The best in arcade game software. (Compute's Getting Started With: Entertainment Software) (Buyers Guide)
by Scott A. May
Historically, arcade games have never been the PC's long suit. Lacking the custom graphic coprocessors of its competitors - from the humble C64 to the more advanced Amiga and Atari ST - the PC simply couldn't cut it. So while others enjoyed a deluge of cutting-edge action games, the. stodgy old PC held firm to its standing as an artless business computer.
Things certainly have changed. The once-dull PC now bursts with power - dynamic sound, graphics, and precision input devices. Consequently, for the first time, arcade games are hot on the PC. As if making up for lost time, designers and players are attacking the genre with a passion. Although the overall selection remains small compared to other systems, the floodgates are now open.
Hint: Traditional analog joysticks may be great for flight simulations, but they make lousy arcade controllers. Serious action players should invest in the four-button Gravis PC GamePad (Advanced Gravis, 604-431-5020, $29.95), a marvelous short-throw, console-style controller made especially for arcade games.
Arcade games generally fall into the following categories: Platform (run and jump), Shoot-em-Ups, Maze, Puzzle, and Classic (traditional games, such as pinball, adapted for the computer). Many designers, however, find ingenious ways to meld one or more categories, - combining, for example, - platforms with puzzles.
A perfect example of this melding of one category with another is Wolfenstein 3-D (Apogee, 800-426-3123, $50), which combines first-person maze running with nonstop shoot-em-up action. Players assume the role of a Schwarzenegger-style World War II prisoner attempting to escape a heavily guarded Nazi castle. Self-rated PC, for Profound Carnage, the game skyrocketed to cult status on the strength of its lightning speed, outrageous sound effects, and heart-pounding action. The full game features six individual episodes, each containing nine or more convoluted castle levels. The designers, Id Software, have followed this success with Doom, a game that features more involved play mechanics and dazzling graphic effects.
In the mood for some intense arcade aerobics? Prepare for a fast-paced workout with The Lost Vikings (Interplay, 800-969-4263, $39.95). Take control of three well-meaning, but slightly dense, Viking warriors on a mad romp through time and space. The game's unique challenge involves alternating control between the three lead characters, each of whom possesses a special ability. You'll need a thoughtful, well-timed group effort to survive the game's 37 large, puzzle-filled levels. The graphics are bright, colorful, and detailed.
Few titles have put a more lively spring in the step of platform games than Jordan Mechner's Prince of Persia (Broderbund, 800-521-6263, $29.95). Loosely based on the Arabian Nights adventure, your goal is to rescue the Princess, held captive 12 levels above you in the Sultan's castle. Widely considered a milestone in the genre, this game provides a stunning showcase of rotoscoped animation, featuring incredibly fluid and lifelike character animation. Acrophobics beware: Much of the platform action in this remarkably physical game takes place at perilous heights, guaranteed to induce sweaty palms and queasy stomachs.
Broderbund recently released Mechner's long-awaited sequel, Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame ($49.95). The new title features 15 extra-large levels with a wider variety of settings and obstacles, vastly improved graphics, and an almost merciless array of opponents. Both games should be considered standard equipment for serious arcade players.
No doubt inspired by Mechner's work, French developer Delphine Software uses rotoscoped animation with even greater success in its phenomenal arcade adventure, Flashback (Strategic Simulations, 800-245-4525, $49.95). This futuristic thriller combines intense arcade athleticism with explosive firepower and mind-bending puzzles, spread out among six huge, diversely entertaining levels. Both background and foreground graphics are excellent - highlighted by film-quality animation - and expertly blended with atmospheric sound effects and cinematic transitions. Fans of this game also should check out Delphine's previous ground breaker, Out of This World (Interplay, $29.95).
