The arcade experience is a very difficult thing to preserve in ports. Anyone who’s played poker without putting real money on the line can likely attest to this. By that, I mean that part of the difficulty balance comes in having a finite ability to keep playing the game. Most arcade ports give players the ability to dump infinite quarters into the game, buying as many lives and continues as they like. This often turns the most vicious, quarter-gobbling cabinets into a battle of attrition, and trivializes any challenge most arcade games have. Capcom Arcade Stadium doesn’t perfect this, but it does a dang fine job of coming close.
Capcom Arcade Stadium is a collection of some fantastic arcade games from 1984-2001, bringing together a wild variety of titles. Having been a child short on quarters, many of these games were brand new to me, offering a slew of new beat ‘em ups, action games, and shmups for me to get lost playing. It’s thirty-two games in total, and while most massive game collections contain some weak filler titles, there’s not a single game on the list I didn’t find myself sinking way too much time into for this review (especially Dynasty Wars and Warriors of Fate. And Legendary Wings. And…you get the idea).
The styles and quality vary from game to game, but a lot of these titles demonstrate some incredible pixel art and sound. Forgotten Worlds, despite being one of the older titles in the collection, showed off some stunning boss designs (a dragon that lashes out with its exposed ribs from a mangled torso was a heck of a sight. This was just one of many details and sights that impressed throughout each of the many games, showing just how much more powerful the arcade cabinets were than the consoles of the time. Not everything is impressive (Bionic Commando looks rough compared to its vastly-superior NES counterpart), but there’s a lot of fine visuals to take in.
The music? Capcom Arcade Stadium is filled with tracks that are meant to get your pulse racing. It’s almost wall-to-wall action games, so expect high-energy tracks meant to get you pumped to throw down and spend quarters. You don’t have to look any further than Final Fight of Street Fighter II to get a feel for this sound. There’s a few effects that have a pitch that’s almost grating (the sound of metal on metal in Strider actually hurts my ears), but there’s a lot of great music and sound in here.
There’s a certain aspect of playing these games that gets lost in porting, though, and that’s the feel of the cabinet itself. The big sound and the big controller, all while surrounded by other games all blaring out their big, crushing sound effects and energetic tracks creates a feel that is just about impossible to replicate. This collection does what it can to make the play experience feel more like the cabinet with some varied arcade overlays. These shift the play angle, create a virtual cabinet (complete with controls that respond to your button presses), or add various scan lines and visual quirks to better replicate that look. They add a nice touch that bring things a little closer to that arcade feel.
Challenge, though, is the hardest thing to get right when porting arcade games. Do you make lives finite when the games were never meant to be played that way? Do you let players go wild with infinite quarters and let them choose? Or do you add a ton of difficulty features that let players find what works for them?
Capcom Arcade Stadium went with the latter, and here, it went all out, creating some wonderful features that balance it for just about any play style. The game offers save states, which are a handy means of walking away from the game when you don’t have time to finish it up. That said, you have to pause, choose save game, choose a save slot, select yes, wait for it to save, click ok, and then back out of the menu. Loading takes about the same amount of time. You can get through the game with these, saving/loading your way through hard areas, but it would take ages.
Instead, you can use a handy rewind feature mapped to ZR. As long as you hold the button down, the game will move backwards through everything you just did, putting you back to a position of safety. It’s so fast and easy to use that it is a godsend when working through hard arcade games, allowing you to tinker with your run on even the hardest games. It also fixes up those minor, foolish mistakes we all make by accident while playing a game.
Capcom Arcade Stadium also lets you move time forward if you want to speed things up to give yourself a challenge. On top of that, you can alter the game’s basic speed, making it faster or slower to makes your life harder or easier. Each title also offers new difficulty modes that will affect the challenge, depending on what you’re looking for. There’s a number of other features you can fiddle with as well, allowing you to tweak things to make them harder or easier, going well beyond just letting you plunk infinite quarters into it.
The addition of online leaderboards and weekly special challenges breathe new life into these games as well. You just try to be the best in the world, or you can take part in oddball challenges that get you to play the game in bizarre ways. Playing Ghosts N’ Goblins upside down at high speed is definitely a unique experience, and Capcom intends to add these new challenges each week.
Capcom Arcade Stadium is a staggeringly good port of many solid games, breathing new life into them with unique challenges and through a robust suite of difficulty options. It’s a great way to experience these games no matter your skill level, and offers so much variety that I just kept coming back for more.