While it was no great surprise to see the likes of Sega, SNK and Konami follow Nintendo's example and create 'mini classic' micro-consoles based on their past hardware successes, Taito's emergence into this scene was somewhat more unusual.
The company – now wholly owned by Square Enix – never created a home system (although it did have plans), and was more famous for its arcade releases. Therefore, its micro-console was effectively a mini-arcade unit (very much like SNK's Neo Geo Mini and Sega's Astro City Mini) which came with one secret weapon – a rotating screen which allowed it to host both landscape and portrait (or 'TATE') mode games.
We liked the Egret II Mini a lot, even though Taito's wider arcade library is perhaps a little less well-known than Sega's or Capcom's. When the system was launched, it came alongside a special trackball/paddle controller, which allowed for more faithful recreations of titles like Cameltry and Puchi Carat, as these relied on specialist interfaces in their original arcade form. With this controller came an SD card containing the supported games – a clever solution to adding more titles to the Egret II Mini.
Now, Taito is back with the first stand-alone collection of titles, dubbed Arcade Memories Vol. 1. 10 games are included here, again delivered via a full-size SD card, which slots into the side of the Egret II Mini.
The included games are:
- Great Swordsman (1984)
- Ohgon No Siro/Great Gurianos/Gladiator (1986)
- Slap Fight/Alcon (1986)
- Daisenpuu/Twin Hawk (1989)
- PuLiRuLa (1991)
- Grid Seeker: Project Storm Hammer (1992)
- Riding Fight (1992)
- Light Bringer/Dungeon Magic (1993)
- Gekirindan (1995)
- Cleopatra Fortune (1996)
Out of those games, the ones that really stick out are Slap Fight, Twin Hawk, PuLiRuLa, Gekirindan and Cleopatra Fortune – and three of those are vertically-scrolling shmups which make good use of the Egret II Mini's aforementioned TATE mode. Your own 'highlights' may vary, of course, but we can't imagine many people will sink any amount of time into Great Swordsman and Gladiator, which are a little dated. 1992's Grid Seeker is also somewhat forgettable – especially when compared to Taito's other more notable shooters – but outside of that trio, the selection here is pretty strong.
One game that surprised us is the "Front View Speed Action Game" Riding Fight, which – and we hold our hands up here – we'd never even heard of before. Best described as a fusion of F-Zero's Mode-7 visuals and Final Fight's combat, it's more like a tech demo than a real game; you ride a hoverboard whilst engaging in fisticuffs with foes as the scenery speeds past thanks to some neat scaling. The 'fake 3D' nature of the game makes it tricky to actually land blows on your enemies, but the whole thing is such a spectacle that you can't help but come away impressed.
We did notice some occasional audio stutters on a couple of the games, but otherwise, emulation is decent. Also included is a 32-page A4 strategy book called Dengeki Taito Station Vol. 2, which contains information on each game as well as interviews with key staffers – all of which is naturally in Japanese, and won't be all that useful unless you happen to have a grasp of the language. You also get a set of instruction cards which are designed to slide into the transparent plastic marquee holder that bolts onto the top of the Egret II Mini.
Given that its rivals are expecting fans to shell out cash for entirely new systems to expand their game library, it's refreshing that Taito has chosen to adopt a more wallet-friendly expansion method via these individual collections. The only reservation we have is the cost; at around 8000 yen (around £47 / $60), this is quite a pricey proposition – and that's before you take into account that some online resellers are charging almost twice that figure.
Even so, we're keen to see where Taito goes next with its Arcade Memories series, and love the fact that we've been given the excuse to dust off the Egret II Mini for some more action.
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