exA-Arcadia Keeps Getting Better and Better
In just a year’s time, exA-Arcadia has developed a juggernaut name for itself. What started as a promising, NEO-GEO-esque kit system has since grown into a global platform commanding attention from all corners of the arcade industry. This is the real deal, boys and girls. exA-Arcadia is the culmination of all things awesome—everything I could possibly want from a modern-day arcade hardware system. It promises cost-effectiveness, the ability to run four games on one cabinet, and cutting edge technology. With the roughly the power of a “PS4 Pro,” card/smartphone saves, and Twitch streaming support, exA truly will offer the coin-op solution of the future. Oh. And did I mention it has games, too? Ten games, believe it or not, have already been announced as launch titles for the exA system: Aka and Blue: Type R, The Kung Fu vs. Karate Champ, Super Hydorah AC, Infinos EXA, Alkyrios EXA (formerly known as Valkyrius), Cosmic Digger 3671, Dimension Drive EX, Strania EX, Shikhondo Death Label, and Nippon Marathon: Hyper Running. Although a handful of titles on the list are a bit obscure, coming from smaller indie studios, they all bring something special to the proverbial. As shmup-heavy as the lineup is, I wholeheartedly believe every single one of those games deserves and exA release. These are already spectacular offerings. Luckily for us, the arcade goodness just keeps coming. As part of their JAEPO 2019 showing, exA-Arcadia promised a whole host of new game announcements, and boy did they deliver. If you though the platform looked solid as it was…well, you’re in for a treat. (I know I was.) The system, though still somewhat shmup-leaning, provides a plethora of content for players of all backgrounds to enjoy. This is a hardware ecosystem we could have only dreamed of 10 years ago—something previously unthinkable. And for that, I am incredibly grateful. exA-Arcadia is firing on all cylinders, bringing countless talented developers and games on board. The new titles will. Not. Cease. So, for the ever-excited exA enthusiast, here’s a comprehensive run-down of every new game announced for the platform at JAEPO 2019. Buckle your gosh danged seatbelts, kiddos. It’s gonna be one heckuva ride.
This first title sets a bit of trend for all of exA: bringing back the old in enticingly new ways. Blazing Chrome promises the return of Contra-esque gameplay. From developer Joymasher comes a challenging experience where you “Bring your best pal and kick some metal butts to free the humankind,” billing itself as a “…classic run-and-gun, fully loaded with action and exciting fights!” And from the looks of gameplay footage, Blazing Chrome seems to provide just that. There’s running, jumping, crouching, and lots of good, old-fashioned shooting—with a buddy, too! Heck, it even offers vehicle sequences and menacing boss battles. I’d wager to say this title will deliver upon release. Run-and-gun, of course, is a genre we’ve haven’t seen in arcades in ages. Brining it back is a bold move but one I can 100 percent get behind. Although I haven’t played Contra since I was but a little gamer boy, I absolutely love other run-and-guns, namely Metal Slug. (Because ooh, Metal Slug is so good.) It’s a genre that, while sometimes quite tough, works beautifully in an arcade setting. You’re gonna play a fun game, and you’re gonna work to make that quarter last while you’re at it. I know I’m ready to, as exA says, “Go back to the days where metal-on-metal is how we settled things.” Blazing Chrome, I’m sure, will let us do just that.
Axel City 2
Here’s another genre that’s sort of coming back, at least within arcades outside of Japan. Although fighting games have never left the mainstream gaming consciousness, it’s true they’ve been suspiciously absent from the coin-op realm in recent years. That’s why it’s great to see something like Axel City 2, a new one-on-one 2D fighter from the studio Project Atsuki. The title, featuring officially licensed content from the Japanese Kadokawa Corporation, will boast 40 playable characters. (Even in 2019, a roster that voluminous is just plain awesome.) And apparently, Axel City 2 is being developed using 2D Fighter Maker. Which is…an interesting tidbit. Either way, it so far appears to be a super solid fighter. While I can’t yet speak for the playability or balancing, this new fighter does look quite cool. The basic gameplay appears solid, and some of the performed combos seem pretty sick. One aspect that is very obvious from footage, however, is that Project Atsuki is striving for that “classic 2D fighter” vibe, like Dragon Ball FighterZ. In fact, I’d argue that Axel City is even more classical in its presentation, utilizing true 2D sprites and retro-themed music/sound effects to create something very Street Fighter 2-esque The sprite-work may not blow anyone’s mind, but it does do a fantastic job of conveying its intended aesthetic. This, alongside the previously announced Kung Fu vs. Karate Champ, will definitely be a title for fighting games fans to look out for.
