America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 22nd Apr 2019 | 2,422 views
Konami kicks off its 50th birthday celebration with Anniversary Collection: Arcade Classics, an anthology of eight arcade titles from the 1980s. While not every game is a "masterpiece", as the collection's promotional material maintains, almost every entry is worth exploring, either for its level design, audiovisual assets, or novelty. The overall package lacks some of the bells and whistles of rival compilations, and genre-wise it's limited, but in general it should please fans of Konami and the 80s arcade scene—particularly if they're fans of scrolling shooters.
Shooters are the name of the game. In fact, if it wasn't for Haunted Castle—incidentally the collection's weakest entry—Konami could retitle the anthology "Konami Arcade Shoot-em-ups" or even "Gradius Collection+". Indeed, Gradius and its sequels and spin-offs take up 50 percent of the game list—if you're among those who count Scramble, the oldest game of the bunch, under the Gradius umbrella.
The Gradius games are, together, the highlight of Anniversary Collection: Arcade Classics. There's Scramble from 1981, sometimes retconned as a Gradius cousin, that's surprisingly fun, thanks to varied terrain and a fuel management mechanic. Then there's the first official entry, Nemesis (or Gradius, in Japan), one of the greatest, most important side-scrolling shooters of the era, followed by spin-off Life Force (Salamander), which raised the stakes with horizontal and vertical scrolling stages and two-player simultaneous co-op. Finally, the anthology contains Vulcan Venture (Gradius II), which includes four different weapon progressions.
Rounding out the package are several shooters interesting in their own ways. There's TwinBee, a colorful, silly vertical shooter with a clever co-op mode where two players can dock their ships side-by-side or front-and-back to deliver more powerful attacks. Also included is Typhoon, from 1987, which at the time did some mighty impressive things with sprite stretching and rotation; it managed to recreate a 3D scrolling experience faithfully, and looks great even today. Last is the oft-overlooked Thunder Cross, a horizontal co-op shoot-em-up that focuses on "Options", those tiny satellite shooters that follow your ship like pilot fish.
The final entry in Anniversary Collection: Arcade Classics is Haunted Castle, an arcade release of Castlevania on NES. It's a strange addition considering it falls outside the genre of every other game—maybe it's an aperitif for Konami's upcoming Castlevania collection?—and it's the least playable of the bunch. While the arcade installment boasts upgraded graphics, it unfortunately suffers from clunky controls, an unacceptably-steep difficulty level, and one of the oddest walking animations you'll ever see—it looks like Simon Belmont is trying to reach the bathroom in time.
Haunted Castle is a dud, but seven out of eight ain't bad. The larger issue, and it speaks to the collection's unadorned approach, is that every game is the American version. Any unique European or Japanese incarnation is left out—this is felt most painfully with Thunder Cross' inferior American version—as are any console ports. The anthology does include some new features like save states, game settings, mappable controls, and some basic display settings, which is nice. Finally, it comes bundled with a "Bonus Book", a compendium of original design documents (some never-before-seen), a showcase for each title, a selection of music score sheets—although regrettably no music select option—and a developer interview with two Konami legends, Kengo Nakamura (Nemesis, Typhoon) and Toshiaki Takatori (Vulcan Venture, Life Force).
The ports in the Arcade Classics medley are the work of Hamster Corporation, respected for its work in Arcade Archive, and are arcade perfect, original warts included. Throughout the collection, sound is on the tinny side, which is a shame as several of the titles—namely Nemesis, Life Force, and Thunder Cross—sport some great tunes.
With some modern conveniences, a noteworthy virtual history book, and several enjoyable shoot-em-ups, Arcade Classics is a satisfactory anthology for the Konami faithful, especially Gradius fans. It's not a comprehensive look at Konami's 80s arcade footprint, nor is it exhaustive in terms of game variations and features, but it delivers some of the better shooters from the era in a single place.