Hark back to 1982. Of course, that may be a pre-embryonic hark for many gamers, but bear with me. This was the apex of the video arcade's golden age. Back then arcade aficionados piled quarters on popular machines to "hold" their station. Parents urged boycotts and feared for a lost generation. Lines of eager gamers snaked out from popular titles. And those titles invariably included the four games in Microsoft's Return of Arcade: Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Pole Position, and Galaxian.
Back then, computers simply could not compete with arcade machines' dedicated audio and video processors. My Apple II+ versions of Galaxian and Pac-Man paled in comparison to the "real" things. The allure of the arcade was overwhelming.
Today, you can experience that golden age of arcades at home. Microsoft has done an excellent job re-engineering these games to run in Windows 95. Its programmers worked closely with Namco, the games' designer and still one of the top arcade game makers in the world. Microsoft could have beefed up the sound and graphics but remained faithful to original, albeit weak, eight-bit audio and 16 colors. Not a detail seems to have been forgotten, not even the built-in, but known-only-to-insiders playing tricks.
For those who don't know, Galaxian came out in 1979 and is a back-and-forth scrolling space shooter. Pac-Man hit the arcades in 1980 and became the most popular arcade game ever. The allure of a little pizza face gobbling ghosts appealed to all ages and both sexes. And Pole Position, a simple auto racing sim, and Dig Dug, a nearly indescribable, underground, demon quest, were both released in 1982.
So are these old games worth your time and money? For nostalgia buffs, the answer's a definite yes, though you will miss the feel of the arcade controller. Keyboard controls, especially for Pole Position, just don't cut it. A joystick is a must and it's still not the real thing.
For those not raised on these games the answer is a qualified yes. They offer hours of wonderfully retro distraction but lack the visceral feel and rich depth of today's games.
Hmm . I catch the scent of a new, old trend: simple, readily accessible games, offering brief, coffee-break-length entertainment. And this time, you don't have to leave your office to enjoy them.