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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Taito Legends (PS2)

By Michael Palisano

Taito's legendary arcade heritage finally gets its due with the release of a comprehensive compilation, appropriately titled Taito Legends for PS2. The disc includes 29 classic arcade games ranging from the well-known (Space Invaders) to the obscure (Electric Yo-Yo) and even some hidden gems like New Zealand Story, making this a well-rounded set. There's plenty of quantity, but the quality is there as well. The games range from excellent, to brilliant with very few duds. Add in extras like cabinet art, sales flyers, and interviews and you have an excellent package. Taito Legends is probably the best of the recent wave of classic game collections, and a must purchase for any retro gamer.

With competing compilations from bigger names like Midway and Capcom on the market this fall, Taito Legends stands out from the pack by offering the largest selection of classic arcade games on any collection to date. The packaging itself features a cool illustration with many of Taito's classic characters over a wave of Invaders, while the in-game interface is simple, yet allows for faster loading time than some of the other discs. There's also a cool remix of the classic Space Invaders sounds with a slick techno feel that fits the action perfectly. Players will also find original arcade cabinets, sales flyers and few interviews on the disc as well. You can also configure the game so the appear in original proportions, change the size of the screen and set difficulty options as well. The menus are easy to navigate and control, with automatic saves which allow you to hang onto your high-scores. Once you're finished setting the options and deciding which game to play, you'll find a dizzying selection of classic arcade titles that span approximately a decade from 1978 to 1990. The games themselves have been perfectly emulated for the most part, and retain the graphics, controls and sounds that made them so perfect to begin with.

There's an excellent selection of titles on the disc, ranging from well-known titles such as Space Invaders to lesser gems like Zoo Keeper. Most players will probably want to play SI first, and the three installments here feature two of the classic versions as well as an updated game. The original Space Invaders has held up well despite its age, and remains as challenging and exciting as it was originally, with the hypnotic steps of the invaders quickening as you shoot them down. Playing this again reminds you of what made video games so appealing in the first place, with an intense almost primal feel to the game. Space Invaders Part II is basically a slightly enhanced version of the original with multi-colored graphics and slightly better animation than the first game. While Taito made a decent attempt to update the series several years later, the gimmicky Return of the Invaders feels a bit dated, with the new configurations and patterns adding little to the series, while the upgraded visuals lack the charm of the original game.

Taito followed up the massively successful Space Invaders with another classic horizontal shooter, named Phoenix from 1980. This was quite innovative for its time, with breathtakingly detailed visuals and remains one of the best classic games ever made. This was one of the first games that offered players the ability to shield their ships, which added plenty of strategy to the proceedings.The multi-screened approach which starts off fairly generic in a Galaxian sort of way on its first screen becomes more interesting on the second screen, where you face larger demonic birds that take multiple hits to attack. Finally, the game turns to its final screen, a boss confrontation with the bird fortress, where you have to break through a spinning shield, and place a shot at just the right moment to defeat the boss. The timing here is a bit tricky, and despite its primitive nature, the formula found on Phoenix' last screen was a solid template that most classic shooters used for more than a decade.

One of the stranger omissions from the package is Qix, instead Taito Legends offers two lesser sequels, Super Qix and Volfied, neither of which is as enjoyable as the original game. Super Qix is far too cutesy, and its dancing gremlin doesn't really match the menace of the original's minimalist fury. Volfied was released a few years ago stateside under the misleading title of Neo Qix, but the game's backgrounds are too complicated and the new power-ups only serve to clutter up the action. Another misfire on the disc is Plump Pop, a much too simple version of the classic Atari game Circus where the object is to move a trampoline around and make your little puppy pop balloons. It's simplicity actually works against Plump Pop, since most players will probably tire of it quickly. The disc compensates for these problems with a few largely unknown titles that offer solid puzzle-style gameplay. The first of these is Tube It, which takes the classic gameplay of Locomotion and mixes it with Tetris. The object of this game is to move interconnected pipes around the screen and connect them together, forming a solid line which makes these blocks vanish. This isn't as easy as it sounds, making for an addictive game that takes hours to master. Since you can change the angle of these blocks once they've fallen, you have multiple opportunities to make connections, though it's a lot harder after the blocks begin to fall faster. The other hidden gem is Plotting, another unique puzzle title where the objective is to aim flying blocks at the left side of the screen, carefully lining them up with your existing blocks to form connections. Its somewhat reminiscent of Columns, though the angling moves add another layer of strategy to Plotting's decidedly not plodding gameplay.

While many of the games on the disc are well-known, there are several that seem to have fallen through the cracks over the years. Fortunately, they've been given another chance to shine this time around. A prime example of this is Zoo Keeper, easily the hidden treasure of this package. This deceptively simple game has you in the role of a Zoo Keeper trying to hold various animals inside their cages. As you run around the edges of these stages, blocks will fill in. However, animals are likely to escape and you'll need to jump over them to survive the stage. Luckily, you can capture them when your net icon appears, and send them back inside their cage. When the timer for each stage reaches its end, you'll earn points for any animal inside the pen. This goes on for several stages until you reach the bonus rounds. The first one has you jumping up a series of platforms until you reach your girlfriend, but this can be tricky since you have to avoid the coconuts a crazed monkey is throwing at you. This stage is followed later on by a final bonus stage where you have to jump over a series of animals running at you on two stages. Completing this round earns you another life. While it seems deceptively simple and cutesy, the game's intensity, speed and challenge definitely makes Zoo Keeper one of the more addictive and enjoyable games on the disc. This is one of those classic titles that hasn't lost an ounce of its appeal over the past two decades, and its inclusion here is welcome news, marking the first time this cult-favorite has appeared on any home console. Two other early classics often overlooked by most players, Colony 7 and The Electric Yo-You offer gamers an interesting glimpse of gaming's early days. Colony 7 mixes elements of Missile Command and Atlantis to create an original and interesting game. The Electric Yo-Yo is probably one of the most obscure titles on the disc, but its unique play mechanics which mix elements of Qix and puzzle games make it addictive and enjoyable, and definitely worth checking out.

