My personal arcade experience is pretty weird. It’s deeply rooted on Nintendo. Whatever I played on that old 99-in-1 cart I eventually re-discovered years later playing on MAME when I finally had my own computer, and most of the cases, I found the arcade versions far superior to their conversions. It happened with the SNK games that I played in that collection months ago, and the same goes for the host of Konami titles included in their newest compilation, the Konami Arcade Anniversary Collection.
By all accounts, this collection should please anyone who’s remotely interested in old style shooters, since it includes seven of the most well known Konami arcade games in that genre, with only one of them not being a horizontal scroller, Typhoon. The rest, which are comprised of Nemesis (also known as Gradius), Vulcan Venture (Gradius II), Thunder Cross, Scramble, Life Force (Salamander), and my all-time favorite, TwinBee. The odd man out in this compilation and by far the weakest inclusion is Haunted Castle, the arcade version of Castlevania. Why include it in this collection when there’s a Castlevania-focused one that came out soon after baffles me, but hey, let’s say that for historical purposes, it’s good that it’s been made available, so that even more people can come to attest and realize the beauty of the older entries in that series.
As far as compilations of this sort go, this Anniversary Collection is well put together, albeit with a sparse suite of emulation options. Outside of a screen ratio toggle and whether or not you want scanlines — which the game curiously calls blurring for some reason? — there’s not much else to play around with outside of choosing to have a border around the screen or not. I would’ve loved to see more of a dip switch variety as well, something more than just difficulty and the number of lives you can have. Then again, like any emulator work its salt nowadays, this one includes save states, which to me are an obligatory feature since I’m positively awful and would not be able to beat anything without them.
All of the games control as well as expected and look darn crisp on HD displays. For the purposes of this review, I played the PlayStation 4 version of the collection, and it does a satisfactory job of displaying all of its library as colorfully and sharp as it possibly can be shown. Although the emulation options leave a lot to be desired, the standard play option that the collection starts you is surprisingly adequate. I imagine that these shooters would look even better on the Switch’s portable screen and am quite curious about how this compilation turned out on that system.
I do quite appreciate the extras that come within the Bonus Book feature, a 100-page digital file that goes into detail about the design process for all of the games, including sketches, design bibles, and even interviews with some of the original developers and producers, as well as writers for popular Japanese gaming publications like Famitsu. While not nearly as in-depth as SNK’s, it’s commendable that Konami has gone the extra mile in adding this in, especially considering the company’s recent history and past compilations that literally had no care added outside of dumping ROMs on a disc. It’s cool to see that they’ve finally decided to focus on their rich console and arcade background with collections such as these.
On the other hand, I would’ve loved to see a whole lot more games included in this list. Konami was one of the most prolific arcade shooter developer in the early 1980s and forward, as their timeline clearly shows in the bonus feature. Some omissions like the incredible Time Pilot, Gyruss, and even Gradius III would’ve made this compilation a must, but as it stands, it’s still a somewhat serviceable line-up.
Most of the inclusions play very similarly, but it’s neat to see them all bunched up as a show of how the Konami shooter formula grew. It’s worth taking the time to stop and see how it all started with Scramble and eventually evolved to Thunder Cross, which is a step above in every conceivable way. TwinBee is perhaps the most unique of the bunch, since its gameplay hinges on a balancing act of juggling power-ups and knowing just the right time to absorb them by continuously shooting bells that pop out of clouds along the way. It’s always been a darling of mine, and ever since the NES days I’ve always stopped along my way to play it whenever I stumbled upon any of its entries, regardless of system.
It’s great to see that companies are looking back at their catalogs and finally putting out compilations like this. Konami’s in particular is ridiculously rich, and it would be a shame to see them solely focusing on established money makers like Metal Gear Solid and Pro Evolution Soccer when there’s so much gold to check back into with their rich quarter-munching arcade history. It’s made evident by the rich list of old games to dig into if this collection and Castlevania’s are any indication. Contra’s own compilation is just around the corner, too, which only makes me wonder where will Konami be heading next in their bringing back of their old, dormant franchises.