Release Date: March 30, 2007
The era of the retrogaming compilation is truly upon us as gamers. As old arcade circuit boards and consoles long past their prime start to wear down and become less reliable, the thought of rehashing old arcade and console games for newer, more powerful consoles — and their slightly less powerful brothers, the handhelds — becomes quite lucrative, as well as having the added benefit of older gamers never having to explain to their contemporaries how things were back in my day. Oddly, though, while the PSP has been a veritable dumping ground for remakes and compilations of both games old and relatively new, the Nintendo DS has seen practically none. Perhaps it's due to the oddity of coding for a touch-screen, though that hasn't stopped many before. Luckily, those days are over with the release of Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits. While not every game on the compilation is well-known, Konami brings out the big guns for this release, with Contra and Gradius most notably fronting the assault.
A surprising 15 games grace the Arcade Hits cart, though it may be a case of quantity over quality. While the aforementioned headliners (Contra and Gradius) are present, many older shooter fans are going to be drawn in, much like I was, at the addition of Time Pilot, Scramble and Rainbow Bell, which is more typically known on both shores as Twin Bee. For those who are into older sports games, Track & Field is considered quite classic as well, but beyond that, things kind of taper off into mediocrity. Roc 'n Rope is an older, nearly forgotten arcade platformer from the days when Atari and Coleco were fighting for market dominance instead of Nintendo and Sony, and hasn't aged well in the slightest, even to former fans of the game, like myself.
Further down the scale, we have Pooyan, Yie Ar Kung Fu, Rush 'n Attack, Basketball, Road Fighter, Circus Charlie, Horror Maze and Shao-Lin's Road, in increasing order of obscurity. While some of the games still remain fun to this day, others show their age with (admittedly accurate) clunky controls and painful, Atari 2600-level pixels. Circus Charlie in particular seems like an exercise in frustration due to largely unresponsive controlling and a surprisingly slow game pacing, whereas Yie Ar Kung Fu runs quite similar to what would happen if you got Street Fighter II hopped up on morphine. Needless to say, this was from an era when fighting games weren't an exercise in mashing buttons. No, that job's reserved for Track & Field.
Pleasantly, all of the included games are nearly arcade-perfect, for better or worse. I say "nearly" because many of the titles were designed to play on a different aspect scale than the DS screen presents, making the images slightly squashed when placed on a single screen. There is an option to play the games in book-style mode, similar to Brain Age, but trying to manipulate both sets of buttons while still keeping the screen upright will quickly prove to be a futile, if not excruciatingly painful, experience. Past the slight compression of the graphics, however, the games all run, sound, and control exactly like their upright counterparts.
Now, 15 older games might seem quite lacking on today's higher-capacity media, and Konami seems to have taken this into account. In fact, Konami Classics Series is crammed with more extras than most compilation sets combined. Outside of the games themselves, you'll find images of original promotional marquees, the original game manuals (oftentimes in both English and Japanese), and while you're playing, many games will feature an instructional card similar to the ones on the cabinets themselves on the screen not in use, giving you a helpful reminder of how to control the game if you forget. Each game has programmable options as well, both in the form of menus and, for the truly reminiscent arcade gamer, a scan of the arcade board, allowing you to individually set each DIP switch. While the second option might seem a little extraneous, it's that sort of attention to detail that seems to seep into every facet of Arcade Hits.
Also surprising for a retro compilation, multiplayer is fully supported — perhaps more so than most current games! While many games have alternating two-player modes, the ones that have simultaneous play (Contra and Track & Field come to mind) are playable with only a single Arcade Hits cart. In addition, you can send individual demos of all the games to other DS units, and if your friend happens to have a second copy of the game, you can save and swap replays of games to show off your mad old-school skills to your buddies. Finally, there's a full, working soundtrack jukebox for every one of the games, allowing you to jam to your favorite 8-bit tunes, even while the DS is closed — a feature that very few games overall have for the DS.
Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits is a shining example of what a retro compilation should be. Not all the games are as enjoyable as they once were, but a great many of them are loads of fun even in this day and age, and even the less-fun ones are still bound to bring a nostalgic tear to a grizzled old gamer's eye. Many of the extra features are appealing to both collectors of older titles and to casual players alike, and the games all control splendidly with the DS' button setup. While it's not a perfect collection, it's good enough to warrant a purchase.