Title: Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 04/18/2019
Being a compilation of old arcade titles, the presentation is a key aspect that needs to be replicated in just the right ways, and I’m happy to say that Hamster and Konami did fantastic work with the presentation. All eight games are part of a quick and snappy menu that allows you to scroll through them in chronological order, and loading is super quick.
Each of the games look super crisp as well, and with emulation being handled by the Arcade Archives developers, they run just as perfectly as they did in those versions. There are a few different display options to choose from, with some scanlines and game size options available, but unfortunately there’s no vertical mode support for the three vertical games in the compilation. (Twinbee, Scramble and Typhoon) This kinda makes sense since this compilation was released on more than just Switch, and the Switch is the only system where a vertical option would be practical, but it also doesn’t since Hamster’s individual Arcade Archives releases for these titles all supported vertical modes, which just makes the lack of it in this compilation a lot more frustration.
At the very least, these game still looks crisp horizontally, they just don’t take up as much of the screen as a vertical option would allow. Each game also has a handy manual that you can bring up by pressing the right stick button, which details the main mechanics of each game in a helpful manner. There’s even a cool eBook with design documents and such for the eight titles, but zooming in makes it pretty compressed, leading to the whole eBook feeling like a medium quality group of scans despite having some super cool information. It’s a bit of a shame that it wasn’t a higher quality eBook that was easier to see zoomed in.
The audio quality is all good news as well. Being ACA ports, they benefit from high quality emulation just like the visuals and the gameplay, so everything sounds like it’s supposed to with no wonky glitches. In fact, some of these games have elements notoriously difficult to emulate on MAME, and they’re all perfectly fine here. For instance, Life Force’s voice clips and sound effects are butchered beyond belief on MAME due to incompatibilities with a sound chip that still hasn’t been fixed, (this is most notable when defeating the final boss, as his death scream will just drag on for several seconds while he’s supposed to let out a quick, simple “WAH!”) but in the ACA version everything sound arcade perfect and that includes the voices.
Considering how practically every game in this compilation save for Scramble contain excellent tracks known throughout gaming history, it’s a relief that love and care was taken to not make the emulation a garbled rushed mess like it could have easily been, and outside of the annoying lack of vertical mode, the emulation here is stellar. The only oddity soundwise comes from the little jingle that plays in the game select menu for each game. For some reason, the music samples here sound a bit lower quality than the actual ones in-game, but it’s not too noticeable unless you use headphones.
Since there are eight games in this compilation, I’ll cover each of them one by one while also going over the general emulation and enjoyability.
Scramble: Based on the original Japanese Arcade version, this score chaser is a simplistic romp through several stages to make it to the end of an enemy base. There’s really nothing else to say here, since you just move, shoot and drop missiles while also working to refill your fuel tank when needed. Being a vertical game, I really do feel the lack of a vertical mode hurts for this game since it would make it look so much crisper! (and it already looks great)
Twinbee: Based on the original Japanese Arcade version, this is another score chaser where you and a friend can take control of Twinbee and Winbee to shoot down enemies and get a high score. There’s no ending to be found here, so the only real point of this game is to get the highest score. It’s still a lot of fun though, especially in co-op, and the bell system allows for some strategy since you can upgrade the bells that pop out of clouds by shooting them in order to gain an upgrade.
Nemesis: Based on the US Arcade version, this is the original Gradius with some tweaks, for better and worse. The game’s still the same amazing scorechaser as it’s always been, but the US version included here added a pretty annoying difficulty scaler where the more powerups you gain, the more enemies will fire at you, which can make places like Stage 3 and especially the final stage living hell to complete compared to the original Japanese version. On the bright side, you can continue a few times, and this game is still a ton of fun even if I wish the European or Japanese version was included instead. Yes, this collection really does exclude any other versions of the game, and you have to import the Japanese version if you want to play the Japanese original, which is a bad idea considering how compilations like SNK 40th allow for region switching..
Life Force: Based on the US Arcade version, this is just Salamander with a stupider story and poorly reskinned stages to fit said story. That means the difficulty hasn’t been affected and the same’s still just as challenging as ever, although the lack of earning extra lives may turn off some. You also can’t continue if you play this in solo, but if you’re with a friend you can continue until the final stage. Alternating between vertical and horizontal shooting, this is still a fantastic Gradius spinoff, although I wish that the Japanese version of Life Force (Which actually reskinned the game better) was included in either the US or Japanese compilation since it had balancing improvements. Still a great classic, though!
