Great idea, mostly terrible games. Well, that's the summary out of the way, so let's get the dissection tools out. Game Room is Microsoft's latest attempt to tap into the lucrative well of retro nostalgia that resides deep within our tear glands.
It's entirely free to try out, at least. You download the Game Room arcade to start off with, grab a couple of Game Packs and have a mosey around a virtual arcade. Greeted by an authentic wall of blooping retro sound, you have the option of entering various showcase arcades, including Atari, Konami, Intellivision and numerous themed rooms.
Each of these rooms has space for up to eight cabinets, and you're able to wander up to any of them and sample them for free for up to 10 minutes. Brilliantly, you can tweak the view mode to make it look like you're playing an actual arcade cabinet, complete with scan lines and slightly tilted viewpoint, although the absence of cigarette burns and puffy jacketed men barging you off halfway through puts a dent in the authenticity.
Another inspired idea developer Krome Studios has included is the ability to rewind time, Prince of Persia-style, during gameplay. By using the left trigger you can jump back to any point during your game and resume before it all went pear-shaped.
Walter Day will probably be spraying coffee all over his monitor at the thought of such a heinous built-in cheat device, but for anyone wanting to get some practice in without the frustration of having to start from scratch it's a wonderful inclusion, while ranked play removes this feature so online leaderboards will only reflect genuine skill.
However, the attention to detail is somewhat uneven. Atari, for example, seems to be rather more committed than, say, Konami, with arcade titles featuring eye-catching cabinet designs to reflect the individual game as it appeared at the time.
The likes of Crystal Castles, Lunar Lander, Asteroids Deluxe, Tempest, Red Baron, Gravitar and Centipede all come with lovingly recreated skins that look just like the real thing. Retroheads with a fetish for certain games won't begrudge paying a couple of quid to have them sitting in their own arcade.
The Atari selection process isn't too shabby, either. Iconic titles like Tempest and Centipede still suffer slightly without their native controls, but they manage to transcend control issues with their timeless purity, both aesthetically and in gameplay terms, and are still fun to play nearly 30 years later. It's also a joy to note how well Krome has emulated the vector graphic 'glow' in Red Baron, something which bodes well for other titles using the same tech, like Star Wars and Battlezone.
Swing by the Konami arcade though and you get an altogether contrasting feeling. With just a generic (new-style) Konami logo slapped down the side of each identically-shaped cabinet, it's clear they really couldn't be bothered to get into the spirit of it. The game selection process is questionable too, with a mainly B-list run of titles comprised of Tutankham, Road Fighter, Finalizer, Shao-Lin's Road, Battlantis, Jungler, Scramble and Super Cobra (the latter, of course, being a virtually identical sequel to Scramble).
While it's sometimes nice to be surprised by the lesser-known parts of a back catalogue, it's hard to understand why Konami didn't go for the A-list jugular at the launch party. Games like the snake-chasing maze game, Jungler, are fun for a few minutes, but that's probably all the time you'll ever need - and that's true for a lot of these titles. Unless you're invested in memories of your 10 year-old self, you'll struggle to justify forking over the extra cash once you finish the free demo. Frankly, even the 40 MSP (£0.34) per session option feels over the odds.
But if Konami's line-up seems disappointing, just wait until you delve into the nether regions of the Intellivision and Atari 2600 collection. Eight Atari 2600 games make the cut, but out of Adventure, Combat, Outlaw, Millipede, Realsports Tennis, Football, Star Raiders and Yars' Revenge, only the latter even raises a flicker of interest - and that's mainly because of its status as the first psychedelic videogame.
Even if these games came in packs of 10, it would be moronic to spend more than a couple of quid on them, so spirit-crushingly awful is their quality. If Microsoft imagines that people are silly enough to pay 240 Points a pop for them then it surely underestimates the intelligence of the average retro gamer.
Yet somehow it still gets worse. I never fathomed - even at the time - why anyone would willingly pay for an Intellivision system, and the fact that arguably the world's worst-ever gaming system has been given pride of place in the Game Room is mystifying.
Seven equally terrible titles make an appearance, and, again, cost the flat rate of 240 Points to actually own. So you have a choice of Space Hawk, Sea Battle, Space Armada, Mountain Madness Super Pro Skiing, Armor Battle, Football, Astrosmash and Sub Hunt, but not one of them is even worth investigating via the demo play.
Perhaps for a laugh you might want to check out Space Armada or Astro Smash to see how bad shooters were back then, or cackle maniacally at the embarrassing Super Pro Skiing. Most likely, you'll fire up something like Sea Battle and stare in mute confusion, wondering what on earth is going on, or stab idiotically at the controls in the hope that something will happen. Is this Microsoft's idea of a joke? 240 Points? Even the most throwaway releases on the Indie Games channel wouldn't dare to charge that.
Yet hope remains that the Game Room project can stumble its way towards being interesting in the long haul. Over 1000 games are promised over time, and one would hope that, eventually, there will be enough quality examples of gaming's glorious past to fulfil its promise.
But to do that, it needs not only the best publishers, but for them to use this as more than a dumping ground for games that few people cared about in the first place. Anyone even vaguely schooled in retro gaming has a decent grasp for what the best games were. I just hope that Krome and the folks at Microsoft are putting quality rather than quantity first.
It's also important to target the best platforms. Why not delve into the untapped oceans of great Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amiga games, for example? At the very least, the focus on arcade titles needs to be sharpened up dramatically. Getting SEGA, Taito, Capcom, Bally-Midway, Namco and other classic names of the era on board is essential. Only then will people look at Game Room as an exciting prospect, rather than a largely worthless selection of execrable rubbish at hilarious prices.
Certainly the potential is there. The whole thing looks great (or can look great, as Atari's showcase arcade demonstrates). The ability to create and customise your own virtual arcade is a nice touch, and allows you to specify the theme, decor, mascot and, crucially, which games you want in there.
A ranking system relating to good game performance rewards players with an array of unlockables, which can then be used to jazz up your room even more - something that adds a great deal more incentive than mere Achievements (though there are plenty of those to aim for as well, gamerscore whores).
Being able to guide your avatar around a friend's pimped-up arcade is also a great idea, as is being able to set each other challenges. The community and customisation features add a degree of substance to the concept, and it's easy to imagine frenzied competition surrounding an old favourite, and being able to settle old scores once and for all. Bragging rights never die, as King of Kong so beautifully illustrated.
But other features which had the potential to be excellent have been neutered by a tight-fistedness which will put many people off altogether. Take the 10-minute freeplay idea. On the face of it it's excellent to be able to try each game before you buy, but the concept is spoiled by forcing you to use that 10 minutes in one go. If you exit the game after a few seconds you can't go back and resume your freeplay time later - it's considered spent there and then.
It's also stupid to expect us to pay for games we've already bought on Xbox Live Arcade. It would not be difficult for Game Room to check whether you've previously purchased a game or not, especially given that it's a Microsoft product. Imagine the fuss if a new version of iTunes forced you to purchase songs you already owned. Why Microsoft thinks it can get away with this I'm not entirely sure, but the very hardcore retro gamer it is targeting with Game Room are the ones affected most.
There are few other missed opportunities too. Every game is steeped with history and anecdotes, and yet the best Game Room can come up with is a paragraph of text to accompany each title - no artwork, no interviews and no other intrigue to add value to the package.
With a keener focus on genuine classics and a little more attention to detail, Game Room has the potential to own the retro sector in a way that its competitors have failed: as a comfy retirement home for classic videogames. But with a largely rancid collection of games to date and a questionable pricing strategy, it doesn't exactly hit the ground running.