Wilcox Arcade Annual 2017: Part 2
Are you all tired of reading my overly long articles yet? Because I'm tired of writing them. Here, let's keep the introduction brief. If you only read one part of my 2017 Annual, this is probably the one you actually want to read. There, now we're finished.
My Favorite Hardware Developments of the Year
Airframe Arcade Operating System (Griffin Aerotech)
In 2015, Griffin Aerotech did something absolutely genius. For the first time since Atomiswave (at least in the U.S.), a unified, JAMMA-based platform has been released for swapping out arcade titles at will. Though Airframe uses USB drives instead of cartridges, the concept is nearly identical. Griffin Aerotech also describes Airframe as “the first arcade platform developed specifically for independent developers.” Everything about it is genius, from the JAMMA wiring to the easily swappable games to the undying support of the indie arcade developer.
But if Airframe was released in 2015, why am I including it here? Well, that’s where I took a few liberties. You see, back in 2015, Skycurser (the first Airframe game) and the Airframe hardware were very much incomplete. Skycurser had yet to receive its final update, and Airframe was (and still pretty much is) a prototype. However, with Skycurser nearly finished and the second Airframe game, Rashlander, now available, I think it’s a fair to consider 2017 the year of Airframe. Though it may be slightly “underpowered,” Airframe has more than earned its spot in the Wilcox Arcade Annual 2017.
We Play VR (A.I. Solve, Bandai Namco)
Though arguably not as exciting as Airframe was, We Play VR was still an intriguing hardware development to come out of the arcade industry this year. (Unfortunately, I think We Play VR took Namco’s focus away from traditional arcade games this year, because all we got was Maximum Tune 5.) We Play VR is designed to be modular, customizable, versatile, scalable, and replayable. (If that doesn’t make sense, let me explain it this way: You can essentially customize the interior with detachable, I guess, barriers? It’s cool and weird.) It is outfitted with a haptic feedback floor that allows you to feel the rumble in the floor when you see it in the game, game-specific 4D features, and a wireless VR headset and controller pack. We Play VR is available in a small single-player model and gargantuan models that can accommodate five or more players. Five-player models include motion seat VR racing simulators on either side of the “cabinet.” (Can you even describe this beast of a machine as a cabinet?) Of course, We Play VR does in fact require and attendant, but that’s to be expected with something of this magnitude.
We Play VR is made especially enticing in that it currently supports and will support more than one game. The current game selection includes Mayan Adventure, Alien Invasion, and Clock Tower. Here’s the bad news: The games have annual licenses that can be renewed depending on “the popularity of the game within your facility.” I guess they weren’t too concerned with these games being preserved for historical reference. Also, We Play VR sounds RIDICULOUSLY expensive, but hey—that’s what the modern arcade industry is all about. If we cripple the small, local operator and worship the FEC, surely the industry will thrive forever!
Yeah, sorry about that tangent.
My Least Favorite Games of the Year
Let’s Go Island: Dream Edition (Sega Amusements)
I don’t think this one needs much of an explanation. Let’s Go Island is a spray-and-pray light gun rail shooter released by Sega in 2006. However, since Sega Amusements is slowly going bankrupt of creativity, they have endlessly rereleased this game (and Let’s Go Jungle) since then. This year, Sega Amusement released Let’s Go Island in a “Dream Edition” motion cabinet and as a kit for Dream Raiders. It’s really nothing special. Let’s Go Island was a never a super-duper remarkable game to begin with, but now you can play it in a motion seat. That’s fun.
Target Bravo: Operation G.H.O.S.T. (Sega Amusements)
I don’t mean to sound overly scathing, but I’m starting to get a little bored with Sega Amusements’s output. Operation G.H.O.S.T. is a game that came out in 2011. Sega recently rereleased the game in an environmental deluxe cabinet as “Target: Bravo: Operation G.H.O.S.T.” and gave it a new “Wave Mode.” Now, Sega’s releasing that same game all over again, but this time in a standard upright cabinet! It’s looks like we’ve come full circle, because this game was already released in an upright cabinet back in 2011! The RingWide hardware has never looked more dated! This is Sega’s true genius on display, I tell ya what! How DO they do it?
Injustice Arcade (Raw Thrills)
Injustice Arcade is a sad, sad testament to the overly casual state of the modern arcade industry. Raw Thrills had the chance to do something great with Injustice. They could have ported the console version and provided gamers with the first fighting game in Western territories since Tekken Tag Tournament 2. Heck, Tekken Tag didn’t even get that wide of a release! But Raw Thrills is a GIANT in the modern arcade industry. They have what it takes to bring fighting games back to arcades. But with Injustice Arcade, they squandered that opportunity—badly.
