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Konami Arcade Classics: Anniversary Collection

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Shoot-'Em-Up
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Release Date: April 18, 2019

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Xbox One Review - 'Konami Arcade Classics: Anniversary Collection'

by Adam Pavlacka on May 15, 2019 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Konami celebrates its 50th anniversary with a collection of eight arcade classics, including Haunted Castle and Nemesis.

Classic games are having something of a renaissance lately, thanks in part to the power of emulation. A bad emulation package (such as Sony's PlayStation Classic) is quickly forgotten, while one with a bit of care put into it (Nintendo's SNES Classic) is a great way to re-experience old favorites or discover new ones. While Konami's Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection is fairly solid on the emulation front, it falls flat when it comes to game selection, options, and presentation.

The Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection contains eight games from Konami's history. These are (in order of release):

 

  • Scramble - 1981
  • TwinBee - 1985
  • Nemesis (AKA Gradius) - 1985
  • Life Force (AKA Salamander) - 1986
  • Typhoon (AKA A-Jax) - 1987
  • Haunted Castle - 1988
  • Vulcan Venture (AKA Gradius II) - 1988
  • Thunder Cross - 1988

As far as the emulation quality is concerned, Hamster has done a solid job with the games. Each is faithfully reproduced, with responsive gameplay and accurate sound (at least to my ears). Some of the games can be punishingly difficult — hello, Haunted Castle! — but the challenge is due to the games themselves, and not because of poor emulation … unless you count the wireless controller bug.


That's right, the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection has an issue with wireless Xbox One controllers. When using an official Xbox One controller (newer model with the built-in audio jack), the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection will register phantom button presses. This can be seen in the game menus as a rapidly scrolling selection cursor. Using a wired controller (or briefly connecting the wireless controller via a USB cable) is a workaround to resolve the issue, but it's a shame that this made it past both Konami's QA and Microsoft's certification department.

On the presentation side, the options available for each game are minimal. There are only three scanline options to choose from: none, mild, and strong. The "none" option displays the raw pixels, strong looks like viewing on a monitor, and mild looks like a blended version of the two. Personally, I preferred playing with the option set to strong. There is also a display option to stretch the games from their original aspect ratio to 4:3 or 16:9, but it's just that: a stretch. Needless to say, games that are stretched out look pretty poor.

Oddly, there is no option to rotate the display for the vertical shooters in this collection. No, not everyone is going to spin their TV around for a game, but for hardcore shmup fans playing on monitors, tate mode is a must-have. After all, if you have a vertical display, why wouldn't you want to play a vertical shooter in full-screen mode?


Another big oversight, and arguably the biggest failing with the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection, is the lack of multiple ROM variants for the games in the package. This is supposed to be a collection that celebrates some of Konami's landmark titles, but it only includes a single North American version of each game. Given that the Japanese originals could have both minor and major differences to their North American counterparts, the lack of a region select is puzzling at best. It is doubly so, given that most of these games have been individually released on the PlayStation store, and ROM variants are available there.

Thankfully, Xbox One owners have a bit of an advantage here. Whereas PC, PS4, and Switch owners have to purchase a separate version of the game by connecting to the respective Japanese store, Xbox One owners only have to swap their console location to Japan to access the Japanese version of Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection. One purchase allows you to download both versions. There's still a catch here. While you can have both versions installed on your console, Konami has actually region-locked the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection. You can only launch the Japanese version of the game when your Xbox location is set to Japan, and you can only launch the English version of the game when your Xbox location is set outside of Japan. It's as though Konami wants to make it difficult for fans to enjoy these titles.

Why should you care about region differences? Some games have minor changes and don't really impact the overall gameplay. Others, like Haunted Castle, have been completely rebalanced (or unbalanced) to be more difficult and consume quarters. The Japanese original is much fairer in how it treats the player. On the flipside, Thunder Cross has had its stages edited, power-ups changed, and a super bomb added to make it easier for North American audiences. Only being able to experience one version of these games is akin to purchasing the "definitive edition" of a movie and only getting one cut, even if alternate cuts/scenes exist.


Despite the limited ROM selection, Konami did put in some work as far as bonus materials are concerned. There is no multimedia content, so don't expect a soundtrack selection or video recordings of expert playthroughs, but there is a decently meaty ebook that includes behind-the-scenes information on each game, an interview, some commentary from the editors, and sheet music selections. It's not as extensive as it could be, but it's also not bare-bones. For fans of the included titles, it's a nice peek behind the curtain, but it leaves you wanting more.

The majority of the games included in the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection are shmups. Haunted Castle is the only action game, and it seems to be included simply to round out the set. While playing through the collection, I did wonder why Konami chose to include Haunted Castle here instead of in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, given that it's simply an arcade version of Castlevania. Perhaps they were hoping to get Castlevania fans to pick up both collections.

Scramble is interesting from a historical perspective, but you likely won't spend a lot of time with it outside of achievements.


The meat and potatoes of this collection are TwinBee and the three Gradius games: Nemesis, Life Force, and Vulcan Venture. All four are excellent examples of Konami's shmup history, and each rides the line between challenging and curse-like-a-sailor-because-you-haven't-yet-learned-the-enemy-patterns. Honestly, after spending time with the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection and seeing the strength of the Gradius games, I almost wish Konami had made this a Gradius collection instead and included the Parodius games.

Typhoon has a neat pseudo-3D effect that is more flash than substance, while Thunder Cross is the easiest game in the collection, due to the aforementioned dumbing-down for North American audiences. If the simplified gameplay weren't enough of a clue, the super bomb in this version of the game is called "Lil' Baby." Ouch.

Recommending the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection is a bit of a mixed bag. If you're a fan of the Gradius games or a shmup fan, the collection is a solid, if basic, way to get these classic games on console. The lack of features and the wireless controller bug make it difficult to recommend for anyone who is merely curious about Konami's history. The emulation may be solid, but the package around it has some pretty rough edges.

Score: 6.5/10



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