Gamers of a particular age will know all too well the allure of amusement arcades back in the '80s and '90s. This was a time when the most technologically advanced titles weren't found in the home; instead, the bleeding edge of the industry was found in arcades, packed with the latest and greatest offerings from the likes of Sega, SNK, Konami, Capcom, Irem, Taito and many more besides (oh, and Nintendo, assuming the amusement centre you were in had a battered Donkey Kong cabinet in the corner).
If you're old enough to recall this period, then we really don't need to expand on that setting; if not, then take our word for it: it was magical. You could argue that, in the modern era, the social element of gaming has long since moved online (although the Switch is doing its bit to reverse that occurrence), but back in the age of arcades, if you wanted to prove your dominance at the newest titles, then you had no choice but to head out of the door with plenty of loose change in your pocket. Games like Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, King of Fighters and Mortal Kombat would allow you to test your skills against strangers who were close enough to hear you breathe (and perhaps whimper in fright). Respect was won (or sometimes lost) in close proximity to your adversary; something which seems a little odd in today's unashamedly global online arena.
It's this snapshot of the gaming history that Koch Media – under licence from Capcom – is hoping to capture with the quite frankly ludicrous Capcom Home Arcade system. We guess this product falls roughly into the same bracket as the SNES Classic Edition and Mega Drive Mini; it's a micro-console, but in name only – this thing is absolutely huge.
Capcom Home Arcade Review: The Hardware
It's impossible to overstate how big the Capcom Home Arcade is, in fact. Sure, you may be familiar with arcade sticks purchased for playing Street Fighter V on your PS4, but this is even bigger, thanks to the fact that it has two sets of controls. Designed to replicate the control panel of your typical '90s coin-op, the Capcom Home Arcade certainly lives up to its name. From the moment you rest your fingers on those Sanwa-made sticks and buttons, it feels familiar; comforting, almost. Arcade aficionados will know that Japanese company Sanwa is the gold standard when it comes to arcade componentry, so it goes without saying that the controls on this beast feel fantastic. The stick is accurate and emits a lovely click when pushed, while the buttons are responsive and have the perfect amount of travel.
During our review period, people would walk into the room and exclaim "what the heck is that thing" with puzzled looks on their faces
Even so, the unit's design is sure to divide opinion; it's a huge Capcom logo, after all – and about as far away from 'subtle' as you could get. During our review period, people would walk into the room and exclaim "what the heck is that thing" with puzzled looks on their faces. The Capcom Home Arcade sure does make a bold statement in purely physical terms; we're just not totally sure we know what that statement is. We love Capcom, perhaps? Still, we can't say we hated the look of the machine after a few hours; in fact, that familiar blue and yellow logo – an affinity for which has been built up over decades of playing NES, SNES, PlayStation, Saturn and (of course) arcade titles – triggers all kinds of good vibes whenever we see it, so perhaps Koch's design team is onto something here.
The Capcom Home Arcade comes with a generous 2.5m HDMI cable and a Micro USB cable of the same length; it's a shame that USB-C couldn't have been included, but you can't win them all. A power supply is also bundled with the device; while we've happily been able to run the likes of the SNES Classic and Mega Drive Mini from the USB sockets of our TV, the Capcom Home Arcade forced an 'over wattage error' to flash up on our Panasonic flatscreen television until the supplied PSU (which is basically a USB power block, like one you'd get with a smartphone) was used. Another set – a smaller Toshiba flat-panel – also refused to supply enough power to the unit, but we were able to get it working off a Mophie PowerStation PD portable battery. 2.5 meters of cable sounds like a lot, and for us, it was a comfortable distance away from the TV, but you may find that it's not long enough if you have a particularly large living room.
The other big issue, from a usability perspective, is that the Capcom Home Arcade is best suited to a flat, stable surface – just like the coin-op cabinets of old. It's perfectly possible to play it on your lap, but if you're playing solo then you've always got the issue of half of the controller dangling over your leg; a table is the best option if you can manage it. When you're playing with a friend, the unit doesn't feel quite wide enough; you'd better hope you're on good terms with the second player because you're going to be very snug with them during your Final Fight marathons.
You'd better hope you're on good terms with the second player because you're going to be very snug with them during your Final Fight marathons
Outside of the controls, all of the other important inputs are found on the top edge of the device, including the power button, HDMI port, Micro USB port and EXT USB port. The latter is a full-size port which is capable of accepting USB devices, but mysteriously, the instruction manual makes no mention of which are supported. We tried plugging in a Retro-Bit Mega Drive USB controller and it only detected two of the available eight buttons, but wouldn't pick up any inputs from the D-Pad at all. While your own mileage may vary, it seems like using the EXT port for additional pads (thereby getting around the issue of having to sit right next to someone when playing, or having to sit a certain distance from the TV) is a bit hit-and-miss at present. This port could also be used for (ahem) expanding the functions of the device, of course – in very much the same way that the NES and SNES Classics were 'enhanced' by hackers. Ahem.
