One of the great things about the Switch is just how many retro collections are coming to it. Regardless of the company, it seems like almost all the old greats are releasing their titles on the Switch.
Now it’s TAITO’s turn: a company that I have surprisingly little history with. I’ve played a handful of their games to be sure, including a couple from this collection, but not many. As such, it will be interesting to see how these titles hold up to a retro enthusiast who is playing them for the first time.
Many thanks to the publisher for the review code.
MILESTONES UPON MILESTONES
The TAITO Milestones collection consists of ten classic games from the 80s all under one roof, which apparently mark important milestones in the company’s history. Considering the collection is missing some big TAITO games – such as Space Invaders, of all things! – it’s hard to determine what their criteria was when selecting them. It’s also important to note that these each of these games are “powered by Arcade Archives”, meaning that anyone who has played any of those Hamster releases should know exactly what to expect here. Each game has its own menu that allows you to make various tweaks to make the game harder or easier, in addition to some other miscellaneous things, such as visual and control options. Save states are absent, but you are able to create ‘Interrupt Save Data’, which will save your progress but can only be restored by exiting the game and loading it back up. There’s also – thankfully – a manual included for each game that will help you figure out it works, which is essential for some of the more complicated titles.
Despite all these options, anyone looking for additional galleries, rewind functionality, or even proper save states will be disappointed; it really is unfortunate that nothing extra has been added to help make it feel more than just a collection of individual Arcade Archives releases. Sure a couple of them aren’t available individually, but the majority are.
Value then rather depends on the games themselves and whether or not there are enough good games in the package to justify a purchase.
A relatively simple arcade game, Alpine Ski has you skiing down a mountain trying to collect points on the way. It starts off on a mountain full of hazards such as trees, ice, and even other skiiers; however, once you reach the bottom, you will then move onto a more difficult variant that requires you to slalom between flags to obtain the points. After surviving this, you’ll move onto the final event: a ski jump where the object is to get as far as you can in order to score higher.
As someone completely new to the game, I found it surprisingly addictive. A single button causes you to go faster, with your focus being more on manoeuvring than anything else. The skier has some pretty stiff movement which can make the slalom course surprisingly tricky, but knocking over the flags like a clumsy oaf provides its own entertainment.
You can adjust the game settings to allow for more lenient point bonuses and time extensions, along with tweaking the time limit itself. It won’t make a huge amount of difference to the game, but it will make things a little bit more lenient for beginners while they’re getting used to it.
All in all, Alpine Ski is a neat little diversion even if won’t take up that much of your time.
A game that I can see as being quite polarising because of one huge flaw – the controls. Playing as a sort of twin stick shooter, your horse-bound sheriff has to shoot the bandits attacking the train that runs through the centre of the screen. One stick is used to move and the other to aim your gun; the problem is that the B button is used to fire, which is incredibly awkward unless you adopt a crab-like position. Thankfully, it’s easy enough to remap the controls, so making the trigger button control your gun makes the game much more enjoyable.
The game is pretty simple – it is an arcade game from 1982, after all – but there are some nice little touches to spice things up. Not only do you shoot the bandits on horseback, but later on they start mounting the train; since its against the law to aim upwards (or something), the sheriff must also mount the train and take care of them personally. You’re able to crouch to dodge bullets while you are on top of the train, which makes it feels like a tense confrontation. After taking them out, you can then jump back on your horse and continue as normal. In between each stage there’s a bonus round where you need to shoot a stone thrown by your horse to gain some extra points that will help you earn more lives. Whilst there are only two level themes, grass and desert, they do progressively get more difficult as the game goes on, with a variety of obstacles that you need to be wary of – as well as more aggressive bandits. It’s a pretty fun gameplay loop once you get into it, even if there is a certain degree of clunkiness to the general controls.
In addition to the standard game, there are options to increase your life count as well as alter the score needed to gain extra lives. Like with all of these titles, the customisation is tightly limited, but the more lenient life system in this game does actually feel decently balanced compared to some of the other games.
I really like Front Line. I am also really bad at it.
Going from Wild Western to this feels like a natural evolution. This game also plays out like a twin stick shooter, except this time the triggers are the default way of shooting. The left trigger allows you to throw grenades and the right one fires your gun.
