Review: Arcade Islands Volume One

Trolling the gaming section of some random superstore, it’s likely that most gamers have come across some bargain disc nestled among titles ancient and arcane. Sporting names like “Super Omega Action Bundle!” or some such nonsense, the cover would promise an obscene amount of titles for a ridiculously cheap price. “Three Hundred Games On One Disc” the package would proclaim, giving it the allure of some absurd value that would be foolish to pass up. Even the most reasonable person coming across such a deal would decide that, while the likelihood of even the majority would be worth playing was minimal at best, the law of averages dictate that there would be something present on the disc to justify a purchase. Unless some unscrupulous publisher swiped some shareware demos, the results upon exploring the contents of said package could charitably be described as disappointing. The gamer has learned a valuable lesson and will not make a similar mistake in the future.

This common experience (which now seems to be relegated to micro-consoles these days) is ample reason for gamers to approach Teyon’s Arcade Islands Volume One with no small amount of trepidation. Boasting thirty-three games in one package, without a known pedigree of developer to back it up, it seems likely that the title would be an buffoon’s purchase. Many of us have learned our lessons the hard way. Playing the title, though, yields an experience closer to what we imagined that Three Hundred Game disc promised. There is an overflowing festering slop bucket of muck here, but there are actually some individual titles that are worth playing.

The package is divided up into individual “Islands;” collections of a handful of games with a loose artistic theme. For instance, the starting Vikings island features ice (as in Table Hockey), defending a fish storehouse from encroaching frost giants, or punching bears in the freaking face. The first step for the new player is to work through unlocking subsequent islands, opening up all of the games. For the most part, this just involves trying each title, though later islands require the player to perform well enough to earn stars to move on. In theory, this isn’t a bad idea. It forces the player to check out everything on offer and find some favorites. In practice, it feels like the title is barking in the player’s face. “You WILL play Memory and you will bloody well like it. When you’re done, find the chess piece under these cups, dum-dum.” This isn’t exactly a damnation of the structure; feeding a new player the games in chunks as opposed to all at once does have a benefit. In this case, though, it can highlight just how bad some of these games are.

In describing the games, the temptation is present to list them all out and make a comment about each. They all play differently enough that there would no worry about repeating an observation. Many of these games don’t deserve that much consideration, to be frank. Plus, the contents of the offering can easily be divided into three separate groups: Bad, Competent Ripoff, and Genuinely Enjoyable.

The bad games here are really, really bad. Rooster Romp, found on the Magic island for some reason, involves controlling a living member of the poultry race with a silver platter that is positioned under four hens on a power line. The hens lay eggs up there, allowing them to fall towards the ground. The rooster below runs back and forth, trying to bounce the eggs into nests at the side. Setting aside the fact that eggs won’t bounce off of a platter, it seems like the game is attempting to establish a new idiom: “the stupidest chicken lays the tastiest eggs.” Sounds like a ill-conceived dating motto.

Another representative of the vile list is Fruit Invaders. Here, the player controls a mechanized ape head (good) that spits exploding robonanas out of its mouth (also good) to defeat bullet spitting flying fruit vehicles from reaching the end of the screen. The thing is that it feels horrible to play. The rate of fire is minimal, the movement is slow and it never feels fair.

The real cherry on the crap cake is The Last Siege. This one puts players at the helm of a tank with some of the worst controls imaginable. It feels like playing Combat on the 2600 after winning a barbiturate and Red Bull eating contest. It then expects the player to navigate tight corridors to shoot down enemy tanks before they destroy the base. Since misery loves company, this is one of the titles supporting multiplayer. This mode is a great way to inform friends and family that you cannot be trusted to make any entertainment decisions in the future.