From a physical standpoint, then, the Capcom Home Arcade is a tricky one to assess. It nails the feel of a proper arcade control panel, but removed from the sturdiness of a cabinet, it can sometimes be a bit awkward to use. This is balanced out by the fact that the sticks and buttons perform admirably; the bulk is arguably worth it when you consider how well these controls operate.
But there's more! Not only can you tinker around with the way the unit works on your TV, you can also connect it to the internet via WiFi in order to upload high scores and download system updates (our unit was on revision 1.3, the latest update, so we didn't need to do this). While there are currently no options to add scanlines to the picture, you can choose between 'Original' (4:3), 'Full' or 'Wide'. You can also apply a 'smooth' filter to these modes, but they look much, much better in their original pixel-rich form; in fact, the Capcom Home Arcade does an excellent job of scaling the image so even when set to 'Full' or 'Wide' modes, nothing looks too stretched or awkward. We actually preferred playing it in 'Full' mode as opposed to the more faithful 4:3 ratio (please don't judge us too harshly).
Emulation – which is apparently based on the excellent Final Burn Alpha emulator – is almost flawless. During play, games run at the correct speed (slowdown is even accurate to the original hardware) and without any visual issues. However, it's not quite perfect; during more than one game, we noticed the music would drop out for a second or so before resuming. This appears to be an issue at an emulation level, rather than a problem with the games – it happened on totally different titles, suggesting a system-wide (and apparently random) hiccup.
You can also connect it to the internet via WiFi in order to upload high scores and download system updates
The gameplay remained unaffected, so it's hardly a deal-breaker – and one would hope that a future firmware update will iron out this kink in what is an otherwise brilliant setup. The only other grumble we have is that to change any of the options, you have to pause the game (press 'Insert Coin' and 'Player 1 Start' at the same time) and drop back to the main menu, which reboots the entire system and makes you wait a few seconds. You then have to boot the game anew, which also generates a short period of loading. It's a shame the options couldn't be altered in-game, but that's a minor complaint.
A quick note on the emulator, which has been a bone of contention since the unit was announced in April this year. Koch stated initially that FB Alpha was being used, and one of its developers, Barry Harris, even suggested that it had been licenced by Capcom. However, almost immediately after this announcement, other members of the FB Alpha team – as well as individuals who had in some way contributed to what was supposed to be a non-commercial project – pointed out that FB Alpha was not Harris' to licence in the first place, and Koch dropped all mention of the emulator from its promotional materials. Other members of the FB Alpha team regrouped to release FB Neo, a new fork of the emulator.
Eurogamer's Digital Foundry team broached the subject with Koch a short while ago, and were told:
The software of the Capcom Home Arcade is at its core made up of a Linux base (mainline kernal 5.0). This controls low-level interaction with the hardware (video, sound, USB, WiFi, power drivers). The UI is a custom interface, built on top of the open-source Linux graphics toolkit (SDL). When a user selects a game to play from the UI a default version of RetroArch activates and it sets some configs for our hardware and software and then executes game emulation to run. The emulator software is provided by Barry Harris. Barry provided bespoke emulation for the Capcom Home Arcade based on our hardware and software specification with the objective of the 16 licensed Capcom games playing as authentically as they can.
That wording would suggest that Harris has supplied a revised emulator, but given his closeness to the FB Alpha project, it remains to be seen exactly how much is his own work. This will no doubt become clear as the unit makes its way into the hands of players who then dig a little deeper under the hood, but for now, Koch clearly feels confident enough from a legal perspective to sell the unit.
Capcom Home Arcade Review: The Games
Like its micro-console rivals, the Capcom Home Arcade comes pre-loaded with a selection of classic games which offer a good mix of Capcom's late-'80s and early-'90s arcade output, all powered by its CP System 1 and CP System 2 hardware. The complete list is as follows:
- Alien vs Predator
- Armored Warriors
- Captain Commando
- Final Fight
- Street Fighter 2: Hyper Fighting
- Mega Man The Power Battle
- 1944: The Loop Master
- Eco Fighters
- Giga Wing
- Capcom Sports Club
- Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
- Ghouls 'n' Ghosts
The big hitters include Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, Darkstalkers, Super Puzzle Fighter II, Final Fight, Strider and Ghouls 'n Ghosts – games that will be instantly familiar to most players and are sure to be those you make a beeline for the moment you turn on the machine. These are joined by the likes of 1944: The Loop Master, Eco Fighters, Captain Commando, Armored Warriors, Cyberbots, Capcom Sports Club and Mega Man: The Power Battle; games that are hardly famous names in the same vein as Street Fighter and Final Fight, but remain just as playable. The lineup is pretty solid, although we're not sure why Capcom opted for relatively early versions of Street Fighter II and Darkstalkers when more advanced editions are available.