Several gun shooters are included in the package as well, with Operation Wolf leading the pack. Many players will probably have fond memories of this game that featured some really cool animations and a clever design that allows you to follow an adventure all the way through. The really cool thing about the game is the fact that you can use either standard shots or grenades to kill your foes, and can also gain health power-ups throughout. The gameplay itself has aged nicely, though trying to play the game with a standard PS2 controller isn't as much fun as you'd expect it to be. Operation: Thunderbolt followed up Wolf with a more elaborate series of missions, some additional 3D stages and a few new types of ammo. It wasn't as polished as Wolf, but it remains an interesting game for today's players, nonetheless. Space Gun is also included, with its claustrophobic corridors teeming with extra-terrestrial life forms hell bent on getting the player. Space Gun is definitely a bit more violent than some of the other games on the disc, but its still an enjoyable blast-a-thon that should fill some of your spare time effectively, as will the sea themed Battle Shark, though its longevity is somewhat questionable without using a light gun. While Rastan never got the attention it deserved, this side-scrolling action title is solidly entertaining, with excellent level design and clever enemies, its somewhat reminiscent of the classic Rygar. It's nothing spectacular by today's standards but it offers a challenging experience. Thunder Fox is another minor hit that never made major waves, but this side-scrolling military themed game was loads of fun, making it a solidly entertaining addition to the package.

Traditional side scrollers also get their due in the package with several solid titles. You can definitely see the influence of Capcom's 194X series in Tokio, though this game offers more in the way of varied landscapes. It plays well enough, though the controls and responsiveness aren't quite up to the task. For vertical shooting fans, the odd layouts and graphics of Exzisus makes for a cool side-scrolling shooting game. Placing players in the role of a lone warrior in a space suit, the game's array of enemies and bosses makes this an enjoyable game. Martial Arts fans also have a pair of titles in the game, with both Gladiator and the Great Swordsman offering players the chance to battle with weapons. Great Swordsman is the more interesting of the two, offering players multiple fighting disciplines ranging from fencing to more traditional kung-fu in one-on-one battles against an opponent. Gladiator is a traditional side scrolling game where you fight against enemies, while trying to keep your armor attached. The graphics in Gladiator are decent, but the game is missing depth and challenge, that would make it more appealing.

Bubble Bobble has attracted quite a cult following over the years, and the game's fans will be thrilled to know that this classic platforming game has never looked or played better. The arcade game's visuals and soundtrack have been perfectly replicated here, with all the charm and fun of the original game very much intact. One of the game's many sequels, Rainbow Islands is also included as well. The game takes the BB formula to new heights, with its unique play mechanics allowing players to build their own path and a uniquely Japanese style of character design emblematic of Taito's surrealistic phase. Both games are loads of fun, with simple gameplay and multiple bonuses that make them both quite addictive. On a similar vein, The New Zealand Story is a bit strange, but has a similar feel to the Bubble Bobble series, though here the action is crossed with Super Mario Bros. to create one of the more unique experiences on the disc. All three of these games offer a strange, off-kilter sensibility, but they pale next to the absolute weirdness of The Ninja Kids, a strange side-scroller with indescribably odd character animations, bizarre enemies and a strange plot. That said, this is quite an enjoyable game in its own right, that features some cool moves and funny acts that make it stand out from most of the other games on Taito Legends immediately.

Jungle Hunt was another early 80's favorite that set the stage for many platform titles to come. Again, set in three screens the first round starts things off quickly as you jump between vines, trying to hold on as you go from one to the next. If you traverse these successfully, you'll find yourself swimming through another obstacle course, where crocodiles snap at you. The trick here is to knife them at just the right moment, while trying not to get caught in the air bubbles. If you beat Jungle Hunt's second stage, you then move on to a third stage where you have to avoid a series of rocks thrown at you by either jumping over or ducking under them. Then you reach the final stage where you need to jump over two tribal members to save your girlfriend, which is trickier than it sounds. Jungle Hunt was definitely one of the seminal arcade games of its time, and its influence can still be seen in many platformers today. Taito Legends also includes another classic platforming title that hold up well, Elevator Action. This is a bit more complex than the other games, but the action is still relatively straightforward. Here you take on the role of a secret agent who's been dispatched to a building crawling with agents. Your mission is to take your briefcase to the bottom of the building while avoiding the numerous agents along the way. You can break light fixtures to temporarily darken the buildings, and the real test comes at the bottom of each level where you have multiple elevators to run through, which can be quite a challenge itself. Elevator Action is one of those games that offered a memorable experience with solid entertaining gameplay that makes it appealing even now, making it another solid addition to the package.

With such a broad selection of titles included on Taito Legends, there's little doubt that most players will be able to find something to enjoy. The selection is a bit erratic in terms of genre, but the games themselves are all of high quality, offering an enjoyable experience throughout. The emulation of each game is nearly flawless for the most part, allowing you to relive the past without having to compromise on quality. Overall, this is probably the most comprehensive commercial emulation package on the market, with an incredibly deep overview of the company's history. Its definitely going to please die-hard arcade fans, but this is no mere museum piece, the games remain loads of fun and are quite accessible, making Taito Legends an enjoyable journey into the past for anyone who grew up during the golden age of electronic games.

Grade: A

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