I don’t know how many people cried out for a collection of classic IGS arcade games, but for those two or three of you, here’s the IGS Classic Arcade Collection! Evidently inspired by the success of many of the other retro compilations, IGS has pulled together a bunch of its own back catalogue. It’s as niche as these things get, but you might find some of the titles surprisingly decent.
Related reading: Another option for the brawler fans on Nintendo Switch is the Capcom Beat ’em Up Bundle. Our review.
For those of you who aren’t aware of IGS, this company was a pioneering Taiwanese outfit. Established in 1991, it had the goal of competing with the then-giant of the Asian game market (Japan) through a combination of high-quality games and its own arcade boards. It really hit its stride around 1996, when it created the PolyGame Master (PGM) arcade board – at that stage the only Asian arcade tech not owned by a Japanese company – and started releasing a series of side-scrolling brawlers that would become the company’s most iconic properties. These included Oriental Legend, Knights of Vakor, and The Gladiator. Those games, their sequels and spinoffs comprise the bulk of the Classic Arcade Collection.
IGS is still around and producing arcade games for a dying market. However, the heyday was definitely back when it was dropping these brawlers on the market. Most of them are quite decent, too, with Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West being recurring themes through them.
What really impressed me, having never played these games before, was how many characters there were in some of them. With most brawlers you expect four, five or even six characters to choose between, but not twelve. It was more common for fighters of that era to have rosters that large. Each character plays substantially differently in each brawler, and the PGM technology was capable of rendering some really nice animation and environments.
However, all the weaknesses and limitations of brawlers in that time period are also apparent thought this collection. Far too apparent. As arcade titles, the brawler genre was designed to guzzle down the coins, and consequently, difficulty spikes can be huge. This is especially true of the bosses. I like the way brawlers play, but the arbitrary approach to difficulty, just so you can drop another coin has always turned me off it. IGS certainly had that problem in its own games. In spades. Worse, with this collection, there’s almost no relief from it. There are just two titles that belong to other genres. One is Demon Front, which is a cheap clone of Metal Slug. The other is Martial Masters, which is a fighting game that history has largely forgotten for a reason. Other than that this collection is entirely one note, and every game is designed around you not getting very far between “coins”.
The quality of porting and emulation is good, technically. The screen can get busy with characters in some of these titles, but it remains smooth and playable. The developers have included the ability to save anywhere and adjust the difficulty level yourself. This alleviates some of the issues that I have with the genre as a whole and have mentioned above, if only slightly. However, aside from those two features and online play, there’s very little else done for this collection. There are even entire sections of each game that have not been localised out of Chinese. Brawlers aren’t about the story, I know, but given the base material, it would have been nice to enjoy the tidbits of storytelling that are there.
Most egregiously, post Atari 50 and some of the other more fully-featured retro compilations, the lack of additional reference material is unacceptable for a compilation. Promo art, design sketches, interviews with developers and other such features take a retro compilation, and turn it from a dumping ground for an emulator and some old games, into a virtual museum exhibition, helping players enjoy these classics all the more. Game developers and publishers really need to treat these things as more essential than they currently do.
Picking up the IGS Classic Arcade Collection is curiosity-worthy. Even among brawler fans, I would guess many of these games are obscure. This is therefore an opportunity to dip into a largely forgotten part of arcade history. They’re also decent games that play well, albeit in a genre that has changed significantly (and for the better) over the years. The lack of “museum” material makes this a disappointingly minimally-featured collection, but it might be fun to bash buttons over for a weekend or two.