Last year we covered TAITO Milestones, a collection of mostly entertaining games let down by being simply a collection of existing Arcade Archives titles with nothing else but a frontend to justify its existence. Despite the lack of any real additional effort though, it still had more than enough fun titles to warrant a purchase for retro enthusiasts that don’t already own the individual releases.
Now its time for the sequel, which is essentially more of the same albeit with ten different titles. With no bells and whistles, nor even a true save state function (instead relying on a rather fiddly ‘Interrupt Save Data’ function that only offers limited utility), the collection’s worth will ultimately fall down to the game’s themselves.
As such, this review will cover all the individual titles on their own merits and evaluate just how fun they are to play.
Many thanks to the publisher for the review code.
BEN BERO BEH
Probably the simplest of all the games in this collection, Ben Bero Beh is actually a surprisingly fun arcade title that has you descending floors and fighting fires to save your beloved from a house fire. Despite controls being limited to jumping and spraying your hose, extra mechanical depth is added by moving your spray up or down so it can reach closer / further distances.
As time passes, the building becomes increasingly engulfed in smoke and will send you both to a horrible death if you dilly dally making it down to the bottom. It’s not just fire that will get in your way, but also hanging lights, explosive ventilation, and even creatures that pop out of doors in order to troll you. I didn’t say it was a fair game, only that it’s a fun one.
The questionable obstacles are made tolerable by the game’s lack of any real end, as the handful of levels simply loop until either you get a game over or turn the game off. A slightly underwhelming way to end the game, perhaps, but as it’s only meant as a quick distraction it’s not enough to ruin the experience.
THE LEGEND OF KAGE
As a huge fan of Shinobi and ninja games in general, I was quite looking forward to The Legend of Kage right up until I actually started playing it. The goal is rescue Princess Kiri from the bad guys over the course of four stages, those being Forest, River, Building Exterior, and Building Interior. Technically speaking there are more than four as the game loops a few times before arbitrarily ending, but they’re all basically the same.
Kage has access to a sword (which look more like nunchucks due to the basic spritework) and shurikens to fend off enemies, with jump being mapped to the ‘up’ button. As if being mapped to the d-pad wasn’t awkward enough, the jump is extremely unwieldly with most of the direction being vertical. It’s borderline unusable for the most part, and on the forest stage it has a tendency to get you stuck to tree trunks.
The controls are only part of the problem I had with this game, however, as the basic level design and annoying enemies make this game rather a chore to play. Despite only taking about 15 minutes to see the ending, it still felt like the game wasted far too much of my time.
Considering I also disliked The Ninja Warriors in the last collection, maybe I just don’t like TAITO Ninja games!
With its menu thumbnail showing only Japanese text, I had no idea what this game was before booting it up. However, within seconds of the game loading I knew exactly what this was: Pocky & Rocky… or at least the game that led to the franchise we all know and love(?) anyway.
Rather than going by the name Pocky, this shrine maiden is known as the less-catchy Sayo as she attempts to save the Seven Lucky Gods from their imprisonment.
Fans of Pocky & Rocky will know exactly what to expect from this game, as it still has that same vibe of The Legend of Zelda but shmup. It’s a very unique style of game that feels like an early attempt at a twinstick shooter, albeit with you only being able to fire in front of you. It’s a bit awkward and hard to use, but plays exactly like the SNES game so shouldn’t be too hard for veterans to get used to.
As was the case with Pocky & Rocky Reshrined, however, this one wasn’t for me. I can appreciate the great spritework and innovative gameplay design, but I just didn’t find this one very fun at all and eventually just gave up on it and moved on. It’s not a bad game by any means, it’s just one that I will never return to.
THE NEW ZEALAND STORY
Wowzers! After the last couple of games, I was starting to feel a little bit let-down by the collection, but things picked straight back up with The New Zealand Story. This is a game that I had heard of growing up, but had never actually played, and it’s a bit of a shame since it’s an absolute corker.
