Progear. There’s a lot to like about Capcom Arcade Stadium, and I’ll get to those in a moment, but first we need to talk about Progear. Originally released for arcades in 2001, this game is an important part of the legacy of the danmaku masters at Cave. It was their first side-scrolling shoot-’em-up, for one thing, but also a decidedly unique and charming game with an inventive scoring system, gorgeous sort-of-but-not-quite steampunk aesthetic (think Howl’s Moving Castle), and even an element of romance.
And yet, it’s a game that doesn’t seem to be well-known, or at least, it’s not one whose name comes up often. (I’m not an expert on the history of shmups by any means, but I’d never heard of it until Arcade Stadium came along, and I’m sure I’m not alone.) If not the whole cause, a lack of any sort of console ports is at least a contributing factor to Progear‘s obscurity: the only non-arcade releases have been for Japanese mid-2000s flip-phones and Capcom Home Arcade.
Until now. Progear is one of the 32 games available in Capcom Arcade Stadium, meaning that a historically important and wildly enjoyable classic has gone from being almost impossible to play through legal means to being readily available on one of today’s most popular consoles (with PS4, Xbox One, and PC releases to follow later, too).
The point of this little spiel isn’t just because I fucking love Progear (though I do fucking love Progear), but because it says a lot about the ethos driving Capcom Arcade Stadium. Sure, there are plenty of familiar names that have been part of just about every Capcom compilation to date, like Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Street Fighter II, but there are plenty of unexpected gems in the mix, too. Carrier Air Wing, 19XX: The War Against Destiny, and 1944: The Loop Master all make their console debuts in Arcade Stadium, while the likes of Giga Wing, Dynasty Wars, and CyberBots: Full Metal Madness get their first home release since the days of DreamCast and PlayStation.
In other words, Capcom Arcade Stadium is a compilation that finds just the right balance—between big names and hidden gems, between various genres, between different eras of Capcom’s arcade history. There are some noteworthy absences, like Street Fighter Alpha (despite three different versions of Street Fighter II) and Darkstalkers, and a few other obscurities that I’d have loved to see (will Red Earth ever get a console release?). There’s only so much you can include in one compilation, though, and Arcade Stadium gives a good cross section of Capcom history.
A virtual arcade acts as the backdrop to game selection. As you scroll through the list of games, the background view pans across a row of cabinets; pick the game you want to play, and you’ll “sit” in front of it. In the default view, this virtual arcade machine frames the game itself, and you can even move the camera around a little to take in the details or watch as the joystick and buttons move in response to your own button presses. It’s little more than a novelty, really, but a delightful one that captures a nostalgic view of the arcade heyday.
A bunch of unlockable cabinets keep the cosmetic rewards coming as you play different games and chase those high scores. If you want a clearer view of the action—the arcade view is fun, but not entirely practical—you can display the game itself with a variety of different filters and borders. The display can be rotated, too, which comes in handy for those vertical shooters especially.
In keeping with modern trends in retro collections, Capcom Arcade Stadium lets you save and load from anywhere, or rewind a bit at the press of a button. The rewind, in particular, is a great way to experience the challenge that most of these games pose, but without the frustration of having to keep retrying or even the relatively mild inconvenience of repeated saving and loading. Accidentally caught a stray bullet or missed a jump? Just hold the rewind button until you’re back to safety and try again.
One of Capcom Arcade Stadium‘s more unique twists on the retro collection is with its special challenges. As well as the standard high score and speedrun leaderboards (which you can’t use help features for, understandably—honest scores only), there’s an assortment of different time-limited challenges that rotate on a weekly basis. These vary from simple score-based challenges like reaching a certain minimum score to playing games under unusual conditions, like with the screen mirrored. These all have their own leaderboards, too, and while Arcade Stadium isn’t exactly a live service game, there’s an element of dynamic competition that sets it apart from your typical static leaderboard.
The lack of any sort of museum feature is a little disappointing. It’s always nice when these sorts of collections let you browse concept artwork, development notes, and such—fascinating documents that help to put the games in the collection into their historical context and shed a bit more light on how they came to be. Even without delving too deep, a gallery of arcade cabinet marquees and instruction panels would be a nice touch that fits nicely with the virtual arcade theme.
But even without a museum to sate that historian interest, Capcom Arcade Stadium is a fantastic compilation. The game list has a nice mix of familiar classics and hidden gems, with the usual quality of life touches, rotating special challenges to keep things fresh, and charming, nostalgic presentation. It’s also the collection that finally brought the bullet hell masterpiece Progear to console, and that alone is worth the price of admission.
Capcom Arcade Stadium is developed and published by Capcom. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed), and coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC at a later date.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.