Vritra Hexa, developed by Neotro, is, indeed, another shoot-em-up, but I’m actually quite intrigued by it. The game is a fantasy-themed horizontal shooter that will feature spectacular art, an arranged soundtrack, two-player simultaneous play, a variety of gameplay-enhancing equipment, simple yet in-depth strategy, and high score rankings. In layman’s terms, you’ll fly around as a little dragon dude shooting enemy guys. And though it could be dismissed as just another shooter, I believe Vritra may add something special to the exA-Arcadia library. From the moment I saw the level select screen, I was immediately attracted to the aesthetics of Vritra Hexa. And as I watched gameplay, I knew the art really was worth bragging about. The graphics, while not some sort of crazy technical achievement, immediately present a distinct fantasy theme. Admittedly, the character animations look a tad bit like an Adobe Flash web game, but the art as a whole more than makes up for that minor shortcoming. With promises of deep gameplay and crisp graphics, Vritra Hexa definitely seems exciting.
Gimmick! exAct Mix
Now, this right here—this game really catches my eye. Gimmick! exAct Mix is an updated release of the NES/Famicom Gimmick!, released in 1992 by Sunsoft. The title task players with guiding Yumetaro, a little green ball guy, through stages using his star-shooting power. While the Famicom version received mixed reviews at release, it has since garnered some retrospective appreciation. And since this an HD port, the game will allow players to switch between the original and “arranged” versions of both the sound and visuals. The original Gimmick! is considered quite challenging, and this new version will feature “subtle balancing changes” and a “scoring system…to add a bit more replayability.” I obviously haven’t tried it out yet, but boy-oh-boy does it look fun. Considering that coin-op platformers have basically been dead for decades, I am beyond hyped for Gimmick! exAct Mix. The platformer has always been and always will be one of my favorite genres. Seeing a decently revered title making its way to the world’s best modern arcade platform is simply incredible. Assuming the experience has been recreated with care—and the base gameplay does, in fact, work in an arcade environment—this could be a lot of fun. The original Famicom release has gone down in relative obscurity, but this could be the chance for Gimmick! to come back in full force. I am ready to take my platforming skills to the arcade and learn a new game; I am ready to be a little green ball boy. Are you?
Rival Megagun XE
From developer Spacewave Studios comes a title that, at first glance, seems like just another shoot-em-up. And though it is technically a shmup, Rival Megagun XE is actually something much more novel. In Spacewave Studios’ new exA release, two players (or one player and a CPU) will select their characters and compete side-by-side, shooting onscreen enemies for the highest score. Whoever survives the longest will be the winner. (For reference, visualize2 the screen setup of Dr. Mario, or a similar multiplayer puzzler, with the gameplay of a vertical shooter.) Believe it or not, I actually find this “pick-up-and-play” competitive multiplayer concept quite interesting. Arcades, among many things, are known for their social atmosphere. A one-on-one, competitive experience like Rival Megagun makes for good fun for players and spectators alike. Although I wonder if it will become a “huge” game, per se, I do see it gaining some nice notoriety in the coin-op environment. And while Rival Megagun is far from a puzzler, I have to wonder if its similar structure will open the door to those types of games in the future. These are all developments we’ll just have to observe as time goes on. However, in the meantime, let it be known that Rival Megagun does seem really cool. Like Vritra Hexa, it will be one of many shmups gracing the platform, but it looks like a darn good one at that.
At this point, it’s safe to say that exA-Arcadia is a shmup fan’s dream. This vertical shooter coming to the platform, Psyvariar Delta, a classic shooter known for the Buzz System, in which players level up by grazing enemy fire and chaining Buzz. Developed by City Connection, this title (at least based on what’s listed on Steam) will offer multiple games modes and support two-player simultaneous multiplayer. Watching gameplay footage, I definitely think this will be a fun one. Like Vritra Hexa and the other shmups gracing the platform, Psyvariar Delta just has this refined “feel” to it. One thing I will admit: I haven’t played very many shoot-em-ups in my day. Though I absolutely love the genre from what I have experienced—and I want to play more—I just haven’t had much opportunity to so far. However, since these exA shooters are largely multi-platformers, I’m highly considering checking them out. Psyvariar Delta is one of those games I intend to try. I know I’ll enjoy the local co-op, the Buzz system, and, of course, the overall gameplay. So, before exA’s release later this year, I may just have to give this title, and others like it, a go. (And the Nintendo Switch is a great console for the job.) After all, I simply must do my research….
