Does anyone else remember seeing those plug n play consoles in stores as a kid? You know, the ones that boldly advertise dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of games, many of which are actually bootlegs of each other or popular arcade games? Getting one of those is kind of strange; you have no idea what a given game is going to be about until you crack it open. It’s not like there’s documentation or anything for all 200,000 or whatever, and even if games 201-200,000 are actually all super contra, well. At least you have super contra to play, right?
Taito Milestones is a bit like that. The good news is that it’s only a bit- it’s a collection of 10 arcade games bundled into a single application. They’re definitely no classic arcade standbys well known as Pac-Man, Frogger, or even Q*Bert, but there’s definitely some good games here. I don’t have time to delve all the way through all of them (these are classic arcade quarter munchers! They’re designed to be difficult and take several plays to really learn) but I’ll do my best to cover them all.
Before we get into that though, I’d like to mention a few other features. Each game comes with a manual, as well as a settings menu that lets you adjust some settings that the classic cabinets presumably had, such as configuring the number of points you need to earn extra lives, how many lives you start with, and so on. It’s a nice touch. There are also some ways you can mess with the graphics to make them look more like a classic arcade cabinet- scan lines and such. Additionally, each game comes with infinite credits and an interrupt save function. You can save at any time, and the next time you start up that game you can resume from that point. Handy, especially since some of the games actually have endings and it would be a shame if you ran out of battery partway through the final level. Most, if not all, of the games also support 2 players, although without testing it I can only assume it’s of the “switch off between play” type for the most part.
Without further ado, onto the games.
ALPINE SKI: This is a game where… you ski. Gasp. Your lil pixel dude hurtles down a slope at breakneck speeds as you try to avoid hitting anything except the wonderful numbers worth points scattered around the slope. You have two minutes to reach the bottom, and as many lives as you want- but hitting an obstacle will stop you and make you start over from a short ways back, as well as deduct 10 seconds from your remaining time. Turning slows you down, luckily, and you can speed yourself up for more points.
It’s not bad! I will admit I got impatient and gave up before I could progress past the downhill portion (there’s two other stages mentioned in the manual, after which it starts over again from downhill skiing), but it’s intriguing and I would be willing to try it again. Obstacles can come at you a little fast, and it’s a bit frustrating how it always spawns you against the rightmost wall, but there’s definitely some fun to be found here.
WILD WESTERN: You’re the sheriff, and you’re out here with a bunch of ne’er-do-wells clad in stylish green and magenta gang outfits. You’ve gotta shoot them off their horses and protect the train, stopping them all before they can rob it!
This one’s also pretty interesting. You can shoot in eight directions while you’re moving around on your horse, and if a shot hits the train it bounces off and can be ricocheted into targets, which is fun. You can also duel gangsters on top of the train by just hecking jumping on top of it, which is of course extremely cool. The fact that there’s technically a twin stick shooter in this collection is kinda incredible, too. There’s a couple things though- enemies can only be hurt by shooting the riders, not the horses. Additionally horses stay onscreen once the rider is down and will just amble about, and touching them will kill you. I don’t know if those are necessarily bad design choices, but they did strike me as a bit frustrating. Oh well, you know. Thaaat’s arcade games!
FRONT LINE: You’re a soldier stranded without backup behind enemy lines. Every person nearby will try to kill you on sight. It’s oddly stressful for an arcade game. Luckily, you’ve got a gun and infinite grenades, and you plan on exploding the enemy base.
I don’t know why, but this one didn’t quite do it for me. Maybe it’s just the war theming, but even though it’s similar to the last game, it’s a lot closer quarters than Wild Western. Your shots don’t travel as far, there’s obstacles that block them, and the screen doesn’t scroll onwards until you’re unsettlingly close to whatever adversaries spawn just outside of it. It doesn’t help that there’s a sort of hill on either side of the screen that you can’t clamber onto, and land mines that further restrict your already slow movement. It’s not a bad game, just not one I really gelled with.
