The launch of Xbox 360’s Game Room was more of a sputter than a rousing success. They fixed the “Can’t load the service” issue, but as of this writing, leaderboards are still not fully working, challenges can’t be sent out properly, and I’m getting some really weird “now you see them, now you don’t” issues with the room items. The items appear and disappear, won’t let you place them in every theme room, and specific theme items can’t be placed in what would be their matching room counterparts.

I really hope an update comes soon.

That said, now that I’ve seen the service in action, I can make comparisons. This is the Steam service for retro console and arcade games. I grew up on this stuff, and it takes me back. One of my favorite features is actally placing a number of arcades in a room. Those who grew up in the arcades know those ambient hums and beeps that built up into a symphony of digital music. It’s a cool effect, and it made me dewy-eyed and nostalgic.

I bought a few games: Adventure, Combat, and Yar’s Revenge for the Atari 2600, and Crystal Castles for the arcade. The emulation is spot-on, complete with visual modes to make games look like they’ve had some of that worn in look of older titles. I don’t think I’ll use it, but it’s neat to look at for a moment.

My only real issue is Crystal Castles. It was originally a trackball game, and they didn’t not configure the controller for an analog controller. As a result, I feel like I’m drunk in playing it (minus the nausea), and it was killing me more than bad luck with an enemy. It’s a shame as I really like that game.

Intellivision titles are going to be tricky. Pressing start to activate the number pad was done in real-time on the original system, as it is here, but there’s a big difference in clicking a button with an overlay, to calling up a menu and having to cycle through the numbers to hit the appropriate key. I have a feeling fast action games that utilize a lot of buttons are going to be a nightmare. I would expect games like Thunder Castle and Night Stalker to be more easily playable, though, due to their lack of reliance on the keypad.

The arcade is neat, and has an easy interface. The service and game packs are free (which look to include room themes in those packs), and if you buy a game on release day, then you get the game’s “mascot” for free. Mascots are essentially like characters from the game that run around the arcade to add some ambiance. Four games means four mascots for me, and I’m not going to lie in saying that seeing the Adventure dragon tooling around my arcade doesn’t fill me with a sense of glee (I love my dragon).

The service is multi-player to an extent. Players can issue high score challenges to each other, and visit each other’s arcade to play people’s respective libraries. I made my girlfriend create her own arcade to see how this works, as no one else has added anything to theirs. When you start, you get 20 tokens. It takes 5 to play a game. Every time someone visits your arcade, you get a free token, so the more visits you get, the more token you get to play in the showroom or at a friend’s arcade.

The showroom is where all of the available games are present. You can demo each game once for free, which is helpful, because some games haven’t aged well, or just aren’t good titles. Don’t let the primitive nature of these early games scare you off. Some of these are real gems, and while the gameplay is very simplistic in comparison to today’s games, they still have an addictive charm factor to them.

There’s are also achievements (overall for the service, not each individual game), though all games have medal for survival times, time played, and high scores. The high scores can be sent to a leaderboard, which is great as back then, your point tallies did the talking for you, and you needed a camera as a record to show your skills… before the system’s power was cut off. Getting medals also makes your avatar go up in levels, so it’s like an RPG for being an arcade bad-ass. Again, that pleases me.

Game Room’s start could have gone better. I’m certain that other companies and possibly systems will make their appearances and flesh out the experience (Atari, Intellivison, and Konami are the only ones represented now). Once Capcom, Sega, Namco, Activision, Tecmo and others hit the service, I think the variety and quality will improve. But they have to work out these bugs soon, as it’s really dampening the experience.

With 1,000 promised games over the next 3 years (an average of 6-7 games a week), Game Room should easily catch up to and likely surpass what is available for the Wii’s Virtual Console. Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call for Nintendo to quit dragging their feet with their own service and start releasing games at a less, well, near non-existent pace like they have been for the last two years.

This is definitely for old-school gamers, or a solid history lesson for those who just want to see what the big deal was about with pre-NES games.

I will definitely pick up Q*Bert and Pitfall! should they become available, and feel free to visit my arcade and play whatever.

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Filed under: atari gamingclassic gaminggame roomxbla gamingxbox 360 gaming