Arcade Zone Review
Posted by Sean Aaron
A mini-game collection for retro-fans.
Whilst the word "arcade" will mean "video game" to many, it mustn't be forgotten that many arcades also featured carnival-style games that dispensed tickets for buying plastic trinkets (or, for the truly skilled, something more flash like a transistor radio or a soft toy) from a prize shop. Developed by Baltic/South American development house Ivolgamus (yes, the people behind Ninja Captains) you might expect this to be a total write-off, but it's actually not that bad and might be considered a must-buy for some due to the inclusion of some classic Atari 2600 games.
Firing the game up you'll be treated to an intro that looks like it's been lifted from a circa-1990 Saturday morning cartoon: a bunch of wacky-haired children sitting around a TV suddenly jump up and run out of the house towards the arcade where the creepily smirking, ponytailed Arcade Master is waiting for them. After creating a new profile and enduring an excruciating loading screen that will make you think you're playing a 3DO or PlayStation game (expect that every time you switch games), you're treated to a view of one of three zones in his arcade: Classic Zone, Sci-Fi Zone and Pirate Zone. Each has games matching the zone theme and feature a voice-over from the employee in charge who challenges you to beat their high score in three of the games in order to access a further mini-game challenge. Get your name on the board in the unlocked challenge and you'll get to face off against the Arcade Master himself! Hooked yet? Let's see what's on offer!
You don't really need to beat the high scores; just get your name on the top three board to earn the medal either on your own or during a multi-player match. Before, during and after play each zone boss will make various amusing comments. It might sound lame, but actually this is one of the highlights of the game as the voice talent is quite good and there's some genuinely funny lines. Of course if you get irritated by these you can always turn off the voice volume from the in-game options, but they're fun so you should leave them on.
Tony, king dork of the pizzaria is in charge of the Classic Zone where you'll find Freeway, Critter Hitter, Alley Ball and Hoop Shooter. Brad is the corndog master chef in Sci-Fi zone and does a decent impression of The Simpson's "Comic Book Guy." His games are Megamania, an alien invasion-themed shooting gallery with a lunar backdrop, a rocket bowling game and a simulated LED-based tower-building game. Best of all is Gina, the Southern smoothie maker in charge of the Pirate Zone; she has the best lines and is totally hilarous ("Smoothies? They're more like roughies" - classic! Maybe you had to be there...). You'll find Atlantis, a ship-sinking target shooter, a four-way air hockey game and a wheel of fortune game in her zone. The quality of these ticket-redemption mini-games isn't bad: they're brightly coloured, well-animated and feature competent use of motion controls - except Alley Ball - but they're largely forgettable.
Once you've scored three medals you unlock the work-related mini-game for the zone. These are utter rubbish and perfectly illustrate how a mini-game based upon a real-life ticket redemption machine is a safe bet compared to testing the imagination of the game designers. The pizza-making and corndog-making games are pretty much the same: use the pointer to perform tasks to make the "food" item, stick it in the oven/deep-fry and then move on to the next whilst watching a timer to remove the one in progress before it burns. The smoothie game is better if only because you've got Gina's brilliant running commentary and moving around a virtual pitcher to collect liquids is slightly less tedious than battering a corndog, so to speak. None of them are especially difficult to best and once you have the medals for these you can face off against the Arcade Master in a space-themed air hockey game. He's decent, but not too tough to beat and also has great dialogue, second only to Gina in the witticism stakes. Once you clean his clock in air hockey you get the grand prize: a chance to play Kaboom!, which he hilarously refers to as his greatest game ever. If you beat his high score you'll get a funny dialogue scene wherein he laments the fact that he spent a lifetime mastering Kaboom! only to be beaten by some kid. He hands over his crown and suggests that one day this will happen to you... tragic.
Purists will be a bit disappointed that the 8-bit classics aren't emulated and have no selectable options, but are rather graphical updates with the same core gameplay and sound effects intact. In Freeway the major gameplay change is the addition of left-right movement, which is an improvement over the original game and should make it more appealing to many players. Megamania is pretty much the same, but the missiles you fire are of the guided variety which some may find increases the challenge. Atlantis has the biggest gameplay change: instead of three turrets with fixed firing angles you have one in the middle and use the pointer to direct your fire via a cursor. This might sound like it would make the game too easy, but you have to lead your shots and there's a lot more ships early in the game, so it's actually more challenging than the original Imagic cart. Kaboom! has a graphical update, but is otherwise just like the original with the pointer demonstrating superior control over the original Atari paddles. They've done such a nice job with these that an Activision Anthology Remix on the Wii would be welcome, but given the lack of marketing for this title (neither publisher nor developer have mention of it on their respective websites) it's probably best not to get your hopes up.
There's some fun bonuses in the form of multiple prize shops to spend your virtual redemption tickets on. You get to view your prize as a static image and there's loads to choose from. After you beat the Arcade Master you get access to a fourth, special prize shop with really good stuff on offer. You can get a 1990s-era portable CD player for 200 tickets, so who knows what 2,000 will get you? If you get the high score in any of the 8-bit games you'll earn a virtual patch just like you could send away for during Activision's glory days. It's probably not worth thinking about how sad someone has to be to get excited about virtual redemption prizes and virtual badges, so just enjoy staring at them and wallowing in nostalgia.
Arcade Zone is a bit of a surprise: a mini-game collection with a retro hook that's sure to draw in fans of Atari 2600 games, a fact not missed by the publisher since they're all featured on the box cover. The rest of the games are hit-and-miss, but the inclusion of amusing voice acting helps make them more enjoyable even if the loading times test your patience. Considering the budget price being asked (£14.99/US$24.99 at launch) it's worth it just for the 8-bit classics alone, though good luck finding this one anywhere but an online retailer.