Game Room ~ Road Fighter

Last week Microsoft launched its repackaged attempt to bring the golden age of arcades to the home and contemporary gamers. Krome studios have been tasked with a 3-year project to emulate a large number of classic (and of course not-so-classic) arcade titles for play on the Xbox 360 and PC. The service launched with a selection of 30 games, plucked from the vaults of Atari, Konami and Intellivision. Mana from heaven for gamers such as myself? Read on!

Upon loading you're presented with an empty arcade space to fill with purchased cabinets. 240 Moonbucks to play on a single platform, or 400 to play on either. There's also the option to pay for individual credits, but only a wealthy lunatic would go there. Various themes, decorations and props can be placed to clutter the whole thing up, with more unlocked as you reach goals within each game and 'level yourself up'. Your arcade becomes populated with the avatars of your Xbox Live friends. Or randomly-generated nobodies if you choose to play on PC.


The real draw of this whole shebang is of course highscores. Microsoft's previous abortive attempt to bring the competitive spirit of classic arcades to Live stuttered and failed amid a lack of support and an unintuitive scoreboard system. Game Room does a sterling job of this part. Each game has score tables for friends and world rankings, while a handy news menu keeps you up to date with the triumphs of your rivals. Replays can be saved and uploaded, and specific challenges sent out.

This is exactly what I'd always wanted Live Arcade to be about, and indeed I've spent the past week engaged in furious highscore battles with my friends list.

On the technical side there's been a lot of grumbling from certain quarters about the accuracy of the emulation, with MAME being touted as the yardstick with which to measure. Let's never forget though that MAME itself is a work in progress, and is constantly being tweaked and changed. If someone is running Game Room side-by-side with a genuine cab and pointing out the differences then fair game. Otherwise, shut up and play.

On the subject of game pricing... there's a sense in the gaming community that old stuff shouldn't hold much value. I've been guilty of this myself sometimes. Where to draw the line though? For me, Gravitar is worth every... point... of 240 points, whereas I may baulk at being charged anything for Adventure on the 2600. Isn't that like saying I wouldn't want to buy a Blu-ray of an old film, just because it's old - regardless of any restoration work that had to be done? Sure, I can play all this stuff for free on MAME, but I like to think that given the opportunity to legitimately pay for a working version of an old game I'll take it. If keeping these titles alive in the face of endless military shooters means I have to cough up some dollars, I can live with that.

By the way, Game Room is exclusively about arcades as far as I'm concerned. You won't find any 2600s or Megadrives or whatever comes later bolted onto cabinets in my arcade.

Game Room nicely recreates the sights and sounds - though thankfully not the smells - of the old arcade scene. Only without bigger boys stealing your credits, or one guy staking an immovable claim to your favourite cabinet.

Road Fighter

I immediately gunned for Gravitar, Lunar Lander, Asteroids and Tempest, then I started looking at the other offerings. To say that this unassuming Konami title has taken me by surprise is an understatement. It's grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and refused to let go. It's absolutely tremendous.

I like me some top-down racing action. There's something really good about the feel of a road scrolling smoothly along beneath your vehicle, dodging and weaving through opponents. Road Fighter is a simple beast: you have a limited amount of fuel with which to clear several stages, all the time avoiding rivals and obstacles, and collecting bonuses. Crashing depletes your fuel gauge and when it's empty it's game over. Other road users range from harmless slow-moving traffic to dangerous drivers that actively try to shunt you into the barriers. Water, oil slicks and roadworks are thrown into the mix for good measure.

Taking a hit isn't neccessarily the end of the road though - steering into the skid can recover control before a crash, losing just a few seconds rather than a precious chunk of fuel. Stay clean for long enough and bonuses make an appearance - a jet plane, train and Konami Man himself. Bonus fuel cars can be driven into to add a little to the reserves, and serve as a stacking points bonus if you hit each one without a crash.

Road Fighter completely embodies the just one more go spirit of a great arcade game. Simple controls, colourfully attractive visuals and twitchy gameplay that begs to be mastered.

Final Fantasy XIII

Here's a thing: I spent a chunk of the evening earlier writing out an entry on Final Fantasy XIII, which I recently completed. As it went on, the points about it I wanted to make just got mired deeper and deeper into defending it against it's many vociferous detractors, and I couldn't be bothered any more. My intention to write positively about the game had been poisoned by the need to win hearts and minds.

So, here's my potted version:

Final Fantasy XIII is one of the best JRPGs I've ever played. At this moment I'm quite happy to say it's my favourite in the series after XII. It was a streamlined, action-packed, eye-popping experience that was more purely fun to play than almost any RPG I've tried. I loved the world, liked the characters, found the pacing to be perfect (I literally never tired of it or felt it dragged), and revelled in the gloriously entertaining combat system. It was a bold experiment that - for me - completely paid off.

Check it out. You might like it, you might hate it. I only ask that you go in without preconceptions or expectations of what you think a Final Fantasy should be.