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I’m an absolute sucker for both mini-consoles and old arcade games, so when the Taito Egret II Mini was announced, I knew I had to have one. This diminutive desktop cab came packed with 40 built-in games from Taito’s celebrated coin-op past, including The NewZealand Story, Space Invaders and Bubble Bobble, and its flip-around monitor was a stroke of genius, making vertical shooters fit neatly into the screen’s dimensions. You can read all about the Egret II Mini here - but while it’s undoubtedly a wonderful piece of hardware, its RRP of 200 euros for the most basic package definitely put it beyond the budget of many who’d love to play these games again, or even for the first time.
Which is where Taito Milestones should come in. This collection of 10 titles from 1981 to 1987 just came out for the Nintendo Switch for significantly less than the Egret’s wallet-testing asking price. Which you’d expect, obviously. What you might not is that this is still £35 in the UK, and $35 in the States (which makes no exchange rate sense at all, but we’re used to this by now, aren’t we), which does feel like a lot given the age of these games and the fairly bare-bones presentation of the compilation. The games all run fine, no worries there, and they look crisp as can be, especially on the Switch OLED screen - but there’s no extras to speak of beyond a single save state per game, button remapping and online rankings. No galleries, no little making-of notes to bring background to these archaic but often fun experiences. It feels like the opportunity to celebrate some history has been missed.
Check out all ten of Taito Milestones’ games in the trailer below
They’re "powered", says the title screen, by Hamster’s Arcade Archives, which is a name you may have seen when browsing the eShop. Which is another problem with this set, alongside the cost. Browse a little closer and you’ll see that seven of these ten games are available right now on the eShop, individually - the only titles that are exclusive here, for now at least, are the admittedly brilliant territory-claiming puzzler Qix (start playing that and it’s hard to put it down, even with some painful sound effects - it is from 1981, so let’s cut it some slack); the garishly coloured but satisfyingly action-packed shooter Space Seeker (also dating from 1981); and 1984’s Bubble Bobble prequel (of sorts) Chack’N Pop. Maybe the three of those make Milestones worth the money for you; but since the Arcade Archive releases tend to sell for around six quid normally, and are regularly reduced, I imagine many Taito fans would prefer to pick their favourites that way rather than opt for this release.
That said, the eShop is famous for its sales, and if Taito Milestones was to get, say, 35 or 40 percent off sometime soon, suddenly it’s looking a lot more attractive. There are some really terrific games here - some of which are also on the Egret II Mini, and some of which are not. Halley’s Comet is a vertical shooter that appears both here and on Taito’s desktop device, and is a frantic mix of traditional sci-fi blasting and Missile Command-like destruction of incoming comets heading towards Earth and other planets, with the massive tail-dragging lad of the game’s title awaiting at each level’s end. The FairyLand Story is a proto-Bubble Bobble where the magical protagonist doesn’t trap her enemies in bubbles, but transforms them into cakes. As you do. It’s also on the Egret II, but really suits short bursts of handheld play.
Then there’s The Ninja Warriors, a bright and bloody side-scrolling slash ‘em up that came out in 1987 and is Milestones’ most recent inclusion. Its absence was keenly felt on the Egret II Mini - perhaps its super-widescreen presentation (seriously, Google the original arcade cab and marvel at its triple-width display) played against it - so it’s great to have it in this collection. I used to have the Amiga port of this as a kid, and I played it to death (by which I mean the death of my android ninja, as I could never finish the game), so having the original arcade version in my hands is a thrill. Seeing my ninja’s clothes and metal ‘skin’ strip away as they’re battered is both sorta gross and exceptionally cool, and the very adult-feeling splashes of crimson and cries of dying enemies make it clear why this was such a hit with players in the 1980s.
The four remaining titles completing Taito Milestones are Elevator Action, Wild Western, Alpine Ski and Front Line, and they’re all showing their age in different ways. It’s a mystery why other late 1970s and 1980s releases that did so much for Taito’s worldwide reputation - games like Space Invaders, The Legend of Kage, Bubble Bobble and Arkanoid - aren’t included here, as their presence would not only make that RRP a lot easier to swallow, but they’re such a massive part of this developer’s history. They are more significant milestones, and a lot more enjoyable today, than the play-once-and-forget retro frolics of Wild Western and Front Line. The omission of the legendary horizontal shooter Darius might have something to do with its inclusion on 2020’s Cozmic Collection compilation - but could the 1987 original not have been squeezed in here, at least?
There’s no ‘Volume 1’ subtitle on Taito Milestones, nor does the title specify the years 1981 to 1987, so quite what the logic is behind bringing this particular group of games together, I don’t know - especially given so many of them are already on the eShop. If you have the Egret II Mini and your love for Taito knows few bounds, Milestones is a decent way to take some arcade classics on the go with you. But for anyone with more of a casual interest in gaming history, the lightest of enthusiasm for exploring the arcade roots of what we play today, this is one that’s best left for a discount.
Taito Milestones is available now for Nintendo Switch. Code for this coverage provided by the publisher.
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