The Best Arcade Machine is a PlayStation 2

The Best Arcade Machine is a PlayStation 2

If you're not interested in messing around with MAME, or just want a simple console solution to your retro arcade needs, look no further than a humble PlayStation 2. Here's why.

Over the last decade or so as we've moved from generation to generation, arcade game compilations seem to have gone out of fashion. Perhaps not because players haven't wanted to buy them – but more because companies have realized that their classic coin-ops make ideal fodder for microtransactions.

Maybe that might change this generation, but for now, the PlayStation 2 remains king of the coin-op compilations. The world's best-selling console of all time boasts an impressive range of top-tier anthologies packed some of the greatest arcade games of all time. Nowadays, these collections can be bought for a as little as $5 each on eBay. That means if you have an old PS2 gathering dust, you could give it a second lease of life by making it a dedicated arcade machine for very little cost. Add in a PS2/HDMI converter to upscale these old classics to a modern TV, and you have a perfect living room arcade setup.

And before anyone mentions it, yes. You can indeed play all this stuff on MAME. If you want to do that, go ahead. The point of this article is to celebrate arcade compilations, and by virtue, the PlayStation 2. I also like the fact that many of these compilations contain games that you might not know, or would never think of playing – and that's what I believe is the real value here. Anyway, to me it's a great excuse to keep my PS2 under my TV. Visitors often ask why it's there, and when they learn the answer, we end up firing it up and playing a bunch of their old favorite arcade games.

So which old classics are available on PS2? All of them are listed below. Oh, and if I'm missing anything, please let me know so I can update this article.

Midway Arcade Treasures Volume 1

  • Blaster
  • Bubbles
  • Defender
  • Gauntlet (up to 4 players)
  • Joust
  • Joust II
  • Klax
  • Marble Madness
  • Paperboy
  • Rampage (up to 3 players)
  • Rampart (up to 3 players)
  • Roadblasters
  • Robotron 2084
  • Root Beer Tapper
  • Satan's Hollow
  • 720
  • Sinistar
  • Smash TV
  • Splat
  • Spy Hunter
  • Stargate
  • Super Sprint (up to 3 players)
  • Toobin'
  • Vindicators

Verdict: Perhaps the holy grail of arcade collections, but as common as a paper cup, this compilation features some of the greatest games from the Golden Age of Arcades. Atari's System 2 games are standout representatives of mid-80's arcade history, while the Williams games are all highly influential coin-ops from the very early years of arcades.

The PS2's dual joystick makes playing Robotron 2084 one of the most authentic experiences you can have outside of the coin-op, and Marble Madness is still surprisingly fresh and playable. Rampart is tricky to play, but still extremely fun. It's essentially the progenitor tower defense game. But that trio is a mere aperitif to the rest of the games here. Pick any of them. You just can't go wrong.

If you're looking to collect the best arcade compilations, Midway Arcade Treasures Volume 1 is where you should begin – and it'll cost you around $5 if you look around.

Rating: 5/5

Midway Arcade Treasures Volume 2

  • Rampage World Tour
  • Mortal Kombat II
  • Mortal Kombat III
  • Gauntlet II
  • Pit Fighter
  • Primal Rage
  • Hard Drivin'
  • Kozmik Krooz'r
  • Narc
  • Championship Sprint
  • Cyberball 2072
  • Spy Hunter II
  • Arch Rivals
  • Wacko
  • Total Carnage
  • A.P.B.
  • Wizard of Wor
  • Timber
  • Xenophobe
  • Xybots

Verdict: This feels like a second-string selection, but only because Volume 1 is so damn good. In terms of standout games, Total Carnage packs some intense Robotron-style action, and Gauntlet II continues the high-quality dungeon-crawling introduced by its predecessor. Arch Rivals is entertaining, and essentially paved the way for the 1993 classic, NBA Jam. Timber is stupid, but is surprisingly entertaining. Narc is notable for having some of the earliest digitized graphics seen in a game, but it hasn't aged well. It wasn't a looker back in the 80's, and it looks even more fugly now.

There's also A.P.B., Xybots and Cyberball, all of which are worth a second play, and Hard Drivin' should be checked out if only to see what a cutting-edge driving simulation looked like in the mid-80's. The Mortal Kombat games are also quite strong, and there's Pit Fighter and Primal Rage if you just can't get enough early 90's digitized fighting game action.

See. Not bad at all, really.