Injustice Arcade is not the fighting game you played on your PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Instead, Raw Thrills chose to port the (shudder) mobile version to arcades. Instead of having full control of your character, you slap a few buttons to attack, block, and unleash a special attack. It’s just not what we wanted, not what we needed. If this lazy mobile port had come from any other company, I might be more understanding. But Raw Thrills is different; Raw Thrills is AWESOME. This should not have happened.
At the very least, you do win a collectible DC trading card after every game. You know, if that’s your kinda thing.
My Favorite Games of the Year
Skycurser (Griffin Aerotech)
Like I said earlier, the 2015 release of this game was very limited, like an extended location test of sorts. This year, Skycurser received a full release and a number of online updates that make 2017’s version the most complete. (It currently has four out of the planned six missions.) With that all being said, what made Skycurser one of my favorite games of the year?
Let’s start out with some context. The story in Skycurser is as follows: “The year is 1996. A cataclysmic plague descends on earth. As its infection spreads, hope fades. But you and your dog fight back. Piloting the prophetic weapon, SKYCURSER, you take flight to destroy the Necrostar’s mutant hordes and save the planet.” The gameplay personifies this story. Skycurser is a two-dimensional sidescrolling shoot ‘em up, described by Griffin Aerotech as “hard-action” and “meat on metal.” And believe me—it is. The game is fast, gory, and all-around wicked cool. Griffin Aerotech proclaims that the game features a rewarding scoring system, ridiculous boss battles, free updates via Wi-Fi, explosive one- or two-player action, four diverse missions, and two challenging game loops. That’s a LOT of awesomeness.
Skycurser has taken the year by storm. The reception has been overwhelmingly popular, and it currently resides in 15 arcades. Not bad for an indie arcade game, am I right? To me, it’s just so awesome. Skycurser marries classic and modern so perfectly, and beyond perfectly capturing the essence of the 90’s, it’s just a rad game on its own merits. The strong devotion to pricing the game at $0.25 per credit is a welcome relief from all those newfangled games that are set at $1.00 or higher. The fast-paced, gory multiplayer shooting action sounds mind-blowing, and the addition of two more difficult game loops boosts the replayability considerably. Skycurser is just a darn good game, and I’m glad to have lived through its inception and release.
Maximum Tune 5 (Bandai Namco)
Raise your hand if you thought this game was never coming to the U.S. Come on; be honest. I’m sure a lot of us (myself included) didn’t think Maximum Tune 5 would see the light of day in the West, but here we are. You can’t blame us, though; Maximum Tune 4 straight up skipped us. But beyond just coming to the U.S. in the first place, what makes Maximum Tune 5 stand out among other 2017 releases?
As an arcade racer, Maximum Tune 5 is so much different than everything else you can find in the U.S. right now. Cruis’n Blast and Daytona Championship USA are fun, sure; but are they intricate simulation racers? No, and that’s what Maximum Tune 5 brings to the table. MT5 showcases a lot more features, tracks, and vehicles than you could ever find in a more “arcade-y” racer. For being so different—for being such a delightful surprise to even find in Western territories—Maximum Tune 5 is one of my favorite games of the year. Namco, you did a darn good job with this one.
The Walking Dead (Play Mechanix/Raw Thrills)
To many of you, The Walking Dead may just seem like standard Play Mechanix light gun fare. And in all honesty, it probably isn’t too terribly mind-blowing. But that’s just it; you see, despite being another Play Mechanix rail shooter release, The Walking Dead makes headway in directions that Play Mechanix hasn’t traversed in years. The Walking Dead is not your typical spray-and-pray shooter like Terminator Salvation or Jurassic Park Arcade. Rather, The Walking Dead hearkens back to the more classic point-and-shoot gameplay of more traditional rail shooters, such as Time Crisis and—you guessed it—The House of the Dead. In fact, The Walking Dead almost ends up fulfilling our need for the next House of the Dead installment that Sega refuses to give us. (Minus, you know, boss fights and stuff. It’s not a perfect recreation of the gameplay we so sorely miss.) This excellent gameplay is further enhanced by a wicked cool crossbow controller. That’s not something ya see everyday, kiddos.
To top it off, The Walking Dead is gory—and I mean it. While violent games have almost entirely fallen out of favor in the arcade industry, Play Mechanix made sure to bring it back. And it makes perfect sense, too; how could you make a Walking Dead game without graphic violence and gore? Maybe it’s just my 16-year-old brain speaking, but I wouldn’t mind seeing violent games making a comeback in arcades. Over-the-top violence used to be a staple of the medium, but there’s been a drought for far too long. For shaking up rail shooter gameplay when things were starting to get just a bit dry; for pioneering an awesome new controller; and for bringing the awesomeness of gory zombie shooters back to the arcades, the Walking Dead is one of my favorite games released in 2017. Play Mechanix really knows what they’re doing, don’t they?
Pump it Up Prime 2 (Andamiro)
Just like with Maximum Tune 5, the main reason this game is on this list is because it came to the U.S. in the first place. Believe it or not, I’ve actually become quite the DDR Freak lately. Once I grabbed onto those handrails and tried the game on Basic and Difficult, it was like the entire thing just clicked, ya know?
