, all of that combined make not only the most basic of movements almost impossible, but when I had somehow made the smallest of progress, to try and repeat them was totally impossible. And just to clarify, I’m talking about moving backwards and forwards, left and right. Nothing fancy, although don’t forget we are also in the middle of a battle to save the galaxy while we’re learning to walk here! I’m fine with tank controls, especially when they’re on an actual tank, but how hard can this be?
Not the climax I was hoping for, but what a mixed bag this was! There’s no denying that the whole aspect ratio thing that unexpectedly became the dominant discussion point throughout this little journey is weird. I’d love for someone to tell me I’ve got it wrong, and you need to go into options and press this and that, but even if that’s the case, there’s something not right when I haven’t been able to find it for myself since 2004! And then there’s the controls… Now, before we started here I remembered Super Sprint and Toobin’ not being ideal in this compilation, but looking at everything back-to-back, at least a quarter of the games here have similar problems to a greater or lesser extent. And coming back to our original compilation success tick boxes, while you can’t question the selection of games, you do then start to question the value when you don’t want to play so many of them. In the end, what works is great, but there’s just too much that doesn’t. And for such basic reasons too! Hopefully when we get to the sequels things will have changed… What I can tell you is they definitely changed by the time Midway Arcade Origins came along for PS3 and Xbox 360, and if you want the best place to play Toobin’ then you want to give that beautifully presented, elegantly controlling sackful of fun a shot instead!