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Midway Arcade Origins

Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Classic/Retro/ Arcade/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

"Arcade perfect" is a term we’ve understood since the earliest days of home console growth, which sadly coincides with the decline of free-standing arcades at every mall and large restaurant. The games we loved playing for a quarter became games we increasingly saw bundled, or (a sure sign of past glory) offered as part of some "greatest hits" collection. At first, it was all about how authentically these games were ported over to home consoles, and once it was clear that was easy, it became about how many games could be included in one collection. Older gamers will recall one approach these collections used, which was to appeal to the arcade fan concerned with all the special modes and dip switches known to change the look and feel of the game. Multiple versions of individual games were also all the rage.

Midway Arcade Origins takes more of a purist approach on Xbox 360, giving gamers a chance to experience a huge number of classic games, but not trying to gild the lily, as it were. When you have 31 playable games in one bundle, games we used to line quarters up to play, it’s not like you have to do tons of fan service. In this collection, one finds a wide range of sophistication, from the austere presentation of Robotron 2084 to the comparatively ornate Arch Rivals or Toobin’. In all cases, these games are faithfully reproduced, right down to the quirky elements that we came to recognize from all those years behind the joystick.


Gameplay:

As it seems obvious now that arcades gave way to consoles, it’s possible that we’ll look back on this period of time and see that consoles gave way to mobile. Right now, it seems like an additive environment, with the gaming audience getting bigger as a result of mobile. Once mobile is saturated, we can talk about audience share for gaming. We love gaming on phones and tablets as much as anybody, so you can bet we’ve picked up a few of these classic arcade compilations. Heck, we’ve even reviewed a few of them here... The biggest difference between buying Midway Arcade Origins for Xbox and picking up their collection for iPad is that you get so much more out of the box on console. You pay more, also, so it kind of makes sense. But for fans of the classic games produced by Midway during the ‘80s and ‘90s, Midway Arcade Origins feels like a grand slam.

Options for solo play or local multiplayer are available, plus you have integration with Xbox Live for achievements and leaderboards. Leaderboards in particular are a big deal; now’s the time to show off your high score in Joust and impress your friends who read "Ready Player One." Hint: If your friends are gamers and haven’t read "Ready Player One," buy them a copy or loan them yours, so they can forever revere you as a god. There’s tremendous cool factor in earning achievements for arcade games that predated the whole achievement system by many decades. Most of the achievements are obvious ones, tied to high scores or defeating big enemies. Others are offered simply for staying alive, such as the one awarded for cruising through Spy Hunter 2 for 15 minutes, or the one for surviving the first level in Xenophobe. Not terribly original, but at least they have funny names, like the "Tap That Glass" achievement (ahem) for serving proficiency in Root Beer Tapper.


Difficulty:

Considering the first level of Xenophobe only lasts a few minutes, you know this is the part where we preach about how these games are hard. Hard with a capital H! "H" as in you’ll feel like you’re in replay HELL during almost every one. It’s only frustrating because we’ve become accustomed to gradual slopes for difficulty slopes with modern games. If today’s blockbuster game is like the Green Mountains with rolling, gentle hills, Midway Arcade Origins is like the Himalayas. Sheer cliffs and totally unforgiving. Part of this can be explained by the playing style. When you pay a quarter and get five minutes of gameplay, you’re not that disappointed. If you pay $60 and get less than an hour of gameplay, you’re going to incite a riot.

The capabilities of the old hardware also explains the difference. In most cases, the hardware these games ran on was a glorified calculator, by today’s standards. The fact that it could cycle through umpteen levels of any variety was a technological marvel, so those levels needed to count. Think of it as highly distilled gameplay, like strong moonshine compared to light beer. Yes, most modern console titles are light beer from a gameplay standpoint, certainly from the perspective of difficulty. It’s not easy to pack this much action into five minutes, but you’ll need to really hone your skills in order to enjoy those five minutes!


Game Mechanics:

Notice that we haven’t so far bemoaned the demise of arcades? Honestly, they were pretty gritty places. Increasingly, "gritty" turned into seedy, and you saw more creepy dudes with mustaches standing around smoking, than school kids blowing quarters pilfered from Mom and Dad. The arcade of the ‘90s wasn’t nearly as wholesome as the decade before, plus it was being consumed by games that cost a dollar and involved riding some big plastic motorcycle or grappling with some other big prop designed to make you feel like you really got your return on investment. All that said, we really do prefer the feel of an arcade joystick and those funky arcade buttons, to our Xbox 360 controller. There’s a reason that most of us who had early home computers invested in arcade joysticks. The feel of a game like Joust or Gauntlet just isn’t the same with a modern controller, something no amount of fiddling with sensitivity or button mapping can change.

As you might imagine, given the choice between playing and not playing, we love Midway Arcade Origins even considering all that’s been lost in translation. This collection is certainly the best from Midway that we’ve played on any console, and one of the better compilations of classic arcade titles on Xbox 360, period. At the point where it comes available on demand, you’ll have an even more compelling case to make. For fans of these 31 classic titles, including parents who want to show off the games they were playing as kids for their little ones, this collection has a lot going for it.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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