But here’s the thing: Pump It Up isn’t DDR.
But here’s the other thing: It’s a somewhat similar rhythm game, and since Dance Dance Revolution A came out in 2016, I can’t put it on this list. And like I said, I’m just glad that Pump It Up came to the U.S. this year. For quite a while now, Andamiro’s U.S. output has been nothing but gosh-awful videmption games. Seeing a true video arcade game (and especially one as fun as Pump It Up) from them in 2017 was a fun treat. For that reason, and because I’m now apparently a DDR Freak, Pump It Up Prime 2 has landed itself her on my list of my favorite games of 2017.
Pretty arbitrary, isn’t it?
Daytona Championship USA (Sega Amusements)
Listen, I’m the biggest Daytona guy. I can’t comment much on it—at all. But this game showed real effort from Sega this year, even if it wasn’t perfect. I’m placing this game on my list because it wasn’t completely terrible. Daytona 3 was actually pretty rad. Is it Sega AM2 rad? Heck no. And is the massive dead zone in the steering wheel inexcusable? Heck yes. But this is Sega Amusements we’re talking about. They can’t do anything worth a dime, so a game as good as Daytona 3 is a real accomplishment. I’ll leave it at that.
Best Developers of the Year
What can I say about Griffin Aerotech that I haven said already? They’ve been doing so much awesome crud for the arcade industry for the past few years. Their Airframe platform is not just another Neo Geo or even Atomiswave; it’s a platform that lowers the barrier to entry for indie developers and ensures that we’ll see so many, many more arcade games in the coming. We already have Skycurser and five more confirmed games (the Rashlander trilogy, Founding Force, and the Windjammers-esque basketball), and it’s only been about two years! Griffin Aerotech is opening up the playing field and shaking up how arcade games are made. It’s gonna be a pretty awesome next few years. (And I sure can’t wait to see what games Griffin Aerotech continues to make after Skycurser!)
Arcadeaholics is another one of the newfangled indie developers to have popped up within the past few years, and they’ve already proven themselves to be pretty awesome. This year, they’ve showcased their very first game, Cosmotrons, and it already looks fantastic. Cosmotrons is a Gravitar/Space Duel-esque multiplayer space shooter meant to emulate the classic imagery of vector-based games. It’s meant to be a tough game, but a right fun one at that.
Furthermore, beyond just making an awesome game (that’ll be releasing in 2018, lucky for us), Arcadeaholics has promoted their game in the coolest way possible: an Arcade Road Tour. Over the summer, they took their game all over the country, placing it in arcades and listening to the feedback from operators and players alike. To my knowledge, something like this hasn’t been done since Mortal Kombat 4’s Arcade Road Tour back in the late-90’s. So yeah, Arcadeaholics was pretty awesome this year. I can’t wait to play Cosmotrons—and then see Arcadeaholics’s future releases after that!
In all objectivity, Raw Thrills’s 2017 output probably wasn’t that mind-blowing. We got The Walking Dead and Space Invaders Frenzy in January, and we got Injustice Arcade and X-Games Snow Boarder in December. In terms of both quality and volume, it was pretty standard. (Though it is hard to deny the awesomeness of The Walking Dead and, to a lesser extent, X-Games Snow Boarder.) However, Raw Thrills’s awesome year is less about what they did than it is about what they have in store. They announced so many cool games for 2018 in 2017 that it’s hard not to appreciate them now. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nex Machina Death Machine, and Splash are all in Raw Thrills’s pipeline, and every one of those games has me totally hype. I think Raw Thrills is gonna dominate 2018, people; but that’s just me. Let’s hope that 2018 is even better than 2017 was.
2017 has been a pretty wicked year for the arcade industry. Indie developers are popping up left and right, and Raw Thrills was continually cranking up the awesomeness with each new game release and announcement. Pinball was especially strong this year. (However, I can’t comment too much on that, because I’m definitely more of a video guy myself.) Unfortunately, we didn’t get much from Sega and Namco, but maybe that’ll change. Well, we did get Daytona Championship USA and Maximum Tune 5, respectively. It’s just a shame, because Namco especially has had so many perfect years in a row. I guess things kinda cooled down in 2017.
But before I go, I’d like to thank you all again. Thank you so, so much for reading my humble arcade blog this year, and thank you so, so much for continuing to support the arcade community. We can bring it back if we all continue to do our part. Thank you all again. Here’s to 2018.
For the last time in 2017, keep it real.
Ya sweaty nerds.
Whatever the heck I say at the end of articles.
Update 12/30/2017: In case you missed it, here's a link to Part 1.
Wilcox Arcade Annual 2017: Part 1
And if you're really feeling it, here's a link to my 2017 Christmas Special:
The Wilcox Arcade Christmas Special 2017