Arcade Essentials Evolution Review—More Like Stagnation


Arcade Essentials Evolution from Nordcurrent is the followup to their Arcade Essentials. Except perhaps in an H.P. Lovecraft story, “evolution” usually means something is improved or there is some sort of progress. But in this case, it’s just more of the same. Arcade Essentials had updates of 5 classic games, and Arcade Essentials Evolution has 5 more.

There is a somewhat different approach. While the games in Arcade Essentials were clearly based on old classic games, some of them were pretty obscure, and in some cases, the updated games played quite a bit differently. Here, the games are extremely obvious (Asteroids, Frogger, Centipede, Breakout, and Lunar Lander) and are much closer to being straight-up clones, though there is still some variation in most of them.

As in the first title, each game has 50 levels. While you have to start at the first level the first time you play, in later games you can start further in the game, up to where you had died (the closest multiple of five). You can save a game in progress by exiting to the main menu, but as in the first game, it tells you otherwise. Each game also has its own high score table.

The games all pretty much reuse the same graphics. While I realize they were going for an old school look, they basically use a very limited palette, as well as making all the sprites in the game only one color. So things basically look like they are out of a colorized version of Space Invaders, which is really not at all what old arcade games looked like.

Vulcanoids: Star Trek meets Domino's Pizza?

Vulcanoids: Star Trek meets Domino's Pizza?

Vulcanoids – This is a clone of Asteroids, the old arcade game where you had a tiny spaceship surrounded by asteroids. You could rotate it left or right and fire your rockets to make it move in the direction it was pointing. The asteroids, though, were dealt with by blasting them with your cannon.

There are some small differences here. Firstly, your ship will keep moving when you fire your thrusters. If I remember correctly, in Asteroids, your ship would slow down eventually, which doesn’t make sense (since there is not really any friction in space). But then the whole scenario doesn’t really make any sense in this universe, as asteroid fields aren’t that dense.

Secondly, you don’t have the ability to go into hyperspace (which would warp you randomly to another location on the screen). Basically this is more like Asteroids Deluxe, where your ship had a shield. Only in this, the shield is a power-up that you collect on the field of play, not an inherent ability that replenishes. Besides the shield power-up, there’s one to improve your ship’s cannon for a short time.

Lastly, there aren’t any pesky UFOs that fly around the field, zapping you. Instead, some of the asteroids are indestructible. You can tell these because they are red, instead of the regular white ones (not to mention they don’t blow up when you shoot them). More and more of these appear as you progress through the game, which seems to be the only way the game gets harder.

This is quite a bit easier than Asteroids and probably a bit less fun, but all in all, not a bad clone.

Toader: Nothing in that resembles a toad.

Toader: Nothing in that resembles a toad.

Toader – With a name like this, it’s either a Frogger clone or a TV show about repossessing cars in New Jersey. Strangely, at first glance it’s not as obvious as the name indicates—instead of using graphics similar to Frogger—cars, trucks, a hopping amphibian, logs, and lily pads—it uses the same graphics used on all the other games here, that is, spaceships and such.

With that said, it plays exactly like Frogger. You must move your spaceship (the USS Toader?), hopping one space at a time, through lanes of space traffic on a space highway, then make your way over a space river on the backs of space logs and space crocodiles, into a spaceport. Then repeat until all the docking bays are full. And then repeat on a new level.

Okay, no space crocodiles. But everything else is space-themed. Personally, I was never much of a Frogger fan. It was sort of fun, but much of the enjoyment of the game came from the charming graphics and theme. It mostly suffered by being too repetitive, simply the same level over and over and over, and that is true here as well.



Scolopendra – Unless you are into bugs, this is not so obvious from the name, but it’s a Centipede clone. Basically it’s a vertical shooter. Enemies appear at the top of the screen, but they are joined together, appearing like segments of a centipede. You shoot them in the middle, they split up (which centipedes don’t actually do in real life), and also leave a mushroom on the screen (ditto).

