Review: Hey buddy, can you spare a quarter for a better game?
Midway struck a nerve last year with their Arcade Treasures collection. Featuring such classics as Rampage, Gauntlet, Smash TV, Spy Hunter and others the game was a bargain at it's $20 price point. Piled high with developer interviews and other bonus features, the collection was a smash hit. Naturally, this lead Midway to raid the second part of their back catalog for Midway Arcade Treasures 2, with the venerable Mortal Kombat series leading the way.
But somewhere along the way, this collection of twenty titles faltered and it doesn't have quite the punch as the first game. It's hard to even pinpoint why, but aside from a few gems, this second collection is nothing more than test runs for later, better games, disappointing sequels, just plain crap and a few other sins.
While the package may fail, it's not for lack of trying. These games look, feel and sound just like their arcade counterparts. If there's one thing Digital Eclipse has mastered, it's how to recreate classic games exactly how you remember them. The problem is that many of these games are just not relevant anymore. Take Xybots for an example. Xybots features an army grunt searching through a space station for rogue robots in a pseudo-3D maze. It was probably one of the first attempts at real 3D gaming and that's worthy of applause. But because of it's age the controls are klutzy and bargain software can provide more action than this 17 year old game.
That's not to say that there aren't several gems here. NARC, Rampage World Tour and Gauntlet II are all classics that hold up just as well today as they did in their original arcade runs. But the real high point of this collection is Mortal Kombat II and 3. Perfectly recreated with every special move, fatality, babality and friendship intact; the two MKs can provide hours of fun. When playing these two classics of the arcade, it becomes painfully obvious why this collection fails: it's filled with test runs of Midway's proven game formulas to pad out the game list.
Midway was notorious for pioneering a new way of doing something in a video game and creating a sub-par game around it as a proving ground for their programmers. They practiced on these less than stellar games with ideas that could change the world and when the technology caught up to the idea, Midway was able to make the game they always wanted. Do you think the digitized characters of Mortal Kombat just happened? Of course not. First, Midway used Pit Fighter as a test run, complete with it clunky movement and poor graphics. Did NBA Jam spring fully-formed from the womb? No, that style of basketbrawling was first created with the lame Arch Rivals. It goes on, Kozmik Kroozr and Wacko tested the control scheme that would eventually be used in Smash TV. Smash TV: great game. Kozmik Kroozr and Wacko: not so much.
Then there are the just plain bad ideas. Mortal Kombat is a huge hit and Rampage was a lot of fun, what if we put them together? Why you've just created Primal Rage Mr. Midway Executive, a plodding fighter that uses digitized dinosaurs (!). I'll admit that scarfing villagers mid-fight is fun, but who could have possibly thought creating a fighter based around characters that don't have forearms was a good idea? Even the can't miss prospect of futuristic robot football is squandered with the very broken Cyberball. Nearly everything was automated and the things that weren't didn't work as the control was so poor.
Total Carnage was the pseudo-sequel to Smash TV, but it threw out everything that made Smash TV great. Smash TV had a very rigid pace that kept the action at a constant level. Total Carnage upped the action into a level of complete randomness so the game isn't any fun. Topping it all off, there's stuff that's pure crap like APB, Hard Drivin' and a Pac-Man ripoff that nobody should be subjected to (Wizard of Wor).
But as I said, when MAT2 is good, it's very good. A perfect sequel like Rampage World Tour more than makes up for a lackluster sequel like Total Carnage. Besides, in what other game can you find toxic waste on the streets of Paris or incur the wrath of God after your 50 foot tall Godzilla eats a gaggle of nuns? Or take a game like NARC, years before the "games are TOO violent" cries, here was a game that featured hookers showing their gratitude by exposing their breasts to your NARC Officer. I'd like to see GTA do that.
Even when it's mediocre, it's pretty decent. Take Championship Sprint, a Super Sprint "sequel" that is little more than new tracks and Timber, a twist on Tapper where you chop trees and are chased by bees that eat your clothes. But even stuff like that is just a temporary diversion. Five minutes and you're done. The bad taste from something really bad like Spy Hunter II lasts a lot longer than the short bursts of fun here.
Apart from a poor selection of games this time around, Midway has made strides in making the interface easier to use. The Egyptian hieroglyphics are out and a simple list patterned after DNA is in. Although pointing out that these games are the building blocks of future games just makes the test run theory all the more sad. The controls are also fully customizable this time. Definite plus there. And if you wish, you can turn off the unlimited continue option. Unfortunately your only choice in the number of continues you do get is zero or one.
Oh, and remember that boatload of special features and creator interviews that were jammed into the last game? None of that is here. Descriptions of all the games, a few bits of poster art and a couple commentaries put the special feature package well short of Midway Arcade Treasures One.