One of the really nice things about modern gaming with digital downloads, retro ports, and emulations is that you can play old games from before your time or even birth in many cases without having to buy an old piece of equipment that won’t even connect to a current market TV. It makes me really happy to be reviewing Arcade Archives MAGMAX on the PS4. What’s old is new again. This current version of the classic arcade game from 1985 is a true recreation of the original experience but with all the bells and whistles of the current generation of gaming. It is truly an honor to be given the opportunity to review games like this one.
MAGMAX is a classic style endless shooter. We’re talking one constantly moving stage with no breaks, unlimited ammo, and high score being the only recorded stat. At the same time, this PS4 version allows a lot of alterations. For instance, you can change the screen size and ratio to whatever you see fit up to a certain limit. Even at max, I was not able to achieve full screen play on my TV, but I did get pretty close. Certainly close enough to enjoy the game just as well as any windowed PC game. You can even change the orientation/direction of the screen, making it play in whatever of the four directions you want. Left to right is the standard though. The graphics aren’t bad for the time period. It’s all flat objects, but many of them have the appearance of 3D. The buildings and body upgrades especially. The game has three backgrounds throughout the course of the entire experience. The first is a grass field where you start each round, the second is the underground cave which always looks the same, and lastly the desert. After you’ve traveled a certain distance, the field becomes the desert in a very obvious transitional line.
There are a number of interactive aspects in the game that set the atmosphere as well as directly affect the gameplay. Several different types of enemies, lethal stationary obstacles such as fire, falling rocks, and buildings, and of course your laser beams. I would describe the graphics as getting near Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1988). The explosions are ok, the enemies come in a variety of shapes, and the playable mech looks pretty good with basically no lag. The HUD is just your lives as pictures of the playable basic vehicle in the bottom left corner and bit style block characters for the current and high score at the top of screen. The futuristic robot apocalypse setting is easily identified, but underwhelming. The best part of the graphics is the playable character when in full mech form. The menus consist of a mixture of both the original arcade options and newly created PS4 menus for certain modern conveniences like changing the window size and such. All in all the graphics are good, but dated and limited in the amount of content.
The gameplay has a few special elements, but at the end of the day it’s really just Galaga from left to right with a bit less uniformity to the enemies. You control a tank, which is actually the head of a full body mech. You constantly move forward from left to right, but can move around the level in any way you want as the whole thing moves forward. While moving you can shoot. You have unlimited ammo but your rate of fire is based on how fast you can hit the button with a slight delay. Or at least it was if you want to play it the way it was built for the arcade. On this PS4 version you have the option of toggling on auto-fire which makes it so you can rapid fire by holding down the O button or whatever button you want because the game allows for full button customization. While moving forward you will occasionally see holes. These are optional. If you run over one before it closes it will transport you underground, or back up if you’re already underground. The gameplay doesn’t change but the enemies, background, and obstacles do. Being underground has no difference compared to above ground when it comes to score or available items.
There are only three collectible items in the game. As I stated before, you play as the head of a full-sized mech. The collectible items are additional parts for this mech. You can collect a torso and legs. The order that you collect these doesn’t matter because you can use either of the two parts singular or both as a whole. You cannot collect the same part while you already have it though. Each part adds a cannon to your total firepower. If you have the torso then you can also collect a gun upgrade. This is the only thing that’s affected by whether you’re above or below ground. When above, the special gun shoots a line that works kind of like bat that just kills enemies it hits on impact. When below, it’s just another gun, which in my opinion is inferior to the normal one. The special gun takes the place of one of your center normal gun.
There’s really not much to the gameplay. You start with two lives and just keep moving forward, killing as many enemies as you can to build up your score, until you die. After a certain distance the level will change from grass to desert and then eventually you will meet up with a pretty easy to beat three-headed, metal dragon boss. Once you beat him the game just keeps going till you die allowing you to rack up more points. I don’t think there are any other bosses. If there are then I wasn’t able to get to them. I actually really enjoyed the gameplay. There were a few stray deaths I didn’t agree with and it’s pretty repetitive like all old games, but the building up your mech thing really works well in this game. There are a number of options you can fiddle around with to make the game more or less challenging such as setting how many points must be earned to get another life. You can also choose between two difficulties.
The sound is not bad for a port from 1985. The music is good, but very limited. There’s like one or two songs total including in menu plus a little boss tone. The sound effects are pretty standard for 80’s arcades. Shooting, blowing stuff up, dying, and picking up items. Definitely at PS4 level when it comes to sound quality, but not sound variety.
Like with most retro games, there is a very insignificant amount of background writing which lets you know that a story was in mind when the game was made, but when it translates to how it actually affects the game the writing is negligible. If you Google the game you will see a lot of plot stuff which comes from God knows where, but all the game gives you is “Progress through each stage with the Control Variable Mech – Magmax and destroy the awaiting Bizarre Mech – Babylon.” That’s the plot of the game shown in the digital PS4 manual. Basically no points for writing.
Like with most old games, the only true replay value comes from playing for the high score. There is an online ranking but good luck with that because the top 60 positions are taken by Japanese players and the top 100 are solely Japanese and American. I’m currently ranked 415th. There are trophies, but it’s a joke because you can get literally all 9 in one playthrough in less than 20 minutes if you know what you’re doing. The only one that’s gameplay related is to beat the local high score of 68000 points. All the other trophies are for accessing the various menus and posting a score to the online leaderboard. Fastest 100% completion I’ve ever gotten in my life. If you don’t care about the online rankings then this game isn’t really worth your time. It’s fun but not $8 fun. You’ll never get eight hours of play from this game. I didn’t even put in an hour because I beat the boss so quickly and then there’s really no reason to keep playing.
Arcade Archives MAGMAX is a good game. It’s a well done port and I was happy to play it. But it’s just not worth paying $8 for. Sony really needs to get their retro pricing in order with this and all other older gen titles because unless we’re talking about a classic like The Simpsons Arcade Game (1991) or something timeless they just aren’t worth these prices. I’m gonna have to say pass on MAGMAX but only because of the price to playtime value ratio. Otherwise it’s a solid, albeit short experience.
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