Now this is how a compilation should be done.
The Nintendo DS is a decidedly old-school system. Let's face it, it's not trying to be a cutting-edge portable powerhouse like Sony's PSP, lending itself more to upgrades of classic 2D games than pushing lots of polygons. This makes it the perfect platform for Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits, a collection of titles from the company's 80's arcade heyday. Arcade Hits contains fifteen Konami games released between 1981 and 1987, wrapping them in an impressively fleshed-out package that shows how a compilation should really be done.
The high production value in this title is obvious right from the start. Instead of just being presented with a title screen, the player is taken through a "time warp" that shows the years counting off as each game's title screen is displayed. From there you go to the game selection screen, with each game title listed on a gearwheel that can be spun using Up/Down or the touchscreen. There are fifteen games to choose from:
- Scramble (1981) - A horizontal shoot 'em-up in which you must destroy all alien enemies while blowing up fuel tanks to keep your fuel gauge filled
- Horror Maze (1982) - An ancient Egypt-themed maze game in which you shoot enemies, collect treasures, and collect keys to move to the next level
- Pooyan (1982) - Maneuver your pig up and down the right side of the screen, using arrows to shoot down wolves as they float down the screen
- Time Pilot (1982) - A vertical shoot 'em up that has you dogfighting in different time periods
- Roc'N Rope (1983) - A platformer in which your explorer uses a rope and grappling hook to ascend to the top of a cliff, avoiding enemies and capturing a lucky phoenix
- Track & Field (1983) - A classic sports button-masher in which you compete in six different events including 100m Dash, Javelin Throw, and Long Jump
- Circus Charlie (1984) - You are a Circus Clown participating in several different "events", such as jumping through fire hoops, walking a tightrope, and jumping on a trampoline
- Basketball (1984) - A precursor to Double Dribble that requires you to score more points than your opponent in the required time limit
- Road Fighter (1984) - A racing game in which you need to avoid other cars, and reach the next checkpoint to get more gas
- Yie-Ar Kung Fu (1985) - A simple one-on-one fighter in the Bruce Lee mold
- Rainbow Bell (1985) - A vertical-scrolling shooter in which you collect bells to power up
- Shao-Lin's Road (1985) - A brawler that has you karate-kicking all of the baddies out of each stage
- Gradius (1985) - The seminal side-scrolling shoot 'em up that allows you to select which weapon type you want to use
- Rush'n Attack (1985) - The Cold War side-scrolling platformer that has you running through army bases knifing enemy troops
- Contra (1987) - Legendary scrolling shooter that lets you and a friend fight the alien forces of the evil Red Falcon
It's no secret that the main attractions here are Rush'n Attack, Gradius, and Contra. These three titles are classics in every sense of the word, with the latter two providing the first installments of legendary game franchises that continue to the present day. There's a lot to like in the rest of the selections as well, with simple but challenging titles like Horror Maze, Time Pilot, Roc'n Rope, and Basketball providing perfect on-the-go gameplay. Not every title is a winner (Pooyan, Circus Charlie, and Rainbow Bell are all lackluster), but you're sure to find a couple that you love.
Where Arcade Hits really shines is in its presentation. The dual screens are put to excellent use here, with the top screen used for gameplay and the touch screen showing a scan of the game instructions from the original arcade cabinet. Each title has its own "Library", containing an account of its history, an explanation of its controls, and game tips. There are also galleries containing Japanese and English promotional materials, pictures of original system boards, and pictures of service manuals. There's a lot of Engrish in this material, which is disappointing, but kudos to Ohtaka/M2 for going the extra mile from an archival standpoint.
Customization is also a strong point. You can reconfigure game controls as well as choose between one of four screen display types (horizontal, vertical, etc.), but the coolest feature is the ability to peruse a scan of the game's real-life system board and manually adjust its DIP switches with the stylus. I don't know who thought this stuff up, but they're brilliant.
The innovation doesn't stop there, however. Although no online play is included, Arcade Hits has some of the most extensive use of the DS's wireless capabilities available. Not only does each game feature wireless two-player action (Track & Field supports four players, but only two can play wirelessly), but players can also record their gameplay and send it to a buddy whether they have a copy of the game or not. Single-player demos of each title can be transferred as well, and putting things completely over the top is a "Dual DS" mode lets you view a game on one DS and control it with another. Why would you want to do this? I have no idea, but it sure is cool.
Since these games were introduced during a time when the joystick ruled, you can tell that they weren't designed with the DS' directional pad and small buttons in mind. Titles requiring intense button pounding and quick joystick moves (such as Track & Field) are made more challenging due to control layout, but it's manageable. Most of the titles have very simple control schemes, so this isn't an issue the majority of the time, but it's there.
From a visual standpoint, each game is faithfully preserved. You can tell that some lines of resolution have been removed to make each game look its best on the DS's lower-resolution screen, but you'll never miss them. All music, sound, and digitized speech is intact, and you can check it all out in the aforementioned Jukebox sound test if so desired. These are excellent portable emulations of the original games, nothing more, nothing less.
Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits is an example of what a good classics collection should be. It has a wide selection of games, all kinds of extra content for each, loads of customization options, and some really innovative uses of the DS's wireless capabilities. Some lines of resolution are missing from the emulations, some of the games are mediocre, and Engrish rears its ugly head, but it's hard to see a collection of this type being done any better.