Midway Arcade Origins (Xbox360)

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Anyone old enough to remember Midway Games will no doubt already be planning to buy Midway Arcade Origins for nostalgia reasons and is here to find a better argument to justify their ravenous appetite. For those that have never heard of Midway Games, there probably isn’t enough persuasive power in the entire Jedi Academy to convince you to buy this compilation and for that reason this review will probably be received by such youngsters as a terrible dissertation on nostalgia and gaming.

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Midway Arcade Origins is a retro arcade compilation of more than thirty of Midway’s best titles bundled into one timeless package. Back in its heyday, Midway Games was responsible for developing and distributing many of the seminal coin-op arcade classics. Gaming evergreens such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man owe their Western success to Midway and the company has undeniably left an indelible mark on gaming culture.

It’s no surprise then that the best memories of my coming-of-age as a gamer back in the eighties often overlap with many Midway titles. As an avid fan of Midway, and in particular many of the games included in this pack, I threw down the Gauntlet to the rest of the El33tonline team: do not bother Jousting with me for this one because you would not survive the ensuing Rampage if I don’t get this review copy! Christmas had come early to my household and I looked forward to reliving some of my fondest childhood memories from almost three decades ago. Just one quick look through the list of games featured in this pack and I could immediately tick off five or six that I consider to be some of the best games of that era of gaming for me.

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To borrow from a famous military veteran/runner/football player/business entrepreneur, Midway Arcade Origins is like a box of chocolates. Quality Street chocolates, actually. Everyone has their favourite favourite and there’s something in this pack to satisfy every fan of retro arcade gaming. The only problem is, these Quality Street chocs are nearly thirty years old and many have not maintained their freshness into the 21st century, and a bit of focused chewing and patience may be required to extract the most sweetness out of them.

I could go through each game in this pack and rate their individual longevity and how they measure up in today’s gaming world but we would be here until the Xbox 720 is finally released. I’m not here to review each of the games in the pack either – that was done twenty or so years ago – so instead, I will list the games that stood out as still playable and leave off the ones that didn’t wow me.

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Since the Xbox 360 is to a large extent about couch co-op in my opinion, it comes as no surprise that most of the multiplayer titles in Arcade Origins still have some life in them. The vast majority of games in the collection are multiplayer, and top of the list for multiplayer appeal are Gauntlet, Gauntlet II, Super Off Road, Xenophobe and Rampage. Supporting three or four players simultaneously, these games are just as much fun now as they were back in their prime in the mid to late eighties, and even a grizzled old cynical gamer will be challenged not to sneak a wry smirk of acknowledgement. If multiplayer retro arcading is your thing, then you’ve got yourself a digital all-you-can-eat eighties buffet here.

All of the games on the disc are no different to their original releases, featuring no improvements or modernised HD renderings which are so often ubiquitous with current generation console re-releases of classics. In Midway Origins, every game is the original arcade console version dating back twenty-five (and sometimes even thirty) years ago. For the purists out there this would be nostalgia heaven but the biggest lesson I’ve learned from revisiting old games from my youth is that nostalgia is sometimes best left gently snoring.

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As someone who has grown up alongside the gaming industry, I’ve enjoyed slow improvements to games that permit players to have a much deeper degree of freedom within the gaming environments. This freedom of more control is both a blessing and a curse for gamers: the blessing lies in more choice and depth in games while the curse lies in gamers facing the risk of becoming spoiled and fussy critics when they don’t get to do precisely what they want to, when they want to.

The simple beauty of linear gameplay is lost on the modern generation and nowadays if you can’t do more than jump and shoot, it’s considered a terribly simplistic game. Even though the classics in Midway Origins are just how I remember them, I’ve learned that they are only fun for a short stint before one starts to really notice the blocky, dated graphics and grows impatient with the relatively limited (at least by today’s standards) gameplay mechanics.

It’s possibly for this reason that more than thirty games were included in the compilation. Perhaps the producers realised that the modern generation will feel an urge to regularly shift their attention to the next title in the collection just to keep things interesting. Of course, I am confident that an occasional gem will reveal itself, and in many cases it will be a simple case of what your mood is like, so the volume of games will generally keep everyone interested in at least one of the titles offered – a flavour of the moment, if you will.

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With the vast majority of games being multiplayer, most can be played simultaneously, while only a very small number are turn-based or hot-seat multiplayer. Each game also comes with a free play option (where you can insert as many coins as you like) or a standard game play option which features achievements and online leaderboards.

Despite the wide assortment of Midway titles in the pack ranging from Joust to Bubbles to Toobin’, some titles are obvious through their omission, such as Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam and WWF Wrestlemania. I understand that not every title from Midway’s archives can be included but it would have been a big bonus to include at least one of these more modern titles in the compilation, just to stretch that fan base a little further.

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Midway Arcade Origins is simply a compilation of many of Midway’s retro arcade titles and is bound to include at least one or two (more likely three or four) titles that will appeal to fans of the era. Although the games have certainly aged and in many cases tarnish our misty euphoric memories of these great games, there will still be some moments when you’ll get a twinkle in your eye as you relive your favourite memories of Midway. The offline multiplayer is a tremendous lifeline to the compilation’s longevity and for me is one of the highlights of the pack.

Perhaps it’s the Computer Scientist in me, or perhaps it’s the gaming purist in me, but I still find myself marvelling at some of the design ingenuities in a few of the titles, given the hardware limitations back then, and I am sure that any open-minded gamer that has a run with some of these games will admire the same inventiveness that I have seen. It is certainly a worthwhile exercise in gaming history and if for no other reason, it is an enlightening trip through the golden age of arcade gaming.

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Games that have aged more favourably than the others include Rampage, Gauntlet, Championship Sprint, Gauntlet II, Marble Madness, Pit-Fighter, Root Beer Tapper, Smash TV, Super Off Road, Super Sprint and Xenophobe. If any of these games inspire you to grab the compilation, then you can expect a few hours of joy from them alone but in any case, I’d advise waiting for the compilation to reach bargain bin pricing before picking this game up simply because each title has limited life in the modern era of gaming, and I can’t warrant being hunted down by irate teenagers complaining about how dated the graphics look…

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The Good:

– A pleasant trip down memory lane; Most multiplayer games hold some entertainment value; Plenty of games to choose from

The Bad:

– Sometimes it’s better to remember it how it was