Arcade Essentials Review – Maybe Not Essential, but Entertaining

ArcadeEssentialsTitle

Nordcurrent has been awfully busy lately in producing games for the PSP: a few weeks ago, a full fledged title; just before that, Jewel Keepers; and now another Mini, Arcade Essentials. With a title like that, you’d expect it to be arcade games, and indeed it is the case, not at all like the rather tricky 5-in-1 Arcade Hits from Grip Games, where only 1 was actually an arcade game.

Then again, left unsaid is that it does have 5 games, so perhaps a smidgen of trickiness is involved in the title. Although it is made up of 5 separate games, they do all share the same visual style, which is quite retro, and soundtrack, which isn’t; it’s electronic music with a lot of hi-hat.

Each game is also broken up into stages. You can choose which stage to start from (in multiples of 5) that you’ve beaten. At least in Troop Attack, there are 50 stages, and after that, you’ve won the game. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing. It gives you a goal, but if you’ve played 50 levels, chances are you want to play more. Very few arcade games ever stopped; they just went on and on and on.

It keeps track of high scores for each game (with a rather odd name entry system) as well as highest levels reached. There isn’t any in-game help, but they did include a very extensive software manual. While it actually seems to imply otherwise, you can quit during a game and resume later (at least at that stage and score) because it has an autosave system.

Interceptor

This is a fairly simple vertical space shooter in the vein of Space Invaders and Galaxian, though a little more complicated than either.

You have a little ship on the bottom that can move left or right but not up or down. Your ship fires a bit slowly, only about 2 shots on screen at once, so you have to make them count.

Interceptor

Interceptor

Each stage consists of two parts, or waves. The first is fairly straightforward, just a formation of enemies to shoot, while the second part involves a boss battle. While it always seems to be the same boss in terms of appearance, he has different gimmicks as you progress in the game. As you get further in, enemies require more than one hit to kill. They simply turn a different color when hit once.

A small variety of power-ups drop. The most important of these is the smart bomb, which basically lets you wipe out the whole wave of enemies (except the boss).

As a fan of the earlier style vertical shooters, I found it to be quite fun.

Terra Conqueror

This is pretty much a Qix clone. I was never a big fan of Qix, and I can’t say I like it much here. But it seems fairly decent, if frill-free as opposed to the full-blown Qix clones we’ve seen (Cubixx, Fortix, and their own Urbanix).

Terra Conqueror

Terra Conqueror

You control a little spaceship, and your goal is to cut chunks out of the playing field, which is a large rectangle. The catch is that unless you are on the edge of the playing field (and not cutting any chunks out), you can get killed by the enemy spaceships. So you have to be quick. There are a few power-ups you can get, and in a twist of sorts, one that will slow you down.

Color Cells

This plays like Puzzle Bobble, widely known as Bust-A-Move in the West. It’s an arcade color-matching game, in which a row of colored objects (in this case hexagons) descends from the top of the screen, and you fire colored hexagons from a cannon, trying to make matches of three or more.

Color Cells

Color Cells

Because you only control the angle of the cannon, it’s rather tricky getting the hexagon where you want.

I found this to be fun, but surprisingly hard. Admittedly, I’ve never played it much in previous forms, but this is the only game of the five where I couldn’t at least finish the first stage.

Troop Attack

At first glance, this looks like Missile Command, but it plays more like the Apple II game Sabotage. I played that game a lot in school growing up, so not surprisingly, I really enjoy this.

You control a gun turret in the middle of the screen. You only control the gun’s firing angle, as well as when you shoot.

Troop Attack

Troop Attack

Flying saucers (they actually look more like jellyfish) fly across the screen dropping paratroopers. Your goal is to shoot the flying saucers and the paratroopers before they land. If they do land, they run over and blow up your turret.

There are several power-ups you can collect which make the game pretty easy: minefields which will deploy in front of your turret and kill a paratrooper who manages to land; extra lives; bombs that clear out the airspace on the bottom of the screen; and, items that let you shoot (and move the turret) more quickly.

Hexagonum

Remember Q*bert? Well, he’s sort of back, in hexagon form. You control a funny-looking creature (rabbit?), and your goal is to move him onto every single cell of the playing field, which is a multi-tiered (well, five) hexagonal pyramid. The catch is you are being chased by enemies, some sort of green splotches (cabbages?).

