It’s crazy to think that Konami has been around for five decades now but it’s true. They were among the heavy weights of the gaming industry but in recent years they’ve faced their fair share or controversy and disappointment. While their presence in recent years has dwindled, we can’t forget how they brought us some of gamings most renowned and successful series ever including Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill. They certainly have had their ups and downs it’s a publisher with an amazing legacy.
So much so that now feels like a well suited time to remind everyone of their previous work and dust off a few forgotten gems. The first of Three Classic Collections from Konami is the Arcade Collection, featuring a number of their greatest arcade games to grace the 1980’s. But will this be a pleasant blast from the past or one which should have remained buried?
So Konami’s Arcade Collection consists of 8 arcade games developed and published by Konami during the 1980’s. This is the first of three classic collection volumes and the focus here is 2D shooters with games such as Life Force, TwinBee, Scramble and an arcade version of the original Castlevania called Haunted Castle.
Now it’s true there are a couple of notable titles missing which were in the arcades including the fantastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game from 1989. But what we have here is still a strong line up (mostly) of classic 2D. All of these titles barring Haunted Castle give players the control of a space craft, plane or fighter Jet with the objective of blowing everything in their path. So there’s not so much a variation if you were looking for a balance of shooters, fighters and maybe the odd sports game. But again this collection has a theme and it’s great to see that for the most part these games have ages with grace. Apart from Haunted Castle (but I’ll get to that).
What it nice to see is that there’s plenty of checkpoints in the games, an endless amount of continues and you can save midgame. This is very helpful considering these games are hard! Like any arcade game, the purpose was to eat up as much money as possible and this game’s designs show this. It’s fine seeing as these games come from an age where arcades were ripping off children and most gamers love a challenge thanks to the Soul series.
(FUN FACT: Rare made it very public that Battle Toads’ difficulty was set so high to get money into the machines. They even rigged certain parts of the Battle Toads games to ensure players died).
The strongest titles out of the collection are Life Force, Scramble, Nemesis and the excellent Thunder Cross.
Life Force is probably the most simplified out of all the shooters and has a couple of rough patches in presentation. Yet it handles fine, has a good arrangement of enemy types, cool boss battles and good level design.
Scramble is the earliest arcade title and again is pretty simple in execution. Yet it has one dynamic which is pretty neat, having to collect fuel as you play the level. This is done by destroying fuel containers on the ground, but the player is pretty limited with their attacks. So there’s a gripping sense of tactics at play here and it looks good for its age and sounds nice too.
Nemesis is a strange one as it feels like an early build of Vulcan Venture yet is superior with its controls, presentation and gameplay. It’s another space shooter but the most refine out of the collection.
Then there’s Thunder Cross which is simply perfect with its execution of gameplay mechanics, action, presentation and level design. Simple yet highly engaging and fun in co-op. Thunder Cross is definitely one of the greatest in the genre.
All of these games handle well and run at a smooth frame rate. Konami have implemented clear instructions on how to play the games as there’s no tutorials or guides during the game. That’s not to say the remainder like Vulcan Venture, TwinBee and Typhoon aren’t any good. They’re fine, but have the most problems and have aged poorly in certain ways.
TwinBee is okay, but lacks any interesting gameplay elements and just doesn’t elevate in terms of tension. TwinBee is nice but forgettable.
Vulcan Venture is a mess in some ways, from its difficulty balancing with endless waves of enemies in small spaces, harsh checkpoint system and clustered level design. It’s just annoying, tedious and one of the more infuriating arcade games made to gather as much money as possible.
Typhoon is a neat game with a perspective that’s completely different from all the other games, making it stand out the most. It’s a head on view as you control a fighter jet heading towards an objective and this is usually a boss battle in the form of a battleship. It was a difficult perspective to pull off and it does take time to adjust to the depth perception. However it is still a decent game.
Now, Haunted Castle is an odd one as it’s a mix of classic side scroller fighter and Castlevania elements. It’s difficult but there’s something very engaging about it none the less. The controls are awkward but the creativity is immersive. Some set pieces are inventive but the combat is extremely basic. It’s just a mixed bag.
This is a shame as we had great arcade games by 1989 (including the previously mentioned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and why any of these weren’t including is slightly baffling (unless it was legal issues which it is most of the time). Haunted Castle is …. Okay. Just imagine Volgarr the Viking but a little more ruthless.
What is a nice little touch are the extras which feature design documents and plans for each of the games. Detailing the design process and how each game was refined to make them the classics they are now.
This is strong start to Konami’s Anniversary Collection, with a good line-up of 2D shooter games which are indeed classic titles. Some may have aged poorly, yet are still fun in some ways. Others are truly worth playing again and will be the ultimate nostalgia trip for those who played these games in the arcade or the endless console ports in the 90’s. The difficulty is still punishing yet there are plenty of features which make sure you can continue and not rage quit. It would’ve been nice to see other great arcade titles from Konami here, but there’s enough to justify the price. It’s a blast from the past which is worth checking out.
Still to come are the Castlevania and Contra Collections.
++ Good lineup of classic arcade games
+ Smooth frame rates, controls are easy to grasp
+ Plenty of features to ensure difficulty doesn't get in the way
+ Nice extras
- Missing some great arcade games from Konami
- Some games can still be overly difficult
A PS4 Review copy of Konami Anniversary: Arcade Collection was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.