Krome Studios are the people behind the Game Room, the latest venture to spring from the Microsoft camp. The idea behind the Game Room is to give retro gamers the chance to relive their arcade glories in an emulation 70s and 80s heaven. The interface seems suitable retro, with 8 bit clunks and chip-like music, current titles within the game rooms are from early arcade machines, the Atari 2600 and the Intellvision.
Aged gamers will likely be able recognise all of these, but those not privy to gaming in the late seventies and early eighties can be forgiven for not being familiar with these legacy consoles. The Atari 2600 with its wooden veneer, adjourned many an earlier gamer’s living room, being one of the first consoles to support a swappable cartridge loading system. Teens looked on in awe at being able to play 101 different versions of Space Invaders, whilst parents peered on with disapproval. So not much has changed.
The first time you enter the Game Room, along with some easy gamerscore points (a thousand on offer in total), are sixteen tokens to spend in the arcade. This gives you the chance to try out the various cabinets before making a purchase decision. Further tokens can be obtained by friends visiting your arcade or having them play one of your game cabs, but despite being able to wonder in there only appears to be local multiplayer on those titles that support it.
With all the impressions given about how the retro fans would be able to wonder around the arcade, it’s really disappointing to find, in fact, that you can’t walk around the building in which the classics are housed. Rather you’re stuck to selecting a room whilst watching NPCs stumble about the place, and perhaps I’m getting old, but as great as the sound of old arcade machines blaring out is for the first few minutes, it gets really bloody tiring after that.
Sadly many of these nearly three decade old games are really showing their age, and even at 240 MSP it certainly wouldn’t be extraordinary to look twice before making a purchase, particularly given how easy (despite legal grey areas on emulation) it is to stumble across these things on the Internet. When you do select a room, it becomes another virtual menu of cabinets, many of which have none of the original artwork that covered these towering machines, attracting gamers to part with their ten pence pieces.
When a cabinet is selected a purchase menu gets displayed, giving you the chance of experiencing a game demo, purchasing a single go at a title, or taking the plunge and opting for the full game or a play anywhere licence (allowing for use on PC and Xbox360). It is possible to try out all the games once for free; the tokens gained can be used for further trial goes until they run out. This does mean it’s impossible to try all the different games on offer more than once unless you have a few mates, or decide that the cost of full purchase is worth the experience.
Once within the game there are some basic options for adjusting graphics, being able to scale the X and Y axis, or applying some filtering – though there’s nothing here that won’t already be familiar to those who previously dived into emulation via alternative means. There are also options to find out some history about the various gaming systems, informing the inquisitive joystick jockey that the Atari 2600 (or VCS as it was also known) arrived into the world in October 1977.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of all is the Time Machine. No, this doesn’t provide a Delorean to take you back to 1966, but it does allow, for those games that support it at least, to rewind time in the game to a particular point, should you decide you made an error or unexpected turn.
I really wanted to like Game Room, I tried really hard – but it fails to live up to the promises it made. No PSN Home like freedom of movement, no original artwork and even at 240 MSPs, many of the titles on offer don’t seem like much value for money when the chances are you’ll be bored of them after five minutes – particularly when it comes to Intellvision and and Atari 2600 games. The current selection of titles is very uninspiring – even throwing in the original Space Invaders would have been more of an initial pull for its video game history, despite its age.
All is not lost though, this is but the first outing with promises of adding more titles every week, until then you might be better off being naughty and sticking with MAME.