Nostalgia can be extremely arresting. Can a gamer ever return to the feeling experienced when first taking out the Death Star in Star Wars, smashing multiple baddies with a single rock in Dig-Dug, or playing a flawless board of Ms. Pac Man?
Gamer nostalgia is also conjured by environments and contexts. I’m sure most middle aged gamers have swapped stories from their youth about visiting the local arcade (remember those?) to plunk some quarters in their favorite machines. In those golden years, we played for nothing but score and bragging rights, and we were fascinated by graphics that were so remarkable that they couldn’t yet be reproduced on our home systems or personal computers. I used to beg my father to take me to the PX on base (military brat, represent) so that I could play one of my retro favorites—the cartoonish cop chase game A.P.B. It was my fond memory of this 1987 relic that led me toward Midway Arcade Origins. I do not regret the purchase. At the same time, some of the classic titles within this trove of 30+ games simply don’t reignite the longing to play arcade games that I fondly remember from my childhood.
The first problem with the compilation is that some of the classic control schemes just don’t translate to modern joypads. 720 is a prime example. In my youth, I would eagerly line my quarters on top of the black-and white-checkered plastic control panel assembly, but without the circle-locked joystick on the arcade cabinet, the game is almost unplayable. Too much die, not enough skate. The same unfortunately applies to A.P.B., a game that is dysfunctional sans its steering wheel and pedals. Granted, you can still get some enjoyment out of the titles, but they just aren’t the same without the respective racing wheels and other cabinet specific peripherals.
Unfortunately, there is also a lot of useless filler in the compilation. The less you remember about Pit-Fighter, Xenophobe, and arguably the worst sequel of all time, Spy Hunter 2, the better. In light of these weak choices, I found myself wondering why Paperboy, NARC, and Roadblasters were left out. All three were extremely popular Midway titles from my youth, and all three could have easily made the compilation exponentially better, especially since Paperboy is no longer available on Xbox Live Arcade.
Thankfully I was able to get a lot of enjoyment out a few of the included offerings. Joust and Joust 2 hold up extremely well, as do Satan’s Hollow, Robotron 2084, Spy Hunter, Rampage, and both Gauntlet games (just don’t shoot the food!). Two titles I’d never played before, Wizard of Wor and Bubbles, ended up being my favorites. Smash TV and its sequel Total Carnage also play well with a modern controller, and they still serve as a reminder that most of these games were simply designed to get one more quarter out of the pocket of your Kangaroos. This is certainly a staunch contrast from the “save anywhere, unlimited lives” mentality that permeates game design today.
Leaderboards are also included so you can still appreciate how badly you perform compared to other hardcore retro gamers. Further, multiplayer is offered on any title that traditionally supported it. While the limitations of portable console gaming and the omission of certain titles does make the compilation feel a bit incomplete, the game isn’t a bad purchase if you are looking to scratch that retro itch. Just don’t expect most of the games to play like they did when you were waiting in line behind that skeevy dude in the Iron Maiden t-shirt to get one more crack at Sinistar.