Alien vs. Predator will, to some hardcore Capcom fans, be worth the price of admission alone
That brings us to what many will consider the crown jewels of this package: Aliens vs. Predator and Progear, two titles which are making their domestic debuts on this system. The first is a title which has gone down in arcade history as perhaps the best realisation of the epic 20th Century Fox crossover franchise; it calls upon Capcom's intimate knowledge of the side-scrolling action game to deliver a title which is just as playable as the likes of Final Fight and Streets of Rage 2. Never before available on any home system, Alien vs. Predator will, to some hardcore Capcom fans, be worth the price of admission alone.
Sure, side-scrolling combat titles intended for arcades are shallow and somewhat cheap, but there's no denying that this is a high point for the entire genre. If you were to buy the original arcade game on the secondary market today, you'd be looking at anywhere from £300 to £500 – and that doesn't include the CPS-2 hardware required to actually get the game running on your TV. It's noting, too, that CPS-2 games have built-in batteries which need to be replaced every few years by a trained professional; once these batteries die, the game is effectively useless (which is why collectors refer to them as 'suicide batteries').
Progear is perhaps even more famous amongst Capcom devotees; developed by the legendary Japanese shooter studio Cave, is it rightly regarded as one of the best horizontally-scrolling shmups ever made, and boasts some incredible 2D artwork which showcases the game's stunning steampunk design. The cost of buying a Progear arcade board is around £300 at the time of writing.
The cost of buying up all of the original CPS-based variants of these titles would easily run into the thousands
Now, it goes without saying that although all of the games included on the Capcom Home Arcade are officially licenced and above board, there are much cheaper means of playing these games than spending £200 on a gigantic arcade stick. CPS and CPS-2 are emulated almost perfectly by a wide range of free-available programs, and it doesn't take much snooping online to find a full list of Capcom arcade ROMs. It's naturally far from legal, but chances are, if you really wanted to find out what these games are like, you've already explored this avenue – perhaps even on something as small as your Android smartphone. The Capcom Home Arcade is basically the same thing; it's ROMs running on an ARM-based 'System on a chip' setup which is emulating the performance of the original CPS hardware.
None of this gets around the fact that downloading ROMs off the internet is a shady practice and, if you want the original creator of these titles to benefit, then Koch Media has at least given you the opportunity to do just that. Taken on that level, the Capcom Home Arcade could even be seen as something of a steal; the cost of buying up all of the original CPS-based variants of these titles would easily run into the thousands, and even if you take into account the fact that many of the games have been made available elsewhere (in fact, Final Fight, Armored Warriors and Captain Commando are all on the Capcom Beat 'Em Up Bundle, which is available on Switch for a fraction of the price), you're still getting Alien vs. Predator and Progear for a fraction of what the original arcade versions would cost. Whether or not that makes this a worthy purchase pretty much depends on how badly you want these games (and it's worth keeping in mind that Capcom may well make Alien vs. Predator and Progear available on digital storefronts sooner rather than later).
Capcom Home Arcade Review: The Verdict
The Capcom Home Arcade is the most ridiculous micro-console we've seen so far, even trumping the insane glory of the Neo Geo Mini. It's a monster of a device, and we're already having headaches thinking about where we're going to store it when it's not in use. It's also not quite perfect; the audio emulation needs some minor tweaking to prevent music drop-outs, and we feel that a lot of people will take issue with the form factor – not to mention the fact that you have to sit cheek-to-cheek with your fellow player when you're doubling-up. And the price? For £200 you could buy a Switch Lite.
Despite all of these points, the Capcom Home Arcade has had us glued to our TV for longer than we'd care to admit (Luigi's Mansion 3 has gone largely untouched since it arrived, we're ashamed to say). It's solidly built, the 16 game library showcases some real gems from Capcom's history and we love the fact that the dual-controls practically beg you to rope a second player in whenever possible. It's that social aspect of the arcade past which this device does such a fine job of recreating, and when you consider that two of the included games have never been seen in the home before (at least not officially, anyway), then it becomes clear that while the Capcom Home Arcade is very much a niche proposition, the small sector of the market it's aimed at will absolutely lap it up.
This article was originally published by nintendolife.com on Fri 1st November, 2019.