Judging collections like this is always a bit tricky because we’re not reviewing a brand new game made specifically for the current generation; rather, we’re technically talking about games that have already been talked about by hundreds of thousands of people across the decades. So in a way, it almost feels redundant.
Video game archives and collections of this nature are less about pushing the medium of video games forward and more about bringing them back to their roots. It’s all about making sure these newer generations of gamers get a chance to experience those which laid the groundwork or inspired the stuff that we have today in an easy-to-digest package without having to resort to hunting down the older hardware. So instead, I’m going to approach this collection based on two metrics. Firstly, we’ll look at the overall quality of the games themselves – from how well they have been emulated to whether or not such games are worth returning to. After all, if your collection consists mostly of forgotten or poorly-aged games that can’t really stand on their own outside of the pure novelty of nostalgia, then that needs to be factored into how much overall enjoyment you are going to get out of this particular collection. Secondly, does this collection do anything specific that allows it to stand out compared to others? Is it going for a particular experience or does it just serve as nothing more than a bland package to deliver an assortment of games? Let’s find out!
The CAPCOM Arcade Stadium for PlayStation 4 is a collection of over 30 games and can be divided into three sections with each section separated by the decade. Dawn of the Arcade features games from 1984 to 1988 such as Section Z, Forgotten Worlds and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Arcade Revolution features games from 1989 to 1992 such as Strider, Dynasty Wars and Final Fight. Finally, Arcade Evolution features games from 1992 to 2001 with games like Battle Circuit, Giga Wing and 1944 – The Loop Master. In terms of variety, the games are largely divided between side-scrolling shooters and fighting games with the occasional platformers. I admittedly did not play any of the included games on their original hardware, so I can’t speak on the specifics of the collection’s ability to recreate their feel and control. Visually, everything looks vibrant with the pixel art blending in nicely and I didn’t notice any game looking washed out. Sound effects are extra crunchy and satisfying to hear, extenuating the gameplay to give it that chaotic arcade feel.
But just because a lot of these games are old, that doesn’t mean they are easy. By design, a lot of these games were made specifically to be very difficult with a certain degree of trial and error being factored into overall completion. I do think the more dated elements of these games stand out the most when you get to the action/beat ’em up genre. Games like Cyberbots require a bit more dexterity that is satisfying to pull off after already putting in the hours to perfecting the timing of their mechanics, but the speed and delays in connecting fluid combos personally felt more frustrating than rewarding. I think the more mechanics these older games boast, the less gracefully they age, as those same mechanics get fine-tuned in the years to come. Perhaps I’ve just been spoiled by more modern fighting games that have made it difficult to go back and enjoy those classics. Maybe it would have felt better with an arcade controller which this game encourages you to use over a standard one. Even Street Fighter II has multiple releases with updates and quality-of-life improvements, a fact that stands out particularly in this collection by virtue of it including 3 of those different releases. I know they’re not technically the same game, but there are so many more similarities between them than there are differences. I almost think it would’ve been better to go with the most polished of the three as a representative for the franchise, or maybe have them all under one general Street Fighter banner.
Conversely, I do think that games with simpler control schemes and layouts have aged the best and better match the more hectic, chaotic feel that the collection is going for. Games like Gigawing, 1944, and Forgotten Worlds were pure fun from start to finish, despite never having played them before myself. There is still a high skill curve for these games as well, though by design things felt much smoother. Then there are platformers like Ghouls’n Ghosts and Bionic Commando that exist in this weird middle ground. A lot of these games will require a great degree of skill and patience which can be the collection’s biggest draw-in or its biggest detracting factor. Much like myself, you’re bound to find some hidden gems here that you’re thankful to experience for the first time, as well as others that you might want to never touch again.
However, while the games on display may not have spoken to me as much as I would’ve liked them to, I think the overall presentation and package of this collection more than make up for it. After booting up the game, you’re introduced to this delightful title screen showcasing an assortment of characters themselves at an arcade with this extremely catchy techno remix blasting in the background, and I think that picture perfectly sums up the type of experience that this collection is going for. This is a game that really does what it can to make you feel like you’re in an old-school arcade with a bit of a modern flair. Honestly, the whole experience felt very similar to hanging out with friends in some of the larger game rooms you would find at anime conventions (god I miss conventions). The menu display is laid out as if you’re walking down a row of arcade cabinets with the camera shifting directly in front of one once you select a game to play. The overall display interface is framed as if you’re sitting down in front of an individual cabinet, and even the screen display is slightly tilted back just like an actual arcade machine. When you run out of lives and the game asks if you want to continue, it actually puts a quarter in the machine when you click the button just like you would normally do in real life. A lot of this is flavor text that doesn’t actually affect the games themselves, but all those little touches really did help create a unique experience which I would argue is missing in a lot of the other collections. Everything is bright, colorful, and kinetic with an overall welcoming feeling that I definitely appreciate.
For some of the other modern-day additions, you have access to online leaderboards to compete against others and local multiplayer is also an option. You earn points and rewards the more you play, and the collection encourages you to compare your accomplishments with others online. The rewind feature and different speed settings allow players to ease themselves into the games at their own pace. Despite the games still possessing limited lives and continues, you are able to save or load within each title at any time. There are even unlockable display settings for more variety. These additions are admittedly less unique and more common amongst other collections, but they’re always appreciated. There’s even an option to switch between the English and Japanese versions of a game in the main menu, which is welcome if a little odd. Some games ONLY have an English or Japanese version though, so they’re left unhighlighted depending on what you’re set to on the main menu. It feels like it would have been better to toggle those options after selecting a game rather than on the main display screen where all games swap together.
This is not the first collection of video games I’ve ever played; it’s not even the first collection of classics that CAPCOM has specifically put out, nor do I think it’ll be the last. But overall, this is a solid enough collection that properly carries over the games that it wants to bring to modern audiences. While the quality of the games themselves may vary and it feels as though there could have been a stronger sense of variety, I was mostly won over by the interesting presentation and welcoming environment. If you’re at all curious about CAPCOM‘s early gaming days, this isn’t a terrible place to start.