Rating: 4/5

    Midway Arcade Treasures Volume 3

  • Badlands
  • Offroad Thunder
  • Race Drivin'
  • San Francisco Rush the Rock: Alcatraz Edition
  • S.T.U.N. Runner
  • Super Off Road (including its upgrade/add-on pack, Super Off Road Track Pack)
  • Hydro Thunder (console version)
  • San Francisco Rush 2049 (console version)

Verdict: This one's for completists only. Both Hydro Thunder and San Francisco Rush 2049 aren't actually the arcade originals – the former is the PlayStation version, while the latter is a port of the Dreamcast game. That leaves a fairly meager selection of leftovers. San Francisco Rush the Rock: Alcatraz Edition is the standout game of this compilation, but it doesn't have to do much standing out to shine amongst this rather dull selection.

S.T.U.N. Runner is a runner-up in terms of something worth a quick play. It was sensational for its time, but now feels pretty clunky. Offroad Thunder offers some, albeit limited fun, but it feels dated now. Rather like almost everything on this compilation.

Pretty weak stuff overall.

Rating: 1.5/5

    Capcom Classics Volume 1

  • 1942
  • 1943: The Battle of Midway
  • 1943 Kai
  • Bionic Commando
  • Commando
  • Exed Exes
  • Final Fight
  • Forgotten Worlds
  • Ghosts 'n' Goblins
  • Ghouls 'n' Ghosts
  • Gun.Smoke
  • Legendary Wings
  • Mercs
  • Pirate Ship Higemaru
  • Section Z
  • SonSon
  • Street Fighter II
  • Street Fighter II: Champion Edition
  • Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Ghouls 'n' Ghosts
  • Trojan
  • Vulgus

Verdict: One of the best arcade compilations out there, this winning array of coin-ops spans a huge selection of game types.

There's a trio of top-tier fighting games, a variety of killer shooters, classic run-and-gunners, legendary platformers, an awesome side-scrolling beat 'em up, and that's only the half of it. Ultimately, Capcom Classics Volume 1 is a testament to the creativity and imagination of the designers working at Capcom during the 80's and 90's. True visionaries.

A stellar package that contains a wealth of great games with great gameplay, and – let's not forget – some great tunes too.

Rating: 5/5

    Capcom Classics Volume 2

  • 1941: Counter Attack
  • Avengers
  • Black Tiger
  • Block Block
  • Captain Commando
  • Eco Fighters
  • The King of Dragons
  • Knights of the Round
  • Last Duel
  • Magic Sword
  • Mega Twins
  • Quiz and Dragons: Capcom Quiz Game
  • Side Arms Hyper Dyne
  • Street Fighter
  • Strider
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo
  • The Speed Rumbler
  • Three Wonders
  • Tiger Road
  • Varth: Operation Thunderstorm

Verdict: After going all-out for their first compilation, Capcom's second feels more like an also-ran. But that's mostly because many of these games are obscure rarities that most Western players know little about. Many are still fun to play – and can be quite a revelation if you never played them the first time around.

In terms of standouts, King of Dragons, Knights of the Round, and Magic Sword are all interesting oddities that are well worth a look. And Strider really shouldn't be missed.

But really, this compilation is all about discovery. There's bound to be at least a few games that you won't have played before, and the chances are you'll have plenty of fun playing them.

Rating: 3.5/5

    Namco Museum 50th Anniversary

  • Pac-Man
  • Ms. Pac-Man
  • Pac-Mania
  • Galaga
  • Galaga 88
  • Galaxian
  • Dig Dug
  • Pole Position
  • Pole Position II
  • Rolling Thunder
  • Rally X
  • Bosconian
  • Dragon Spirit
  • Sky Kid
  • Xevious
  • Mappy

Verdict: Another must-have compilation, Namco Museum rounds up a who's who of key titles from the early days of the Golden Age of Arcades. Some of the games are definitely feeling their age at this point, but then this is history – and many of these games are trailblazers. The first maze games, the first vertically scrolling shooter, and the first modern age racing game can all be found here, amongst plenty of other good stuff.

Galaga 88 still provides some highly challenging and entertaining gameplay, while the Pac-games are all timeless classics. Rolling Thunder, stands out as feeling surprisingly fresh and sophisticated. However, it's challenging too – like most old arcade games tend to be.

Ultimately, Namco Museum is a must-have.

Rating: 5/5

SNK Arcade Classics

  • Art of Fighting
  • Baseball Stars 2
  • Burning Fight
  • Fatal Fury: King of Fighters
  • King of the Monsters
  • Last Resort
  • Magician Lord
  • Metal Slug
  • Neo Turf Masters
  • Samurai Shodown
  • Sengoku
  • Shock Troopers
  • Super Sidekicks 3: The Next Glory
  • The King of Fighters '94
  • Top Hunter: Roddy and Cathy
  • World Heroes

Verdict: Who needs a Neo Geo when you basically have its very best titles all on one convenient PS2 CD? SNK Arcade Classics showcases what Neo Geo arcade games were all about in the early to mid 90's. Neo Turf Masters, Baseball Stars and Super Sidekicks are reminders of how fun arcade sports games can be, and a special shout-out goes to Top Hunter: Roddy and Cathy, which is like Metal Slug meets Bionic Commando, and is as crazy as it sounds.