Playing as a soldier, you make your way through four screens until you reach the enemy base. The first section has you on foot and is simply a trek forward shooting enemy soldiers whilst avoiding mines and falling rocks. It’s linear, but actually quite tough as the enemies tend to anticipate your movement and shoot accordingly. To survive, you’ll need to move erratically to try and outsmart them. The next three sections focus more on tank warfare, with the terrain altering to add variety to each. These parts are a little bit more open as you can wander left and right as well as forward and back. Your bullets won’t destroy tanks, but your grenades will – or you can hop into a tank of your own. These come in two flavours: a small and speedy one with bullets, or a slower and larger one armed with missiles. Both are pretty fragile, but I preferred the smaller one as the speed makes things much easier.
There aren’t many tweaks you can make to Front Line, with the number of lives being the main thing you can adjust, but it does allow you to change to a single stick control scheme if you prefer. Given that this makes you fire in the same direction as movement, it makes the game significantly harder, so I wouldn’t really recommend doing so.
Regardless of the lacklustre extra options, the game is still extremely addictive – even if it is pretty challenging to make it through more than a single loop. The one issue that holds it back is the audio, which features some incredibly annoying sound effects all the way through. Whilst I played this game quite a lot, I spent most of the time with the volume turned low. An unfortunate issue for an otherwise excellent arcade title.
Qix is the first title in the collection I had any experience with going into it, although this is the first time managed to clear all four stages and learn how to actually play it well.
The game definitely stands out from all the others, as it feels more like a reflex based puzzle game. You control a small marker that can only travel along the outside line of the game grid. At first this will consist of only the four exterior walls, but you are able to draw shapes, which will ‘claim’ a part of the playarea, resulting in the remaining part both shrinking and re-forming. These shapes can be drawn quickly or slowly, with the latter granting you more points, and the need to claim at least 75% of the game area to win. It seems easy, but it isn’t; there are two sparks that loop around the edges of the arena trying to kill you. They can only go around completed shapes though, meaning that they won’t follow you if you start drawing a new one. Meanwhile, the huge moving line (the titular Qix) that bounces around the play area threatens to kill you if it comes into contact with a shape you haven’t finished drawing. It’s all rather hectic, and things get more intense as the levels go on, but it’s also extremely fun.
The difficulty and number of lives can be altered in the game options, which definitely helps you get to grips with the title – but it’s still not an easy game until you start strategising. Simply making the play area smaller isn’t going to cut the mustard: you need to learn how to trap the Qix, so that it’ll be safer for you to fill in the rest of the arena. It’s tense stuff.
Whilst the game isn’t my favourite of the ten games, it is definitely the most replayable. Qix is something you can jump into for some quick fun and not worry about whether you make progress or not. It’s a classic for reason: the reason being that it’s extremely good.
We’ve finally reached the first of the two exclusive titles in this collection, and unfortunately it’s also the one I like the least. It’s certainly very ambitious, with its three vastly different gameplay styles, but none of them are particularly fun.
It starts out well, presenting you with a globe under threat of attack, all while ominous music plays in the background. Using one of your targeting cursors (you can have up to 6, if you tweak it in the gameplay settings) you can select either an enemy base or an enemy squadron, with each having three variations for you to get through.
Enemy squadron encounters play the best, and has you in a cockpit where you have to shoot down enemy fighters. All you need to do is aim and shoot, but the fighters tend to move so erratically that it can be hard to hit them. I found that sometimes I would clear one of these encounters with little effort, and other times I wouldn’t be able to connect any of my shots.
The enemy base encounters, on the other hand, play out as a side scrolling shooter, with your ship flying horizontally as you shoot down enemy missiles and ships. It’s pretty challenging too, especially considering that your ship explodes occasionally for little reason. Missiles are allowed to miss you and fly off screen… except for the odd occasion when it results in you exploding for no reason. I’m not sure why it happens and I presume it’s a hitbox issue, but either way it’s more than a little frustrating.
I appreciate what the game is trying to do, but I just didn’t find this one much fun. You can extend the number of lives in the extras menu, as well as lower the score needed to earn extra ones, but I can’t help but feel it makes little difference in the long run. If you die, you need to do the whole section again regardless, so it’s little consolation.
Out of all of the games in the collection, Elevator Action is the one I have the most experience with. Having been introduced to the series via its excellent sequel, Elevator Action Returns, I was already very familiar with the title by the time I got around to it in this collection.
