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Taito Legends (PlayStation 2) artwork

Taito Legends (PlayStation 2) review

"There are other games on the compilation, too, classics like Elevator Action, Super Qix and Phoenix. They’re as much fun as you remember, but don’t expect much in the way of improvements. Though you can adjust difficulty levels and the size of the ‘arcade’ screen as you play, that’s about where the customization ends. On a similar note, extras are sparse."

Not every game publisher that releases an arcade compilation has the back library to do so effectively, but Taito definitely does. The first of these gems—and the reason the company is even on the map—is Space Invaders. While I’m happy to see the game included, though (as well as its sequel and a variant called Return of the Invaders), what really makes the collection is the assortment of other goodies.

Consider Tube-it, a puzzle game along the lines of Tetris. Blocks fall in vertical shafts, and they’re modeled after pipes. There are three shapes: elbows, straight bits and Ts. Your job is to turn these so that they connect from one power tile to another. This causes them to appear and gives you more room to work as additional blocks drop from above and threaten to fill the screen. While it’s not as simple as its obvious inspiration, the game can be a fun treat for a few minutes at a time.

The same might be said of Plump Pop, which feels like Breakout but has the added benefit of falling cats. At the start of a round, a cat parachutes out of a plane, and you’re responsible for making sure that he never touches the ground. You control two felines with a trampoline between them as they dash back and forth, keeping their cohort airborne long enough that he can break away floating obstacles. There are also boss encounters that spice up the adventure. It’s not something I’d care to play more than once in a great while, but certainly I’m pleased to see it included here.

Another game I’d never experienced before was Tokio, a vertical shooter along the lines of Capcom’s 19XX series. You’re in control of a biplane as it soars through the not-so-friendly skies over the city of Tokyo. While I found this to be a pleasant experience for the most part, it seems like the developers conveniently drop a cloud bank every time the scenery is to change. This results in a lot of tedious switching between layers and isn’t fooling anyone. The game is tolerable, but not great.

Zoo Keeper was better. The premise is simple: you’re charged with keeping the animals at the zoo from escaping. You do this by running around them while bricks drop in your wake. The animals at the center of the screen will dash up against these and break through a few at a time, so you have to circle rapidly to prevent them from exploiting a weak point. Meanwhile, other nasties crawl around the outside. Touching them costs you a life. There are also “bonus” stages that find you climbing moving ledges to a high point where someone is waiting to be rescued, or leaping over charging beasts. As seems to be the case with every game on this compilation, it’s an enjoyable experience in brief spurts.

Of course, there are also low points. One example is Volfied, a new take on Qix that isn’t any better for the inclusion of laser fire as the round nears its conclusion. Another is Gladiator, a horrifically unresponsive game where you wander through hallways while avoiding bats and other soldiers. The graphics are bland and the play control stiff. If you mess up, you’re set back a few paces and can try again, but there’s an important question: who in his right mind would want to? Yet another game I could have done without was Great Swordsman, which is nothing more than a fencing game where you try to exchange swipes of the sword and score more points.

Even some of the games you’d want to see on this compilation are disappointing. Operation Wolf isn’t a whole lot of fun with a controller, even though I’m sure it was a blast with the light gun in the arcades. The same is true of its sequel, and also the game Space Gun. In that title, you’ll wander around the barren corridors in a distant space station while aliens creep out from behind structural beams or just rush you in the hallways. The d-pad just isn’t responsive enough, and the analogue sticks are even worse.

Thankfully, games like Bubble Bobble fare much better. It’s still a blast to control the two friendly dinosaurs as they encase their enemies in bubbles, then hop on them and send them down the drain. This is the kind of title a lot of gamers will buy Taito Legends for, and it’s worth every penny if you long for the arcade glory days.

I was also pleased with the inclusion of The New Zealand Story. In that game, you are a plump kiwi that must run, jump and ride stolen balloons through a series of island stages. If you’ve missed out on this one so far (it was available on the NES as Kiwi Kraze), it’s just one more good reason to pick up this compilation. The play control is for the most part fluid, the levels are large and colorful, and there are enough secrets and challenges to keep you going for awhile. The visuals are also nice, as they’re more vibrant than those some will remember from the 8-bit days.

There are other great games to try, too. The Ninja Kids plays a lot like a Final Fight clone, but it has some wacky animations that will have you grinning. You get to choose from four comical ninjas, then run through stages kicking butt. Special weapons allow you to clear crowded screens of opponents, but mostly you’ll rely on your jumping and shuriken abilities. Out of the games contained on the disc, this is one of the ones that feels the most polished.

Another is Thunder Fox, which feels a lot like Gunstar Heroes. You begin by running through the outskirts of a jungle, knifing opponents and confiscating weapons that you can turn on them. The second stage finds you taking to the skies in an aircraft and blasting opponents from a distance before boarding a flying battleship to kick some military butt. The difficulty adjusts slowly, and I can imagine that this one must have done well for itself in the arcades.

Finally, I should mention Exzisus. Though none of the Darius games make an appearance here, you still get some pleasant shooting action. Exzisus starts with you riding a jetpack through space, but you can shoot floating barrels to gain peripheral weapons like bombs and lasers. Play well enough and a separate pod will join you in flight. As long as you keep your craft souped up, progression is smooth and enjoyable. Crashing into an asteroid belt or running into a field of shrapnel can quickly end that, though, and it may be all you can do to reach the exhilarating boss encounters at the end of each stage. Twitch gameplay is definitely in evidence.

There are other games on the compilation, too, classics like Elevator Action, Super Qix and Phoenix. They’re as much fun as you remember, but don’t expect much in the way of improvements. Though you can adjust difficulty levels and the size of the ‘arcade’ screen as you play, that’s about where the customization ends. On a similar note, extras are sparse. It’s fun to look through some of the promotional materials that shipped along with the cabinets back in the good old days, but I was hoping for more on Taito’s history than a few boring chunks of text and a timeline.

Even so, a package like Taito Legends is all about the games. Considering that you can pick this one up for less than $20, it’s one of those no-brainers for anyone who misses the days of old. If you’re the sort that has to have pretty visuals in your face at all times, stay as far away from this compilation as humanly possible. Everyone else, pick it up immediately. Now, let’s just hope they release a second North American collection that fills in those gaps. I want more Taito!

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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 22, 2006)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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