Sunday, July 22, 2007

Back to the arcade

Taito Legends 2 gets a long-overdue U.S. release.

Genre: Arcade compilation
Released: Listed May 17, 2007, but it appears to have not actually surfaced until June.
Systems: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Verdict: &&&

Long after its European release, Taito's sequel to the popular retro arcade compilation Taito Legends comes to North America with 39 quarter-guzzling titles. The first compilation apparently used up most of the big Taito names — the likes of Space Invaders, Phoenix, Jungle Hunt, Elevator Action and Bubble Bobble were all there — leaving Taito Legends 2 with only Qix, the compelling but difficult box-drawing game, for marquee value. For the other three dozen-plus, it rounds up loads of obscurities from 1978 to the 1990s, a mix of fun and sometimes best-forgotten titles, as well as another handful of Space Invaders sequels.

Surprisingly, the cartoonish Space Invaders '95 has emerged as one of my favorites. Though it aims for silliness, it's a solid shooter with inventive aliens, handy power-ups and lots of colorful graphics. One update that doesn't work for me is Elevator Action Returns, which is too influenced by the fighting game nonsense of its time and strips away the brilliant arcade simplicity of the original. In fact, if you don't like the ninja-kicking, grenade-throwing, health-meter using games of the late '80s and early '90s, a dozen or so of these will be useless to you. From the puzzle genre, Cleopatra's Fortune is a Tetris wannabe that's trying way too hard, while the quite playable Puchi Carat features a ball bouncing around the screen Breakout-style to knock out jewels.

Early titles like Lunar Rescue and Balloon Bomber, both of which feel like cousins of Space Invaders, are generally forgettable, while Crazy Balloon, in which a balloon is moved around a pin-filled maze, is excruciatingly tedious and joyless. For each of those, however, there's a pleasant surprise waiting to be discovered. Cameltry, which has the air of a Marble Madness knockoff, is surprisingly addictive as the player rotates the entire screen to guide a ball through a maze to a goal, avoiding obstacles and picking up bonuses along the way. Raimais, in which the player navigates through a dot-filled maze while avoiding and destroying enemies, is a highlight, if yet another unoriginal concept. Several titles, including Don Doko Don, feel like variations on Taito's own successful Bubble Bobble.

The compilation offers no historical extras and isn't quite as slick in presentation as its predecessor, and you'll probably want to adjust the controller settings, which awkwardly favor the rectangle button for many of the primary controls. Despite the several weak games here, there are enough addictive nuggets to make this a must for anyone who was ever intoxicated by the sights and sounds of an arcade in the 1980s.

// The games //
Alpine Ski • Arabian Magic • Balloon Bomber • Bone Adventure • Cameltry • Chack 'n' Pop • Cleopatra's Fortune • Crazy Balloon • Darius Gaiden • Don Doko Don • Dungeon Magic • Elevator Action Returns • Football Champ • Front Line • G Darius • Gekirindan • Grid Seeker • Growl • Gun & Frontier • Insector X • Kiki Kaikai • Kuri Kinton • Liquid Kids • Lunar Rescue • Metal Black • Nastar • Puchi Carat • Puzzle Bobble 2 (aka Bust-a-Move 2) • Qix • Raimais • Ray Storm • Space Invaders '95 • Space Invaders DX • Super Space Invaders '91 • Syvalion • The Fairyland Story • The Legend of Kage • Violence Fight • Wild Western

// Other games I'd love to see on a PS2 compilation // Crazy Climber • Frogger • Gorf • Donkey Kong • Scramble

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