Alien Field 3671
From what I can gather—or rather, can’t gather—the next title on this list is mega-obscure. Like…probably more obscure than Gimmick. Developed by Mindware Co., Ltd., Alien Field 3671 is described as a psychedelic, rougelike dot-eater in which players must “Explode [their] concentration in 3 minutes and knock out the high score.” The perceptive among you may have noticed the “3671” subtitle that also part of Cosmic Digger 3671, a similarly retro work from the same studio. Given its rougelike designation and dot-munching gameplay, I willing to bet Alien Field plays out like a procedurally-generated, multiplayer Pac-Man. A concept like that sounds fun enough to me. Upfront, I’m going to admit that I’m not, like, super hyped for either Alien Field or Cosmic Digger. They look enjoyable, and I’m sure I could pick them up after giving them both a chance, but I can’t say they really grab me from screenshots or footage alone. I love classic games, but sometimes—just sometimes—I have trouble getting into them. However, I’m willing to give both upcoming Mindware titles the time they deserve. In the case of Alien Field 3671, I can really appreciate good ol’ dot-chomping chaos. This is a game has the potential to be loads of fun. And sometimes, that’s all you really need, you know?
Fight of Gods
exA’s JAEPO lineup was bound to have some quirky surprises, and this, I must say, was one of them. Developed by Digital Crafter, Fight of Gods is…well, it’s really something. I think it’s best to let the official Steam description speak for itself: “Your prayers have been answered! For the first time ever, gods, holy spirits, and mythological characters from around the globe and throughout history will clash in an explosive 2D fighter where the entire world is at stake!” And that, my friends, is one bold proclamation. Not only are we promised an explosive fighter, worldly stakes, and arcade-exclusive characters/stages, but we also get to pit Jesus Christ against Buddha. That’s…quite a lot to handle. As gleefully tongue-in-cheek as Fight of Gods may be, I kinda don’t see this being a very good fit for more controversy-averse locations. (Even I’m a little uneasy towards the prospect of battling culturally-sensitive religious icons, and you know I love crazy games.) However, considering that the announcement post currently has 370 retweets—massive engagement even by exA standards—it’s clear that players are excited for this game. But you know what? That’s actually kinda understandable. Fight of Gods, for better or worse, has a very distinct sense of humor and seems pretty fun based on footage alone. Maybe we’ll have another edgy cult classic on our hands, a la CarnEvil. After all, only we can decide who is the ultimate god!
Next up is an experience golden-age coin-op fans will surely enjoy: Lightning Knights from developer Confused Pelican. Known on consoles as “Iron Crypticle,” this title will allow up to four players to embark on a twin-stick-shooting, dungeon-crawling adventure with RPG elements. (Think Smash TV meets Gauntlet.) As exA states, “Lightning Knights harks back to the simple days when you and three friends ventured through dungeons in the arcade.” And that, I gotta say, sounds super fun. The little gamer boy in me wants to rescue Cryptonia’s princess and reclaim the king’s royal golden treasures! Part of what makes Lightning Knights so enticing is that both twin-stick shooter and RPGs have been fairly absent from arcades in recent years. They’re both fun genres that deserve representation in this realm. However, I’m curious to see how Confused Pelican will update that vintage style. Call me blasphemous, but I really don’t think Gauntlet has aged all that well. If this new exA-Arcadia release can improve that core experience in meaningful ways—and provide a genuinely fun experience in its own right—Lightning Knights will be a very special treat for all the retro gamer guys and girls out there. I know I certainly can’t wait to grab three friends and kill hordes of enemies.
My Slam and Jam
Another coin-op genre is back from the dead. And this time, it’s none other than… sports! Developer by Ranida Games, My Slam and Jam promises bring classic arcade-style basketball “back to where it belongs”—the coin-op environment—with four-player simultaneous multiplayer; extensive team customization including player faces and logo; and officially licensed content from the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Even with a different league behind it, the 30 seconds of available gameplay footage looks absolutely spot-on when compared to Midway’s eternally classic NBA Jam series. (And we know that everyone will be comparing this to NBA Jam.) Given how much I love arcade-y sports, I’m super-duper pumped for this one. Admittedly, the graphics look pretty weak. But if My Slam and Jam sees some refinement before release, we may have a real hit on our hands. Like exA said, sports games work beautifully in arcades. Considering the monumental successes of NBA Jam and NFL Blitz in the 90’s, I refuse to believe a near-copy of that formula won’t do at least moderately well. Arcade fans, including myself, have been clamoring for a new sports game for years, and I believe exA-Arcadia will save the day. I want My Slam and Jam to be every bit as good as NBA Jam. As long as it has a good sense of humor and, of course, top-notch gameplay, it may very well be just that. Here comes the next big genre revival, boys and girls.
