Version tested: PlayStation 2
It's becoming increasingly difficult to review retro games. As recently as a year ago, you knew who you were writing for - the hardcore die-hard gamer who'd been playing since the 80s. But now, with the games of yesteryear available on mobile phones, on Live Arcade and Virtual Console, and on compilations such as this, what was once an underground scene of nostalgic aficionados has crept into the mainstream.
On one hand, it's a wonderful vindication. Those of us who stayed true to the mantra of "it's the gameplay that counts" have been proven right, as tried and trusted titles from two decades ago entice a whole new audience. It also bodes well for videogaming as a medium, showing that ordinary people will enjoy an old game just as they'll watch a movie from the 70s or 80s and not think it's some kind of cultural aberration.
But on the other hand, it puts us in the tricky position of sorting the wheat from the chaff in an atmosphere torn between people who couldn't give a stuff about frame rates or ROM states and just want a few minutes mindless fun, and devoted enthusiasts who have spent so long on the outskirts of modern gaming that they've developed a knee-jerk defence against any criticism of any old game. For these folk, if it's old then it's a classic, and automatically better than whatever modern rubbish the kids are into. End of debate.
Capcom's compilation output hasn't exactly helped matters. While the company can lay claim to more memorable hits than most, their misuse of the word "classic" to describe its mostly adequate back catalogue still suggests delusions of grandeur (or at least a marketing department that realised a compilation called A Few Great Games, Lots Of OK Ones And Some Right Old Crap wouldn't sell very well).
Spread across two volumes, and released with different line-ups on both PS2 and PSP, they've certainly squeezed plenty of mileage out of these titles (many of which I reviewed in their handheld format last year but it's hard to avoid the feeling that they're padding things out under the guise of completist zeal. While the die-hard retro nuts will be able to appreciate the minor differences between the six horizontal fighting games on offer, the mainstream gamer looking for fun will feel an extreme case of déjà vu. As it is, what we have here is a reasonably priced selection that veers from greatness to tripe, with the net result averaging out at something that's enjoyable but just slightly unsatisfying.
The ace up the sleeve of this disc (if discs had sleeves) would be Super Street Fighter II Turbo. It's easily the game with the most longevity, and it's the one game here that can honestly be credited with defining a genre. However, it's also rapidly becoming the Evil Dead of the retro scene, a beloved classic that has been released in so many versions and on so many formats that it's hard to imagine anybody who wants it not already owning at least two copies. For what it's worth, the very first Street Fighter - an absolutely leaden mockery of a fighting game - is also on the disc, but serves only to showcase just what an amazing evolution the sequel represented.
Following close behind in the Games That Might Make You Buy This stakes are Strider, 1941 and Black Tiger. All are still as solid as you remember, if phenomenally hard at times, and help to make the package a more robust proposition. Filling out the middle ground we have a slew of perfectly fine offerings that, taken on their own merits, are good for wasting half an hour or so but, when clumped together like this, they still reveal how heavily Capcom relied on side-scrolling shooters and fighters, tweaking the formula here and there but never really doing enough to let these titles distinguish themselves.
Eco Fighters, for instance, is a fine horizontal shooter with a clever rotating weapon system, which only makes the inclusion of the similar-but-not-quite-as-innovative Side Arms less interesting by comparison. Varth is a decent enough vertical shooter - but of negligible value when included with 1941. King of Dragons, Magic Sword, Captain Commando, Knights of the Round and Tiger Road all provide more than adequate side-scrolling button-mashing fun, with occasional RPG flourishes. Quiz & Dragons is a "see it to believe it" oddity, in which you defeat fantasy foes by answering trivia questions. If it wasn't so mired in long-forgotten American pop culture, it'd be a real hoot.
Block Block is a fairly obvious, but no less entertaining, riff on Arkanoid while the triple whammy of Three Wonders sneakily bumps up the number of games from 20 to 22, even if none of the three are particularly great. Mega Twins is cuteness personified, and a fun time waster until its sugary style starts to grate. In fact, the only games that really let the side down are Last Duel, a vertical shooter with awful collision detection and shoddy pacing; Avengers, which tries to do Commando without the guns and fails to amuse; and The Speed Rumbler, a finickety car-based action game plagued by poor control.
All games can be played in blissful border-free 60Hz mode and the game also supports progressive scan. Games can be saved at any point, unlike the PSP editions, so you don't have to plough through each game in one sitting. And bonus items such as tips, concept art and music can be unlocked by reaching specific in-game milestones, much like the 360 Achievement system. From a technical standpoint, it's a bang-up job that would seem to take into account the desires of most retro gamers.
However...the package still includes one nonsensical holdover from previous editions, offering either zero or infinite continues. It didn't make sense on the PSP and it doesn't make sense now. With no continues, most gamers won't get off the first level of these games. With infinite continues, you'll see everything without ever needing to get better at the games. It's a problem inherent in removing these titles from their 80s arcade context, since they were never designed for lengthy sit-down play, but given that there's a wealth of options in all other areas, it boggles the mind that something this vital provides only a choice between all or nothing. Even just a halfway option of, say, ten credits would allow players to make progress without feeling they were being patronised.
As for value, with its retail price already slashed by 25 per cent by most online retailers, you'll be paying less than a quid a game which is hard to argue with. It certainly compares favourably to the singular retro offerings on Wii and Xbox 360, although simply by being a compilation it inevitably skews towards quantity over quality. While I can understand the financial reasoning behind milking the Capcom back catalogue for two volumes, as a fan I'd much rather have had one all killer, no filler compilation with Street Fighter II, Ghost 'n Goblins, Commando, 1941 and Strider all in one place.
7 / 10