After playing it again (lots) via Taito Milestones, it still remains as enjoyable as when I first played it – in fact, it’s easily my favourite game in the collection.
As a spy, your goal is to infiltrate a building via the roof and work your way down to the basement garage where you can make your escape. On your way, you’ll have to collect all the data files hidden behind the red doors, and try not to die from the large number of enemies in your way.
Whilst you may be disappointed that there’s essentially just one level, with the subsequent ones only having minor variations to mix things up, each level is a complete thrill ride. Things start off quite relaxing as you ride the elevator past the relatively empty upper floors, but as you progress things get far more intense. The further down you go, the more elevators are available to use, as well as an increased number of doors for enemies to come out of. The middle section even blocks off some floors, meaning you’ll need to use escalators in order to proceed.
Controls are simple enough, with jumping, crouching, and shooting being the main thing to worry about; although, you will need to use these abilities well in order to avoid enemy bullets. It’s easier said than done, but you eventually work into a groove. Enemies use the elevators too, meaning that they can easily gang up on you if you’re not careful. Where things start to get really frantic is at the very bottom, which is full of elevators and enemies, making it a hectic rush to the bottom before you’re outnumbered and outgunned. The sedate music picks up in intensity too, so your heart will be pounding by the time you get to the escape car. What makes the game special are the small touches, from the grapple hook entry of your protagonist to being able to squish enemies under the elevator. You can tell the developers were clearly having a lot of fun when they made this game.
As for extras, you can change the life counter and difficulty, which does allow you to survive a little longer since losing a life never sets you too far back (it even puts you ahead sometimes). You won’t find it makes the game much easier though, as it is still pretty tricky- even for people like me who are more familiar with how the game plays. The difficulty never becomes an issue however, as I’m always satisfied as long as I manage to clear just one of the buildings – the extra levels feel more like a victory lap more than anything.
The other exclusive game in the collection is Chack’n Pop, a rather unusual maze game that acts a little bit like Pac Man – kinda. Controlling the oddly named Chack’n, you need to navigate the mazelike area by traversing across either the floor or ceiling. Holding up will stretch your little fella’s legs and, if he is close enough to the ceiling, he will stick to it. There’s no jump button, so this is your only method of navigation.
Your goal is to collect the caged hearts from inside the level and escape before the strange cultist dudes at the top block the exit. It’s a strange concept for a strange game. Whilst the mazes begin empty, they soon fill up with monsters that will try and hunt you down – but you’re not left completely defenseless. Armed with smoke bombs, you can drop them to the left or right and after a while they will explode and fill a small area with smoke. These can be used to kill these monsters, as well as break open the cages and any destructible walls. Considering how fast the creatures move, you can have a hard time taking out the foes, especially when you only have a limited time to escape the maze. Luckily you can suffer a tactical death in order to respawn at the start with defeated creatures and collected hearts remaining as before.
The game has a lot of charm, but is pretty difficult to get used to. Whilst it may not seem as unforgiving as Star Seeker, and less frustrating as a result, it is pretty difficult to get particularly far. You are able to tweak the amount of lives, as you’d expect, but there are also options to skip the tutorial and even make the super heart (basically temporary invincibility) appear more frequently. It’s fun, but repetition starts to set in as you retry the first few levels over and over. Out of all the games in the collection, this is probably the only one where I’d recommend abusing the Interrupt Save Data function to make progress.
THE FAIRYLAND STORY
Another pleasant surprise. I’d never even heard of The Fairyland Story before playing this collection and it ended up being completely different to what I had expected. Unlike most of the other games that are effectively continuous loops, this title actually has a series of designed levels to work your way through, which progressively get more difficult.
Playing as a witch, you have to use your magic to take out the monsters within the castle. After flying in on her broomstick, she must cast her magic to turn the enemies into cake, which she can then crumble by pushing off a ledge (ideally into another enemy) or by hitting it with more magic. It feels a bit like Bubble Bobble (another game that is strangely absent from the collection), but with a fantasy setting.
