Wednesday 10 November 2010

Arcade Classics

Classic game compilations are great. With the power of modern technology the expensive arcade machines of years long past can now be played in the comfort of your own home, for cheap, instantly. Of course in some cases such as when Sega hop on the re-release train, you don't get the best results. Sega's classic "cat in a blender" additions to many Mega Drive musical scores repeatedly give your childhood that extra level of cringe, but others seem to do a reasonable job.

But what were things like before the days of emulation? Like this, Arcade Classics on the Sega Mega Drive (and Sega Game Gear). Can they get it right? Is it even possible to get Pong wrong? Better find out.

I'm not entirely sure what to consider an "arcade classic". I suppose in this day and age, all arcade games are classics thanks to the emergence of powerful home video game consoles. But according to Al Baker & Associates, the likes of Missile Command, Centipede and Pong fit the description. Seems fair.

But what of trackballs? What's a trackball you ask? It's a ball.. that's tracked, similar to how old fashioned computer mice work, though the difference being you're in control of the ball, not the plastic shell with buttons. It's important to note its existence because the two relevant titles in the compilation were built around this control mechanism. Pong was built for analogue paddles, but we'll ignore that for now.

The Sega Mega Drive has nothing but digital buttons. There were various peripherals released such as the Mega Mouse which might add in a bit more control, and technically the Sega Master System's sports pad/paddle controllers could in theory deliver results, but for the majority of people picking up this game in 1996, none of these control schemes were an option. And besides, it's unlikely Al Baker & Associates thought this far ahead.

Digital buttons are great for many popular genres from the 1990s. Trackballs and mice only really work if the game has a top-down perspective and allows you to travel in any direction. They allow 360-degree motion, as opposed to the eight you'd find with the Mega Drive's D-Pad. They can also detect changes in speed, because it's not simply a case of being "on" or "off". Good news, basically.

Now Centipede (and Millipede) can be played with a D-Pad without too much trouble. Pong can also be played with a D-Pad (though the experience is somewhat gimped), but Missile Command? It struggles. Missile Command is all about speed and precision, and a D-Pad simply cannot offer both in this circumstance. Arcade Classic's version is horrible in comparison to the arcade game, and although it has been tweaked to be slightly more fair, this acts against it being a perfect port, making it a much slower experience than what it should be.

But that's just the start.

Of course, Atari themselves weren't directly responsible for this one. Perhaps they were too busy losing money on the Jaguar to notice that yet more poor products were slipping by their quality control procedures. It's not so much the case that the games play bad (though as I've just said, this is a big issue with Missile Command), but rather that the package is half baked, with every reviewable section taking a hit for unknown reasons.

And these reasons really are unknown - the game was released in 1996, a full eight years after Mega Drive game production began. By this stage we were two years into the fifth generation of consoles, so why does this compilation feel like something you'd expect in the third generation?

All three games are plagued with lag, though Pong thankfully doesn't suffer too much in that area. This is a huge problem for this compilation, because not only is the Sega Mega Drive more than capable of running each game at full speed, the Master System had proven it could to with an Atari compilation released three years before this one.

Included in the package are both "Classic" and "Sega" modes, which are pretty much identical aside from the latter boasting "updated graphics". They still play the same, complete with lag, and the changes are generally poor. Centipede becomes harder to see, Pong (or should I say, Ultrapong as it has OPTIONS) gets some haphazard colour splattered on the bats and Missile Command adds some shading to to the backgrounds. You don't get new music or special effects, and the gameplay as said isn't updated in any form. Having said that though, the music isn't exactly brilliant either so I guess you should be thankful.

The presentation is cheap and nasty, with the user being forced to endure plenty of start-up screens before being allowed to play another game. It's a very no-frills package and extremely unprofessional, but at least you can sleep at night knowing that not many people bought this mess.

So remember kids, classic compilations are great, but just remember not to buy this game.


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