As you may have seen or heard me discuss recently, I’ve finally picked up my first arcade cabinet. It’s a 2-slot Neo•Geo MVS, so it’s outside the scope of this column’s three-or-more-player focus, but it has me thinking about the arcade experience. Some of the best arcade games support lots of players: Gauntlet. Rampage. Daytona USA. Even the recent Pac-Man Battle Royale. Still, there’s one genre that eats quarters like no other: the side-scrolling beat-‘em-up.
Many popular brawlers have managed to get a home release, and at least recently, retain the full complement of players. Here’s a look at the genre’s home versions:
The Simpsons Arcade: The most recent of the revival releases, The Simpsons Arcade is definitely one that sparks a lot of nostalgia. Its gameplay hook: cooperative moves between the four playable characters (Bart, Homer, Marge and Lisa). It’s also known for being the prototypical “licensed arcade game” that gets referenced these days, with very little game design or plot relating to the property itself and random enemies really not having anything to do with the franchise.
X-Men: The Arcade Game: This recent release was one that not many expected. The original was known for its behemoth version of the cabinet, with two monitors and six-player support. While it didn’t really fix a game design built around taking your quarters, this update allowed for all six to play online and, on PS3, offline too. It’s not too deep, so be prepared to move on after the 20 minutes or so it takes to beat it, but it’s still a special experience.
TMNT 1989 Classic Arcade and Turtles in Time: Re-Shelled: This is a tale of two very different games meeting the same fate. Licensing reasons mean you can’t buy either these days, but both were forms of the TMNT arcade games available as downloadable experiences. TMNT 1989 was a faithful port of a great game, available cheaply during a time when services like XBLA were quite sparse. Re-Shelled takes the fun Turtles in Time game and tries to make it polygonal, generally removing the precision in attacks. It doesn’t try to add any of the extra content from the home version along the way, so the result isn’t really something worth experiencing.
Knights of the Round: Sadly, once you go back to previous console generations, a theme starts to emerge: ports of these games with only two-player support. Maybe someday we’ll get a decent home version of Sunset Riders or Shadow over Mystara (or, heck, Battle Circuit), but for now only one classic got a faithful port. That game? The three-player Knights of the Round, which you can play on the PS2 in its full glory in Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2. It’s an early entry in the field for Capcom, and still manages to hold up well.