(Note: The above image is taken from the mobile version. The Twitter trailer was too low-res for me to bother with a screen-cap.)
Here’s something dedicated arcade gamers will surely appreciate. Another intriguing title from Ranida Games, BAYANI is a brand-new 2D fighter being “completely built from the ground up” for exA-Arcadia. It proudly bills itself as “the first fighting game that is heavily inspired by the Philippines’ rich history, culture, and mythology.” And if it truly does combine heroes from Filipino myth with “hardcore mechanics,” then we arcade gamers are going to have very neat experience in our hands. New fighting games are always a boon to the coin-op community, especially when they present their own bold, original intellectual property. From footage alone, I can assuredly say that I really dig the art style, and it translates quite nicely to in-game graphics, as well. It’s like someone sent Filipino heroes through an anime filter. And by golly, it does look pretty cool. Gameplay is obviously a bit difficult to comment on at this point, but it appears to be a very solid fighter. Being one of the four fighting games coming to exA-Arcadia, I’d say BAYANI has every right to be spectacular. And although I don’t know squat about the Filipino source material, I’m still pretty excited for this game. There’s nothing quite like a good, old-fashioned one-on-one fighter. So, with BAYANI now destined for the coin-op realm, get ready to duke it out with some legendary dudes or sumthin’.
The Fallen Angels will return
The final announcement from exA-Arcadia came in the form of a bonkers, last-minute teaser. In a tweet that has since been deleted for reasons unknown, exA-Arcadia stated: “Thanks everyone for coming to our booth at JAEPO & watching the stream. One more announcement, The Fallen Angels will return.” And this, for many hardcore fighting game fans, was a huge deal. For those not in the know, The Fallen Angels is a 1998 one-on-one 2D fighter published by Psikyo. Though development details are all but impossible to come by, existing gameplay footage makes it crystal clear that the original Fallen Angels was something special. The Fallen Angels is a visual spectacle on all fronts—enrapturing character designs, gorgeously realistic animations, artfully intricate combos, and deeply detailed environments. Though I’ve never played it (or even heard of it prior to JAEPO), I can tell it’s a flippin’ cool game. (Heck, there’s even a character named Cool.) The gameplay apparently is based more on realistic fighting, too. Reportedly, the original Fallen Angels was released without being completely developed, so exA-Arcadia may be its second chance at greatness. A game this beautiful deserves a place under the spotlight. If it returns in a definitive form with modern enhancements, The Fallen Angels may very well be the next huge fighting IP. It’s exhilarating stuff, kiddos.
From the very moment of its first reveal, I have been deeply invested in the exA-Arcadia saga. It promises a cost-effective, multigame platform for the world. And as it stands, exA is going to deliver. The lineup so far is beyond stellar—a little heavy on the shmups, but still fun as heck. At this point, there’s no reason why every arcade in the country shouldn’t purchase at least one exA cabinet. There’s something for everyone, from the littlest street venue to the biggest FEC. (And I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: If Dave and Buster’s doesn’t stock some exA games, I’ll be pretty much convinced they don’t want to support emerging talent.) To me, exA-Arcadia is not just the return of NEO-GEO-style upgrade kits. Rather, the platform is multiple exciting developments all wrapped into one enormous arcade revolution. We’ve all been complaining about overpriced cabinets, lack of genre diversity, and Japan-only releases for ages. exA was just like, “Bro, here’s the solution to literally all of your problems.” Even after having a year to digest the news, it’s still hard to believe something like exA-Arcadia exists in 2019. Suddenly, we’ve got shmups, fighters, sports, platformers, run-and-guns, RPGs, and party games all at our fingertips—at a time when most major developers can’t be bothered to make anything but rail shooters and racing games. Did I mention this is huge? But I suppose I can only ramble on for so long. JAEPO 2019 has come and gone, and in its wake we now have 12 new exA games. So yeah, I’d say that’s a win. We’ve still got a few months until its “Summer 2019-ish” release, but at least we know when it’s coming. (Naturally, I’ll be following the news every step of the way.) This, my friends, is the calm before the exA storm—the anxious prerelease waiting period. We know it’s gonna be massive; we just have to kill time until the carnage. No matter how short the duration may be, it’s still going to be agonizing. But when exA-Arcadia does drop, the entire arcade industry will breathe one collective sigh of relief. And it. Will. Be. Magnificent. Can you feel the magic in the air? Go make a sandwich and eat it.