Midway Arcade Origins – Review
One of the saddest things about modern gaming is the demise of coin-op arcades. Back in the day you could walk into an amusement arcade with a couple of quid and easily play ten or more games over an hour or so. Longer if you were expert enough to 1CC (one credit complete) any of them. Admittedly they were mostly populated by pre-chav, amateur smoker teens in Puffa jackets but it was worth running the gauntlet if the arcade in question had enough of your favourite games there.
These days arcades are a mixture of fucking air hockey, fruit machines and short-lived light gun games that cost you a quid for about five minutes of gameplay before you get virtually shot to fuck. Occasionally a dance game or a racing game will be there but in terms of actual decent arcade games, that time has long since passed. Back then, the scene was ruled by companies like Tecmo, Namco, Irem and Konami who were mostly innovative, always looking to create the next big hit in the arcades of Japan while pushing the envelope in terms of new gameplay concepts and bigger and better graphics.
Midway were one of the American companies, a big player in their own right, who even now get regular coverage in Retro Gamer despite having filed for bankruptcy some years ago. This is mainly thanks to games like Defender and Robotron that were so unbelievably popular stateside that pretty much every American developer will be guaranteed to mention them during a Desert Island Disks article.
Midway Arcade Origins, is a cheap and cheerful collection of thirty or so of their arcade offerings of the 1980s,which span several genres such as shoot em ups, racing, sports and fighting. As expected, the quality of the titles is variable but the emulation is spot on so the games really stand or fall on their own merits. One thing that remains consistent is the difficulty. These games are balls fucking hard. Sure, they might throw in a gimme early level (which is handy, as this compilation’s ‘help’ option is absolutely no use at all) before ramping up the difficulty substantially and quickly. The game’s achievements reflect this by mainly focusing on the first few minutes of gameplay, which is good as anything past that is often inaccessible to mortals, or at least gamers who didn’t spunk away their pocket money in the ’80s trying to master these games.
All the games on offer can be played in Free Play mode (just ‘continue’ whenever you hit the Game Over screen) or Score Attack (one credit only). Leaderboards and achievements are only available in Score Attack mode though, and Co-op play is local only (and only if the game in question supported it originally) so there’s no online retro fun to be had.
Here are the games on offer:
720° – Midway’s seminal skateboarding sim that conjures up memories of Debbie Greenwood. An already difficult game is made much worse by frankly crippled controls though that seem to switch direction randomly. A distinct lack of tricks make this even less fun than real skateboarding.
A.P.B. – This top down cop-’em-up is a clear inspiration for the original Grand Theft Auto. Driving around arresting criminals and eating donuts might sound a little bit twee but A.P.B. remains something of a classic. It’s rock hard and shortlived but worth a look.
Arch Rivals – Midway insist on sticking to the Origins part of this compliation by ignoring the superior NBA Jam titles from the 1990s and instead offer up this slilted, clumsy version of basketball. It’s playable but nowhere near as slick or glamourous as its much-celebrated successors.
Bubbles – you play a bubble in a fucking sink that collects grease or something. Seriously, this is what games were like in the early 80s. Absolute horseshit but worth a cursory look to hear the worst music in a game ever.
Championship Sprint/Super Sprint – two top-down Formula One racing games that are best enjoyed with human competitors. These are decent games. Fast, tricky and reasonably exciting. At least until the difficulty spikes and takes out your eyeballs.
Tournament Cyberball 2072 – it’s American Football but with robots and just as confusing. Clunky controls, titchy graphics and based on a daft sport. Not recommended.
Defender – The much-loved (by Americans) wrap-around side-scrolly classic. Sparse, soulless and viciously hard. The inertia-heavy movement and super-zippy alien cocksuckers soon grow tiresome.
Defender 2 – A predictable sequel with slightly better graphics, a few new features and marginally easier controls. Still not much fun though.
Gauntlet – The famous top-down dungeon battler. During the ’80s any games of this type were called ‘Gauntlet Clones’ and not many lived up to it. The varied enemies and the swords and sorcery action help Gauntlet’s gameplay stand up even today. It’s just a shame that your health constantly counts down, a sign of Gauntlet’s coin-gobbling past.
Gauntlet 2 – Not the most adventurous sequel. The same gameplay but with a few new enemy types as well as traps, invisible walls and various other ‘enhancements’ that eventually irritate you.
Joust – A truly unique game – where else can you float around on an emu and attack knights? – but one that isn’t very good. A supposed classic that went on to influence no other games beyond its sequel. Horrible inertia heavy controls ruin a game that could have been a sweet mix of Bombjack and Mario. It also looks shit.
Joust 2 – A pointless sequel with a smaller screen layout and very slightly better controls. One to avoid.
Marble Madness – In its day, Marble Madness was something of a revelation. The trackball controls and isometric graphics were pretty fresh at the time, and the challenging but rewarding gameplay was popular with many arcade-goers. Unfortunately the controls don’t translate particularly well to the 360 pad, and so, ultimately, this game feels a little bit irrelevant in light of better XBLA variants like Marble Blast Ultra.
