Retro compilations are a funny thing. You’re either already going to love what’s on the cartridge or have disdain for them. If you’re in the latter category move along because there is nothing in Konami Arcade Collection that’s going to change your mind. The fifteen arcade “classics” are emulated versions of the original arcade games with few enhancements for the Nintendo DS. The only things “new” are wireless play and the ability to give yourself as many credits as you want with the select button.
The most important thing to get out of the way is what games are in the collection. You’ve can select the following from the rotating touch screen jukebox:
Track & Field
Yie Ar Kung-Fu
Rush ‘n Attack
Out of the collection I started to play what I thought were my favorites. I remembered that I enjoyed Track & Field when at the arcades when I was young, but after playing it again my fond memories are tainted. In Track & Field you compete in six events that range from the 100m dash to the high jump at the end, but the events are one simple test how fast you can mash the A button. In the 100m dash the faster you hit the A button the faster you run. In the long jump there is a little twist, you have to hit the A button rapidly to build up speed and then press the B button to make your character jump before he passes the white line. The hurdles increases the difficulty a little more where you’re running by hitting the A button and you have to time B button presses to jump over hurdles. See how this is the same thing over and over again?
So Track & Field wasn’t that great, but Nemesis (aka Gradius) is still awesome. You’re also getting Gradius’ older brother Scramble, that never really found a place in history. There’s a reason for this because Scramble unlike Gradius isn’t as refined. Apparently background music wasn’t invented yet and you’re flying a spaceship where you have to shoot down fuel tanks in order to keep flying. You don’t have the intensity of boss battles or the pride of creating invincible fleet of options in Scramble. It’s simple, maybe even too simple, which is why it hasn’t aged as well as Gradius. I digress though and I don’t want to take anything away from Gradius which is one of the highlights in Konami Arcade Collection. You’ve got the arcade version of the game jammed on the DS cart along with another classic shooter Twinbee. Twinbee never earned worldwide fame even though it’s another precursor to Gradius because it wasn’t released outside of Japan. Chalk it up to the “cutsey” style or that it looked too much like Fantasy Zone as the reason why Konami glossed it over. In Twinbee you shoot enemies with one button and press the other to launch bombs. When you shoot clouds a bell pop up and you can shoot the bell to change what power up you receive. Since Twinbee is a vertical shooter the game is scaled down into “full screen mode”, but if you want to play it like the vertical arcade game it was you have options. You can select lateral aspect ratio from the maniac option menu that centers the puts borders around the lateral game window. Another option is to hold the DS like a book and make use whole top screen for a full vertical Twinbee window. The problem with this option is there is no comfortable way to play the game since the control pad and buttons are still in the same place.
Contra, another vertically scrolling game, has the same control issue, but if you opt for the lateral aspect ratio the bullets that you have to dodge are nearly invisible. Even if you play in full screen mode the blinking dots are small, eye straining small, which takes the enjoyment out of playing classic Contra. Also remember this is the arcade version of Contra, with the tunnels and all, not the NES version. Road Fighter is a game that hooked me even though it’s basic. All you do in Road Fighter is drive straight ahead by holding the A and B buttons for maximum speed. While you’re driving your fuel slowly depletes and you have to touch blinking cars to refill it. Probably the reason why Road Fighter is still fun to play is that it’s fast, lightning fast. If you bump into another car you have to frantically swerve with the D-pad to avoid crashing.
Surprisingly the game I’ve enjoyed the most so far is Circus Charlie. It’s another basic game where everything is about timed jumps. In the first level you’re riding a lion and you need to jump through flaming hoops and over pots of fire. The trick is not to move too fast otherwise you won’t have enough space to run and make the next jump. The next level has Charlie walking on a tightrope and you need to jump over monkeys crawling on the rope. The most difficult task is to avoid the annoying purple monkey shows up that jumps on a fellow monkey’s back. Touch it or any of the other monkeys and you’ll fall off the rope. Circus Charlie might have lasted longer because it’s still a decent twitch reflex game and there aren’t many games set in a circus.
Besides arcade games you also have a jukebox of all the arcade tunes that you can play with. Some unused songs, like Scramblers background music are in the jukebox along with two unused Gradius themes. It’s a nice treat that Konami added in for nostalgic fans, but you’ve got to dig around the jukebox to find these “hidden” tracks. You can also save and send your best plays to friends through the DS’ wireless connection, which is another cool feature. Forget the features though, the real reason you’re going to get (or not) get Konami Arcade Collection is for the games. Fifteen games for around $30 isn’t a bad deal at all. It’s a lot cheaper than buying each of them off of Xbox Live and you get to take them with you. If you’re planning to go the import route the Japanese version is entirely in English so you can read the little instruction cards on the bottom DS screen. Or you can wait for it to come out in North America next week like it’s scheduled too.