QIX: You are trapped within a black void with sparky objects going around the border line you are confined to. In the middle, a nightmare creature represented by a banner of wiggling light that wouldn’t be out of place in an early windows screensaver- the Qix. But luckily, the fearsome wrath of the Qix can be calmed if it’s contained within a chamber 25% of the size it’s currently in, and your marker can create walls that will reduce the space it has to move around in! Just be careful, for the walls are highly unstable and will begin to combust if you pause while they aren’t complete, and will cause you to explode if the Qix touches one in progress. Or so I assume the plot goes.
Eldritch horrors aside, this one’s pretty solid! I’ve definitely seen a few clones of it in my life, and now I know what the original’s called. You can quickly make lines into funky shapes that seal off more and more of the stage, but doing so more slowly is riskier and worth more points. Additionally, the innermost barriers of the map are patrolled by these little sparky adversaries, meaning you need to quickly move from one side of the board to the other if you want to stay alive. Definitely compelling!
SPACE SEEKER: This is… kind of a weird one. You start out on a map screen overlooking a planet with a number of little red dots and big yellow and blue ships. You need to collide with them. Don’t worry, this isn’t a game where you kamikaze into baddies, that just brings up one of two game modes. Hitting the little red dots brings you to a first-person area where you aim and shoot down enemy craft. Once you’ve shot down all the craft (assuming none of them overlap with the two areas your guns occupy), the dot is removed, and you can do more map things. On the other hand, touching a yellow blue ship will have you facing a Gradius style battle in a side-scrolling shooter.
This one really didn’t do it for me. The fact that there’s a map screen at all is kinda strange, especially for an arcade game where you die fast and have very little room for error. The first-person segments are okay, I guess, but there’s not a crosshair and little feedback as to where you’re aiming or where your hitbox is until an enemy ship hits it. The Gradius parts… I really couldn’t get a handle on those. It takes a good 10 or 15 seconds to get from the map screen back into gameplay, and lots of stuff in the Gradius stages that doesn’t look like it would kill you… kills you. Like clouds, for example. Not to mention the fact that the enemy ships and bases on the map screen can shoot at and kill you. It was just a very frustrating experience in my opinion, especially in a game with no continues.
ELEVATOR ACTION: You’re a secret agent man. After stylishly ziplining down onto the roof of this 30 floor office building (presumably from a nearby 40 floor office building), you must sneak your way down, steal the secret intel, and escape. By which I mean shoot everyone you see, crush them with elevators and falling lights, knock them out with a cool jump kick, and maybe very occasionally simply avoid them. Luckily, due to (presumably) union regulations, rooms containing top secret intel are clearly marked with red doors. And no one will look for you in one of those! You’re free to hide there for a few seconds if things get hot.
This one is also pretty cool and rad. For an old timey platformer arcade game, the gunplay feels good. You can jump over and duck bullets, shoot lights to disappear for a bit and go stealthy, and just generally be a cool pixely spy dude. If there’s one criticism I have, it’s that activating escalators and red doors has a weird command that’s a bit odd at first, but it’s not difficult to get used to. Thoroughly enjoyable!
CHACK’N Pop: This is a bit of a strange one. You’re a little yellow winged lad called Chack’n. You were hanging out with your love interest, portrayed by an identical sprite wearing a pink bow so you know she’s a girl, when a horde of monstas(sic) showed up and took away your cartoony hearts that spawned as a consequence of your love for each other! Obviously, this cannot stand, so you took to the tunnels to get the hearts back. It’s a platformer game, but instead of jumping, you have the power to cling to ceilings if they aren’t too high away from you. Additionally, you can drop bombs to the left or right that roll a short distance before detonating in a poof of smoke that will kill any monsta or egg (monstas spawn gradually from eggs) caught in it. The hearts are contained in cages, which must be destroyed in order to escape the level before time runs out and the creature up top known as a blocka blocks the exit.