Q*bert was sort of fun, but this suffers from a few problems. The controls are a bit awkward; you point in the direction you want to go, then press the X button. But, it gets a bit odd when you want to move to a different side of the hexagonal pyramid. And that is another issue: I think the playing field is just too big, which means it takes a while to complete a level. Plus, you can’t really see what is what.

A lot of what made Q*bert was the charming nature of the presentation of the game (especially his swearing). That is absent here. So while there is nothing really wrong with this that I could find, I didn’t find it much fun.

Hex-bert—I mean, Hexagonum

Hex*bert—I mean, Hexagonum

If you are looking for a game that you can sit down and beat, then this really isn’t for you. But if you are looking for something that you can pick up and play for a short while, this is quite nice. As someone who often uses his PSP while waiting (like when picking up food or an appointment) while out in public, I play simple games like this a lot. And this has one I’ve been badly wanting, the very old-school vertical space shooter.

While the graphics are deliberately primitive, I think they are a bit overly so, being more comparable to Space Invaders than anything else. Solid one-color sprites, with an extremely limited color palette in most games (usually only a few colors, reminding me of the old CGA palettes for the PC). And, somehow they managed to make entering your initials on the high score table quite confusing.

At the same time, they included a very friendly autosave system which is great, and the ability to start at stages you’ve beaten somewhat mitigates the lack of difficulty levels. And, $5 is not a bad price, considering you get 5 games; that’s $1 (or currency unit of where you live) per game. Of course, you have to pay for ones you don’t like, but I would probably pay $2 (each) for Troop Attack and Interceptor. So, I still think it’s a good deal all in all.

7.5/10

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Comments

9 Responses to “Arcade Essentials Review – Maybe Not Essential, but Entertaining”
  1. Hellboy546 says:

    i might buy this game…

  2. Shazbots says:

    @JEREMYR

    Im was waiting for tthis review. I will definitely buy this game today. Now do you know if Pac-man will be coming to the NA? I know is already available in Europe. Also waiting for the review of Pac-Man

  3. onmode-ky says:

    “Very few arcade games ever stopped; they just went on and on and on.”

    I would say this is true only for releases from before the big video game crash, the “golden age”; afterward, plenty of titles had an actual end, followed by a credits sequence.

    Shazbots, the review of Pac-Man CE has been out for a while. Look here.

  4. JeremyR says:

    Really? That would kind of stink, paying a quarter (or perhaps 50 cents) to play a game and having it quit on you.

  5. manobon says:

    I’ve been waiting for this review! Sounds like good stuff- I think I might wait for a sale or price drop (even if Interceptor, Color Cells, and Terra Conqueror are what I want), but if that doesn’t happen next week, Nordcurrent’s probably getting $5.

  6. onmode-ky says:

    Oh, I didn’t realize you meant reaching the end on only one credit. What I was talking about was the fact that many post-crash arcade (coin-op) games have a definite end, but that you would be hard-pressed to get all the way to the end on just your first credit; at least, it would be impossible on your very first play attempt. I’m talking about games where you’re encouraged to continue putting in credits so that you can reach the ending.

    Of course, there are people in this world who can put in one quarter and then reach the Pac-Man kill screen 4-5 hours later, having gotten every possible point.

  7. JeremyR says:

    Actually come to think of it, when I was in college, I was able to beat Galaga ‘90 on the TG-16, which was a port of Galaga ‘88, an arcade game.

  8. pspgamer01 says:

    It’s a big waste to spent money on this kind of games. If you buy arcade game, buy the ones that were actual official full games back in the days.

  9. volcane says:

    I’m having great fun playing the retro-style PSP Minis games that are out at the minute and this one no exception! I like the consistent feel across all the games within the Arcade Essentials package.

    All five of the games play fairly well. My favourites are Interceptor and Troop Attack (both of which are great little shooters), with Colour Cells and Terra Conqueror close behind. Hexagonum is OK but I’ve never found this type of game held my attention for long. I found the controls in Hexagonum to be a bit awkward at times.

    I recommend Arcade Essentials if you like very retro arcade games. This package is great value for money and there is something for everyone.

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