Capcom Home Arcade review: the DF Retro verdict
The Capcom Home Arcade is an absolute delight. It delivers almost all of what you might hope for, but there are some genuine surprises on top of that. Yes, the unit does an admirable job of replicating the classic coin-operated experience on a range of genuinely great games, but the biggest takeaway is how it actually introduced me to less prolific - but no less enjoyable - titles from a golden age of arcade history. Even though the line-up contains just 16 games in all, there's actually a palpable sense of discovery here and I came away from the product even more impressed by Capcom's arcade heritage.
In terms of those all-important first impressions, the Capcom Home Arcade makes quite an impact. In the age of the retro mini-console, publisher Koch Media goes large by constructing an arcade-style base unit, using high quality Sanwa arcade parts to deliver a genuine, authentic feel to the controls. It's rugged but precise, but most importantly feels just like an arcade controller should. Mounting it all within a jumbo-sized Capcom logo is a little ostentatious but nothing is lost in quality of the crucial interface - it feels great. Crucially, it's also secure too. The underside of the unit uses a soft-touch rubberised plastic that somehow manages to keep the unit firmly planted to the surface during play.
Connections are limited, with an HDMI output on the rear alongside a micro-USB for power and a mysterious EXT input - a USB port with undefined capabilities. Rounding it off is the power button. If you're thinking that the EXT input is used for firmware updates, this is actually carried out by an internal WiFi chip, which leads me on to the only genuine issue I had with the review unit: it wouldn't connect to any network, meaning I couldn't update the system software. I was lucky in that it turns out that I already had the latest firmware, but it did mean that other cute functions - like uploading high scores to a global database - didn't work for me.
While the form-factor of the unit is much removed from the fundamental retro mini-console design, the internals are a different story. There's no FPGA madness here for precision simulation of Capcom's CPS1/CPS2 architecture. Instead, Koch Media has worked with Barry Harris of the Final Burn Alpha project to deliver emulation instead, powered by an unidentified ARM system on chip. We know it's a little meatier than the SoCs used in the likes of the Mega Drive mini, as it actually seems to have a heatsink mounted on top. Meanwhile, the HDMI output delivers a 1080p signal, as opposed to the 720p of other retro consoles. An impressive four gigabytes of NAND flash is used to house the collection.
Loading up the unit itself, we're greeted with a boot-up time of around 25 seconds before dipping into the main menu of the system - and while it is very attractive and well-presented overall (I liked the use of preview music when highlighting each game), the interface itself runs at a very low, choppy frame-rate. Thankfully, poor performance doesn't extend to the quality of the emulation itself, with games running just as they should, by and large. My initial sessions with the machine were negatively impacted by an infrequent stutter, but thankfully a factory reset managed to solve this issue. Bear that in mind if you have the same problem - it worked a treat for me, though it does have the side effect of wiping all of your high scores.
Emulation quality overall is absolutely fine, bar the occasional audio drop-out - which couldn't be fixed by swapping cables (and while we're on the subject of cables, publisher Koch Media deserves kudos for supplying very long ones!). There also seemed to be an occasional weird glitch in Street Fighter 2 Hyper Fighting, which you can see in the embedded video.
Another slight issue is that Capcom's games of this era tended to focus on a 384x224 display resolution, presented on 4:3 CRT monitors. In essence then, the artwork was expanded slightly, as 384x224 isn't a 4:3 resolution. The Capcom Home Arcade offers a 1:1 pixel match mode blown up to 1080p with integer scaling, but this doesn't look correct. I found the 4:3 mode to offer a more authentic experience, but as the artwork is expanded out, there is slight pixel shimmer most noticeable on side-scrolling games - of which there are many in this line-up. It's a real problem on retro mini-consoles, but mitigated somewhat here as the Capcom Home Arcade outputs at 1080p, not the usual 720p.
Display modes are something of a weakness with the Capcom Home Arcade compared to the competition - filters are kept to the minimum and there's no actual attempt at delivering scan-line emulation. All you get is a smoothing filter which seems to add a very basic bilinear upscale that actually detracts from the quality of Capcom's gorgeous artwork.
All of which leads us into the games themselves. 16 titles isn't a whole lot compared to other retro mini consoles - and when just one Street Fighter 2 game is delivered, there's a definite sense of restraint here. However, I think the selection itself is rather wonderful. The golden age classics like Ghouls 'n' Ghosts, Strider, Final Fight and Street Fighter 2: Hyper Fighting make the line-up, but there's plenty of room for less well-known titles that you may not have played much in the past. Armored Warriors is a fantastic belt-scroller fighting game I had a ton of fun with, right up there with Aliens vs Predator as the peak of the genre. Fighting fans are well taken care of with Hyper Fighting, but Darkstalkers is also joined by Cyberbots - another fantastic, possibly overlooked game.
Capcom Sports Club is a simply superb two-player experience, which suits the hardware make-up of the machine perfectly. Delivering tennis, football and basketball games, this has the same kind of intense gameplay as Windjammers, backed up by some beautiful sprite work. And ultimately, digging into the less prolific titles in this line-up is what I enjoyed most with my time with this machine. As well as delivering some of my favourites games, I got to appreciate more of Capcom's rich legacy - quite an achievement with 'just' 16 games in the line-up.
Capcom produced around 70 titles across the CPS1/CPS2 hardware, so I do hope that Koch Media license more of them. There's certainly plenty of scope here to do so. While I'm personally happy with the decision to bring us Hyper Fighting in this initial selection, I'm sure many might have preferred Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, for example, while the spectre of X-Men vs Street Fighter and Street Fighter Alpha also looms large. And beyond CPS1/CPS2, there's a strong possibility that the SoC here has the power to emulate CPS3 games, opening the door to a new range of exciting games.
In summary, I think this is a strong product well worth looking at. Yes, it's emulation from a SoC meaning that there is additional latency, but it's not too bad in this regard - on par with Mega Drive mini perhaps. And I also found the lack of dipswitch access disappointing as you can't adjust difficulty - and some of the games here can be brutally hard as a result. But beyond this and the odd audio drop-out, this is a great selection of games with decent emulation, backed up by a superb level of hardware quality. While the games line-up may not be exactly what you would have wished for, the curation here is well-judged and I came out of this review with an even greater appreciation of Capcom's classic arcade work. The Capcom Home Arcade is expensive for sure, but I'm impressed overall and it's definitely worth checking out.