Arcade1Up – Rampage Review

Arcade1Up’s line of diminutive arcade cabinets turned a lot of heads online when they were first announced. After all, the chance to own officially-licensed arcade machines for a fraction of the price of a real cabinet, complete with authentic controls and games? It’s a no-brainer! So there was a lot of waiting to see which of these machines (if any) would reach our shores in Australia, and if so, what were they like?

So it was with great trepidation that I scoured the local ALDI stores to find one on the day of their release. I had heard that they were selling out fast, and it didn’t help that ALDI didn’t offer any convenient way to find out which stores had stock in, so I was eager to get out and about to my nearby stores.

The question I was asking myself on the trip was, which one of the two available would I choose? On the ALDI site they were advertising two versions of the Arcade1Up cabinet. One was advertised as containing Williams / Atari classics Rampage, Gauntlet, Joust and the greatest shmup of all time, Defender. The other had a placard boasting it had a roster of Capcom favourites: Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition, Final Fight, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and Strider.

The good news is that a local store had plenty of both machines on hand to purchase. The not good news? The Capcom cabinet was purely for Street Fighter 2 games. To make things even more confusing, the American version of the Street Fighter 2 machine had all five variants of the legendary fighting game, but the Australian one had only three. That’s….oddly frustrating. My personal favourite Street Fighter 2 Turbo, was completely missing and for the life of me I can’t understand why.

Plenty of machines ready to play!

So, in the interests of game variation, I picked up the Williams / Atari (aka: Midway Classic Arcade) one. As much as I personally love Street Fighter 2, I knew the people who would be using the cabinet would get tired of it a lot quicker than I would, and the chance to introduce Defender to a new generation was too much to pass up. $500 later and I was driving out of the car park a happy man.

Ready to assemble!

Assembling the machine was surprisingly easy and straightforward. If you’ve ever assembled an IKEA book shelf you’ll be in familiar territory here. Frankly, I have to commend the designers here for making it such a painless process, as parts were clearly labelled and the included instructions made sense at every step. You’ll need a good Phillips-head screwdriver and about an hour or two of spare time to go from opening the box to having a small but perfectly formed arcade cabinet in your own home. It’s a good excuse to invite some friends around to help and share in the multiplayer fun afterwards.

Starting to take shape…

It’s when you start putting the machine together that you really get a sense of how small this thing is. Basically, everything is ​3⁄4 of regular size. The controllers are small, not too small, but small enough to be noticeable. The 17” monitor is small, but not enough to be a problem. The cabinet stands 1.2 metres tall, which…yeah, is an issue. Basically the cabinet is too tall to comfortably play while sitting on the ground, and too low to play at all while standing unless you’re under the age of ten. The raisers that Arcade1Up offer aren’t available at retail stores here in Australia, so you’ll need to figure out your own solution. The small size also means that it’s difficult to have more than two people comfortably crowd around the screen, especially if you’re sitting on chairs because of the height issue. It’s workable, but it’s an issue you need to keep in mind.

Almost there….

There are three microswitched sticks for three players, and two buttons (labelled Jump and Attack) that feel suitably responsive if not a teensy bit spongy. I have a hunch that the sticks won’t take the kind of pounding you can dish out in a real arcade, but I don’t really want to test it. On the controller deck is a big power switch and a switch for volume that goes between no sound, “loud enough to be clear for everyone who is playing” and “loud enough to let everyone else in the house know you’re playing”. It just feels nice to play with.

The back of the monitor houses the little box that runs the emulation software.

Anyway, enough about the hardware, let’s talk about the games! Arcade purists might scoff about how these systems use emulation, but honestly, for the price point this thing was never going to be 100% arcade accurate anyway (LCD screens can never replicate the feel of an old-fashioned CRT after all) and the emulation quality itself is legitimately good. However, the way the games play varies wildly.

No coins needed and always ready to play!

So, the cabinet is dedicated to Rampage, with all the original marquee and controller art to suit. That means that it’s a great Rampage machine and offers many hours of fun especially in multiplayer. It’s always a laugh when players end up hitting each other more than they’re hitting the buildings. So, Rampage is good.

