If you're old enough to remember the glory days of mall arcades, then Midway's Arcade Origins is meant for you -- presuming you have either an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 gaming system, and you don't already use free but legally dicey arcade emulators for PCs.
And even if the latter applies, then this collection of more than 30 titles from gaming's golden age is one way to ease that guilt.
The highlight of this compilation is the lineup of Williams classics: Defender, Defender II (aka Stargate), Joust, Robotron 2084, and Sinistar. All five titles are kill-or-be-killed adrenaline surges, offering only brief respites between bouts to rest weary thumbs.
Also a favorite is the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired Gauntlet, an early pioneer in the multiplayer concept with up to four gamers banding together to survive mazes crawling with wizards, goblins, ghosts, and orcs. Midway's Arcade Origins also includes Wizard of Wor, a predecessor of sorts to Gauntlet, as two "worriers" -- one human, one either human or computer -- also fight to stay alive in mazes filled with beasties and one shifty wizard. Both games are also known for their early attempts at speech: "Warrior needs food badly" will echo in your head hours after playing Gauntlet for an extended period of time.
The other included titles are 720°, A.P.B., Arch Rivals, Bubbles, Championship Sprint, Tournament Cyberball 2072, Gauntlet II, Joust 2, Marble Madness, Pit-Fighter, Rampage, Rampart, Root Beer Tapper, Satan's Hollow, Smash TV, Spy Hunter, Spy Hunter II, Super Off Road, Super Sprint, Toobin', Total Carnage, Vindicators Part II, Xenophobe, and Xybots.
Developed by Backbone Entertainment, these are arcade-authentic ports -- almost all from the 1980s -- to the latest generation of gaming systems, with the graphics spruced up for high-definition sets. There are three visual settings to adjust how old-school you want these 8-bit characters to look -- smooth or blocky -- but missing is a pixelated filter option to emulate the CRT arcade monitors that displayed these games. It would only add to the retro authenticity.
The do-it-all modern controllers rather than the arcade-specific joystick-button configurations of these games are mostly up to task, and each title's control settings can be customized. The dual joysticks make defending humanity against the robot carnage of Robotron a joy to play, and the complicated button schemes of the Defender games are finally manageable on something other than the arcade versions. Relying on joysticks for driving games -- Championship Sprint, Tournament, Spy Hunter, Spy Hunter II, Super Off Road, Super Sprint -- is merely an acceptable alternative, though, and Marble Madness is virtually unplayable without its trackball controller. Joystick-based arcade games would have been better suited for this compilation.
Gamers, though, will appreciate the ability to change the difficulty settings of the games, loading up on extra lives, or making the computer A.I. more player friendly, and up to three gamers can play Midway's Arcade Origins in local and co-op multiplayer and post their high scores online.
Priced at $29.99, Midway's Arcade Origins makes a nice stocking stuffer for the classic gamer -- or anyone curious about the salad days of the arcade.