How? How in the hell did a Taito game collection get a perfect arcade rating? That's what my friend James asked me as I was going through the rounds in Zoo Keeper, trying to keep all those damn zoo animals confined in walls as they managed to gnaw away at bricks (because, you know, they're part of a good dietary plan, those bricks). I told him it's not what the title has to offer on the surface, but the depths it goes to. I mean, any collection can be put together like a flash in the pan and then released for a quickie buck. A few previous releases have proven that. But to actually delve into company history, talk with producers, and so on...there's the gold mine. Now, being an arcade historian (or what some might call a "nut"), I can honestly say that Taito Legends fully delivers on every count, and should be owned by everyone -- not just arcade "nuts".
Anyway, I figured I'd break each game down real quick and then talk about the presentation from there. That's the way I usually break down a collection like this, just so you get an idea of how I weigh in with each title.
Jungle Hunt -- Originally known as Jungle King but eventually changed due to some legal threats from the creators of the Tarzan books, Hunt puts you in control of some explorer who must swing on vines, jump and duck to avoid rocks, swim in water and stab alligators, and eventually save his girl from headhunters. These stages are structured so they ramp up in difficulty, but still remain fun to play. And, yes, it's still got that fun music in the background.
The New Zealand Story -- Control a kiwi bird with weapons as he makes his way through a zoo, rescuing his fellow captured kiwis and eventually taking on the most evil walrus in the world. Not one of my personal favorites, but the game is a fun platforming effort with some tricks up its sleeve.
The Ninja Kids -- Oh, my God. This is Taito at its best, when they take off on an unbeaten path and go completely wacko on game design, and yet still come up with a winner. Think of the formula for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but, instead of battling ninjas, you battle Satanists. You heard that right. And instead of turtles, you have Sesame Street-styled ninjas who have wacky animations. This game is just insane fun, especially with friends, even if it's over in a few stages.
Operation Wolf -- Take control of a lone soldier and shoot everything in sight in an effort to rescue hostages that have been captured by a terrorist faction. Not a terrific game by any means, since it's been outdone as of late by better games like Virtua Cop and the Time Crisis series, but it manages to entertain.
Operation Thunderbolt -- The sequel to Wolf, where a comrade tags along and more terrorists have to be taken down. It's nothing significant, but you do get to work alongside a friend in blasting enemies, and two is always better than one.
Phoenix -- Mostly ancient Galaxian wannabe where you shoot at different birds before eventually getting to their mother ship in an attempt to blast it apart. Shooting fans should enjoy it.
Plotting -- This is another long-lost favorite of mine, released in arcades and then shortly after on the Game Boy under the name Flipull. In the game, you have to eliminate tiles from a playfield within a certain amount of time and moves, and shouldn't get stuck with a tile that you can't hit other blocks with. It's really quite a skillful game, and, again, you can take on a friend to see who's the master of the grinning orange globs.
Plump Pop -- A variation of Circus Atari, but with a wider variety of moving balloons and animated animal characters who work together as a family. Eh, didn't suit me that well, due to the speed of the character and how many times you would crash. But I know some of you would really like this.
Rainbow Islands -- The sequel to Bubble Bobble, although it's really nothing like it. Instead of Bub and Bob, you control two kids who use rainbows to trap and obliterate enemies, all while moving up in a playfield. This game's a lot of fun, especially when you team up with a buddy for the boss stages. Item collection helps boost up a score competition, too.
Rastan -- Think Conan but in your control -- and without the Governator. This action game basically lets you play a warrior who slices through the competition through a number of stages, all while picking up great weapons, such as the "fire sword". A whole lotta fun, to be sure...especially when the later stages pick up and the difficulty boosts ahead.
Space Invaders -- The arcade classic -- of course it'll be here! This is basically emulated under the original black and white game, with aliens moving about in the same fashion, trying to overtake your base. Still a favorite after all these years.
Space Invaders Part 2 -- Basically more of the same, this time in color and with faster moving aliens. Still a lot of fun, and fans of the original will want to dig in.
Return of the Invaders -- A modern twist on the Space Invaders theme, throwing in advanced graphics and music, power-ups, and weirder patterns for the aliens to move through. Kinda alienates the original, but manages to capture most of its fun. I wonder why Majestic Twelve didn't make the cut, though.
Space Gun -- An old-school alien shooter where you work your way through corridors and outer space, blasting anything that moves while rescuing hostages. This is kind of a variance of Operation Wolf, but with cooler weapon details and the ability to go backwards in some spots. (The original arcade game introduced a foot pedal, long before Time Crisis did.) Thoroughly enjoyable.
Super Qix -- A more cartoony version of the original Qix (which, surprisingly, ISN'T included), with more detailed enemies and the ability to unlock picture designs with each stage. The screen's kind of scrunched a little with this one, but it's still manageable and enjoyable.
Thunder Fox -- A brilliant action game that puts you in control of a lone soldier who can pick up guns or use his knife and kicks to dispatch of enemies, both automatic and human. Then the game shifts to shooting stages filled with targets aplenty. Lots of stages to complete, and two-player is included, so you can probably guess that this is one of my favorites of the collection.
Tokio -- Mostly substandard shooting game where you take control of an aircraft over Tokyo and blast away at tanks and aircraft, before getting to a boss stage. It'll suffice, but, really, Taito should've gone ahead and included something else, like Sky Shark or the classic Twin Cobra. That would've made this a five star effort, I think.
Tube-It -- Quirky game where you work on a playfield and try to piece together full-running pipes from left to right in order to eliminate them and keep the pieces from stacking to the top. Think Tetris, but from a plumber's perspective. Surprisingly fun, and two player makes it shine.
