Midway’s Greatest Arcade Hits (GBA)

Midway’s Greatest Arcade Hits
GBA (2001)

Arcade cabinets stand between five and six feet tall, weigh between two and three hundred pounds, and can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars — but thanks to the various retro compilations available for the Gameboy Advance, you can now fit several “arcade games” in your front shirt pocket (without the splinters). Arcade games are a great match for portable gaming systems; rarely lasting more than a few minutes, they’re perfect for gaming sessions on the go.

One of the first arcade compilations released for the Gameboy Advance was Midway’s Greatest Arcade Hits, released in November of 2001. Featuring Joust (1982), Defender (1980), Robotron 2084 (1982), and Sinistar (1982), the collection presents four conversions sure to make those who remember the arcade versions raise an eyebrow. It stands to reason that by cramming four gigantic arcade cabinets into one itsy-bitsy Gameboy cartridge, a few things might get squeezed out. A lot of crammin’ and squeezin’ went on here.

Defender is probably the best of the four games, which isn’t saying much. The game’s simplistic graphcs (the background is a jagged brown line on a black background) are reproduced faithfully, but the gameplay doesn’t seem right. The aliens are more aggressive and move faster than I remember. And forget about sitting still and firing in both directions — you’ll be alien target practice in no time. Catching falling humans is almost impossible due to the small screen area, and using the map at the top of the screen will get you killed. It’s not 100% accurate, but it is action-packed and playable.

Every review of Robotron must begin with a whine about how the controls are not authentic, so here’s mine. In this version, you can only shoot in the direction you are facing, which inherently means you are constantly running toward the things that are trying to kill you. Again, the graphics here are not the problem — it’s that the gameplay itself isn’t the same. I realize that certain changes (such as controls) must be made when porting a game between systems, but changing how the game plays isn’t acceptable to a purist. The rest of the game is fairly loyal.

I didn’t play Sinistar much as a kid, so all I’ll say is this game is basically impossible to play. In Sinistar you fly around for a few seconds bouncing into asteroids until things kill you. I have read that the Sinistar is being assembled and crystals need to be collected, but to be honest I don’t think I ever got that far.

Joust, which most cell phones can now faithfully replicate, is the most disappointing of the four. This version plays more like a cheap fan-made shareware clone than the real thing. Again, it *looks* like Joust, but that’s where the similarities end. The sprite detection is atrocious, the screen is crowded (the platforms were squished together when the screen was changed from vertical to horizontal), and the animations are choppy. When porting a popular game that people have been playing for 25 years, you’ve GOT to get it right. They didn’t.

The problem with retro compilations is that the target audience has been playing these games for a long, long time — and as such we know how they’re supposed to look, sound, and play. If these were four original games I probably would have given Midway’s Greatest Arcade Hits a higher score. They’re fun in their own right, but when all you can think about is how different they are from the original, it takes away from the fun.

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