It’s an arcade platformer, so expect short and deadly stages as you make your way to the Kiwi friend at the end of each stage. Levels are quite complex with a variety of enemies spawning in, but your little Kiwi controls so well that it’s easy to react to what is going on around you. The core gameplay focuses on your jumping and the ability to fire an arrow at foes, but pickups will allow you to upgrade to bombs, lasers, and so on in order to decimate the enemies around you. There are also flying enemies that you can kill and steal their transport to make it possible to fly around the stage. Sounds easy, but one hit makes you lose a precious life.
The difficulty may be as high as most arcade games, but the charm lies in the game’s overall presentation and how much there is to it. To give you an example, the very first boss is seemingly invulnerable until he swallows you – allowing you to kill him from the inside. There’s so much imagination here that it’s hard not to love it.
Add to that hidden warp points, collectible letters, and more, and this is easily one of the finest games in this collection.
Speaking of fantastic games, Darius II is also an absolute banger. Whilst not strictly available in Arcade Archives format individually (yet…), this can still be obtained via one of ININ’s Darius collections. Regardless, having played a number of Darius titles before, I knew before going in that this was going to be good, but I didn’t expect it to become my favourite of the series.
The first thing you notice after booting up the game is how heavily letterboxed it is in order to fit the long gameplay screen onto a normal telly. It’s very off-putting at first due to how much empty space there is, but I quickly came to appreciate how it allowed me to take care of incoming attacks with greater ease than before. Usually with shmups I have a hard time reacting to everything going on, but things were far easier here and I have the long screen to thank.
Anyway, for those who aren’t in the know, Darius II is essentially all about shooting mechanical fish in space. You can power up your ship by obtaining shield-shaped power ups, and those will grant you barriers and upgraded weaponry that will make light work of your fishy foes. Getting killed will make you lose your progress, but as this is one of the few games that allow you to keep going so long as you have credits, it’s not that much of a big deal.
Levels and foes are plentiful and varied, with some truly amazing boss designs scattered throughout. The beauty of the game is that it has a branching path system that allows for much greater replayability when compared to other games in the genre, and that’s part of why I love the game so much despite not caring much for the genre as a whole.
Don’t sleep on this game, even if you’re not normally into this type of game. You may very well still love it.
Liquid Kids is one of the Sega Saturn’s pricier Japan-only releases, selling for around €500 on eBay. As such, seeing it here makes me considerably happy as it makes the game far more accessible to people; especially as many probably overlooked the previous individual Arcade Archives release.
Like with The New Zealand Story, Liquid Kids is a stage based platformer that likes to throw swarms of enemies at you in an attempt to drain you of your credits. Your offensive attack consists of a bubble of water that you can throw at enemies to encapsulate them and then push into other foes. Holding the action button will increase the size and thus the power of the bubble, but you’ll probably be spamming the attack button most of the time anyway.
It’s not a particularly easy game, especially as your character moves painfully slow, but the bright colourful visuals help make the game far more pleasant to play. In particular, the bosses are huge and slightly adorable making them a particular highlight.
One interesting quirk the game has is that defeating a boss will allow you to pick from one of two doors, with the right one (usually!) giving you a harder variant of the next stage to take on. Whilst the game is already pretty tough, it’s nice that there’s some incentive for hardened high score chasers even if it’s probably going to be too tough for normal players to try.
It’s a shame that the collection doesn’t include save states or rewind, as Liquid Kids could have been the highlight of the whole package if it was slightly more accessible for most players. As it stands though, it’s fun for as long as you can progress but probably too frustrating to keep at it until you reach the incredibly difficult final boss.
Gun Frontier is one hell of a wild ride. Set in a futuristic version of the Wild West, You control a plane shaped like a revolver as you fight against the aliens and other large gun-shaped craft. Think of it like Enter the Gungeon if it was a Western-inspired shmup.
