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November 2008
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Why Arcade Games Still Trump Big Studios

With all the great games out there for consoles like the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, it’s a wonder that no $60 game can beat cheap arcade games for multiplayer action.  In fact, with the exception of the Rock Band and Guitar Hero series, none of them even compete with games like Aegis Wing, Castle Crashers and Bomberman.

When I want to play a video game alone, I pick up whatever the current favorite is: Fable II, Mass Effect, Oblivion, Twilight Princess, or whatever has just come out.  But when I have friends over, we’re more likely to head to the Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) or Nintendo Virtual Console to play something that cost less than $10.  In some cases, like Aegis Wing, the game was free.  So why do we keep playing that one, instead of a big-budget studio game?

It’s the same thing that kept me in the video arcades from the moment I could reach the controls until the day consoles finally killed the arcade.  Well, that’s not fair.  There are still real arcades, but they only carry gimmick games that need big setups (like racing games and dancing games).  But what I’m talking about is: simple arcade games are fun.  We don’t need ten buttons performing sixty actions.  We need two-button games that focus on the fun.

Aegis Wing is a game written by XBLA interns and released for free.  It’s a classic-style space scroller.  It has a simple set of power-ups.  You blast your way through six levels of repetitious enemies and simple boss fights.  But they take the experience to a new level: you can combine your ships.  Only one player has to fly, which makes this game perfect for a mixed group of gamers and non-gamers.  Piloting the ship is usually the hard part, and they let you opt out of that.  You can combine in groups of two, or build an epic ship of four.  Despite the simple appearance and small set of enemies, we pull this game out every few weeks and just can’t stop playing.

Castle Crashers is another modern re-envisioning of a classic arcade style.  It’s like Golden Axe or Metal Slug, side scrollers where the enemies just keep coming.  Its over-the-top humor sets it apart from the rest of its genre, and its simple (but elegant) controls make it playable for hours at a time for two to four people.  And the name couldn’t be more appropriate: in each level, you’re crashing somebody’s party.  When you upgrade your character, you’re building on the way you want to play the game (I suggest the Red Knight with Magic upgrades; he can’t be stopped).  You can collect money and weapons, which transfer between all characters on your profile.  And you get pets, who give you more bonuses.  This is on my short list of best games of the year.

Then there’s the Bomberman series.  I’ve played more Bomberman ’93 on my Wii than most other games I own.  Bomberman Live on XBLA is up there, too.  Again, they’re simple arcade-style games that are fun in a group.  Each level is basically the same, and you’re on a mission to blow up the other players before you blow up yourself.  I can sit and play it for hours.

So when I have a group of friends over here, and we’re in the mood for a video game, these are what we go to.  They beat out Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and it’s practically heresy to say that.  Most of the time, I’d rather play those than Rock Band 2, because all I want to do is lounge in my La-Z-Boy, put up the foot rest, cover up with a fleece blanket (I live in Arizona, but my apartment is an ice box year-round), and play an arcade game.

The thing Brawl lacks is playability for people who aren’t hardcore gamers.  There’s only so many times a person can lose at the game before he’s (or she’s) sick of it.  Castle Crashers is a game anybody – and I mean anybody – can pick up and play.  If somebody could make a $60 big-studio game that played like Castle Crashers (and somehow justified the cost), I’d play it.  But they don’t.  Maybe they shouldn’t.

This is a great era in video games.  There’s nothing wrong with the big multiplayer games losing out to the little ones.  In fact, it’s a victory for regular people that we can have so much fun on cheap games.  The big studios still have the market cornered on single-player games, but they need to understand that if they’re going to try to compete for the affections of group gamers, they need to think simple.  They need to provide the sort of games you’d be willing to stand in an arcade playing until midnight, and they need to bring them to your living room where you can sit there playing until it’s 4 in the morning.



Comment from Pinkkis
Time November 7, 2008 at 11:21 pm

Arcade games have a really short shelf-life. They are thought of as showel-ware or these days they are remakes and rehashes of old golden era games.

Now I’m not dissing the fact that bomberman isn’t fun, there’s so many good memories of that game. And me and my buddy had so much fun going through the new Bionic Commando remake in co-op that didn’t even exist back then.

But these days, I can at least for my own part justify why I’m paying 60-70e (yes, euros, not 50 dollars, but that’s a different discussion) for CoD 4 or Halo 3. They spend spend millions to make sure every aspect of the game works smoothly and have it tested and ready to rock when it comes out. At least with the AAA-titles.

Castle Crashers? Well we all saw what happened with that.

When it comes to being together IRL and having a laugh with your mates along with some beers, there’s nothing wrong with arcade games.
When you want to have a good experience online, must of the arcade offerings just don’t seem to cut it.

But that’s just my personal experience. I also agree, I want the arcades back :(

Comment from Paul Zero
Time November 8, 2008 at 4:46 pm

In my experience, big budget games are as buggy as small studio games. Sometimes worse. Fable II is a good recent example: aside from full-game crashes, it slows way down and shops bug out way too often.

And I’m not sure what you mean by “we all saw that happened with” Castle Crashers. I love that game.

Comment from Pinkkis
Time November 8, 2008 at 10:24 pm

Check out castle crashers on Wikipedia for example. I tried to find other sites but that was faster.

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