Tuesday, May 19, 2009

AA looks at: Midway Arcade Treasures 1 part 3

Gauntlet - While this game has been outdone a few times over by now there is still some merit in looking at this arcade classic. Gauntlet is a mediocre dungeon hack on its own. You choose the medieval fantasy archetype of your choice(warrior, wizard, elf, valkyrie) and explore dungeons, kill monsters and their generators by the hundreds, find treasure, and survive for as long as possible(or until you get bored of feeding quarters into the machine thus defeating the entire point). 

What Gauntlet is most remembered for however is its understanding of cooperative gameplay. For too many games coop simply boils down into having an extra set of guns to kill the bad guy with. Coop is about team-work and while it can provide advantages it should never be as simple and easy as making it easier to kill the bad guys. Gauntlet teaches the basics quite well.

Good Co-op games force the players to share the wealth and means of survival. So you can't simply grab all the treasure and food while expecting your buddies to take down everything in sight for you. Whoever has the most health should be taking the brunt of the attacks while the weakest should stay behind(though they should still maintain some level of support, everybody has to pull their own weight).

Good Co-op games also tend to make the game more difficult to account for additional players. For example in Diablo 2 it's pretty simple as every foe gets a boost in stats for every player that joins a game. In Gauntlet however the difficulty comes less from game-imposed decisions and more from limitations due to the mechanics. Like with many co-op games all players have to stay on the same screen. So if you have one guy in the opposite corner from the rest of the party nobody is going anywhere until they get organized and figure out where they're going. Furthermore Gauntlet mixes it up every few stages by making the player's shots freeze other players, leading to many headaches if nobody is paying attention.

Good Co-op games also remember to enforce particular aspects to ensure nobody can break the game. Ikaruga is the clearest example in that when playing co-op neither player can share the same space. Imagine how silly it would be to have both players using a different color and becoming neigh-invincible as long they stuck together. Good teamwork sure but the game is broken(and their score will probably be lousy as well). Certainly there are advantages to co-op in Gauntlet but with a rapidly decreasing health meter there's little chance for players to take advantage of the increased firepower.

Nowadays with countless sequels, titles in the same vein, and the advent of dungeon hacks like Diablo and its ilk there's not much of a reason to play the original Gauntlet today. Regardless it's an important piece of gaming history.

Splat! - This is an interesting take on the dual-stick shooter if not completely bizarre. You're thrown into an empty arena except for a conveyor belt that's constantly dropping food off. The object is to grab this food and fling it at bad guys/your friend. The bad guys range from nerds to hitmen to guys in corn-cob costumes(??) and they're throwing crap at you as well. You can also run into doors to get out of bad situations provided you have a key(which gets dropped along with the food). When you hit someone their head flies off and you have to smack them with some more food to take them out. The same can happen to you though and while you're scrambling to get your head you can't throw any food. It's a weird and interesting game but ultimately not something worth bothering with(unless you can convince someone to play with you).

Spy Hunter - This is one of those classics I never really got into. This is an overhead shooter where you get a sweet ride and you owe down the bad guys and a bunch of hapless tourists as well. Killing neutrals won't net you any points but they won't penalize you either, which just makes them annoying. Bad guys on the other hand will actively try to nail you through a variety of ways(mostly by running you off the road). Every now and then you get a chance to hop in a trailer and grab some power-up like oil slicks and a smokescreen like a James Bond movie. The steering is a bit touchy but I guess that's be expected when relying on an analog stick instead of a wheel like in the arcade. Some people think this game is great but I don't see anything noteworthy about it.

RoadBlasters - In a way this could be considered a re-imagining of Spy Hunter only more futuristic. First off the view has been changed to something a bit closer to the average car-based game. You're still moving forward shooting everything that moves(and this time getting points for it) though your rivals are more likely to blow you up with mines and cannons. In order to keep your fuel up and finish each track you've got to navigate some easy turns, collect fuel lying around and off of your foes and try to avoid getting destroyed(though you can recover as long as you have fuel remaining). Due to the forward-orientation of the game's perspective your car's weaponry has been updated to be a bit more futuristic and consists more of blowing things up with minimal fuss instead of getting them to slide into a tree. Fun to mess around with for a bit but otherwise it's not something I can get behind.

Super Sprint - Overhead one-screen racing game. I for one could never get around the angle used in these racing games and spent more time running into walls than collecting powerups, getting around the drones, and scoring huge points. It's probably worthwhile if you're better than I am at figuring these games out but if not...don't bother.

Satan's Hollow - Rather than get stuck as just another Galaga clone, this game introduces a rechargeable shield. By holding down the button you can produce a shield that cancels enemy fire and wipes out anything that tries to run into you(unlike Galaga the denizens of the Hollow are a bit more aggressive and won't think twice about crashing into you). The shield depletes very quickly but is also quick to recharge, making it an essential tool for survival. Probably worth a look unless you're the kind of person who has played everything.

Sinistar - Aside from producing a memorable videogame villain there's really little else to say about this game. It's a free-scrolling overhead shooter where you have to mine the various asteroids floating around(by firing at them) and collecting their crystals to create bombs. The bad guys are creating crystals too so they can form Sinistar. The only ways you can get killed are via the cannons that show up and try to gun you down and Sinistar himself, who if he gets closed will drag you in and crush you between his teeth. A tough & simple game.

Toobin' - Ride the rapids in an inner-tube. This is a very good coop/competitive style game. Using the analog sticks to paddle you make your way through Colorado, The Amazon Rainforest, Mexico, Hell, Alien bases, and even your own worst nightmares, all while collecting treasure, throwing cans at your buddy, and trying to get those juicy score multipliers(easier said than done considering you lose your chance at them if you touch the posts). This is a fine game by itself but it is a must with a friend.

Vindicators - I was a fan of this game back in the arcades but on here it just doesn't work out that well. Like Toobin you use dual-analog sticks to move around but here it's just not any fun. Aiming is clumsy and it's troublesome trying to line up a shot when the enemy has no problem taking you out. In-between levels you can trade in stars you collect for tank upgrades but it's just not enough to be worth bothering with. A waste of time I'm afraid to say.

And that finally wraps up my views on Midway Arcade Treasures volume 1. Overall it's a decent compilation even if like me you end up sticking with the Defenders, Joust 1, and the handful of other quite excellent titles.

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