Volified -- Yet another variation of Qix, where you have to draw lines and complete squares on a grid before enemies zap you. This one's a bit more interesting thanks to its variety of enemies and its constant challenges, but it still lacks some of the charm of the first game. Oh, well, at least it doesn't suck.
Zoo Keeper -- Oh, man. I remember playing this one back in the day at Shakey's. This game puts you in control of a zoo keeper who has to make the rounds to keep walls built around animals trying to escape by eating away at the bricks. The game remains a constant challenge thanks to smarter animals with each stage and various sub-stages that include platform jumping and rescuing of a poor girl. The design is ingenious, and the gameplay never gets old. It even has that Pac-Man element to it where you can recapture animals with a net. I love it.
Battle Shark -- Another long-lost Taito favorite of mine, which combines the action of a first-person shooter with underwater submarine action. You basically shoot at a number of subs and other enemies, all while maintaining your health and obtaining power-ups that come in handy. This game remains a wonderful treat and shouldn't be missed.
Bubble Bobble -- The NES classic returns in its purest arcade form. Take control of Bub or Bob (or both!) through a number of stages, trapping enemies in bubbles and popping them before they escape, and collecting the fruit they leave behind. This is a favorite, to be sure, but it would've been nice to see Bubble Bobble 2 or Bubble Bobble Symphony get included. Or, for that matter, Bust a Move, the puzzle spinoff of this series.
Colony 7 -- Another old-school shooter in the vein of Space Invaders, with engaging play mechanics and decent graphics. Not a personal favorite, but it's fun.
Continental Circus -- A slightly herky jerky racing game with 3-D visuals and fast speeds around every corner. It takes a while to get used to the controls, but, once you do, you'll find yourself having an enjoyable time. Personally, I would've liked to have seen something from the Chase HQ line-up instead. But that's just me.
Electric Yo-Yo -- A strange puzzle game where you take control of a yo-yo and try to collect certain items before it gets touched, or else you lose a turn. Eh, it's decent, not really on my "hot" list.
Exzisus -- A shooting game along the lines of Section Z where you take control of a hero who must shoot down enemies and bomb them from behind. It's fun for a few stages, but tedium manages to set in. Where's Solar Warrior when you need it?
Gladiator -- A fun side-scrolling action game where you, as a gladiator, must avoid obstacles and strike at enemies when it's most crucial. Along the way, you can pick up shield upgrades and armor improvements to keep yourself alive. Not the sharpest of Taito's game library, but it's surprisingly fun.
Great Swordsman -- Here's another game that I never expected to grasp me so heavily in this collection. It's basically sword fighting with fencing, kendo, and others thrown into play, but it's of a technical nature, just like the real thing. Think Karate Champ but with more detail. I liked this one, as it really made you use your brain for both defense and striking perfectly at a foe.
Elevator Action -- Finally, we have this, one of Taito's most memorable arcade classics. You control a lone agent as he makes his way through office building after office building, collecting secrets from red doors and dispatching of enemy agents who are out to get you. This is still a terrific game, fun to play and easy to get into. It's just a shame that the worthy sequel, Elevator Action Returns, got left out of the collection. Sigh.
So there you have it. 29 games. And for the price of $20, no less. But that's not all. Taito and Sega have also produced a menu system that shows off each of the arcade cabinets, from Space Gun's super-skinny machine to the stubby Elevator Action unit, and they're a blast to see again. Furthermore, there's other archival goodies to find here, including arcade flyers, Taito company history and individual game details, and producer interviews. Yes, the minds behind Space Invaders and Bubble Bobble dig deep into their products and let loose on the details. These are wonderful pieces to watch, even if you have to read the subtitles to get the information. I'm not picky.
The emulation alone is done very well. Taito's done away with the annoying start-up screens and instead lets you hop right into the gaming action, which is superb. The sound is just as faithful as always, and the controls feel just right, with analog support and preciseness for each game. There's the mild hiccups here and there (like the transition from stage to stage with Ninja Kids), but it's barely noticeable.
There's also something to be said about how you can tweak the video options. You can either go with the original arcade ratio or change the video setting to fit your TV better. This is a crucial option, and I'm glad it's included, as it really lets you shape a game's look to however you want it to be on your HDTV. Sure, some games can't be helped (like Super Qix), but for the most part, I'm glad to see it. There's also the ability to fine tune the sensitivity of the buttons, in case you don't want to be too light on your actions.
As far as options for each game, you have your difficulty settings and "game tips", which are really just general instructions on how to play. It would have been nice to see some more high-scoring tips here and there, but they do more good than harm, so I'll cut them some slack.
I guess the only nitpicks that would come into play would be with some of the game selections, as I've explained above, and with the lack of a gun peripheral support option. I know Space Gun and the Operation games are controllable with the analog pad, but it would've been nice to see support for the Mad Catz and Konami guns. And with game selection, why the original Qix didn't get included is beyond me, and where's Twin Cobra and Legend of Kage? Hell, Zuntana just got shut out altogether, as we don't get the chance to see Ninja Warriors or Raystorm in their original glory. Oh, well, hopefully, we'll see a Taito Legends II emerge to clean out whatever we missed this time around.
Taito Legends is an ideal game collection, right up there with Capcom Classic Collection. It's got a wide variety of titles that guarantee hours, if not days and weeks, of play, and the options are astounding. Furthermore, it complements the classic gamers out there with bits and pieces to test their trivia-filled minds. So I don't mind giving it a high honor since it's done so much for us. Some people may not get it, but those who pick up the title and invest in an all-night session of Bubble Bobble are certain to agree.