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Lost in the Arcade: Capcom Games

In our third installment, we’re going to examine those coin-ops left behind by one of the greatest developers in gaming history: Capcom. Over the course of its storied career, Capcom created some of the greatest arcade games in the history of the industry, and it’s only natural that some would not be able to make the transition home. Licensing and scheduling issues or inferior hardware kept these games away from our homes, and boy did we miss out!

As always, this list will probably be considered incomplete by some people. Capcom put out a ton of games over the last two decades, so it’s only natural if one or two were missed. What Lost in the Arcade strives to do is feature those titles that would have been feasible home releases, possibly even making a big impact. So then friends, let us examine those games that moved our hearts and ate our quarters, only to leave us saddened at their absence on our home consoles.

 

Alien vs. Predator

We kick off this list with perhaps the most anticipated title on it. Upon its arrival in arcades, gamers all over the country began to anticipate a home port. Would it be the SNES or the Genesis? Capcom let the cat out of the bag at the 1994 summer CES when they announced it would be coming for the 32X. Unfortunately, it would be cancelled in May of the following year, including all of Capcom’s 32X line up (no Captain Commando for Sega CD). The SNES did get a port…of sorts, but it wasn’t the arcade game we all wanted.

When you think about it, there really isn’t anything overly special about Aliens vs. Predator. It’s a run-of-the-mill side-scrolling brawler that doesn’t even push the arcade hardware it’s on. Many people are quick to point this out. They conveniently omit one important detail: it’s got freakin’ aliens and predators killing each other! Back in 1994 (and even now, I’d wager), this was enough to sell gamers. Heck, I would have bought a 32X for this one alone.

 

Armored Warriors

Mindless, frantic robotic action! Yet another in Capcom’s repertoire of side-scrolling beat-’em-ups, Armored Warriors offers something a bit different from its siblings. As you pummel you enemies, pieces of their mechs break off. You can use these pieces to improve your own mech with new attacks. Ok, so it isn’t the most original concept in the world, but we are talking about Capcom here. They had done a brawler with about every idea known to man by 1993, so their think tank must have been sporting world-class migraines by about the time Armored Warriors rolled around.

Unfortunately, most people wouldn’t even notice the effort. The game had a limited run and became pretty hard to find in big game centers. This was probably one of the reasons why it never came home, along with the fact that beat-’em-ups were on a downswing at the time. Fighters were the new sensation, and Armored Warriors was left behind in their wake.

An interesting side note is that the main character, Rash, is actually Jin from Cyberbots: Full Metal Madness.

 

Black Tiger

Oh how I longed to play Black Tiger on my Genesis. I must have pumped an entire month’s savings into the sole arcade cab on the entire west coast of Puerto Rico, and damn was it ever worth it. An action game with light RPG elements, it just has such cool level and character design that you simply cannot tear yourself away from it. It’s long as hell too, and is definitely the kind of game you could easily lose a weekend in nonstop. I was quite surprised to see it never come home, save for Amstrad and C64 ports. The graphical style was highly reminiscent of Forgotten Worlds, and the Genesis could have pulled this off without any trouble. Heck, it even uses Zenny as its currency! The weapons are plentiful, the levels are long and challenging, and the bosses are huge and mean (especially the dragons!). This was classic Capcom arcade goodness at its highest point, which is saying a lot when you consider the ton of great games they were releasing at the time. Genesis owners would have loved Black Tiger, and it’s a tremendous shame that we didn’t get to play it.

 

Cadillacs & Dinosaurs

Sega CD owners got a decent FMV game using this license but missed out on a great side-scrolling beat-’em-up. I only recently discovered this one on MAMEoX, and have been playing up a storm. Basically another in the long line of Double Dragon clones that Capcom made their living off of before Street Fighter II, C&D is based on the comic of the same name and stars four heroes out to investigate what’s left of flooded New York. Along the way, they must untangle the mystery surrounding the poaching of dinosaurs. Choose from any of the four playable characters and storm through eight well-detailed stages while you shoot and beat down anything that moves. There’s plenty of weapons and power ups, and being able to play with three friends is great. Much like AvP, this is one title that will leave your thumbs swollen and sore from all the mashing required. There’s lots of crazy gunfire and slashing action to be had by all!

