Capcom Arcade Stadium review – recapture the magic

Retro game collections can be a dispiriting experience for fans. Poorly translated versions, badly curated and thrown on to a DVD with a terrible user interface are sadly commonplace. Thankfully, that’s not what we have here. For Capcom Arcade Stadium, the celebrated game developer has collated 32 interesting and often brilliant titles, spanning the glory years of its coin-op output. It is a treasure trove for nostalgic arcade dwellers and interested newcomers alike.

In a move similar to its 2013 Arcade Cabinet, the company has chosen not to release its collection on one disc. Instead, fans can download the base emulator free with one game, 1943: The Battle of Midway, included. You can then download a selection of three packs, each with 10 games a piece, or grab them all for £30. It’s an odd delivery method but the implication is that further titles and additional features will be available at a later date, which is certainly welcome.

Among the current collection there are plenty of genuine legends. The acrobatic aeroplane shooter 1942 and several of its sequels; the spatially innovative scrolling adventure Strider; the rock-hard gothic horror thriller Ghosts ’n Goblins; and the thudding brawler Final Fight, with its gigantic muscular characters and richly coloured backstreet settings, like some interactive straight-to-video action flick. Street Fighter fanatics are well served with three incarnations – Street Fighter II, as well as Hyper Fighting and Super Turbo (the latter being the iteration preferred by the dev team themselves). There are also two games – Progear, created by bullet hell specialist Cave, and 1944: The Loop Master – that have not been available on console before, which is a treat for shooter completists.

Some fans have been upset at surprising omissions. There’s no Darkstalkers or Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom, and I’d definitely like to have seen X-Men: Children of the Atom or Marvel vs Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes, but the hope is that Capcom will expand on the roster in future.

The emulation is pretty strong, and certainly accurate enough for most players. Arcade Stadium allows you to select between the English or Japanese ROMs (ie the original game code) for each release, and while Capcom’s RE Engine has been used to code the emulator, it seems the open source MAME engine has also been employed for some aspects. All the games are beautifully presented with a range of display options allowing you to play them on a virtual arcade cabinet or in a standard view, adding scan lines or softening the pixels to get exactly the visual effect you prefer.

As an ex-writer for Edge magazine in the 1990s, where editor Jason Brookes insisted that all shooters were played in tate (vertical) mode, it’s great to see you can flip many of the games on their side – perfect for those with monitors on rotating stands who wish to play Vulgus, Legendary Wings or any of the 19XX titles in the screen orientation they were intended for.

There are added features too, including the ability to save games where you like – an option we’ve become used to from all the recent mini consoles. Brilliantly, you can also rewind games at any point, so if you’re momentarily blindsided by a bazooka soldier in Commando, or succumb to a sneaky dragon suplex in Street Fighter II, you can quickly whiz the clock back and have another bash. You can also tweak the number of lives you get, or the speed of the game in general. Purists will balk, of course, but for those players who lack superhuman skills and therefore never got to see, say, the last section of Ghouls ’n Ghosts back in the day, these are really welcome additions. The package is completed with daily score and time challenges, and a global online high-score table, which will keep invested players coming back for more.

The thing with Capcom Arcade Stadium is that this isn’t just a nostalgia exercise – many of these games hold up today. Designers including Tokuro Fujiwara and Akira Nishitani crafted beautiful 2D play spaces filled with energy, challenge and luscious choreography, and these elements are still inspiring today’s shooters, metroidvania adventures and roguelikes. Back in the day, when you put 10p in a Capcom machine, you knew that, even if you only survived for 27 seconds, you would see wonderful places, effects, enemies and surprises. That feeling is captured here once more, for all to experience.

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