Nostalgia is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "Regret or sentimental longing for the conditions of a period of the past," which is, acutely, the feeling I experienced as I opened Midway Arcade Treasures 2, the second volume of retro 2D games all developed by Midway. Despite being overwhelmed recently with Triple A quality games on all of the major consoles (Metroid, GTA: San Andreas, Halo 2), I found myself surprisingly immersed in the feeling that I've done this before. I remember shoveling quarters into machines of NARC and Gauntlet II when I was just a wee boy. I remember saving up my allowance to go down to the Hot Dog Show in Burbank, California and lose a few hours. Most everything about these games has been preserved in their arcade forms. And to cut to the chase, yes, they're still fun.
Games included in this compilation:Mortal Kombat II Mortal Kombat 3 Gauntlet II Spy Hunter II Xybots NARC APB Cyberball 2072 Timber Total Carnage Pit Fighter Wizard of Wor Xenophobe Primal Rage Arch Rivals Rampage World Tour Kozmik Krooz'r Championship Sprint Hard Drivin' Wacko
Many of the 20 games in this collection are classics; some are from the lost age of arcade gaming. Mortal Kombat 2, Mortal Kombat 3, and Gauntlet II are the biggest draws by far, boasting some familiar franchises that are still in reproduction today. Even Spy Hunter II has incarnations on the next-gen consoles. Some of the games you won't recognize. Xenophobe, for example, is a direct rip off of Aliens (the movie, and, in some ways, the game) where you go from space port to space ship disposing of aliens. Likewise, Kosmik Kroozr, which is uncannily similar to Atari's Asteroids, is not familiar to me at all.
On the one hand, the best thing about this compilation is the ability to see the origins of each of these arcade games. Included beside each game are bonus menus, galleries, histories, and videos that include interviews with the original developers of the games. A retro-gaming nut will flip over these things. Anyone else, however, could just as well say, "Who cares?", and jump right into a game of NARC, or Total Carnage.
Midway Arcade Treasures 2 supports up to 4 players (for PS2, via multitap), a nice addition considering 2 player Gauntlet II (which is, actually, the only 4 player game included) is not as fun as 4 player. But mostly, you'll be playing 2 player games, which this collection has an abundance of. That's fine, though; there's plenty to do with a buddy. There are also a few 3 player games and two single player games to choose from.
While the graphics in retro games like these are not the best, there are some neat visuals here and there. NARC shows off some ridiculous explosions for the time -- body parts fly everywhere -- and sometimes things just explode for no reason whatsoever. And Primal Rage shows off the old clay-modeling, motion capture technique (that was made popular in Clay Fighter). The visuals won't impress as much as they did back in the day, but they do their job...for the most part. Okay, so maybe Timber (a game about chopping trees) doesn't have the best visuals, and Wizard of Wor is just a 2D dungeon crawl--even so primitive as to use stick-figures. This is how they were in the arcade. That is to say, Midway didn't improve the visuals from what they once were.
While the graphics are, well, lower than today's standards by leaps and bounds, it's the gameplay that really shines. A friend and I were lost in the dungeons of Xybots for about two hours one day. We would have continued, but our fingers began to hurt. The same is true of APB and Gauntlet II. And does Spy Hunter II ever end? The purpose of these games is to be played over and over again until your head hurts and you've worn blisters into your fingers.
With a grand total of 20 games, there has to be a stand-out game, right? In a way there is. Mortal Kombat II and 3 are the featured games, and still retain all their fatalities and blood-evaporating goodness. My favorite game, however, and the game I believe has aged best over the years, is Total Carnage. In Total Carnage the year is 1999 (gotcha) and Sadam Hussein (sounds familiar) is trying to take over the world (interesting) by mutating monsters (makes sense) and calling you a "loser". Seriously. Not only does the premise sound similar to any Gulf War skit on Saturday Night Live, but it gives it a laid-back, satirical aspect that most of the other games in the collection lack. It's also pretty fun to blast myriads of mutant monsters with a friend, let's not overlook that either. And the bosses are huge and ludicrous. In fact, Total Carnage feels like a precursor to the new Hunter: The Reckoning series. It even controls the same way (1 joystick to move, one joystick to control your direction of fire).
That brings me to the controls. No matter which console you play it on, there are going to be problems, especially on the Gamecube where the C-stick is just a nightmare. Overall, these games control how they should, but sometimes I found that things wouldn't quite work right: for example, controlling your character in Xenophobe is the equivalent to trying to park your car on a roof. And in Primal Rage the directions can get a little touchy. Championship Sprint is almost unplayable at times because the analog stick is just too sensitive, but switching to the D-pad helps. And Pit Fighter, well, it moves so fast (I assume because of the port to a faster system) that it is literally unplayable--just press buttons and hope you live.
I did experience a strange occurrence with a few games, Timber and Wizard of Wor do not function with an old Playstation analog controller, for some reason. Graphically, while things do their job, the games succumb to the same problems that plagued them before. Things will disappear for no reason in Spy Hunter II. Enemies will flicker and flash when too many things are going on in NARC. This is not too big a deal, but it is an annoying, tedious flaw that has always been around.
Another thing worth noting is that on every game you have infinite quarters and unlimited lives. This might not sound like a problem -- obviously you can't put quarters into your Xbox -- but when I realized that I had infinite potions in Gauntlet II, I just kept pressing the "use potion" button until I had an ungodly amount of health. The problem with this is it eliminates the challenge involved in Gauntlet II and just makes it merely a trial of patience. It's still tons of fun; it's just fun without a game over.
The same is true with just about every game in this series. In my opinion, the challenge and the desire to play through these games are eliminated once you realize that dying doesn't affect you. But, then again, this allows for people, who have never before had the chance to experience these games, to have a good old-fashioned, go of twitch gameplay. In a few games -- Xybots, Cyberball 2072, and all the fighting games -- this doesn't affect the game at all, and they play wonderfully all the way through.
While it's not going to bring about any revolution, and though few will be pried away from their Triple A titles, Midway Arcade Treasures 2 is great at a budget price. It's the most gratifying, nostalgia inducing, compilation to come out yet. Midway Arcade Treasures 2 is a great holiday gift for game fanatics and novices alike. With the work that Midway has put into bringing these treasures to the next-gen consoles, the games deserve a few more plays, and they will deliver on sheer hours of old-school excitement.
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