Typhoon: Based on the US Arcade version, this is just A-JAX with another name. It’s a vertical shooter that alternates between stages that feel like the After Burner series to your standard vertical shooter that seems to use some of the same HUD elements that would later be added to Super Contra. The After Burner segments are fine, but the normal shooting bits are kinda crowded, and the lack of a vertical display mode hurts this game the most, since the zoomed in display would help with the visibility a lot more. My personal least favorite of this collection, though Typhoon is still a solid title nevertheless.
Haunted Castle: Based on the US Arcade version, this is the Arcade adaptation of Castlevania. (not Vs. Castlevania) Notorious for being more difficult than the other versions, and just an unfun game in general, I actually found myself liking this one a lot. Whatever you do though, you really should turn the difficulty down to the lowest settings for any semblance of fairness, since the hardest difficulty will just result in you dying in one to two hits from enemy contact.
Haunted Castle is still pretty brutal, as while the six stages are super short with easy bosses, you only have one life. While you can extend your health bar with some credits and you do get infinite continues here, the game can still be pretty cheap even on the lowest setting, and it takes a bunch of trial and error to complete. I still found it to be enjoyable enough, however, and was thankful that they didn’t use the version with only three continues.
Vulcan Venture: Based on the European Arcade version, this is Gradius II with a continue feature. A superb sequel to Gradius, the game manages to be a lot of fun for score chasing fans and for fans of the Gradius series in general, with some pretty epic music to accompany it. The ability to choose between multiple loadouts to shake up the experience is an interesting one, and the game is thankfully not as bullet hell heavy as the US Nemesis (but still very tough!) Since there’s little else in terms of differences here besides continuing, we actually got the better version of Gradius II in this case.
Thunder Cross: And here’s the game where the lack of a regional switch really hurts the experience. Thunder Cross has a lot to like about it, from excellent visuals, excellent music, tight controls, co-op and good level design, but the weakest part of the US version is the gameplay. To be blunt, US Thunder Cross is really boring, with you only getting *one* weapon during the entire game, a vulcan missile that can destroy enemies, along with some options akin to what was found in Gradius. Co-Op is more interesting, but the lack of powerups makes this pretty boring, along with how easy this game is.
This is because the US version not only changed the stage order around, but also removed literally every other powerup besides the Vulcan while also giving you a screen-clear bomb to use in a pinch. The options you can pick up were also nerfed since you can no longer control them in any way, which makes this feel more generic than the original version, making this particular version a bit of a disappointment, along with the inability to select regions to play the better Japanese version. Still a solid game but the worst representation of it.
In conclusion, Arcade Classics is a really fun package with a ton of addictive score chasers with only one of them being as fun to play (Haunted Castle) unless you’re a really dedicated player. The overabundance of shooters may seem a bit off at first, since Konami had other fun games that weren’t shooters, (Roc N Rope, Track N Field and Shaolin’s Road to name a few favorites) but all of these shooter picks are quality choices.
The only main frustrations come from the lack of vertical modes for the three vertical titles, and the stupid choice to region lock the Japanese versions behind the Japanese application… Despite the fact that the standard ACA releases allow you to choose any version you desire. For some games like Nemesis and Thunder Cross, this can lead to a completely screwed up difficulty balance, while games such as Scramble, Vulcan Venture, Twinbee and Typhoon are totally fine.
Excluding regional variants when other compilations typically include them is such a stupid idea that I honestly don’t get what benefit Konami sees in region locking the other versions of these games, and for fans who may prefer the Japanese version of a game (especially in the case of Thunder Cross) they have no choice but to spend $30 on the Japanese eShop. Still, with absolutely stellar emulation and a lot of fun score chasing to be had, this compilation is still easily worth the $20 if you’re a fan of Konami’s shooting classics.
This compilation could have been so, so much worse and suffered from the same issues Johnny Turbo Arcade titles do, but it could have also been just a bit better and been the definitive versions of these eight titles. Here’s hoping the Contra and Castlevania collections reach those heights, and we get a volume 2 for Arcade titles! (Salamander 2, Gradius III and Shaolin’s Road please?)
I give Arcade Classics Anniversary Edition an 8 out of 10.