The term "arcade" has seemingly come to be synonymous with a game that has a "pick-up-and-play" feel to it, just as arcade games of old. Of course the motivation of manufacturers of these arcade machines was to encourage players to drop coins on games they hadn't seen before, in the hopes they would enjoy the experience enough for repeat play. In the modern context we apply the term to games which can be picked up easily for a quick go, but they should also have a moreish quality to them: a simplicity and charm that also invites repeat replays.
Sadly in the case of 5 Arcade Gems, the word is used as a cynical marketing ploy, attempting to pass off a collection of mediocre mini-games as something more interesting than it actually is; given the developer is Ivolgamus (the same folks that brought us Ninja Captains) that's not much of a surprise. It's all the more sad when you consider that collections of actual arcade gems already exist on the Wii so the poor game design offered here is even more glaring. This is a mini-game collection that you'd expect to have seen at the Wii's launch, with arbitrary motion controls and one-note gameplay that doesn't work as well as it could and isn't compelling enough to spend much time with.
Before going into each title individually we'll run down what these games have in common: all of these games feature four players, with anyone not controlled by a human player represented by AI. Each player is represented by a colour which is mapped to the same position across all five games: Player 1 is red, Player 2 is yellow and so on. You'll find the top score is recorded for each game and viewable from the bare-bones game menu – there are no initials entered and indeed no way to know if the score was earned by a human or AI.
Templar Bashing sees players in the role of medieval knights standing on the walls of a tower trying to knock each other off by hitting a large rotating mace in the centre. Swing the Nunchuk to Jump and the Remote to bash the mace (or the other way around – the mechanic is so arbitrary it hardly matters). It all boils down to simply timing the return of the mace to hit the person next to you if they jump over it, or you could sit there all day hitting it back-and-forth. As with the other games using player elimination as a means of ending the game, it's the person with the highest score rather than last one standing who is the winner.
Pizza Jungle Delivery is a race through an obstacle course. Players are pizza delivery men running from spear-chucking "savages" (again with the African stereotypes) by alternating swinging of Remote and Nunchuk; jumping over wild boars and logs and ducking under vultures and other logs using presses of A or C on the way. It would help if you could consistently duck and jump, but we found half the time we ended up hitting the obstacle anyway. This was possibly due to the isometric side-on perspective, possibly due to the delivery men moving in slow motion or possibly just due to crap collision detection. In any event the game continues until players get caught by the masked savages, which can't happen soon enough – really a motion to "reverse direction" would have been helpful here.
RC Buggy Madness puts players in control of a virtual remote-controlled car. You might think you're going to be doing some fun off-road racing, but by now you probably know that's not going to be the case. Instead you're in a closed arena competing to gather batteries and take them back to a like-coloured square. Mercifully there's no motion controls used; steering is handled by the analog stick, B accelerates, Z reverses and A provides a turbo boost. Batteries appear in turn near each player's base with a checkpoint every three "battery waves" eliminating the player with the lowest score. This game seems to work the best of the five, but it's no more interesting than the rest, so that doesn't help.
Lumberjack Trials is a target-shooting game featuring lumberjacks throwing axes. It's true, ask any redwood cutter in British Columbia about what it takes to bring down giant sequoias and they'll tell you a strong arm and steady aim – saws are strictly rubbish you see on TV. Anyway, your avatar stands in a line with three other 'jacks and you move a reticule about with the pointer and swing the Nunchuk—well, it is connected, so it has to be used, right?—to throw an axe at a target. The problem is that your axe slowly arcs towards the reticule and the targets are all moving – seeing as they're discs being tossed into the air by some old guy. There's bonus points for hitting targets that match your colour and rounds where there's only one black target amongst a bunch of black discs with skulls you want to avoid. There are checkpoints where the players move further away from the targets, making it tougher to hit anything as the game goes on. Hit four skulls and you're out; the game ends when one player is left standing. Given the pandemonium of flying axes and flying targets you'll be surprised when you actually do hit anything and unsurprised if you get eliminated due to hitting the wrong thing.
Whirling Rangers is the last game and potentially the best: a space shooter. With a tube-shaped playfield, rotate left-right controls and a fire button, you'll be thinking Gyruss or Tempest or even Gyrostarr and you'll be disappointed – unless you've played the other games in this compilation first. The enemies tend to blend into the rings you're flying through and even though red targeting symbols surround them when they appear you still won't know what the hell you're shooting at until you run into them and end your game due to your pitifully small life bar. Given the game ends when other players have been eliminated (which will probably happen quickly due to the asteroids flying down the tunnel and the "invisible" enemies shooting at you), you won't even have time to really be disappointed by the lacklustre treatment of that most basic of arcade game genres, the shooter.
The character design and artwork aren't that bad compared with the games themselves: the lumberjacks and knights are rather cute with giant noses dominating their faces. The RC Buggy and Whirling Rangers games also feature some decent graphics and lighting effects (even if the colour choices in the latter against the Hubble Telescope nebula backdrop made the game difficult to play). Music and sound effects are totally forgettable, however, and given the lack of options and a menu consisting of a logo and an area to point in to start each game, it's pretty clear the overall presentation wasn't given much more thought than the games themselves.
None of these games are completely terrible or broken, but the gameplay and presentation scream out that this compilation is an afterthought; a shameless cash-in. Of course it probably goes without saying that if the developers had actually created five "arcade gems" then it would make more financial sense to make three times the money by selling each on its own at a budget price.
If your Wii gaming is stuck in 2006 and you're trying to amass a collection of all the mini-game releases on the Wii then by all means indulge yourself, but for everyone else we'd suggest some real arcade gems instead.