Once upon a time, before Xbox LIVE and iPhone, even before SEGA Genesis and Game Boy, arcades were where gamers would gather to play, compete, and check out the hottest new releases. And in the early days of the business, standing alongside such names as Nintendo, Capcom, SEGA, and Konami was an American company called Midway. Or rather, Bally/Midway, as the company was known at the time.
The Bally/Midway brand was commonly seen on a number of games which would come to be known as classics, such as Joust, Defender, and Spy Hunter, among others. In addition, their name adorned other familiar titles, including Pac-Man and Space Invaders. However, since games such as those belong to the likes of Namco and Taito, respectively, they are not a part of this collection. Likewise, EA now owns the NBA Jam franchise, so that’s out, too.
But for your money, you still get a very respectable showing in the base package: Defender, Spy Hunter, Arch Rivals, Joust, Root Beer Tapper, and Rampage are all here and accounted for, with additional games available as in-app purchasable packages. For 99 cents more each, you can get the ‘Action Pack’ with NARC, APB, and Total Carnage, as well as a ‘Fantasy Pack’ consisting of Gauntlet, Gauntlet II, and Wizard of Wor.
You can almost smell the quarters.
This is more than just a mere collection of games, however: it is a full tribute to the arcades of the ’80s and ’90s. While we don’t know whether or not Midway ever owned any actual arcades of their own, as companies like SEGA, Namco, and Capcom have, the game’s hub is very much how we would imagine such a place to look as you travel throughout the 3D space from one game machine to the next.
The games have spoken for themselves over the years, and we’re sure that you’ll find no shortage of coverage of the originals out there on the internet. So rather than focus on them individually, we’re looking more at their inclusion in the package, and any problems which might have come from porting them.
For the most part, they– the ones in the initial download, especially– are all ported well, and provide a variety of control options. You can hold your iPhone in either a horizontal or vertical format for any game, and depending on the original screen orientation, different games offer different preferences. Where holding it one way might obscure part of the screen with the buttons and joystick, turning it will shift the screen so that a dedicated portion contains those features instead, and vice versa.
As an aside, some games also feature tilt controls for moving left and right, including the driving games. We found this preferable to using the in-game wheel or joystick inputs, and you can even lock the orientation into place, so that the image doesn’t shift as you turn.
Where the performance of the controls is concerned, they are best described as ‘flawed, but functional.’ That is, they work well enough, but aren’t quite as precise as the originals in most cases, which is something we’ve come to expect of iPhone ports. You won’t be challenging for any world records in this version, but if you were serious about that, you likely weren’t looking to the iPhone to help you on your way. But for casual playing and a shot of nostalgia, they work just fine.
Have you seen this gorilla?
One issue some people might take with the games is that, just like in the arcades, there is no saving beyond your high scores and achievements/prizes. In some games this isn’t an issue, but for something like a NARC, a Gauntlet, or a Rampage, this might hinder one’s ability to make significant progress. On the other hand, if you have the time, those games will allow you to continue if you add more credits, and from what we can tell, your pockets are bottomless.
There are a few snags here and there, however. One cool option is to use your iTunes songs as part of a virtual ‘jukebox’ for when moving around between games. A great idea in theory, but in practice, we found that it seemed to cause the program to all but freeze up as the music played. We have not seen other reports of this, though, so your mileage may vary.
More common is the game crashing altogether from normal play, or just trying to start up. After downloading the game, a system restart may be in order. We would still experience crashes on occasion when attempting to start the game up, but it usually works on the second try.
Another regret is the lack of multiplayer, as a number of games support it. Games such as NARC, Total Carnage, Gauntlet/II, Arch Rivals, Rampage, and Joust, to say nothing of Air Hockey, are still enjoyable with only one player, but were clearly meant to allow more.
Finally, we found that the titles NARC and Total Carnage, both included in the ‘Action Game Pack,’ seemed to run rather sluggishly. Again, your mileage may vary, depending on the device you’re using, though we found that the third game of that pack, APB, just did not seem to play very well at all, no matter what control scheme we used. This is probably due to the full range of motion given to the car, rather than the simple and fluid left/right movements of the vehicle in Spy Hunter.
Despite the minor flaws listed above and one of the in-app purchases being a bit of a dud, our enjoyment of Midway Arcade was barely diminished. It’s more of a nostalgic experience than a serious gaming one, though you can still get some pretty good fun out of most games here nonetheless.
In addition to the official Midway games are four additional games; not ‘videogames’ in the traditional sense, but Air Hockey, Arcade Basketball, Pool, and ‘Roll Ball,’ which is simply Midway’s name for the game more commonly known as Skee-Ball. These four games are simplistic representations of their real-life counterparts, and make scoring tickets easy. In the case of Pool, we’ve been able to easily sink several balls on the break, something we’ve never been able to do so consistently in either real or videogame pool. But these do make good use of the touchscreen, and again, help round out the nostalgic arcade experience.
The better you perform in these games, as well as any of the other video games, the more tickets you win. And just as in many real-life arcades, you can get prizes upon receiving different numbers of tickets (though you don’t spend them, but merely acquire more and more to reach the desired amounts). In addition to some being tied into Game Center’s Achievements, these act as a sort of in-game Achievement system as well, and present you with interesting 3D-rendered items such as plush Rampage characters, a model Spy Hunter car, neon signs, and more.
This package may have a harder time winning over younger gamers spoiled by the flash and glitz of today’s titles, but for those who remember when a pocket full of quarters meant an afternoon of enjoyment, Midway Arcade is a blast. And from the fun-but-tacky carpets of the virtual arcade room to the buzzing background noise, and everything in between, we can’t get enough.
One other thing, as an aside: we’ve seen no mention of it from Warner Bros. yet, but there are a number of other video game and pinball machines in the background which you don’t get to see up-close; as Midway still has a number of other arcade classics not included here, such as Smash TV and Robotron: 2084, we are hopeful there will be further in-app purchases in the future.