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A Sort-of Review of Midway Arcade Treasures (PSP)

After finding a compilation of my all-time favorite arcade games, I quickly realized that playing a classic is not the same as experiencing one.

jaime kuroiwa, Blogger

August 6, 2010

4 Min Read

I have to call this a "sort-of review," because I'm not really reviewing the title you see here.  Instead, I'd like to write about it, than about...it.  Let me rephrase that.  I'm not going to discuss how good/bad the title is, but the grander (more grand?) significance of this to games in general.

I wrote an earlier piece about releasing PS2 games in new territories in an effort to extend the life of the PS2 a couple more years.  The main point I was driving toward was that these "unplayed" games could be experienced on the platform that they were designed for.  If someone were to emulate it on another platform, as in the case of Midway Arcade Treasures, it simply wouldn't be the same experience.  Ian Bogost tackled this issue with the CRT simulator for the Stella emulator.  Sometimes the details in the periphery of gameplay is what makes a game a classic.

When I was looking in my library for a new game to play, my eyes were immediately drawn to Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play.  Spy Hunter?  Sinistar?  Paperboy?  720?  Mortal Kombat? Marble Madness?!  TOOBIN'?!  C...CYBERBALL?!  There was no other game on the shelf that moment.  This would be my next distraction.

No sooner than I turned turned on my PSP did I feel a slight twinge of worry.  "I'm not in an arcade anymore.  I'm not standing at a cabinet.  I'm not staring at a 20" CRT.  I'm not holding a joystick," I thought to myself.  I started up Mortal Kombat.

The blocky, aliased logo appeared on the little screen just like I remember in the 90's.  I felt a bit of reassurance from that.  I then chose Raiden, as I always did in the arcade, since he had the easiest combos.  "So far, so good," I thought.  Then the round began.

Now, I refuse to admit that I've become rusty in the past 20 years, because I believe I was inputting moves just as quickly as I did in the arcade, but Raiden was spastically moving around the screen like a pigeon on Amphetamines.  That is to say, it was not me playing that moment; it was a control issue...right?  I paused the game.

I remembered the days I played MK on the Sega Game Gear.  There was no way that the technology at the time could emulate an arcade experience, so the Game Gear version took some liberties with the port; some of it was the controls.  Instead of smooth arcs of the d-pad, you had to press it in slow, deliberate movements (e.g. down, then forward, then punch).  After I came to that revelation, I was able to kick Goro's butt repeatedly.  I unpaused the game.

Just as I suspected.  Directional button controls on a PSP were similar to that Game Gear version, though the input window was considerably shorter.

"Why not use the analog nub," you may ask?  I did...and it sucked.  There is no way any console manufacturer can convince me that a thumbstick is any replacement for a palm-sized joystick.  Plus, its placement on the PSP doesn't lend itself well for attacks towards the left of the screen -- my thumb simply doesn't bend that way.  I quit out of Mortal Kombat.

I then made the grand mistake of booting up Marble Madness -- one of my all-time favorite arcade games (Can you already see where this is heading?).  Without the rollerball controller, the game was absolutely unplayable.  The graphics were there, the sounds were there, but the controls -- analog controls and button presses for slow and fast movement -- took all semblance of nostalgia and smashed it into thousands of tiny glass shards to be swept away by a disembodied broom.  To add insult to injury, no continues.  I was done.

As I've said before, part of the fun of playing "classic" games is the environment surrounding that game, not just the game itself.  A child watching Star Wars on a 9" in the backseat of an SUV will not experience the awe and wonder that I've felt seeing it in a theater.  Seeing an emulated game on a screen will certainly play on your sense of nostalgia, but playing an emulated game, especially in a control format that it was not designed for, will undoubtedly make you question why you loved that game in the first place.

I just want to say that your mind isn't playing tricks on you in these situations.  It simply isn't the same experience.

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