Yeah, I know. This is simply another of the beat-’em-ups that we’ve seen so often before. However, I think that C&D has personality and a certain charm that many of the others lack. You’re not overwhelmed with the same foes over and over, and any game that lets you bang on dinosaurs is ok in my book. The inclusion of the driving stages shakes things up a bit, and there’s enough action happening to keep you interested all the way to the end. I really would have liked this one on the Sega CD or the 32X, so that it wouldn’t have had to pass over the chopping block on the way home. In light of what we got though, maybe a watered down version would have been better than nothing at all.

 

Darkstalkers

Another victim of Capcom’s abandonment of the 32X, Darkstalkers would remain in arcades until finally coming home as a less-than-stellar port on the Playstation. If we were to turn back the clock for a minute and assume that it had made an appearance on Sega’s mushroom, could you imagine its impact? There was simply no way the SNES could have matched the quality of the port, and an absolutely arcade-perfect version wouldn’t have been available until 1996. Probably more so than any other game on this list, it would have sold systems. Lamentably, Capcom was planning to release it only after the Saturn version arrived, which by then would have been like applying CPR to someone after their funeral. This was a game that needed a quick release, but the 32X’s uncertain status probably forced Capcom to adopt the dreaded “wait and see” approach to supporting it. In the long run, they made the wise decision, but it sure would have been cool to play Darkstalkers on the 32X back in 1994.

 

Eco Fighters

A shmup with an environmental theme? Sign me up! It may be simply another horizontal entry into a genre many believe to be already all too well represented on the Genesis, but I have developed a soft spot for Eco Fighters. The premise is original and the stages are plausible enough to make you want to keep playing. For instance, stage three sets you out to stop the ocean from being contaminated, and you have to hurry and destroy the boss before all the coral and sea life are killed. Thankfully, the gameplay supports this original concept and utilizes the same dynamic as Forgotten Worlds. Your ship has a gun that resembles an outstretched arm, and maneuvering it to fire requires the use of two buttons that rotate it both left and right. Control is a breeze, and the rotation is quite useful for those enemies that come from behind, since the power ups aren’t on par with other hori-shmups of the day. Regardless, Eco Fighters is a wonderful little game that would have found quite a happy home on the Genesis or the Sega CD.

 

Last Duel

Amstrad and Amiga owners got it, but consoles were left high and dry. A fast paced arcade shmup that switched between racing and flying stages, Last Duel was a futuristic race to save your queen and stop an alien invasion. Though pretty straight forward in execution, the action was twitchy enough to keep you glued to the screen until the end of the stage, and let me tell you, those stages could be long. Using a simple power up system, you could improve your craft’s armament until it became highly bad ass. Of course, the coolest thing had to be the ability to jump over enemies. Imagine Bump ‘N Jump with missiles and lasers and you’ll have an idea. Abusing the jumping power was not recommended, as the stages tended to twist and turn abruptly, and you could easily find yourself hurtling off into the abyss below. Even more challenging were the ice stages. They scrolled by pretty fast and you had to be extra careful where and when you jumped. Time things wrong and you landed on a patch of ice that momentarily prevented you from jumping again! There’s nothing like skidding into oncoming bullets to ruin your day.

The flying stages weren’t as interesting, in my opinion, as they scrolled more slowly and lacked the twitch aspect of the driving levels. Your ship was very slow initially, though not Gradius slow, and the enemies weren’t as relentless. The bosses were cooler, but I think the thing to keep in mind here is that Last Duel‘s charm comes from the fusion of these two game types, which would make it unfair to judge them separately. Together they make for a unique game that would have stood out among the glut of shmups that hit the Genesis early on.

 

Three Wonders

Now this is a game that was made for the Sega CD. Consisting of three games in one, Three Wonders lets gamers play a standard side-scrolling platformer (Midnight Wanderers), a horizontal shmup (Chariot), and a Pengo-style maze game (Don’t Pull). You’d think that any one of the three would be lacking, due to how many different types of styles are mixed here, but you’d be wrong. Unlike most multi carts, Three Wonders actually works. Midnight Wanderers is a wonderful action/platformer that delivers both solid presentation and gameplay, and Chariot has some excellent shmup action (about as excellent as a hang gliding elf can be). Don’t Pull is perhaps the weakest of the bunch, and by weakest I mean “the one that’s really, really fun but doesn’t get as much playtime.” It’s a shame that Capcom would become so focused on their fighters the following year that they’d forget this one.

