Konami Classics Anniversary Collection
Return of Arcade
By Jared Petty
Video games weren’t born in the arcade, but the arcade made them. Arcade game design demands distillation. Games had to pull in the player with elegant cabinet design, tantalizing side art, novel controls, and boysterous attract modes. A good arcade game had to be at least marginally comprehensible to a child with a pocket full of quarters, appealing to a buzzed mill worker or office drone taking the edge off at a bar after work, and cool enough to draw in a surly band of teenagers. It had to be hard, so that the player pumped in more and more change, but not too hard, lest they give up after a single play.
Many early console games were straight ports and adaptations of arcade classics: Atari’s 2600 and Mattel’s Intellivision legacy are crammed with them: PONG, Breakout, Space Invaders, Phoenix, Dig Dug, Pac-Man, Donkey King, Burger Time, dozens of others. Yet very early in console history, game creators figured out that more involved, time-consuming experiences were possible, often even preferable, in home gaming: hence relative epics Superman, Adventure, and Pitfall 2, the sublime proto-god-game Utopia, and RPGs like Dragonstomper and Treasures of Tarmin.
The design philosophy instilled in these differs vastly from what you find in the design behind almost all the most memorable modern console games. God of War would not work in an arcade: it’s created to be a twenty-plus hour experience doled out in doses between saves, and at some point, you’ve got to walk away and use the bathroom.
Yet, though arcades are all but dead in America, the appeal of playing arcade games at home lingers with us in two forms. The first arre games that feel much like arcade experiences but are home exclusives: River Raid is an early example, Geometry Wars a more modern one. The second form has evolved from single-game arcade adaptations into anthologies, now most often realized in collections or downloadable series where well-emulated or cunningly-ported versions of arcade games come to console largely unchanged from their arcade experiences. I remember Microsoft’s Arcade for Windows 3.1 and Mac as early examples of this principle at work: the novelty of playing (fairly) arcade-accurate versions of classic games was still pretty novel in 1993. By the Windows 95/PlayStation era, more and more of these collections started popping up: Microsoft’s Return of Arcade, Saturn’s Dungeons & Dragons Collection, the multiplatform Williams’ Arcade Greatest Hits, and Namco’s iconic Namco Museum, just to name a few. The quality and accuracy of arcade reproductions has increased over the years, with contributors like Digital Eclipse’s sublime Atari 50, M2’s extraordinary legacy of arcade translations across platforms, and right now at LRG, Konami’s Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection.
The collection includes eight arcade games: Scramble, TwinBee, Gradius, Salamander, Typhoon, Haunted Castle, Gradius II, and Thunder Cross. It’s shooter-heavy, which makes huge sense, as Konami’s early arcade output was largely dominated by very good shmups. My favorite thing about this collection (and there’s a lot to love) is that Konami arcade shooters are hard, and I can finally, finally practice enough to get good at them. They’re beautiful, engaging sensory wonderlands, a tapestry of superb sound design, chiptune composition, engaging weapon systems, memorable enemies, and eye-popping sprite art, but very difficult. Back in the day, I couldn’t clear the first stage of arcade Gradius; my funds were simply too limited to develop the requisite skills. But without having to pop in a quarter for every replay, I’ve finally l;earned to plot my path through the layered deathtraps that make up the stages, developing the mastery to unlock the incredible nuance and majesty of a classic.
Honestly, the collection is worth it for Gradius II alone, a game that makes Dark Souls look like a Sunday picnic. It’s exquisite chaos, a sprawling essay in creativity that demands endless practice and absolute perfection, like a gauntlet thrown down before gamers everywhere: “oh, you think you’re good at shooters? Let’s find out.” Born into a world long before bullet hell design philosophy, Gradius II demands a different set of skills: less puzzle mastery, more pure reflex and instinct. It’s a hell of a game.
Everything in the pack is interesting. TwinBee, often lauded for its aesthetics, proves to be a delightful mechanical experience in its own right, a really unique take on the post-Xevious world of Japanese vertical shooters. And of course, I’ll always have a soft spot for Scramble, an early and hugely-influential horizontal shmup that uses vertical screen real estate like few others.
Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection is up for preorder through December 25 in standard, Classic, and Ultimate Editions for Switch and PS4 at Limited Run Games.
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Limited Run Games:
is a subsidiary of “Freemode”, an operative group comprised of gaming and entertainment companies owned by Embracer. Limited Run Games is the industry leader in the production and distribution of premium physical video games. Limited Run seeks to celebrate the legacy of gaming through its award-winning collector’s editions. Founded in 2015, they have published over 1,000 physical games, exclusive merch, and collectables. Limited Run is the gold standard in bringing digital games to physical form and now re-releasing retro titles on modern platforms via their proprietary Carbon Engine. Visit limitedrungames.com for the latest offerings and to learn more about Carbon Engine development. Follow the brand on your social media platform of choice for all LRG-related updates:@limitedrungames.