Joust surprised me. I have always had a soft spot for the game since playing the Atari 2600 version back in the day, and for some reason I’m even more besotted with the arcade version. It looks the least interesting to play of the four games on offer but I have a hunch that it will be the one I return the most to. It’s a game that rewards skill and has a control system that will take a long time to master. So, thumbs up for Joust here.

Gauntlet is where things start to fall apart. The original was known for its four player action, but since the cabinet was designed with Rampage in mind it only has three controllers. So, at least you can play a three player session, right? Nope! For some unfathomable reason the version of Gauntlet on offer here is the two-player one. Frankly, that’s just absolutely stupid. Also, the game itself has not aged well at all and, since you can just give yourself infinite health with continued pressing of the start buttons, there’s absolutely no challenge on offer. I found myself just wandering aimlessly through the mazes not even bothering to fight any of the dungeon’s monsters. After fifteen minutes I gave this one a hard pass.

Finally we get to Defender. I love Defender. I mean I really, really love Defender. Eugene Jarvis and friends made what I think is one of the few “perfect” games. Legend tells of people who can survive more than five minutes of playing this exquisite classic, but I have yet to meet them. Yes, I am terrible at Defender but I still love it.

Defender plays like absolute garbage on this machine. I hate every second of it. The controls are so offensively broken that I feel like it wants me to grow a third or possible fourth hand to have access to all the buttons that are spread haphazardly across the entire surface of the control panel. You move up and down with the first stick, Thrust and Reverse with the player one buttons, smart bomb and hyperspace with the player two buttons, and fire with one of the third player buttons. It plays worse than it sounds. Your hands spend so much time moving across the panel there’s no way you can make the instinctive, split-second decisions needed to play Defender properly. This is one of the cases where I actually wouldn’t have minded if they used the control method found in some of the home console ports that eschewed the Thrust and Reverse buttons for left and right on the joystick. Even just thinking about playing Defender on this system makes me mad.

Uh…no thank you?

Also, and this one completely infuriates me for some reason, high scores don’t save at all! That’s a particularly egregious oversight that for me completely diminishes the arcade experience. Arcade games are all about high scores! What, I have to get a chalkboard to put next to the machine for people to write their scores down? Are we cavemen?

For $500 there were always going to be some compromises, but some of them just make my blood boil. I get the size. I get the build quality. But I really can’t get over how two of the games are basically broken and there were weird software shortcuts. If you’re a super fan of Rampage, or if you want to use this as a starting point for a modification project then absolutely you should get one. Otherwise…keep looking.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cameron Davis
Writer and artist of Rose: a comic about the world’s hungriest redhead and her love of food, friends, food, family, food and FOOD!

Follow Cameron on Twitter

 

 

R-Type Villain Dobkeratops to be Immortalised by Figma

One of the most iconic horizontal shoot’em ups from the 80s, Irem’s R-Type will have it’s  infamous boss Dobkeratops immortalised in a poseable Figma model!

There is no release date or pricing about this unpainted bit of drool-worthiness. To say we will be keeping a close eye on this would be a gross understatement. Pew, pew, pew, we can’t wait!

image source: nlab.itmedia.com.jp

 

Galencia on Steam!

The 2017 C64 GOTY, Galencia is now on Steam! So for those that missed out on Jason Aldred’s brilliant shmup on the C64, you are in luck, just head to Steam and buy it immediately!

If you are asking yourself, what is Galencia, then let us enlighten you – Galencia is a tribute to the great ‘stars and space’ shooters from the 1980’s, a love letter to Galaga and similar games from the golden age of arcade games.

Thanks to the awesome Jason Aldred, we have 5 x Galencia Steam keys to giveaway! All you have to do is tell us what your fave shoot’em up is on Twitter or Facebook (you must follow us and/or Like our page to be in the running).

The Galencia Steam keys giveaway will close at 4:00pm on July 31 (Australia Eastern Standard Time). Giveaway winners will be announced on August 1! So go on, what are you waiting for, hit Twitter and Facebook!

The lowdown:

Oh yeah, Galencia on Steam is enjoying a 40% launch discount, so go and get pew, pew, pewing!

