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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Tecmo Classic Arcade (Xbox)

By Michael Palisano

Tecmo Classic Arcade for the Xbox is the latest in a long series of classic emulation packs for the current generation of consoles. Mixing obscure titles such as Strato Fighter and Pleiads with well-known franchises such as Rygar and Tecmo Cup, the compilation offers an excellent view of the company in its classic era. The emulation of each game is excellent, and the authentic screen proportions help to bring the titles back to life. The games here are all exact ports of the arcade games instead of the better-known NES versions, but they still maintain an excellent sheen, even a quarter-century later in some cases. Tecmo Classic Arcade is an excellent compilation that should please anyone who grew up during gaming's golden age.

While Tecmo might not have the arcade heritage of some of the industry's bigger names, this quirky collection shows the company knew how to innovate and create solidly entertaining titles even back in the early 1980's, when the company was called Tekhara. This collection shows a versatile and competent company that offered players some fairly ground-breaking experiences back in the day. The oldest game on the package is the old-school shooter Pleiads, which had several unique features. You'll immediately notice the resemblance to the classic Phoenix in the game's overall structure and the similar graphics technology. This is a three screen game where each offers a unique objective. The first screen has you shooting at a series of diving aliens as they try and destroy your base on Earth, the second sees your ship blasting off as you try and blast a series of larger aliens who can be broken into pieces, a la Phoenix's second screen as well. Like Phoenix, you then reach the final battle with a boss ship, and must destroy it as it throws waves of smaller enemies at you. Where the game diverges is in its fourth screen, where you have to navigate a short runway filled with objects and avoid crashing into them. Despite the relatively simple graphics and minimalist, bleeping soundtrack, Pleiads is an enjoyable title that offers players the opportunity to relive simpler times when gaming was more primal and approachable.

Senjyo is an odd first person space shooter, somewhat reminiscent of Battlezone. The object here is to take out as many enemies as you can while avoiding their shots. The somewhat clunky controls make the ship hard to maneuver and the game throws too many cheap shots. From a visual standpoint, the environments do a decent job of creating an illusion of depth, and the gameplay is solid, if not overly challenging. A much better title on Tecmo Classic Arcade is Star Force. This vertical shooter is surprisingly enjoyable, with an excellent array of enemies and some pretty cool weapons and power-ups, especially considering it was originally released back in 1984. Star Force was also released on the NES, but the Arcade version's superior graphics and faster gameplay seen here make it a more challenging and enjoyable game. Another excellent title on the compliation is also one of the most obscure. In fact, Strato Fighter might be the collection's hidden gem. This vertical shooter from the early 90's is highly reminiscent of classic shooters like Darius and Gradius and features excellent weapons power-ups that reach multiple levels, massive boss encounters with screen-filling adversaries and some outstanding level designs. The MIDI music chip has been emulated perfectly, giving the game a distinctly retro feel that makes you think you are back in the golden age of Genesis shooters when titles like Arrow Flash and Gaiares ruled consoles. This is a really cool game for veterans of those titles who still enjoy the genre. This is a great game that definitely takes a bit more effort than some of the other titles, but is well worth it.

Solomon's Key is an intriguing puzzle game that mixes elements of several titles in one. This features some surprisingly interesting puzzles, and action where you have to avoid contact with enemies while figuring out a path to the key, and ultimately the final door. Making the game even better is the music, which is charming and fun at the same time. In a similar vein, Bomb Jack is a classic arcade action title that's kind of like Bubble Bobble but with some slightly different objectives. You basically have to run over a series of bombs in order to score more points while avoiding a group of pursuers. It seems relatively simple at first, but the increasingly complicated level layouts make the game more challenging. Bomb Jack's unique thrust-flying system also lends the game a unique control system that makes the mechanics nearly as challenging as the game itself. Both of these puzzle titles remain enjoyable and challenging after all these years, and are surprisingly addictive, if you give them a chance and work through the slower earlier levels.

Rygar probably needs no introduction for most classic games, and this port of the arcade version, while simpler than the NES version, is still a solidly entertaining action platformer where the hero can perform attacks using his trusty circular axe. The pace is a bit faster than you'd expect and the game's unforgiving controls and enemies leave little room for error. The simplistic Swimmer from 1982 isn't as impressive as you'd think. The object here is to swim across the screen, avoid logs and other obstacles such as turtles and crabs while collecting various fruits. Players can also use the Dive button to swim under various obstacles, though you need to time your submergence perfectly. This doesn't work quite as well as it could have, making this a sometimes frustrating experience. Of all the games included, Swimmer is probably the least interesting and exciting title. The whole thing leaves you feeling like there needs to be more to it, but there isn't giving it a short lifespan.

Obviously, the showpieces title in this compilation is Tecmo's legendary football title. The classic Tecmo Bowl makes an appearance here, with its unique dual-screen configuration effectively emulated. Tecmo Bowl features same classic gameplay that you remember from the arcade, with some excellent formations and challenges. The time limit was necessary back in the day, but in the emulated form is somewhat annoying and hurts the flow of the action. Tecmo Cup is a decent soccer title that takes place on a top down perspective. While many players probably worried that the game would suffer on the Xbox because the original used a track ball to control the action, we're happy to report that Tecmo Cup plays solidly and offers a decent game of football to boot. Finally, we come to Pinball Action, a seemingly dull recreation of the pastime that becomes more interesting as you play and discover additional boards. The ball physics aren't quite up to task, but the overall feel of the game is fun enough, and its challenging to try and open everything up and hit all the targets. This is also interesting as a time capsule into the era, since many systems at the time tried to implement video versions of pinball. Despite its simplicity, Tecmo succeeded at making a decent recreation and Pinball Action's simplistic approach makes it instantly accessible and proves that games don't need flashy graphics to hold a player's interest.

Players can also browse through an extensive selection of original arcade flyers and artwork for each game including some basic instructions. You can zoom on each piece as well, to get a view of each. The game also features an options menu where you can set the difficulty, number of lives and time limits for each game as well. The interface is simple, allowing you to navigate through quickly. These extras help to round out the package, giving it some historic perspective. As you'd expect from the sticklers at Tecmo, all the games have been emulated perfectly and look as good as they did in the arcade. Likewise, the controls remain as smooth, responsive and intuitive as the arcade originals, making this a pleasing flashback for gamers everywhere. While there are many other compilations of classic games on the market, Tecmo Classic Arcade benefits mostly from its lack of familiarity, many players probably haven't heard of many of these games. Their obscurity and entertainment value makes this a refreshing change of pace that should please hardcore fans of classic arcade games.

Grade: B

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