America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 11th Apr 2022 | 2,856 views
You can't write the story of the golden age of arcades without Taito. Games like Space Invaders, Bubble Bobble, and Arkanoid — all Taito originals — are woven into the fabric of the early arcade scene. Yet for every mega-hit like Space Invaders, there's an overlooked title like the puzzler Qix. Taito Milestones, a compendium of 10 Taito arcade titles from the 1980s, is designed to shine a light on these less famous entries. The games included, which debuted between 1981 and 1987, tell an interesting story about the evolution of Taito and arcade game design in general. But the question remains: how fun are these games to play, after all these years?
Whatever you say about the quality of titles on offer in Taito Milestones, there's no denying the impressive size and scope of the collection. There are 10 games total, all pulled from very different genres. There's a puzzle game, a vertically-scrolling shooter, a few action-platformers, a sports title, a twin-stick shooter, a co-op beat-'em-up, and more. Whatever your tastes, you're likely to find something of interest in the anthology.
Regrettably, the games in the collection vary in quality as dramatically as they do by genre. Some are quite fun. One is Alpine Ski (1982), a surprisingly habit-forming skiing game. It's broken into three phases: Down Hill Skiing, Slalom Racing, and Ski Jump. The graphics and sounds are certainly dated, but it's a challenging title with high replay value. Another hit is Halley's Comet (1986), a flashy scrolling shooter where you need to blast enemy ships and keep comets from colliding with planet Earth. Then there's the beat-'em-up The Ninja Warriors (1987), arguably the crown jewel of Taito Milestones. This is by far the best-looking of the bunch, and the only one with simultaneous two-player support.
Second-tier titles include action-platformers Elevator Action (1983) and The FairyLand Story (1985) and, perhaps most surprisingly, the puzzle game Qix (1981). In terms of graphics and sound design, Qix looks and sounds positively ancient, but the gameplay is unexpectedly engaging. It's built around a dangerous risk-versus-reward scoring system that both encourages and punishes aggressive behavior.
The weakest games of the anthology include Space Seeker (1981), an ambitious but clumsy space shooter; Wild Western (1982), a creative but ultimately unsatisfying take on Old West train robberies; Chack’n Pop (1983), a predecessor to the much more refined Bubble Bobble; and Front Line (1982), Taito's take on top-down twin-stick shooting.
Regardless of the quality of the games, each one has been professionally ported by Hamster, famous for its Arcade Archives. Apart from solid emulation, players can expect several customization options, including display settings (size, position, scan lines, etc.), difficulty settings, button settings, and more. Furthermore, each game comes with a helpful manual and supports online rankings. Unfortunately, there are no special features outside of these settings - no trivia, interviews, synopses, concept art, arcade flyers, etc. Not every collection needs these kinds of bonuses, but with a name like Taito Milestones, you'd hope for some context about the historical significance of each entry.
One last thing to note: 8 of the 10 games in the Milestones collection are already available on Switch, released individually under the Arcade Archives banner. Space Seeker and Chack’n Pop are currently the only exclusives.
As an exhibit on the early history of Taito, and a glimpse into some of the unheralded arcade experiences of the early to mid 1980s, Taito Milestones is interesting indeed. As a collection of games, however, it's somewhat less enticing. There are a few gems here, including Alpine Ski, Halley's Comet, and The Ninja Warriors, but also several middling or clunky titles. They might be milestones, but they're far from essentials.