Not a heck of a ton can be said about the competent ripoffs beyond listing the title and its inspiration. For example, there’s Alien Balloonists, which is Balloon Fight with a different skin. Meteors, as it almost seems insulting to point out, is inspired by Asteroids. Since DS fans out there might have been hoping for another Meteos, it seems wise to kick that optimism in the click-clacks toot sweet. The most egregious is Lava Golf, which rips off Desert Golf with no shame. This version sports much more detailed graphics, but considering the Desert Golf is a more recent title, this particular lifting seems rather brazen. Not illegal, mind you, but that doesn’t mean it’s moral. Still, it’s competent and decent fun.

For all of the grief that Arcade Islands rightfully earns, there is no denying that there are some quality, fun experiences nestled inside. It’s possible that some of these better ones lift their concepts from other games that I haven’t seen before, but the benefit of the doubt is in play here.

One personal favorite is Block the Bug!, a simple puzzle game that manages to build complexity into the basic mechanics. A bug lands in the middle of a board divided up into hexes and the player must prevent it from escaping by blocking its path with stones. This turn-based title forces the player to quickly learn to plan ahead and adapt, should the bug decide to go off in a direction different from what was anticipated. It’s pure puzzling bliss.

Hi-Tech Lines is another hex-based puzzler. Taking color matching gameplay in a different direction, the player is presented with a nearly empty board with some colored spheres. The player can move one sphere into any other empty spot as long as the path isn’t blocked. As the board slowly fills, the player will find fewer and fewer options, trying desperately to clear enough of the board to have space to work until the inevitable defeat. It’s a great abstract representation of the life of a pack-ratting collector nerd, trying to organize space to accommodate an ever increasing hodgepodge of Gundam models, figures, video games and movies. Or maybe I just need to clean my apartment (wife: yes). 

One last highlight: Hopper Jump is almost certainly a remake of someone else’s game. There’s no way it doesn’t already exist. This reviewer doesn’t know what that would be, however, so it’s included here. A grasshopper needs to jump across stones in a pond. One button moves forward one space, the other jumps two. The input is basic enough that it doesn’t seem like there is much there. With a ticking clock and a score to chase, it’s not long before the rhythm is lost and stupid mistakes are made. It’s just really, really fun.

While the above doesn’t cover the entirety of the contents in the package, it’s a decent representation. There’s a respectable variety to be found. With quick loads and simplistic mechanics, it could almost be described as ADD: The Game. If one grows bored with one title, there’s another to check out. Plus, many of these titles can act as a good palette cleanser after a particularly brutal boss fight in a more robust title.

Arcade Islands is also one of the titles bolstered by the Achievement/Trophy systems available on whichever platform is preferred. More than half of the games have some sort of challenge trophy to chase down. These range from easy to just the right level of infuriating to make earning the accolade seem obtainable while being an accomplishment. It’s a smart mix. It boggles the mind that whoever was in charge of these decided to make the game specific ones hidden.

With a plethora of knock offs, trash and a smattering of fun titles in the package, one wonders at the place Arcade Islands might have in a gamer’s library. The answer lies in the multiplayer. Whereas Mario Party is a game for people that feel like punching someone in the head but need an active reason to do so, this is a title that feels tailor made for family game night with younger children, or even older people that might enjoy a video game but never got past the NES controller’s days. It doesn’t patronize kids in that they won’t be matching fire trucks or whatever; even the Memory card game features bombs and such. Instead, it’s a collection of simple titles that can picked up easily and can make for chaotic, silly fun in groups.

Closing Comments:

Taking in the picture that Arcade Islands Volume One paints for itself as a whole, this isn’t a very good game. There’s enough that more than half is a mix of filler, retreads and just plain bad games. When one gets more granular, though, the value proposition begins to appear. The fun titles that can be appreciated as is would warrant between one to five dollars on their own. Adding those together exceeds the asking price. When factoring in a better than average use of PlayStation and Xbox’s metagame in the form of trophies and achievements, and the fact that it’s a safe title to introduce the youngins’ to video gaming as a concept, there’s a good reason for it to exist. Teyon’s collection isn’t a must buy, but the title is a much better bargain than one of those shovelware discs behind that copy of Bejeweled 2.