And then there's all the fighting games. You really have to look hard to find a game on this compilation that isn't worth your time. Even the wobbly, bonkers King of the Monsters is a good laugh!

Rating: 4.5/5

    Taito Legends Volume 1

  • Space Invaders
  • Space Invaders Part II
  • Phoenix
  • Bubble Bobble
  • Elevator Action
  • Rastan
  • The New Zealand Story
  • Plotting
  • PuLiRuLa
  • Jungle Hunt
  • Operation Wolf
  • Operation Thunderbolt
  • Rainbow Islands
  • Colony 7
  • Zoo Keeper
  • Great Swordsman
  • Gladiator
  • Exzisus
  • Plump Pop
  • Super Qix
  • Battle Shark
  • Continental Circus
  • Volfied
  • Ninja Kids
  • ThunderFox
  • Return of the Invaders
  • Tokio

Verdict: It says "legends" on the box, and it's not lying. This compilation is packed to the gills with all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff. Bubble Bobble is one of the all-time greats, and Rainbow Islands is one notch above it. If you want to remind yourself where Call of Duty and the rest of its ilk come from, there's crusty old Operation Wolf to remind you. And there's a trio of Space Invaders games if you want to go back to the very dawn of gaming history and walk amongst the arcade dinosaurs.

What makes this compilation fun, though, is all the weird stuff you might not have played before, like the esoteric Super Qix, Battle Shark, and Plump Pop. All of those are great entertainment, rather like everything else on this anthology.

Rating: 5/5

Taito Legends Volume 2

  • Alpine Ski
  • Arabian Magic
  • Bonze Adventure
  • Cameltry
  • Chack 'n Pop
  • Cleopatra Fortune
  • Crazy Balloon
  • Darius Gaiden
  • Don Doko Don
  • Dungeon Magic
  • Elevator Action Returns
  • The Fairyland Story
  • Football Champ
  • Front Line
  • Gekirindan
  • Grid Seeker: Project Storm Hammer
  • Growl
  • Gun Frontier
  • Insector X
  • KiKi KaiKai
  • Kuri Kinton
  • The Legend of Kage
  • Liquid Kids
  • Lunar Rescue
  • Metal Black
  • Nastar Warrior
  • Puchi Carat
  • Puzzle Bobble 2
  • Qix
  • Raimais
  • Space Invaders '95
  • Space Invaders DX
  • Super Space Invaders '91
  • Violence Fight
  • Balloon Bomber
  • G-Darius
  • RayStorm
  • Syvalion

Verdict: Nowhere near as legendary as the first compilation, but it certainly packs a huge number of games.

Like its predecessor, Taito Legends Volume 2 features a heap of rather obscure stuff, but that's what makes it worth buying. Recognizable games like the trio of Space Invaders titles, Puzzle Bobble, G-Darius, Elevator Action Returns, and Qix stand out amongst a crowd of weird and wonderful stuff you've probably never heard of. KiKi KaiKai is a great example of a bizarre run and gunner, while Puchi Carat mixes Puzzle Bobble and Arkanoid rather well.

Perhaps my favorite game on the compilation, however, is Chack 'n Pop, a Bubble Bobble spin-off that borrows much of the gameplay and graphics from that game, but adds a new hero that has different abilities. It's really good fun.

This compilation is definitely worth a punt. You'll get value for money out of it simply by playing the stuff you've never seen before.

Rating: 4/5

Atari Anthology

  • Asteroids
  • Asteroids Deluxe
  • Battlezone
  • Black Widow
  • Centipede
  • Crystal Castles
  • Gravitar
  • Liberator
  • Lunar Lander
  • Major Havoc
  • Millipede
  • Missile Command
  • Pong
  • Red Baron
  • Space Duel
  • Super Breakout
  • Tempest
  • Warlords

Verdict: Another definitive collection of early classics, Atari Anthology also features more than 60 2600 Games as way of a bonus.