The Sega CD could have handled this group fine, and the huge storage capacity of compact discs would have allowed them to make the trip home intact. Thankfully, we will get a chance to finally play them on the PSP in the upcoming Capcom Classics Collection Remixed next March.

 

Varth: Operation Thunderstorm

I’ve often heard Varth: Operation Thunderstorm described as the best shmup you’ve never played. After giving it some playtime, I’m inclined to agree. Way back before Psikyo became famous for their bullet death frenzies, there was Varth. Impressive both graphically and in terms of gameplay, it’s one heck of a vertically-scrolling rollercoaster. You’ve got your multiple weapons, each with their own special bomb-like attack, and you have those little option helpers we shmup lovers revere so much. They only have two modes: fixed and smart, but that’s really all you’ll need. In smart mode, they actually move to block incoming bullets, something you’ll hardly have time to notice when things get really hectic.

I’m not going to venture and say that I would’ve liked to have seen Varth on the Genesis, as Capcom would have been forced to tone it down significantly, both graphically and in regards to the action (see Grindstormer for an example). By comparison, it would have fit the Sega CD nicely and the 32X could have handled it with little trouble. Capcom did a great job with this one in the arcade, and there are a ton of sprites onscreen with no slowdown or flicker. Remember, Varth was released in 1992, well before arcade shmups switched styles. The CPS hardware was excellent, and the cumulative knowledge and experience from the 1941 series was put to great use here. A must-play.

 

Warriors of Fate

Here’s one for fans of Koei’s series of ancient Chinese hack-‘n-slashers. The spiritual successor to Capcom’s earlier Dynasty Wars, Warriors of Fate makes some improvements to that game’s formula, while retaining the same feel and style. Using a scant three buttons, Warriors faces you off in yet another seemingly never-ending battle to save China. It’s big on sprites, action, and music (seriously, the score is excellent); and there’s ten stages of lengthy action to keep you glued to the TV. The last boss might be a bit cheap, with his tiny time limit, but the game overall would have made an excellent addition to the Sega CD. I can almost hear that red book soundtrack! I’m surprised that Capcom would release Dynasty Wars on several computer systems but give Warriors the cold shoulder, especially when there was hardware out there that could do the game justice. Perhaps someday we’ll get to see it on a future game collection (volume two of Capcom Classics Collection, perhaps?).

 

Willow

Willow reminds me a lot in graphical style of the Sega CD (and European Mega Drive cart) Misadventures of Flink. In fact, there’s a lot about the gameplay that’s the same too, though Willow focuses more on straightforward action than spell casting. I do agree that the NES version of the game is superior, due to its brilliant fusion of action/RPG elements, but the coin-op is no slouch either. Move along, killing enemies for money, and stop occasionally to buy items from the ever-popular wandering salesman. Hmm, now that I think about it, that sounds a lot like Wonder Boy in Monster Land. That’s not a bad thing, and this classic type of gameplay was quite widespread at the time. You could play as either Willow or Madmartigan (or both in two-player mode), and the game closely followed the movie.

Willow would have had a happy home on the Genesis or Sega CD, but issues with the license most likely forced Capcom to keep this one only in arcades. They themselves would not have been able to release it, due to their ironclad licensing agreement with Nintendo, but could have handed it off to Sega as they did Forgotten Worlds, Strider, and MERCS.

 

Even with the strong showing it had on the Genesis, Capcom could have really gone ahead of the pack with some of these games added to their line up. All would have been welcome and most likely sold well, and a few could have been considered killer apps (could you have imagined if the 32X had gone into Christmas 1995 with Alien vs. Predator and Darkstalkers?). As with every list we do, the only way to really appreciate these forgotten classics is through the magic of emulation, which has become an invaluable resource for the preservation of the industry’s heritage.

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