Weird though it may be, Chack’N Pop is definitely interesting as well. Its movement is certainly novel, as its attack patterns. There’s even a practice stage at the beginning where dying won’t count against you (which can be disabled in settings if you’re sick of it). That being said, the bombs roll a bit after you throw them, which can be a bit annoying. Their explosions spread a bit slowly as well, and it’s easy to over or undercompensate if you’re not careful. Enemy AI seems fairly smart? I’ve seen a few times where a monsta just kind of lingered at the exit and kept turning away when I tried to get it with a bomb, only leaving when I moved a good distance away. Haven’t been able to get past the third level or so, but I would definitely try again. It’s a weird fun thing to mess around with!
THE FAIRYLAND STORY: Okay, this one is just weirdly delightful. You play as a little witch girl running around in a castle, using your magic to fight monsters. You have a basic attack that turns enemies into cakes, and can defeat them by either pushing them off a ledge or attacking them repeatedly while they are caked. There’s a variety of different enemies, from dragons to wizards and lil orc guys, all of whom are very cute.
This game is uncommon in this collection due to the fact that it lets you continue after you die- however, only from levels 7-98. That seems like an arbitirary number, but the levels aren’t necessarily hard. Just punishing to mistakes in traditional arcadey fashion. I’m also fairly certain it has some sort of conclusion at level 101? It’s a bit tricky but very engaging, and comboing enemies into each other by crushing them with cakes is easy and fun to pull off.
HALLEY’S COMET: The planet earth is under siege. By Halley’s hecking comet. This game is a vertical shoot em up where you play as a little ship that is trying to save the world from the incoming comet, as well as a flood of alien(?) ships that are also trying to destroy the blue marble we call home. This game has an interesting twist in the usual space shooter formula: every enemy or piece of debris that gets past you will cause a planet damage percentage on the right side of the screen to increase by 1. At 100% damage, you lose the game, no matter how many lives you have left. The right panel of the screen also shows you how close you are to actually reaching Halley’s comet, which implies that there is a boss fight at the end of each level (each of which is divided up into a couple stages) against a planetary body, which I am all for.
The space shooting in this is pretty solid! It doesn’t feel great at the start when you’re a little ship that fires one bullet at a time, but there’s plenty of upgrades and powerups hidden in various debris hurtling towards the planet. There’s lots of kinds of enemies, some of which move in confusing patterns that can catch you off guard, but they all seem really fun to face without being too difficult. The fact that you can fight a giant space rock as the boss is also extremely compelling to me. I haven’t gotten there yet but you bet someday I will punch that giant death orb from the sky.
THE NINJAWARRIORS: A weird combo of a side-scrolling beat em up, fighting game, and one finger death punch. You play as a cyborg ninja, and must proceed through stages full of bad guys, killing all comers with your cool ninja knife and throwing stars. Most common enemies have only one health and pose little threat, but there’s tougher ones that will take much more of a beating before going down.
I’m going to be level with you: this one seems extremely quarter munchy. The good news is on Taito classic, you can continue as much as you want without having to worry about running out of money! And you will need to continue. This game does not pull punches or mess about with things such as “extra lives”. You die once, game over. You will more than likely die multiple times before beating the first stage. The second stage starts out with you just straight up exploding a few times for no immediately discernible reason, and then an army tank rolls up to the screen and you have to fight it with your cool knife and ninja stars, and likely your character will rethink a few things about their life choices. It’s definitely entertaining, but it would not be super fun without the modern convenience of infinite credits I think. Plus you have to fight and kill attack dogs and having to kill dogs is always minus a few points in my book. Despite this, I think I might someday just go through and grind my way to the end just to see how it is. The game is six stages long and definitely has an ending, so it’s something to shoot for at least.
Overall? I’d say Taito Milestones is a fun and intriguing play. Like a weird plug n play console from the 2000s, it likely has a few games you might not be super into. Unlike a weird plug n play console though, these games are legit, and they come with things like actual instructions and saving. I will admit, the price tag of $40 seems a bit steep, but it definitely seems like a polished and high-quality port of some overlooked arcade classics.