Pit-Fighter – an absolutely fucking dreadful fighting game that used digitised sprites to hide the abysmal gameplay. It may have paved the way for the much-improved Mortal Kombat series (which are sadly absent from this compilation) but it truly has no value.
Rampage – pick a monster and destroy cities. Not a bad premise for a game and, for a little while at least, Rampage is tremendously good fun even if your big, lumbering monster isn’t too good at getting out of the way of enemy fire. After a couple of levels though it all starts to feel a bit samey. Better in co-op but paperthin when it comes to real gameplay.
Rampart – There’s some promise with Rampart. A kind of strategy/shooter mix that sees you shooting invading naval forces while repairing your castle base in an almost Tetris-esque fashion. Unfortunately the gameplay elements are weak and the graphics are quite ugly.
Robotron 2084 – Where would Xbox Live Arcade be without Robotron? There would certainly be fifty or so missing twin-stick shooters, that’s for sure. This early ’80s twin-stick pioneer is much-lauded and is an assault on the muscles, mind and eyes. Avoiding the mechanical hordes while rescuing your family isn’t a task for the faint-hearted. It works well as a museum piece but the savagely tough gameplay will put off the majority of players fairly quickly.
Root Beer Tapper – A classic bartending serve-’em-up. Root Beer Tapper sees you fending off multiple customers by sliding drinks at them. Miss a customer or fail to collect the glass he slides back and you lose a life. Neat gameplay is spoiled however by the very spongey controls. A real shame as I loved this on the ZX Spectrum.
Satan’s Hollow – A fucking dreadful attempt at apeing Galaxians and putting it in a fantasy setting. Irredeemably shit gameplay, jarring animation and messy visuals make this the weakest title on the compilation.
Sinistar – Although Sinistar gives Satan’s Hollow a run for its money. What the fuck is this shit? A sort of Asteroids type affair that has you collecting flashing pixels (well that’s counter-intuitive) in order to fire homing bombs at a scary space face. Fuck off.
Smash TV – Robotron meets The Running Man in this bright and manic twin-stick shooter. The inevitable Midway difficulty spike comes a little too soon but there’s no denying that Smash TV is a great little game even if it is so savage it should be living in a council estate in Leeds.
Spy Hunter – A vertically-scrolling driving game that has you shooting enemy cars and occasionally turning into a boat. Home ports of this game were usually pretty good but this arcade original is a little too hard for its own good and nearly unplayable when you put your car into high gear. Some nice ideas but not much fun.
Spy Hunter 2 – Adopting a more standard ‘into the screen’ viewpoint ultimately kills anything that was ever good about Spy Hunter. Absolute dogshit. Avoid.
Super Off Road – Another top down single racer that follows the Super Sprint template but with lumpy, bumpy off-road tracks. I’ve always been a bit of a fan of this frustrating but rewarding game. A nice addition to the collection.
Toobin’ – You don’t get games like this anymore. Toobin’ sees you riding down the rapids in a tyre while avoiding litter, fishing men and all manner of weird obstactles. The controls are odd (you paddle with your left and right hands) but it’s a charming and eccentric game with a few decent ideas.
Total Carnage – Completing the Robotron/Smash TV trilogy, Total Carnage takes the twin-stick action onto a scrolling battlefield. Again it’s a tough game and it’s one of the better looking games on offer, but it lacks the sheer ferocity (and velocity) of Robotron and the addictive qualities of Smash TV. Not bad though.
Vindicators Part 2 – A tank-based shooter where the keys to success are in avoiding conflict wherever possible and just running to the exit. There’s not a whole lot of fun gameplay on offer and the rotating controls don’t suit a shoot ‘em up as well as they suited Toobin’. Not dogshit but maybe a bit dogpissy.
Wizard of Wor – A fucking dismal mazed-based shooter that’s as ugly as it as it shit. A bit like Jade Goody but not nearly as dead, unfortunately.
Xenophobe – You can feel a lot of re-used code from Rampage in this space-based shooter, and it’s clearly aimed for multiplayer gaming as unused multiplayer screen-estate isn’t reclaimed for singleplayer. A basic shooting game with little to recommend it.
Xybots – Given the fucking terrible fruits of the 90s obsession with FPS and 3PS games you’d think a third-person shooter made in the mid-80s would be a mess technically and no fun to play, but this clever attempt actually works and isn’t entirely joyless to play either. Worth a look from a historical perspective and worth a few minutes of your attention, anyway.Pros
- Plenty of games on offer
- Good value for retrogamers
- Lots of easy achievements
- Most of the games are shit
- Too many good games are missing. Where the fuck is Paperboy? Paperboy rocks.
- No online play
- Achievements aren't geared towards really getting into the games, giving you even less incentive to explore some of the titles on offer
It's cheap and loaded with celebrated retro titles, but Midway Arcade Origins is packed full of overrated tosh and genuinely piss-poor games. There are a few titles on here worth a look, but most gamers will rinse the achievements and forget about this compilation pretty quickly. A lack of fan-servicing extras and online play helps make this compilation feel rushed, but for a tenner you may well find one or two of these games are worth a look.
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