Retro gaming compilations were popping up left and right last summer, with releases from Midway, Taito, Capcom and Tecmo being released for various systems. Now the PC gets Midway's Arcade Treasures, in a 'deluxe edition' version. What's not revealed by the title of this compilation is that we're actually dealing with a combination package. Midway Arcade Treasures 2 and 3 have been merged into a 'deluxe edition', with the addition of Mortal Kombat 1 (which wasn't included in either one of the original packages).
The third edition of Midway's Treasures contained San Francisco Rush 2049, Hydro Thunder, Badlands, Rush: The Rock, Off Road Thunder: Mud, Sweat 'n Gears, Race Drivin', STUN Runner and Super Off Road, all 8 driving games, which didn't do the pack a lot of good in terms of diversity. One distinguishing feature, however, was that Midway was offering newer games than most of the other retro compilations, with the oldest game dating from 1989 and the most recent addition stemming from 2001. Hardly retro anymore, but if 80s gameplay isn't your thing then you might see this as a welcome alternative. Still, as far as alternatives go, nothing was offered for gamers who aren't into racing games. The deluxe edition caters for a much wider audience by including titles such as NARC, Primal Rage, Total Carnage, Xybots, Pit Fighter, Xenophone, Gauntlet II, Rampage World Tour and the first three Mortal Kombat games.
The Sound of Silence
Let's get my main gripe with this release out of the way first. We've seen many PC games that had patches out within days or even hours of its store release, often to fix compatibility issues or tweak some of the gameplay elements. Midway's Deluxe Edition, on the other hand, has had a patch released which fixes an error that can only be attributed to pure sloppiness: in a few of the games, the music is simply missing without the patch installed. Unbelievable but true... be warned and grab the patch before installing to avoid disappointment.
Another example of sloppy programming is the way the controls need to be configured. You'll find that all games are initially set up to be played on the keyboard. If you prefer to use a gamepad instead (something I recommend), you have to set it up before you can play your favorite games. Not a problem per se, but... it has to be set up individually for every single game, which can get rather tiresome.
Quality and the test of time
Reviewing compilations is hard in the sense that you're looking at (in this case) 29 individual games. Looking at the graphics, listening to the audio and playing out with each game's gameplay mechanics is a time-consuming task, but writing a review where you discuss all 29 games in-depth would not just take ages to write... it would take half a day to read as well. I'm exaggerating, but it's clear why I'll be talking about the games included in terms of highlights and low points.
The two Rush games, although not nearly as impressive as their arcade counterparts were in the 90s, are fun to play if you're willing to step away from graphics like the ones we find in console games like Burnout nowadays. Excellent framerates and fast gameplay (with a gaming rig that's up to the challenge... 2 GHz and a decent video card should do the trick) make for hours of racing fun without having to feed the arcade cabinet with quarters the whole time. They're solid console conversions and have not lost much of their appeal as arcade racers, something that cannot be said for a game like Race Drivin'. The arcade version of that game centered around an experience that was supposed to make everything feel 'real', which resulted in a huge cabinet complete with a steering wheel, pedals and even an ignition key. Without these external factors, the game loses most, if not all, of its appeal. Badlands, Championship Sprint and Super Off Road are 2D racers that remind of us RC (radio-controlled) racing, a big genre in the late 80s, and I enjoyed playing all three even though "Off Road" (known as Ironman's Off Road to most) might, to most, be the only recognizable classic here.
Something that needs to be noted is that both Hydro Thunder and San Francisco Rush 2049 are not the original arcade versions, but instead based on the Dreamcast versions with extra options that change the game. Luckily, these are changes for the better, for they make it possible to play two-player games on a single machine. The "The Rock"-version of Rush has also been modified for this version to allow for higher frame rates, and it shows.
How much enjoyment anyone is going to get out of this compilation, or any retro compilation, is partly going to be attributed to feelings of nostalgia. I remember spending many hours playing the original Rampage video game (back in the 80s), and enjoyed playing the version included here, but some of my friends who were new to the franchise could not get into the game like I did. The Mortal Kombat games, although showing their age, are still nice 2D fighting games, and I actually was more interested in Gauntlet II this time than I did when I played it on a 16 bit Atari ST computer back in the eighties.
Being very mildly priced, this compilation is a worthwhile purchase if you're interested in venturing into retro gaming on the PC without delving into the world of emulators. After the hassle with the much-needed patch and the awkward control setup, you'll find that there's a few games here that are worth hours of entertainment. The top-down 2D racers still hold much of their original charm, especially in multiplayer mode. Whereas most of the fighting games here can't hope to compete with present-day offerings such as Tekken 5 or Soul Calibur 3, they still offer a nice trip down memory lane. In conclusion, the deluxe edition of Midway Arcade Treasures, with games like Gauntlet II, Total Carnage and Xenophobe being the classics they are, is worth buying as long as there are titles in the compilation that catch your interest, especially considering the low price tag Midway attached to this pack. Gamers who are into 'the latest and greatest' should stay away though.