The first thing you will notice as you boot the game up is just how good it looks, with some pixel art that holds up well in the modern era. The stage platforms are simplistic, for sure, but the characters in particular look great. The level based structure also works pretty well, as they all feel very doable for the most part and have a steady difficulty curve as the game goes on. As you proceed, you’ll encounter giant wormlike creatures that try to eat you alive, fire-breathing dragons, warlocks that can duplicate themselves, and much more. Sometimes things will come at you a little too fast and overwhelm you unfairly quickly, but it’s rare that levels provide a challenge that you can’t overcome with a little strategic thinking. There are 101 levels in total, which feels like a lot, but you are able to continue as much as you’d like (except during the initial levels and final levels for some reason), and costs you little more than seeing the best ending.
The length of the game is the only real issue with it. Rather than having you run out of lives due to unfair difficulty, it seems like this game tried to get your money by making you want to get a little further each time. The interrupt save feature certainly helps this version as it allows you to play the game in chunks, as it can feel like a bit of a slog otherwise. That being said, it’s a pretty fun game and will certainly take you a while to get through.
Extra options are quite lacklustre, with the life adjustment being the only real thing of note, but you can disable continues if you are a complete madman. There’s nothing too exciting here, but perhaps these few options will help you get that best ending at least.
The only shmup in this collection, and it surprised me by being pretty damn good. As someone who is very particular with what I like in the genre, mainly due to my lack of skill, I started playing the game with dread – which later turned into joy.
The aim of the game is that you are protecting the planet from Halley’s Comet, which is set to collide shortly. As the planet’s last hope, you need to destroy all comet fragments that are heading towards the planet as well as enemy ships that are also attacking for some reason or other. Any ships or fragments that pass will damage the planet, and if it gets to 100% then it’s game over. It’s actually more lenient than it sounds, making planet destruction less of a worry until you reach the later planets. What is more of a concern is running out of lives. As is common with the genre, Halley’s Comet is pretty hard – although it’s certainly noy a bullet hell shooter, thank goodness.
There are three areas, with the final one taking place in the core of the comet, and the whole journey feels really damn epic. Once you save the planet, it’s on to the next one which is also suffering the same fate. That’s right, you guessed it – it’s basically the same looping gameplay as earlier TAITO arcade titles. It’s both a blessing and a curse since, like with Elevator Action, you feel like you’ve done enough just by saving one planet. You never feel an obligation to get through everything. Even better is that there is a level select in the extras menu, so you can simply skip to the next planet the next time you play if you want to make progress.
My main issue with the game is the same one I have with a lot of shmups: death results in losing all your power-ups. It effectively means that if you die once, you’re likely to die more times until you can get sufficiently powered up again. That being said, with plenty of upgrades your ship becomes near unstoppable, as your shots almost fill the screen! Regardless, it’s still a fun little shooter that I’d never even heard of before and makes for a welcome addition to the package.
THE NINJA WARRIORS
Out of all the games on the collection that I thought I would like the most, The Ninja Warriors ended up being the most disappointing. It’s not bad, by any means, it’s just a bit dull.
Playing as a cyborg ninja, the game plays as a side scrolling beat em up. However, instead of being able to move up and down, you can only move left and right while the enemies just charge at you. The speed at which they run towards you is particularly notable, as your metal mate walks tediously slow. It’s almost a crawl. You can throw (limited) shuriken towards your foes, but you’ll likely use your kunai most of the time to slash them up close with a well placed attack. You can defend, but that’s only really useful against certain enemies.
The Ninja Warriors feels a bit like Sly Spy, except that game wasn’t anywhere near as slow and had some more interesting level design and set-pieces. Sure, this game has those too from time to time, but typically they’re just bigger enemies for you to do the exact same thing against. The game is tough, but you can have infinite continues meaning that you only need patience to see the end.
It’s not all bad though, as the music and visuals are top notch. There’s so much attention to detail in the backgrounds that it really is impressive to look at, it’s just a shame that the game isn’t as enjoyable to play. A bit of a dud, perhaps, but it’s only the second one of two so it doesn’t ruin the package that much.
TAITO Milestones is a fun collection of classic arcade titles, but is ultimately set back by not having much to distinguish it from their individual Arcade Archives releases. Considering the target audience is clearly arcade enthusiasts who likely already own a fair number of these games already, it’s a shame they didn’t include some enticing extras to encourage them to double dip. It seems like the main thing for these people will be the excellent-looking physical release instead. That being said, if you are interested in classic 80s arcade games and do not own them already, this is a solid collection of great titles that will offer hours of entertainment.
For those interested in the physical editions, they are available via Strictly Limited games here: https://store.strictlylimitedgames.com/collections/taito-milestones