The more you shoot, the more mushrooms fill up the screen. This is important because when the horizontally running centipede runs into a mushroom, it moves down one line and reverses direction. You can shoot the mushrooms to make more room on the screen, but they take a lot of hits to destroy. Thankfully, though, it’s not like Space Invaders (probably the closest game to Centipede) where the game is over when the enemy reaches the bottom—instead they just move back up again.

Every so often, a boss comes along at the bottom of the screen. In the original Centipede, this was a spider. In this, it’s a spaceship, complete with shields. So he’s a bit harder to take out, but he always drops an extra life, so it’s worth killing him.

I was never a huge Centipede fan, but I enjoyed this game the most out of the games in Arcade Essentials Evolution. Levels are fairly short, it’s neither easy nor too hard, and while repetitive, it never feels too tedious.


Smashout – This is a Breakout clone, also known as an Arkanoid clone, one of those games where you control a paddle at the bottom of the screen and bounce a ball off it against bricks, which disappear when hit. It’s a fairly standard version of the game, only remarkable for two things.

Firstly, the layout of the bricks. This is generally what makes these games interesting. Here they really seemed to have phoned it in. Most of the levels are the same, generally just more of the same. Sure, the layout changes a little every few levels, but there is nothing interesting or fun. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Breakout clone with worse or more uninspired layouts.

Secondly, the difficulty is out of whack. These sort of games can be tricky on anything that doesn’t have a paddle controller. That’s not the problem here—it’s surprisingly playable with the D-pad. The problem is that once you get a couple of power-ups, the game is trivially easy. Specifically the power-up that lets you catch the ball and launch it when you press the X button, and the power-up that destroys a brick without bouncing.

Once you have both these power-ups, you can simply take apart a level column by column. The only difficulty is keeping yourself alert enough to catch it again. That wouldn’t be so hard, but the game becomes so dull you might find yourself paying attention to anything except the game.

Lunar Parking

Lunar Parking

Lunar Parking – A Lunar Lander clone. This was actually one of my favorite games back in the arcade days, in part because of the controls on the arcade machine, which sort of made you feel like you were really controlling a lunar lander. Alas, if you take away the fancy controls, the game isn’t all that fun.

Basically, you have a little ship being drawn to the surface of the Moon by the force of gravity. You need to counteract this by occasionally giving a burst of thrust from your rocket engines, all the while angling toward the landing spot. Mostly it’s a test of timing.

The other neat thing about the Lunar Lander arcade game is that as you got closer to the surface, the game would zoom in. Alas, this doesn’t, so you always have to deal with a very tiny ship.

The other main difference is that the Moon here is not uninhabited. There is something crawling around on it. Moonworms, I guess. I think these are the power-ups described in the manual, but I never could manage to actually land on one.

Those Moonworms are creepy.

Those Moonworms are creepy.

Arcade Essentials Evolution has its heart in the right place, but the execution could have been better. In most cases, the old Atari 2600 had a port that was a better version than the clones presented in this title. Sure, the graphics were blockier, but more colorful and more charming as well. They also offered variations on the games, something this really could have used a lot, because early arcade games could be more than a little repetitive.

Still, if you enjoyed the original games and want a fix, this will probably be good enough. While there is a retro Atari collection for the PSP (that I believe has the original of 4 of the 5 games here), it’s not offered on PSN. On the other hand, if you didn’t like those old games, the updates in this probably aren’t enough to make you change your mind, or even bother to take a look.


Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • NewsVine
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Technorati
  • Live
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace


2 Responses to “Arcade Essentials Evolution Review—More Like Stagnation”
  1. onmode-ky says:

    “The other neat thing about the Lunar Lander arcade game is that as you got closer to the surface, the game would zoom in.”

    One of the advantages of using vector graphics, the ability to scale/zoom your imagery easily. More difficult with raster graphics, like here.

    Does “Scolopendra” not have equivalents of any of the other Centipede enemies, just the centipede and the spider?

  2. manslayer911 says:

    Why not put all 10 of the Arcade essentials games into 1 slick package, throw in some metals/trophies/achievements and call it Arcade Essentials Deluxe. Maybe an additional unlockable game or 2. I’d definitely pick that up if it were so. As it stands, I’ll probably wait for a price cut before I even consider this, because I already have the first one, so why not get the next.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!