Review: Warner Bros. Midway Arcade
Several classic arcade game developers have such massive and impressive catalogs of old but port-worthy games that compilation releases for iOS devices seem inevitable -- Chicago's now-defunct Midway Games is one of them. Having subsumed the arcade game libraries of Atari and Williams, Midway was sitting on a remarkable treasure chest of historic games, all of which are now owned by Warner Bros. In developing the just-released Midway Arcade ($1+), Warner could have taken the easy route demonstrated by Capcom, slapping a cartoony 2-D game choosing interface and separate price tags on each of its included titles, but the company instead took a more impressive approach: using a 3-D engine that lets you walk from game to game with simple arrow taps, Warner recreates the look and sounds of a classic 1990's vintage arcade, and allows you to inspect each game's cabinet from different angles. The $1 asking price buys you six direct ports of classic games, plus four 3-D versions of redemption machines; an additional $1 unlocks three more "fantasy" games, with another $1 going to three "action" games.
The initial lineup of titles is an impressively selected set of games that are truly historic, yet wouldn’t be worth buying at this point in time for $1 a piece. Strongest in the bunch are the overhead car driving and ramming title Spy Hunter, the city-smashing monster game Rampage, and the early basketball game Arch Rivals, while Defender, Joust, and Root Beer Tapper bring up the rear. Each of the titles has been adapted for virtual controls, ranging from various joysticks across most titles to tilt-based steering for Spy Hunter. Games can be played in portrait or landscape mode,, a nice UI decision that also has consequences. When scaled upwards—particularly in landscape mode—some games employ blur filters to mask their large pixels. In Spy Hunter, which already suffers from twitchy steering, you’ll need to use an on-screen orientation lock button to keep the game from spinning every time you turn—unless you switch to joystick controls. While there are little nits arcade purists will pick with some of these game ports, it’s obvious that Warner at least tried to optimize the screen filtering, audio, and controls on a per-game basis; hopefully, post-release updates will fine-tune each title’s performance.
Apart from the impressive 3-D arcade interface, perhaps the single smartest decision in Midway Arcade is Warner’s use of $1 three-game game bundles. The “action” pack includes the side-scrolling, digitized undercover cop-focused shooter NARC, the overhead dual-stick military shooter Total Carnage, and the overhead cops and robbers driving game APB, complete with a tilt-based steering option. Unlike most of the other games in the collection, the intense Total Carnage could alone have justified the $1 asking price, so getting the comparatively dated-feeling NARC and APB feels like a bonus—some players may have fonder memories of one of the other. In any case, Total Carnage has so much content in the form of scrolling and fixed levels loaded with targets and prizes that it manages to transcend its famous sci-fi game show predecessor, Smash T.V., in at least depth if not iconic content.
The “fantasy” pack includes Atari’s earliest two Gauntlet games—the overhead quest-and-shoot titles Gauntlet and Gauntlet II—alongside Wizard of Wor, an earlier overhead shooter with more maze-like levels and much simpler gameplay, Here, Warner is essentially betting that one or both of the Gauntlet games will justify the asking price, with Wizard of Wor as a bonus; collectively, they’re a very nice $1 set. In addition to the expansive levels, numerous simultaneous enemies, and multiple character types that Gauntlet fans would expect to find in both titles, Warner lets the games’ beloved voice samples boom appropriately from the speakers of iOS devices, even echoing throughout the 3-D arcade interface as you walk around. Wizard of Wor’s robotic voices do, as well, though likely without the same emotional resonance for most players. Only at once point in Midway Arcade did the audio disappoint us, and that was when the music just stopped abruptly in Total Carnage, a bug.
If there are any glaring issues in Midway Arcade, they’re the lack of saved states—an omission that dooms you to start from most of the games’ beginnings when you return to the app from anything but a brief pause—and small control imperfections that make some of the games feel a little less precise than they were as standalone cabinets. Warner lets you skip between certain starting points in the Gauntlet games if you use warps, and Total Carnage includes a four-letter password system to let you jump around, but that’s it. And despite their comparative simplicity, the four 3-D redemption games Air Hockey, Arch Rivals Arcade Basketball, Pool, and Roll Ball all feel as if they received a little more attention in the swipe-based control department, though they’re not perfect, either, and dispense tickets largely for “look how long I’ve been playing this” bragging rights. So as great as Midway Arcade is, it could still use a little additional polish across the board, and of course more similarly-priced games from Warner Bros.’ backcatalog. As it is, Midway Arcade is very easy to recommend for the inexpensive asking prices, and certainly worth checking out if you’re a fan of any of the included titles.