PS: Jason has informed us that there is a sequel in the works, Galencia: Khaos Sphere that you can back right now on Indiegogo!

 

Review: Gunbird 2 Swoops In On The Nintendo Switch

With the sheer volume of shoot’em ups on the Nintendo Switch, it will take something quite special to stand out from the crowd!

Having played and loved Zerodiv’s conversion of Psikyo’s Gunbird, we had high expectations for Gunbird 2. Don’t get us wrong, Gunbird 2 is sublime, but it feels like more of the same.

The premise for Gunbird 2 is similar to the original – five protagonists are called upon to appease the Potion God by providing the elements of the Sun, Stars and Moon for him (instead of pieces of the Magic Mirror of Atra) in order to obtain a special medical potion. Just like the original, the story plays out in between levels and before boss fights, so watch-out for the Queen Pirates! The story is absurd and as cheesy as ever, which is exactly how we like it.

As mentioned, the player has a choice of five characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Each character possesses a number of different methods of attack; from the standard shot (powered up from downed enemies), an area-clearing bomb, to the melee-like attack which is powerful but forces the player to get dangerously close to the enemy, and the charge shot. All of the attacks are unique and different enough for each character, so Gunbird 2 will have you coming back to play through and finish the game with each of them.

Since this is an arcade conversion, if it is played in ‘child’ difficulty mode, the game can be completed within a sitting of one Seinfeld episode (minus the ads). Luckily Gunbird 2 has enough difficulty modes and scoring methods to satisfy those who enjoy playing for high scores, so the game will definitely keep pulling you back.

Let’s get one thing straight, the gameplay in Gunbird 2 is frenetic, with bullets raining everywhere, especially as you keep powering up your attack. The constant barrage of firing and dodging never gets old, unless you despise vertical shmups! Gunbird 2 is fun to play solo, but it gets better and crazier when playing with a friend. The visuals are stunning, especially when you can see more of the background in TATE orientation – we love seeing the villagers running around on the ground. Coupled with the beautiful visuals is the equally awesome audio, with tunes that are in keeping with the theme (ie: whimsical) and sound effects that are meaty enough without piercing your eardrum.

If you already have Gunbird and are still enjoying it, Gunbird 2 may not offer enough in gameplay to warrant a purchase (even though it is still cheap!). If you don’t have Gunbird in your burgeoning Switch shmup library or are in need of a good old fashioned vertical shmup, then we highly recommend you grab Gunbird 2 – it’s AUD$9.99 well spent!

image source: Gunbird 2

 

Dragon Blaze: Old School Shmup For Your Nintendo Switch

Just when you thought that you have all the best old school shoot’em ups in your Switch games library, Zerodiv swoop in with their fire-breathing beauty, Dragon Blaze!

With Dragon Blaze, we may have found the perfect vertical shmup (Ed: Sorry Sonic Wings 2!). Zerodiv have yet again reminded us that Psikyo’s long forgotten library of games is full of treasured titles. We are just glad that Zerodiv are bringing these awesome games to a new (and old) generation of gamers.

There is a story-line in Dragon Blaze but it’s your usual paper thin good versus evil, where the evil doers are seeking revenge and it is up to you to stop them. Who cares about the backstory when you have an awesome game, right? Of course we are right, turn your Switch in TATE orientation, pick your knight with their accompanying winged steed and get blasting some demonic baddies!

This game is a bit of a departure from the regular Psikyo TATE shmups which is due to the introduction of a third button – the ‘Dragon Shoot’. The ‘Dragon Shoot’ enables you to dismount your fearsome dragon, lunging it forward delivering punishment until you press the button again so the winged steed returns to its master. Since your knights have wings (thus can still fly around solo), and your dragons are utterly invincible, this is your best strategy to deal not only with bosses but also some of the regular foes. This game definitely encroaches bullet-hell territory but just stops short, which is a good thing in our books.

Both graphics and music are awesome and in keeping with the medieval-fantasy setting. Every stage offers distinct and memorable backgrounds, with enemies that are distinct to the stage you are on and of course, challenging bosses. As this game is full on, you won’t have time to stop and admire the lovely graphical details.