Other exceptional platform games with a strong puzzle flair include the wildly popular Lemmings and Lemmings 2: The Tribe (Psygnosis, 800-438-7794, $29.99 and $59.99, respectively). The object of both games is to guide tiny green-haired, half-witted creatures across dangerous terrain to the exit door. What sounds simple in theory, however, proves absolutely maddening in practice, requiring steady nerves, quick reactions, and surprisingly sophisticated real-time strategy. The original game boasts 80 one-player and 40 two-player levels, arranged in difficulty from Easy to Mayhem. Lemmings 2 expands this premise dramatically, dividing its 120 levels among 12 unique Lemming tribes. The little guys also are given much more to do - with 55 different skills ranging from archers to surfers - as well as a wild assortment of precarious, often surreal obstacles. The sequel offers improved sound and graphics, although the original remains eminently playable.
Those looking for more edge-of-your-seat, gut-level gratification should try their trigger fingers on the growing number of high-octane shoot-em-ups. Firmly entrenched at the top of the list is Wing Commander Deluxe Edition (Origin, 800-245-4525, $79.95), Chris Robert's legendary space combat game. Structured around a branching, cinematic storyline, your pilot skills are put to the test in a series of increasingly dangerous deep space missions. The key to the game's success is the ferocious action scenes, featuring in-your-face 3-D dogfights, exploding with fiery bit-mapped graphics and script digitized sound.
The game's outstanding sales have prompted several add-on mission disks, as well as the newly released Wing Commander Academy ($49.95). This latest stand-alone game for-goes the original's fancy theatrics to offer nothing but pure adrenaline-pumping action.
Another popular blending of styles combines shooting action and puzzle solving in an overhead maze setting. One of the most entertaining in this category is D/Generation (The Software Toolworks, 415-883-3000, $24.95), a riveting race through 10 levels of a mutant-infested off ice building. Nothing is as it seems - don't even trust the furniture - in this brilliant 1991 release. On a more abstract, pure arcade level, S.C.OUT (Inline Design, 203-435-4995, $59.95) captures the imagination with its finger-numbing action and intricate puzzles. The game boasts 101 huge 4-way scrolling levels, with a built-in - yet curiously undocumented - game editor, which allows players to create up to 999 diabolical levels. Graphics, sound effects, and player controls are all superb.
When you feel the need for speed, strap yourself into Stunts (Broderbund, $19.95), perhaps the best arcade-style racing simulation ever made. From gut-wrenching loops to elevated jumps, this one's a full-tilt screamer on even marginally equipped systems, with amazingly responsive joystick control. The game's easy-to-use track construction kit - with user-created tracks available on most major online services - assures almost limitless high-octane fun.
If you enjoy vibrant, challenging entertainment, but lack the twitchy wrist required by most action-oriented fare, check out Russia's gift to the gaming world, Tetris (Spectrum Holobyte, 800-695-4263, $19.95). Sure it's simple, but try saying no to just one more game. Creating its own cottage industry, there are even several varieties to choose from: the VGA-enhanced Tetris Classic ($44.95); Tetris Trio ($49.95), combining Tetris, Welltris, and Faces; and the best of the lot, Super Tetris ($49.95), featuring greatly improved sound, graphics, and gameplay options. Other excellent visual puzzle games include Tinies (Inline Design, $59.95), Pipe Dream (LucasArts, 800-STARWARS, $19.95), and Ishido (Accolade, 800-245-7744, $24.95).
TOP 10 ARCADE
Lemmings 2. A wild and wacky 120-level puzzler, featuring sound and graphics enhanced from the best-selling original.
The Lost Vikings. True arcade-quality graphics highlight this fast and funny multilevel contest.
Flashback. A mind-bending adventure sparked by brilliant roto-scoped animation, this one points the PC in a bold new direction.
Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame. Improved graphics and tougher opponents mark this long-awaited sequel.
Wolfenstein 3-D. A runaway hit noted for its blazing speed and ultra-violent action, often imitated, but rarely equaled.
D/Generation. Unassuming 7and often overlooked, this one's a nail-biter.
Wing Commander. Dynamic space combat wrapped around a cinematic storyline, this one started the current 3-D action craze.
S.C.OUT. Another low-profile action puzzler with an incredible built-in construction kit.
Stunts. Auto racing with a wild and wicked twist, featuring a terrific built-in track editor.
Super Tetris. The best rendition yet of the world-famous computer classic.