On a personal note, SEGA's lightgun shooters provide one of the three integral pillars of my early gaming life. Gunblade holds a special place in my heart (along with id Software and the Amiga 600) since the impressive Model 2 graphics and enormous honking peripheral absolutely entranced my wide-eyed and impressionable youthful self. After undertaking pilgrimages to Southend's golden mile and SEGAWorld just to play it, I was forced to do without my beloved cabinet for years... until now. Note, therefore, that I am officially the best and worst authority to review this double pack- and will stalwartly maintain professional objective detachment after the following embarrassing outburst.
Right. The Arcade Hits Pack contains the full versions of Gunblade and L.A. Machineguns; with Wiimote functionality, widescreen support, a new ranking system, unlockable weapons and a score attack mode thrown in to bulk up the package. And that's it. It delivers exactly what it says on the box: two classic arcade hits and not much else. It's time to find out whether these two games have aged well enough to be worth a purchase after so many years.
Despite being developed on different arcade boards, both Gunblade NY and LA Machineguns conform to the same basic formula. Terrorists have invaded recognisable US landmarks (including New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, natch), and it's up to the player to bring the rain from a badass helicopter gun platform. The airborne perspective allows the rail camera to cinematically zoom around well known locations, swooping in to the ground level and pulling out into the high atmosphere for an unprecedented dynamic experience. The mounted machine guns are unbelievably powerful, creating enormous explosions with each bullet impact and tearing even armoured targets to shreds. They never need reloading, but enemies launch a constant stream of rockets that need to be gunned down before they connect. Big bosses and swarms of fast-moving enemy troops await- and the years still haven't dulled two of the finest and most fun arcade shooters ever made.
A lot of care and attention has clearly been leveraged into making the Arcade Hits Pack a breeze to control with the Wiimote. It's one of the most precise and solid cursors I've ever seen on the console, requiring only small and natural wrist movements to pour the hurt onto enemies and destroy incoming missiles. A satisfying rumble kicks in when you land shots on target, and civilians scream out from the Wiimote speakers if you accidentally clip them. Oddly, however, the cursor cannot travel into the sides of the screen when playing in a 16:9 aspect ratio- and to compensate, enemy missiles don't register when they connect with these areas. This may seem like a reasonable tradeoff, but some bosses and foes only fire missiles at the sides of the screen. As you'd imagine, this makes certain sections bewilderingly easy.
Unfortunately no amount of nostalgia for the franchises can disguise the fact that the visuals are absolutely horrendous. Gunblade is fifteen years old, and it's difficult to understand why even the pre-mission briefings and splash screens haven't received any attention whatsoever. Graphics are the least important part of my game experience, but I'd have expected at least a little polish around the (jaggy) edges in the decade and a half after their release. We've come a long way since Gunblade's primitive polygons wowed me back in the arcades.
A new ranking system invisibly chunters along behind the scenes, totting up the cumulative scores from both games and occasionally rewarding the player with promotions and unlockable new fire modes. Rapid fire rate and heavier slow shots provides extra tactical options for dealing with bosses and incoming missiles. However, it's a shame that this feature isn't more visible and obtrusive in the game; as some challenges, in-game awards and metagame would have gone a long way to keeping players hooked for the long haul. What's more, infinite continues are unlocked from the very start, meaning that there's no drive to excel and win the win these upgrades with successive playthroughs. At least this streamlined approach provides the immediacy that some shooter ports simply fail to create. Here's looking at you, Ghost Squad.
Diehard arcade fans will enjoy playing through Gunblade and LA Machinguns countless times to hone their technique and score, but seven main stages and some token unlockables only deliver around an hour of play time. Luckily, the Arcade Hits Pack is making its debut at a bargain price and vendors are retailing at less than twenty quid across the board. This bundle would have been truly terrible value at a £40 RRP; but as it stands, it's well worth your time and money. You won't need much of either.
- Two fantastic shooters for one budget price
- Ranking system provides extra replayability and handy new fire modes
- Perfect balance between pinpoint precision and overwhelming power
- Rose-tinted spectacles be damned: these games are ugly
- Widescreen limitations make some boss fights trivial
- Seven levels and low completion time relegate it to a niche purchase
The Short Version: Two classic shooters, one low price. Flawless Wiimote control and ageless gameplay contrast with the dated graphics and lack of unlockables... so fans of hectic lightgun action should take advantage of this worthwhile package whilst newcomers to the genre should start with Sega's sublime House of the Dead: Overkill or Return. If you have fond memories of either title or the arcade experience in general, consider this an essential niche purchase that'll take you back to happier times.