HomeReviews4.5/5 ReviewAntstream Arcade Review

Antstream Arcade Review

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Video game preservation is a mess. A recent survey suggests that up to 87% of games are unplayable in current ecosystems without resorting to illegally downloading or spending hundreds of pounds on retro consoles and the respective games themselves. It is, to put it bluntly, an issue.

Step up, Antstream Arcade. After a meeting with Head of Xbox Phil Spencer and Antstream Studio Head, Mike Rouse, the Xbox version of Antstream Arcade was fast tracked to release on Xbox as Phil wants video game preservation to be a priority. And Antstream Arcade does that, to an extent.

antstream arcade review 1
ALL the games!

For those that don’t know, Antstream started life as a Kickstarter back in April 2019. It promised thousands of retro games available on demand and launched for mobile devices and PC. At one point, there was also an app available for Xbox, but this has since been removed.

This version that has formally launched on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S is largely the same as the others. It offers over 1300 games, ranging from some of the earliest consoles and arcade machines right up to the – now officially retro console – the original PlayStation.

Antstream Arcade is essentially a streaming service for retro games. For the price of £29.99 a year – or £79.99 for a lifetime membership – you have access to hundreds of games, the vast majority of which were released for consoles in the ‘80s and ‘90s. You don’t actually own these games, but have access to them at any time of the day. Its preservation for a modern culture, and in reality, probably the best that retro fanatics can wish for.

Having spent a fair bit of time with it now, I must say the streaming aspect is nearly flawless. There hasn’t been a single occasion where it has actually felt like I was streaming. After an initial loading screen in which the controller layout is handily displayed, it feels like I am playing these games straight from the internal memory in the Xbox. There are absolutely zero issues at all with streaming these games. I was expecting there to be the odd hiccup or macroblocking but there hasn’t been anything so far. 

I guess it helps that these games are miniscule in terms of megabytes or even kilobytes when compared to the open-world juggernauts of modern gaming, but that is all in Antstream’s favour.

antstream arcade review 2
There’s a high chance of finding some classics in here

At launch, there are way more than the 1300 games on offer. Even in the few days that I have had Antstream to review, more have been added, including MDK for the PlayStation one. That brings the total amount of PlayStation games to only three, but more are on the way, and rumours are circling at what they could be.

With only three PlayStation games, fans of a similar age to myself may be somewhat disappointed that there aren’t more. But all you need to do is explore a little bit to find something that you will like, and with that many to choose from, it won’t take long. There are SNES, NES, Game Boy, Mega Drive/Genesis, Lynx, MSX, Atari 2600/5200/7800, C64, ZX Spectrum and more to choose from. So you best not do that thing you do when scrolling Netflix, complaining that there’s nothing good on there. Because Antstream is far from that.

And sure, you can make an argument that some of these 1300+ games are the same games but released on different systems, but there is a reason for that. Take Worms for example: Antstream Arcade has the Megadrive, Amiga and SNES versions all to choose from. But even when just flicking through the screenshots you can see how different the three versions are, and playing them is the same. Modern games released on different consoles vary insignificantly nowadays, but back then it was a very different prospect.

It isn’t just ‘old’ games either; Antstream has a wide variety of more modern games that released on the older hardware. Take for example Tanglewood, perhaps one of the most well-known examples of these. Released in 2018, it was actually brought out on the Megadrive. That’s included under the Indie Games section, along with many others released in a similar fashion. However, some of these aren’t very good and arguably worse than their counterparts released thirty years earlier.

It is one thing for Antstream to present such a wide variety of games from yesteryear, but it often goes above and beyond just playing them. Each week, a new tournament starts where the community can buy-in – using the in-system currency – with the winners sharing the pot. This week’s tournament was for Gunbird, a steampunk inspired shmup. Now, I am not really a fan of shmups, but after playing the tournament, I sat down and finished the entire game at my own pace. Sometimes, it is that easy to find a new favourite with Antstream.

antstream arcade review 3
Antstream Arcade is stacked!

Then, there are challenges available for many of the games included. These are like the wider tournaments, but with challenges, you can either send it directly to a friend once you have posted a score, or attempt to knock off the bronze, silver and gold requirements in each one. Harder challenges can be unlocked by spending your gems, and sending a challenge to a friend also sets a wager.

On the subject of the gems, these aren’t some cheap microtransaction type of currency. You will regularly be earning them for simply playing these games, and you will quickly be drowning in them.

If you are feeling really cocky though, you can set a Giant Slayer challenge. You choose the wager you wish to set, play a challenge to set a score, and then it is open to the community to try and beat it. It’s real BDE, but the satisfaction of beating the community I would assume is a pretty good feeling. Not that I’d know.

One of the reasons for this is that not all games have challenges. For example, it being the first game I searched for when I received access to Antstream, but Food Fight for the Atari 7800 does not. My highscore that currently sits 13th in the world and 2nd purely on Xbox is a marker, but until challenges are added here, I won’t be able to send out those Giant Slayer challenges. Still, it is claimed over 600 games do have these additional features added in, with more being added frequently, so there is no shortage.

It is tough to tell if it is really my score though, as for some reason my username just appears as a bunch of asterixes. I’m not sure why that is, and there is nothing really in the settings menu that would appear to fix that.

In fact, the Settings menu and overall UI could do with a bit of work. The search function is good if you have a specific game you want to play, or at least the console, but the Play Now screen is just a wall of video game app icons that can be daunting at first. But how else do you present 1300+ games in a more accessible way? I have no idea, but a new UI is on the way that should help improve things eventually.

antstream arcade review 4
We’d pay the money for Speedball alone.

It wouldn’t look very professional of me to list every single game available in Antstream Arcade, but I think it is worth tempering expectations somewhat. There may be people here looking to buy this and expecting to play the likes of Mario, Zelda and more on an Xbox console. That’s not the case with Antstream. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some big hitters here with the original Mortal Kombat, Metal Slug, Marble Madness, Rampage, Super Star Wars and more all included, but some of the out and out classics are missing here. That’s to be expected. But with that said, new games are added all the time, and rumours are circling about a certain PSOne heroine set to join the service soon…

Things are certainly progressing in the right direction for Antstream Arcade, and it is off to a flyer on Xbox consoles, officially this time. It presents a huge and varied range of games from across all decades of the video game scene – some you will have heard of, but many you will have not. 

And as a streaming service, it works pretty much perfectly, with my only real gripe being a crammed UI. But with an update to that on the way, along with a steady stream of new games added regularly, the future of video game preservation is in good hands with Antstream.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Flawless streaming
  • Huge range of old favourites, new favourites and everything else
  • Challenges and leaderboards offer so much more
Cons:
  • Crammed and busy UI
  • Some big games missing currently
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to : Antstream
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One
  • Release date and price - 21 July 2023 | £29.99
Richard Dobson
Richard Dobson
Avid gamer since the days of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Grew up with the PS1 and PS2 but changed allegiances in 2007 with the release of Halo 3.
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Flawless streaming</li> <li>Huge range of old favourites, new favourites and everything else</li> <li>Challenges and leaderboards offer so much more</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Crammed and busy UI</li> <li>Some big games missing currently</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to : Antstream</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One <li>Release date and price - 21 July 2023 | £29.99</li> </ul>Antstream Arcade Review
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