Let’s be honest, Taito isn’t a name that’s as immediately recognisable as Capcom, Konami or Namco. A decade of only ever appearing to release minor updates to the one puzzle game – Puzzle Bobble/Bust a Move – has done little for the company’s stature.
Which is why it’s always a shock when you remember that Taito were right there at the beginning. Arguably, they were the beginning – at the very least, they were responsible for the first game to truly capture hearts and minds. There are always arguments about what the first videogame was – there can’t be any argument that Space Invaders was the one that turned them into a craze.
Space Invaders is presented in Taito Legends in all its two-colour, blip-blop-blip-blop glory. It’s not the only game here to truly deserve the title ‘legend’. Also included are the holy triumvirate of arcade platformers – Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands and New Zealand Story.
While there are issues with Bubble Bobble as it’s presented on this pack (which we’ll get to later), Rainbow Islands still brings a grin to even the dourest of faces and remains one of the most secrets-packed videogames ever created – getting to those hidden islands and the best ending is a challenge that will last months. NZS is as fresh as the day it was released – less well-known that the other two only because it’s been left to gather dust for over a decade. Now that it’s back in homes, it may finally discover the wider fame it always deserved.
Those are the best games on the disk, but they’re far from being the only ones worth spending some time with. The horizontal shoot ‘em up, Exzisus, is a lovely surprise – speedy, precise and addictive. Zoo Keeper is one of those game concepts that you just can’t explain in words, but makes complete sense when you pick up the pad and play it for yourself. It shows a joyous disregard for convention or genre. Both are gifted with some seriously catchy music, too.
Of course, not all the contents of this disc are that good. Gladiator was a load of old tat when it was released and its inclusion here defies all logic. Super Qix and Volfied are effectively the same game as each other, only Super Qix is a little bit rubbish. When you think about some of the real stars in Taito’s back catalogue that haven’t made it onto this compilation – Arkanoid, Darius, Elevator Action Returns, Puchi Carat – their inclusion makes no sense whatsoever. The missing classics are likely to pop up on the second of these collections, due in the new year, but you’ve still got to wonder if there was any point including something that’s aged as badly as The Electric Yo-Yo has.
A few iffy games don’t spoil the overall quality of the selection. Unfortunately, there are a number of other problems that suggest a general lack of care on Empire’s part and combine to damage what should have been a real no-brainer of a purchase.
First up is the graphical filter that they’ve applied to all the games in an attempt to smooth out their pixelated look. All it does is make them look slightly out of focus, like you’ve forgotten to put your glasses on. Surely the point of these compilations is that they provide exact replicas of the arcade originals – they’re supposed to look pixelated. In their new form, they lose some of their visual clarity and vibrancy – core elements of the Taito feel.
The default controls in a lot of the games are slightly bizarre and can take a little getting used to –you can’t define them yourself. One game – Thunderfox, a title that has similarities to Sega’s Shinobi – is rendered unplayable as you lose life after life trying to remember which button performs which action. The default settings in general are more than a little strange – those games that were designed to be played on monitors taller than they are wide are here stretched out to fill a standard TV screen (this can – and should – be changed in the main options) and the difficulty level of all games is set to Easy when you first load the disc up. Bizarre.
There’s also no lightgun support in the lightgun games. Instead, you have to move a huge, obtrusive cursor around the screen with the analogue stick, which is far less than ideal.
Finally, one more complaint – a pretty big one, this time. Bubble Bobble doesn’t run properly. Bubbles don’t go where they’re supposed to, enemies manage to get themselves stuck in places they should be able to get to. On one occasion I had the level timer stop working completely, allowing me to rack up a high score by sitting still and bursting bubbles forever. It should also be noted that some people have reported encountering game-destroying errors in the racer Continental Circus, although I’ve yet to see them myself.
This is inexcusable. It’s not as if Empire had to do anything with this collection other than make sure that the presentation was up to scratch and that the games worked properly. That they’ve failed to do so is a disgrace. A lack of extra material is almost expected with collections – it shouldn’t be too difficult to include promotional artwork, detailed guides, design sketches, TV ads and so on, but, as it hardly ever happens, their exclusion here isn’t a huge surprise – but not ensuring that all the games play correctly? That’s an insult.
Which all leads to a bit of a conundrum: is it worth it? Is the main thing that there are still some really amazing games on this pack? That the two important platformers are easily as good as anything developed in recent years? That there are months of play here, with a far more generous number of titles than we normally see on this sort of thing? Or is it that the presentation – the only thing that you’re really paying for – is shoddy, half-arsed and very much in keeping with the quick-buck nature of nearly every other classic gaming collection out there?
You can play these exact same games for free – if illegally – by downloading an emulator and the ROMs onto your PC. You’ll be able to customise them as you see fit and they’ll be more accurate than they are here. The benefits of buying them for play on a console are comfort and ease of use, plus a sense of satisfaction about owning legit copies.
I’d have paid £20 for Rainbow Islands alone. But then, I never have been any good with money.
Taito Legends (2005)
Publisher: Empire Interactive
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