Konami are celebrating their 50th birthday in 2019 and are doing so by re-releasing some of their classic games in a series of collections. Castlevania and Contra collections are just around the corner but first up is the Konami Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection, bringing together some of Konami’s biggest coin-op classics in a much smaller package.
Of course, Konami didn’t start creating videogames straight away back in 1969 – they primarily started life as a jukebox rental and repair company – but the games on offer date from 1981 to 1988. It must be said that some have aged better than others.
There are eight titles altogether in the collection; Haunted Castle, Typhoon (A-Jax), Nemsis (Gradius), Vulcan Venture (Gradius II), Life Force (Salamander), Thunder Cross, Scramble and Twinbee.
Starting from the top of the list and Haunted Castle is an arcade version of the Castlevania series. A 2D side-scrolling platformer set across six levels, players use a whip to defeat bats, zombies, skeletons and more. Like all the games in this list, it is brutally difficult – perhaps more than the others – but it also offers the most original gameplay out of the lot. If you can defeat the first couple of enemies at least.
Typhoon – known as A-Jax outside of Europe – is one of the many flight-based shooters available here. The difference with this one is that it is played in both 2D and 3D. Enemies are defeated by both firing at them in the air, but also by dropping bombs to the enemies below at the same time. It’s one of the more interesting variations in the list but, as you will see, it still boils down to a ship or a plane shooting enemy ships in space.
Nemesis – known as the original Gradius in Japan – is another side-scrolling shoot ‘em up but this introduced the “power meter”. Powerups are collected as you defeat enemies; each powerup increases the meter and the player then chooses when to ‘cash in’ those powerups. This can be against speed, additional weapons or additional ships to fight alongside you.
And then we have Vulcan Venture – Gradius II in Japan. But if truth be known, it only really offers much the same as the previous Gradius, just with an additional choice of powerups.
Life Force, or Salamander depending on which region you are in, is again very similar to Gradius, but a little simplified. Gone is the predominantly space setting, with Life Force instead having you travelling through a living entity killing off bacteria and other bodily nasties. Also gone is the powerup selection; any powerups collected are designated a specific buff and are vital to progressing through the levels.
Thunder Cross is a much more forgiving game than most of the others in this compilation, but even then you shouldn’t be expecting a walk in the park. Another side-scrolling shoot ‘em up, Thunder Cross also represents a graphical improvement over others in the list: it uses a layered scrolling technique for the backgrounds, making things look a little more 3D by adding in depth to the objects in the background. It is certainly not groundbreaking, but is noticeable when compared directly to the rest of the games on offer in the Konami Arcade Classics Anniversary Edition.
Scramble meanwhile is the earliest game on the list, but also one of the better ones. Again it runs as another side-scroller, but you have two weapons at your disposal from the very start. Shooting allows you to attack forwards against waves of oncoming enemies, but missiles shoot towards the ground as threats will rise up and try and attack you also. Fuel tanks are also present on the ground and must be destroyed to keep your fuel levels in check.
Finally, there is TwinBee, a colourful vertically scrolling shooter. It is a very traditional game in the sense that you fight wave after wave of enemies before reaching the boss of each stage, but TwinBee’s mechanics allow you to be incredibly overpowered very quickly. As you fly through the air, clouds will come down the screen and some of these release a bell when shot. These bells can give a points boost, but if you manage to shoot them enough, they will change colour giving you the chance to increase your weapons. Doing this is absolutely essential to progress through the game – much like many others in this list – and many of your first plays through each of the titles will be to memorise when the powerups become available, giving yourself a fighting chance.
Also included in the Anniversary Edition is a Bonus Book that goes into great detail of the games on offer, running through concept designs, the story for the games, interviews and even musical sheets for some of the BGM featured in the titles. Accessing this though can be another thing entirely, as the collection has a nasty habit of scrolling through the menus without your input. I thought this might be my controller not lining the thumbstick up perfectly anymore after years of torture and torment, but having tried this with multiple controllers, it is a problem that persists.
In the case of the Bonus Book, you can scroll to the first page but then it immediately flips back to the front cover. It doesn’t happen all the time however, though I am not sure of what the fix is.
By default, there are no frames or borders added to the games to fit a widescreen. You can stretch them to a 16:9 but that looks messy. Frames can be added in the options menu. This however suffers the same fate as the Bonus Book, so your timing will need to be spot on in order to hit the Display section as the menu selection freefalls down the list.
Konami Arcade Classics on Xbox One has 17 achievements in total, two related to each game and achieving certain scores – the smaller target worth 20G and the higher one netting you 80G. There is also then a 200G whopper for earning all other achievements. Be warned though, these titles were originally designed for the arcades with the intention of taking your money through punishing difficulty and short play-times; obtaining high scores will test your abilities across each title.
It could be said that gamers are a nostalgic bunch. If this generation has taught us anything, it’s that we love a good old game, either remade or remastered, or released in a collection like this. Owning top of the range hardware to play 30+ year old games is just something that we do.
Sadly, for the Konami Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection, there are better compendiums out there. The biggest issue with this collection is the similarity between the games – aside from Haunted Castle all the others are variations of scrolling shoot ‘em ups. I have no doubt that this was all the rage when arcades were the main form of gaming for a lot of people, but I have found myself feeling like I had played a game already when booting it up for the very first time. Yes, most are good – brutal at times – but good, however there is a lot of similarity on offer, and with other collections on the horizon focused on series such as Castlevania and Contra, this trend looks certain to continue for Konami’s 50th anniversary.