There's little to say about this collection, simply because almost all these games are so well known, but there are still a few unusual ones. Space Duel is a really interesting two-player take on Space Wars, while Crystal Castles is brilliant, but disappointingly difficult to play using a joypad (because the original featured a trackball). Red Baron is particularly notable. Perhaps the first arcade flight combat sim, it tried to do for World War One biplanes what Battlezone did for tanks. Unfortunately, it wasn't particularly successful, unlike its megabuck-generating counterpart.

You know them already, but it's always worth having a quick gander at Pong and Super Breakout; pre-Space Invader relics that helped kickstart the gaming industry. Play them both just to see how far we've come.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tecmo Hit Parade

  • Mighty Bomb Jack
  • Pinball Action
  • Pleiades
  • Senjyo
  • Solomon's Key
  • Star Force
  • Tecmo World Cup

Verdict: Frustratingly, this arcade compilation was only released in Japan. It's nothing special, although for me, Bomb Jack, Solomon's Key, and Star Force would be worth the price of admission alone. Well, it would be if the compilation cost around the same price as everything else on this list. However, its rarity makes it highly desirable amongst collectors, and because of that, the average price for a copy is somewhere around $80.

Yikes!

Rating: 3.5/5

    Pinball Hall of Fame: Gottlieb Collection

  • Play-Boy (1932)
  • Ace High (1957)
  • Central Park (1966)
  • Big Shot (1973)
  • Genie (1979)
  • Black Hole (1981)
  • Victory (1987)
  • Tee'd Off (1993)

Verdict: Surprised? Well, pinball machines are arcade games too, so I'm including two pinball compilations in this feature.

First up is Gottlieb's collection, which is basically a tour of the company's most historically significant pin tables – going all the way back to the highly influential 1932 game, Play-Boy. There are three other purely mechanical games in this collection, and four modern era machines, though the 1979 Genie only just about qualifies as being a latter-day table.

Taken at face value, this compilation looks of marginal interest, but if you're interested in pin tables that are historically significant, this is well worth a buy.

Rating: 4/5

Pinball Hall of Fame: Williams Collection

  • Gorgar (1979)
  • Space Shuttle (1984)
  • Pin*Bot (1986)
  • Taxi (1988)
  • Black Knight(1980)
  • Firepower (1980)
  • Funhouse (1990)
  • Whirlwind (1990)

Verdict: Boasting some of the all-time pinball greats, this Williams collection is an absolute must for pinball fans – and well worth checking out if you have little pinballing experience, but want to know what the fuss is all about.

Whirlwind and Funhouse in particular showcase how sophisticated and downright crazy pinball machines had gotten by 1990 as they tried to compete with ever-evolving video games for players' quarters. Both machines have playfields littered with mechanical doubries and gizmos that you need to hit to set off special events – and multiball play.

Pin*Bot and Black Knight hearken back to simpler times. They're less sophisticated tables than those from the modern day, but they still offer a terrific challenge and require precise aim to master them.

Rating: 4.5/5

Others

If you're a really OCD collector, there are other compilations worth checking out too. These are all game-specific, and a few of the games below are available on the collections outlined above.

Street Fighter Anniversary Collection: There are not one, but two different Street Fighter compilations.

This one compiles all prior Street Fighter II games into one single game, and gives you the chance to pit different versions of characters from each game against one another. The CD also contains Street Fighter III: Third Strike. An essential purchase for Street Fighter fans.

Street Fighter Alpha Collection: This one features Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Street Fighter Alpha 3, plus a remixed version of Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, which was only available on consoles and never as an arcade game.

Lastly, the CD includes the PlayStation game, Pocket Fighter, which is also known as Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix. Pretty good value for money.

Fatal Fury Battle Archives: There are two of these. Vol. 1 collects the first four games in the series, while Vol. 2 features Real Bout Fatal Fury, Real Bout Fatal Fury Special and Real Bout Fatal Fury 2 – The Newcomers. There's not a bad fighter on either of these compilations.

Metal Slug Anthology: If you can't get enough of Metal Slug, this compilation should fill you close to bursting. Not only does it feature Metal Slugs one to six, but it also includes Metal Slug X, which was released between two and three.

King of Fighters Orochi Saga: If you're a King of Fighters fan, this compilation features some of the best games in the series.

The headliners are the trio of titles that make up the Orochi Saga – King of Fighters '95, '96 and '97. Also included are King of Fighters '94 and King of Fighters '98: Dream Match Never Ends.

Samurai Shodown Anthology:If want more than just the original Samurai Shodown that's available on the SNK Arcade Classics set, step this way. This Anthology includes the other five games in the series – the sixth of which was never released in the US as a standalone title.

World Heroes Anthology: An excellent compilation for fans of this SNK series, this set features World Heroes, World Heroes 2, World Heroes Jet, and World Heroes Perfect.

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