There are nine games now available in Xbox Live Arcade's "coin-op classics" category, and most of them are unquestionable, top-tier, A-list arcade classics. Konami's Time Pilot, originally released in 1982, isn't quite as famous as some of the games on the list, but when you're up against the likes of Pac-Man and Frogger, it's a little hard to stand out. After all, Buckner & Garcia didn't write a song about how radical Time Pilot is. But maybe they should have. Despite its almost-famous face, Time Pilot is, and always has been, a great shooter. And Digital Eclipse's Xbox 360 version of the game showcases the original well, while also delivering one of the best graphical updates to hit Xbox Live Arcade so far.
The premise of Time Pilot is simple. You control a jet that stays centered on the vertically oriented screen. This isn't an ordinary jet, though. Your craft can travel through time, so you start back in 1910, pitting your futuristic flying time machine against biplanes. From there, you move on to 1940, then 1970, where you'll fight helicopters that shoot homing missiles. After that, you'll get a "present-day" 1982 level that runs you up against fighter jets. And it all comes to a head in a mind-blowing futuristic showdown in the far-flung year of 2001. In 2001, you'll fight off the flying saucers that were all the rage five years ago. The goal of each level is to blow up as many enemies as possible. After fulfilling a quota, a boss ship will appear; blowing that up will carry you forward through time. In addition to shooting up individual enemies, sometimes you'll get to take out entire formations. Also, you can collect parachuting survivors for bonus points.
There are no power-ups in Time Pilot, but you wouldn't need them if there were. Your ship fires three shots each time you press the fire button, making it easy to keep up a constant stream of fire without having to get frantic about your button mashing. Also, the game makes the most of its eight-way joystick. The ship doesn't just point in eight directions. Instead, pushing in any direction starts your ship rotating in that direction. You can stop turning at any point, giving you a much wider range of motion than most games had back in the '80s. Since enemies will come at you from all sides, this level of control is essential.
All of this action translates to the Xbox 360 well. The control is as tight and responsive as the original game. And the game comes with the same sort of additional options that you saw in Konami's last release, Frogger. In addition to the local two-player alternating mode, you can get on Xbox Live and play against another player. But you don't play against that player on the same screen. Instead, two copies of the game run at the same time, and the player with the highest score wins. It's a weird idea that would work a little better if every single game we got into didn't lag noticeably. Considering you aren't interacting with the other player at all, it's strange that your own local game performs so poorly. The game also defaults to show a new audiovisual update that looks sharp. You'll get new ship designs, a transparent cloud layer, and new music and sound effects. Unlike some other games on Live Arcade, the upgrades in Time Pilot really are upgrades. The visuals won't blow you away or anything, but they do look nice. And if you're feeling like a purist, you can turn off the new graphics and sound and get back to the way the game appeared in 1982.
Like every other Xbox Live Arcade release, Time Pilot has 200 achievement points to earn. They're spread across 12 different achievements, and you could probably earn all but one in only a few games, if you're on your Time Pilot game. They're all based on the single-player game and give you points for completing levels, collecting parachutists, taking out squadrons, blowing up larger ships, and so on. The most difficult one asks you to reach the game's final stage without losing a life. It's certainly possible, but you probably won't get it on your first try.
All in all, Time Pilot is a very likable game that has received some good updates. If you're a fan of classic arcade shooters, the 400-point (that's five bucks at current points pricing) entry fee is definitely worth it.