IGN Review of Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits
Classic compilations haven't exactly taken the Nintendo DS by storm yet -- they were a dime a dozen on the Game Boy Advance, but for the dual-screen handheld there's really only been one: the lame and incredibly unfaithful Retro Atari Classics. Why publishers haven't made the leap yet is a mystery, but Konami's certainly proved with its just released Konami Classics Series Arcade Hits that the DS has the right stuff to emulate and reproduce the old-school arcade games, and retain their original feel on the dual-screen set-up. Like any classic compilation, the actual library can be its victory or its downfall, but there are plenty of strong Konami titles in this batch to keep interest high...even if there are the occasional (and expected) duds in the pack.
Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits is a collection of fifteen arcade titles from Konami's arcade library from the 1980s. A chunk of the games, namely Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Time Pilot, Rush 'n Attack, and Scramble, were made available in the company's Game Boy Advance collection released nearly a half decade ago. But the remainder of the collection are making their debut in handheld form on the Nintendo DS. We've got truly classic games like Gradius, Track & Field, Circus Charlie and Contra; niche old-school games like Rainbow Bell, Basketball (the precursor to Double Dribble), Roc 'n Rope, and Pooyan; and titles you might not have heard about: Shaolin's Road, Road Fighter, and Horror Maze (a retitled version of Tutankham).
Your mileage may vary with the batch of games in this collection, and you'll likely find your own favorites. Each of the games are presented just as they would have been in the arcade, attract mode and all. Pressing the Select button is essentially dropping a quarter into the machine and triggering a credit to start playing. Since the games were designed for quick-shot play sessions, that's pretty much what you're going to get out of each of these games. Depth? Afraid not, folks. These games were all about getting into the high score ranks, and that's where much of the lasting play comes from in these classic compilations. If you manage to get into the list, the game will automatically save your standing to cartridge at the game over screen so you'll never lose your bragging rights.
A classic compilation is always made better if the development team takes its project to heart, and Konami's retro team put lots of tender loving retro care in this pack. This game is packed with all sort of options: full control customization, auto-fire toggling for cheating in games like Track 'n Field and Gradius, and one of the coolest functions: the ability to tinker around with the original arcade game's settings via virtual dipswitch settings on a touch-screen operated arcade motherboard. The developers play fan service with extras, like scans from the original leaflets (both English and Japanese) that were handed to arcade operators who might purchase the machines for their game rooms.
Many of the arcade games in Konami's past used vertical orientation, essentially turning a television up on its side so it's taller than it is wide. On the Nintendo DS, you can play either in a "squished" mode that looks weird but plays more naturally, or, via on-the-fly touch-screen menu options, you can switch to a 90 degree mode where you'll tip the DS on its side a la Brain Age. Playing this way might be a little awkward at first, but believe me -- when you can play Contra in its original "tall screen" orientation, you'll never go back. The DS LCD screens don't have the same resolution as the original arcade games so you'll see slight visual jitters as you play, but honestly it's a small price to pay to get the games in portable form and after a few minutes you won't notice anyway. And if you'd rather have the action on the lower screen than on the upper one, you can change that too, but unfortunately this is one of the only menu functions that can't be adjusted within a game in an on-the-fly fashion.
The developers went nuts with the wireless support, but stopped just shy of offering Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection features. This is a local network only game, but each game can be linked with a second Nintendo DS, either with or without a copy of the game. The host system can send a copy of the game to a cart-free system and play in any game's two player mode. This means simultaneous two player (but not four player) Track & Field and Contra, as well as alternating two player modes in the rest of the bunch. Each game can also be sent as a single player "demo" to connected DS systems, which means DS owners can walk away with single player full versions of any of the fifteen games in the pack, and keep it for as long as they don't shut their system off. There's even a silly wireless mode where you can turn a second DS into a remote controller; this was clearly made for Track & Field where it gets difficult to see the screen when you're rapidly mashing the buttons and shaking the system, so you now have the option to set the system down and control it with a different DS. Silly, but at the same time a pretty cool option.
Oh, and for those who want to show gamers how it's done, players have the option to record their session and save it to a file for later playback so that other people see the high score run in action. These files can be swapped to other systems wirelessly as well -- this certainly would have been a cool option for online rankings, but like I said: no Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection option's in this pack.
I do have to mention to you folks with lightning fingers of Track & Field: there seems to be a limitation to how fast you can mash the buttons. Keep this in mind -- it might be a technical issue of the original arcade games, but using the same technique learned in console versions of the Track & Field series (a thumb on one run button, the other thumb on another run button, and "wiggling" the control rapidly) seems to not work well on the DS. You'll most likely have to try a new technique to break high scores.
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