There are problems with Copyright, and the Games Industry has a problem with its old games. In fact, most of the time, you'd think the industry doesn't want you to know that old games have ever existed, and they're prepared to use Copyright Law to shut down emulation sites that allow you to play those old games; games from which those companies are no longer making any money, and if they had any decency would offer a blanket license of free of charge to those of us keeping some of mankind's finest creations alive. But no, they want to suppress these games because they are ashamed of them.
I and many other decent folk (not EVIL PIRATES FUNDING TERRORISM) had been ranting about it for years, and I was not sure anybody had really been listening to us about Abandonware. But there are signs that maybe somebody started to realize that money can be made from old games. Okay, so it's not a royalty-free license to emulate their old games, but many companies have now started to find ways of allowing you to play their back catalogue, in emulated form, on modern gaming hardware.
Which is what 'Taito Legends' is. Yet another Multi-arcade-machine emulator, probably Mame-based, bundled on a PC, PS2 or XBOX disc with a pretty UI and twenty-nine old Taito arcade games. Lovely. In fact, it's the best one of these compilations in a while.
Reviewing the individual games bundled in a package such as this lies somewhere between dangerous and futile. Futile because these games, for people of a certain age, represent a slice of their childhood, a piece of who they are, a memory of happy times past. Their opinions of these games is based as much on what it means to them as it is on how good these games actually were at the time. Dangerous also; if I badmouth any one of these games, and it was your favourite when you were 14, you will take an instant dislike to me and not rest until I'm dead.
As I cast a nostalgic eye over the beauties contained here, let me make this small disclaimer then; I love 2d platformers. If I am fawning pathetically over The New Zealand Story, it's just because it's a game that's special to me, not because I don't like Space Invaders. Please don't hunt me down and kill me.
So, what's in the pack? It ships with 29 Taito games in all. Wary as I am to make this claim, because one man's awesome is another man's ordure, I don't think all of these games deserve the accolade of 'Legends', and it's doubtful if even five of them truly do. However, the selection is wide, and hugely entertaining. Here's a few categorised into the arcade genres that were popular at the time and (holy industry stagnation, Batman!) seem to be much unchanged today.
The platformers, because I love 'em, and so should you:
Rainbow Islands. During the the heyday of the Amiga, this game was rated by most Amiga Gamers the best game of all time. It's even better at the Arcade. Yes it's insufferably cute, but it's also a perfectly formed slice of 2D platforming. As is its prequel, the truly-a-legend Bubble Bobble, and its much-loved Kiwi-oriented cousin, The New Zealand Story. I still know the location of every portal without recourse to Google. It's how I wasted my youth, dammit.
There is, of course, Space Invaders. You might think that I need say nothing more about this game or its two included sequels, the nearly identical Part II, and it's slightly flashier sequel Return of the Invaders. But shockingly, there exist young'uns that have never played on an actual Space Invaders cocktail cabinet, and this is a shame. Nobody likes to see wasted youth. Space Invaders is gaming minimalism, and its purity of form is why its sequels fail to live up to its majesty.
Tube-it is a frantic and and enjoyable Tetris-with-pipes affair, and well worth a two-player head-to-head with a chum. However, I was more taken with the decidedly non-legendary but charmingly bonkers 'Plotting'. Don't ask me to explain the mechanics, because I really can't. That's its charm.
Electric Yo-Yo. Hmmm. Never heard of this, makes no sense, and offers a total 'what-in-Xenu's-name!?' moment. I think I eventually figured out how to play it, but then lost interest. There's also one game that involves two dogs bouncing a cat at some balloons, and a version of QIX that is decidedly not in accordance with how my memory has it playing. Fun, but wrong.
For the most part, these tasty little nuggets of our shared heritage are mapped to the controller well, making appropriate use of the analog or D-pad as needs must, and with a fully-customisable scheme for each game, allowing the games to play as you wish.
It's joyous to feast your longing eyes over some of these old titles and discover that they still look absolutely gorgeous. I could go on for hours about how much I love The New Zealand Story, but when I see it like this looking as lovely as a 2D platformer could ever be that I realise why I love it. Even for those games ravaged by age, the nostalgic essence of their auras will carry them back into your hearts where they belong, even if I refuse to indulge the standard gamer cliché regarding how much better the gameplay was back in my day.
At around £15, the price is right and Taito has pulled us all a cracker from gaming history, in one of the most well-balanced and well-priced classic compilations of the lot. This heartwarming gestalt is a lovely and joy-bringing piece of our history, and anybody who ever popped a shiny round coin in any one of these machines' welcoming slots owes themselves a copy, today. Your nostalgia glands will thank you for it. And remember, if you take the duck over the finishing Kiwi in 2:1, there's a warp to 3:4. A bit of a word to the wise.
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