Every now and again you might hear me banging the drum for the games of my youth. Not hopscotch or skipping on some Victorian Street, no, I’m talking about classic, timeless arcade games. The type of games you used to badger your parents for change to play while you were on holiday. If, like me, you managed to cram your pockets to the brim with 10p coins then Midway Arcade Origins should, on paper at the very least, be right up your alley.
At least, that’s what you’d think. It’s funny how perceived impressions can build up expectations. When the Arcade Origins game list was announced, I was a little disappointed. If you had the first two Arcade Treasures compilations, then this is fundamentally a re-hash of the pick of those titles, with some chaff included as filler. So, what’s different?
If I’m brutally honest, not a lot. The games themselves are fairly standard ports of arcade classic titles. Games such as Defender, Smash TV, Rampage and Toobin’ shouldn’t need any introduction to anyone who has played any arcade game from the 80s and 90s. These are joined by some not so great titles, such as A.P.B, Spy Hunter and the awful Wizard of Wor. Now, obviously, all of these games were originally housed in a bookcase-sized cabinet with a plethora of different control types, from steering wheels to trackballs. Playing Marble Madness without the trackball is infuriating for example. You can port any game to another platform as much as you like, but if there are outside factors that make the game and enhance its playability and they are then not carried into the port, you may as well not have bothered. This is the case with Arcade Origins, and it was the case with Arcade Treasures. A.P.B, Super Off Road, Championship Sprint are all massively frustrating without the steering wheel and pedal controls. Vindicators doesn’t feel the same without the double vertical joystick.
The aesthetic feel of some of the games, such as Defender, Defender 2 and Gauntlet could be improved with the addition of an arcade-style joystick but in my view, you’d need to be a serious arcade gamer without the room for 30 virtual cash-collectors in your house to go out and buy one, just with this in mind. The compilation boasts HD visuals, which it has. The opening menus are in glorious HD, with the cabinet shots for the game chooser being rendered beautifully. One thing you will notice, however, is that to fit in all the new achievements and the sparkly HD graphics, the history of each arcade cabinet which was available in the previous versions has been sacrificed. Essentially what you’re getting is the origins of the Arcade machines without the actual details of their origins. This is a big miss in my opinion.
Yes, the game graphics and sounds are faithfully recreated and yes, playing Defender again is immensely satisfying yet incredibly frustrating in equal measure. I will say, by way of a tip, take notice of the screen before selecting each game. This screen contains the control setup for each game. It took me a minute and a couple of lives to recall the shooting option for Smash TV, for example, and I missed the “siren” option in A.P.B and the least said about the “bomb” in Defender the better. While it all looks and sounds familiar, the gameplay and the general feel lets this down in a bad way. Don’t misunderstand me, it doesn’t feel rushed; it simply doesn’t recreate the feeling of spinning that 10p into the machine and hammering the spongy-feeling buttons until your fingers blister. You’ll also notice that in this age of widescreen TV format, the decision was taken to faithfully recreate the game in 4:3 with huge colourful borders down either side. Again, this isn’t meant to be levelled as a criticism, the borders are very well drawn and coloured with more of that HD goodness, but somehow, it just doesn’t feel right and I found myself drawn, siren-like, to their detail instead of concentrating on the game. The good news is that you can toggle these borders on and off and enhance the graphic feel to this, but then I find this takes away from the original feel of the game. This coupled with the abhorrent controls meant I stuck with the original feel.
Each game has two modes, a blast on the arcade mode will, or should, give you all the fun of the original cabinet, without any specialised control equipment. The new mode for each game is Score Attack. This is where the new achievement lists come into play. They’re also the place where the online leaderboards live. Short of tweaking the number of lives and replays you get, there isn’t really much else to comment on within each title’s options. This in itself feels a lot like cheating, and the lack of continues, which weren’t in the original games, makes for a frustrating time of battling the controls and working your way through the same sections until you grow tired of the whole thing and move quickly on to the next game you’ll cherry-pick to play.
To sum it all up, I’m somewhat disappointed by the Midway Arcade Origins. It could have been so much more than it has turned out to be. You’d almost expect one or two stinkers from 30 titles on one disc, but when it becomes one or two shining lights from a disc of stinkers then it becomes a different matter. There are some gems though, Rampage is as mental as it always was, and will support up to 3 players, whereas some games support 2 or up to 4 players simultaneously. Some games, such as the frustrating Spy Hunter, will allow you to play split-screen, while for others the action for all players is in the same arena. Ultimately this is spoilt by the unfriendly, downright awkward controls for games that were never written originally for console joypad use.
Take away the bad and you’re left with a handful of games that are, when compared to the arcade games titles of today, neither graphically inspiring nor lavished with playability, which is a terrible shame as even for the historic value, they deserved so much more. Smash TV, Rampage and Defender are the stand out games for me here, and even with the sparkly bolt-ons such as multiplayer, leaderboards and achievements for the others, they just don’t cut it. I really want to like this, I really want it to be as good as I remember from the arcade adventures of my youth and it’s not that the games are bad, because they aren’t but the poor control execution is its downfall and if this is your only experience of some of the arcade world’s most cherished titles then I wouldn’t blame you for not setting foot into an arcade again.