Starting with a machine gun and a bomb, upgrades are found in the form of dimes than strengthen your gun (or rather your gun’s gun) and gold bars that beef up your bomb. A rather simple loadout for sure, but there’s a real meaty feeling to it all that seems rather fitting for a game focused on firearms.
It’s a really great game that I was surprised to learn was met with a mixed reception upon release. Sure, the checkpoint system can make progression difficult later on for amateurs like myself, but it’s so addictive that you’ll want to try and get as far as possible regardless. Whether it’s avoiding large craft or taking down gun-tanks whilst avoiding its spent shells, the game is an absolute delight. Whilst I wasn’t able to actually beat the game, I consider it one of my favourites from this collection.
After a run of great arcade games, booting up Solitary Fighter felt like a punch to the gut. Whilst looking pleasant at first glance, things start to go south pretty fast.
The game is an arcade fighter, but don’t expect any level of depth like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat since both character selections and movesets are incredibly basic. Whilst I’m not exactly an expert at this genre, it’s still pretty apparent that this game is lacking in almost all departments. The AI is stupid, the audio is awful, and the translation is so awkward that it hurts.
Whilst you can play with a friend for marginally more fun, I still wouldn’t recommend it if you actually want to keep them as a friend.
Another shmup, and also another banger – that makes three for three in this collection! As with the other two, the reputation for Metal Black preceded it but I was still unprepared for how much I actually liked it.
Playing similarly to the Darius games (unsurprising as this game was originally intended to be Darius III), the game sees you scrolling horizontally fighting a war against alien creatures. Hardly revolutionary, but the charm is with how the game is presented. Right off the bat, you’re treated to some amazing visuals showing off the war-torn Earth to some amazing music (another carry-over from the Darius series!).
As with Taito’s fishy shooter, you power up your ship by collecting various powerups dropped by enemies, except this time they are far more plentiful; however, the flip side is that they increase your power far more gradually as your laser becomes larger and stronger as the meter increases. This energy can also be unleashed in a special lightning attack that can be absolutely devastating, but will leave you with your basic peashooter at the end. It’s a nice system, and the frequency of the powerups ensures that you’re rarely ever completely out of juice.
What really helped make me click with the game, aside from the great presentation and frenetic gameplay, was just how accessible the game feels when compared to other shooters. As an amateur, I found that the game rarely felt overwhelming and even the final boss wasn’t overly difficult either. I still lost lives and continues, but far less than most other shmups. This difficulty could be an issue for experts and affect replayability, but it’s nice to see a game in the genre that caters for less proficient players.
The final game in the collection is another fighting game, but thankfully it’s nowhere near as dreadful as Solitary Fighter. In fact, I would go as far as to say it’s actually pretty fun – even though I think that the premise does most of the heavy lifting.
The story itself focuses on a Dinosaur tamer, but you actually play as the dinosaur. There’s a handful to choose from, with some creatures being recognisable and others having questionable spritework that makes them tough to figure out, but the inclusion of popular prehistoric monsters such as the Triceratops makes it pretty exciting for dino-enthusiasts.
The game plays out a little simple as with Solitary Fighter, with your moveset being a little basic, but the addition of a power meter that is charged up by taunting your opponent with a roar helps to add an extra later of strategy that was missing from the other fighter. When your meter is maxed out, you can pull off some really devastating attacks and I found that this alone helped make the game far more engaging.
It’s still not perfect as the hit detection and enemy AI is still questionable at best, but I still found it enjoyable for a bit of quick fun – which is more than can be said for the other Taito fighter on this collection….
TAITO Milestones 2 offers another solid collection of fun arcade titles, even if the vast majority are already purchasable individually – making it pretty pointless for the Taito fans that this is aimed at. It’s a shame that it didn’t add anything else like save states, rewinds, or even just a gallery to make this worth recommending in its own right. That being said, if you don’t own any of the titles already then there’s still enough here to offer hours of entertainment.