So why does Dragon Blaze belong in your Nintendo Switch games library? Well let us tell you, it is simply brilliant, unique with its Dragon play mechanic and super addictive. This is another must-have shmup for your every growing digital arcade collection on the Switch.

Disclosure: Dragon Blaze was kindly provided by Zerodiv for this review.

 

Nintendo Switch Review: Tengai

Whoa, Zerodiv are absolutely on fire! Their latest Psikyo shoot’em up conversion, Tengai (aka: Sengoku Blade: Sengoku Ace Episode II) is brutally hard and oh so damn satisfying all rolled into one. If you are into superb mid-90s shmups, then you can never have enough shmups in your Switch line-up.

Tengai is a brilliant mix of horizontal shmup action (there is lots to shoot here which quenches the shmup thirst) with the flexibility to tweak difficulty levels, and trust us, you’ll be setting it to monkey mode in no time! Once you pick your character from a roster that consists of a Monk (Tengai) that shoots beads, a Ninja Warrior (Sho) that throws blades, a female Ninja (Junis) who uses her knives and shurikens, Katana that uses lasers, and the shrine maiden (Miko), who uses ofuda cards, then it is time to hit the skies over medieval Japan and dispense some justice. Each character of course has their own power-ups, which are pretty zany, from Tengai’s hawk, Sho’s mirrors, Junis’ mongoose, to Katana’s magical spear and Miko’s water spirit, these souped up powers should be used sparingly to clear the screen of all evil-doers.

The level design is linear till you come to level 5 where you face off against every previous mid-boss one after another. If you manage to get past these mid-bosses a branching path is presented prior to reaching the final boss for that epic final battle. By this stage you may be patting yourself on the back, but that would be premature as this end showdown is a timed affair, so if you do poorly, you will get your character’s ‘bad ending’ instead of a complete victory.

The gameplay also has a number of nuances like contacting enemies won’t cost you a life. Instead, your character’s firepower is downgraded, which makes progress tricky. So the object is to dodge and weave past all of the yellow/orange bullets that regularly fill the screen. Thankfully, Tengai doesn’t feel like a full-on bullet hell shooter, but there is certainly a lot going on all around the screen. If you think you will get some rest during play to enjoy the scenery, then think again! This game is full on – in a good way.

The sprite art in this game is damn gorgeous and the parallax scrolling is oh-so-ever-smooth, meaning that your eyes will thank you for the visual extravaganza! Complementing the visuals is the cool and distinctly oriental soundtrack which completes the atmosphere of the game.

We do sound like a broken record when it comes to games from Zerodiv, but this shoot’em up seriously deserves to be at the top of your Switch library – it’s shmuptastic!

image source: Tengai – Nintendo eShop

Disclaimer: Tengai was kindly provided by Zerodiv for this review.

 

SNK 40th Anniversary Collection Coming To The Nintendo Switch

This is HUGE news! Mark spring time (fall/autumn in the north) in your diary peeps, as the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection will be released on the Nintendo Switch.

For those of you that like their tangible games, there will be a physical SNK 40th Anniversary Collection Limited Edition that can be pre-ordered now via the SNK Online Store.

Just in case you weren’t aware, SNK made heaps of awesome arcade games in the 80s before they went really big with their Neo Geo. To whet your retro gaming appetite, here are the announced SNK games you could (Ed: should!) be playing on your Switch, with more to come:

  • Alpha Mission (arcade + home versions)
  • Athena (arcade + home versions)
  • Crystalis
  • Ikari Warriors (arcade + home versions)
  • Ikari III: The Rescue (arcade + home versions)
  • Guerrilla War (arcade + home versions)
  • P.O.W. (arcade + home versions)
  • Prehistoric Isle in 1930
  • Psycho Soldier
  • Street Smart
  • TNK III (arcade + home versions)
  • Vanguard
  • Victory Road (arcade + home versions)

The Limited Edition comes in a Collector’s Box with all the games plus the “Nostalgic Music Collection” soundtrack and the “40th Anniversary Art Collection” hardcover art book.

Let’s celebrate SNK’s 40th anniversary by turning up the excitement level to 11!

image source: SNK Online Store