There aren’t many video games companies who have left such an indelible mark on the industry at the level that Taito have; Space Invaders alone is a title that, to this day, is synonymous with video games.
Throughout their history, they’ve been responsible for a huge number of fondly remembered and long lasting titles and series way beyond Space Invaders, with games such as Bubble Bobble, Operation Wolf and Chase HQ being among just a few of their iconic 80s classics.
Taito Milestones is an interesting collection though, because it takes us beyond those immediately recognisable titles and features ten games, many of which will be reasonably unfamiliar to plenty of gamers; even those of us who frequented arcades when they were originally released.
Taking into account the fact that these games were released between 1981-1987, it’s fascinating to see the evolution of audiovisual technology as well as advances in game mechanics; a few of the games in the collection have aged a lot more gracefully than others, however.
First up, we have abstract minimalism with 1981’s unique Qix, a title that is one of the more familiar games included – thanks to it appearing on numerous formats over the years, including an excellent Game Boy version. In Qix, you’re tasked with drawing lines to create enclosed spaces which are then captured and scored – but there are deadly enemies moving around the game area too. Addictive, unique and still compelling to this day, Qix is a must-play even if you’ve checked it out before. And if you haven’t, well – you’re in for a treat!
Taito released Space Seeker in the same year as Qix, yet it’s amazing how much more advanced it feels. The problem is that Space Seeker has a fairly obtuse design, lacking the immediacy that makes so many arcade games – not just of its era – so appealing. Once you get your head around what it is you’re supposed to do, it does have some appeal – but it’s a little too ambitious for its own good unfortunately.
Top-down skiing race game Alpine Ski is next up; this 1982 release has a cheery soundtrack and clear, simple visuals – but it’s let down by slightly sluggish controls, collision detection that feels a bit off and a mountain slope that feels too cluttered to really have much fun with. It’s not that bad though – and can prove to be addictive if you’re able to settle into its rhythm and get used to giving obstacles a very wide berth.
Front Line is another title that came out in ’82 and is another that has a top-down viewpoint. Unlike Alpine Ski, this game is a sort of proto-twin stick shooter, with your hilariously bandy-legged soldier facing off against enemies, firing guns and launching grenades. The graphics are simplistic but nicely colourful and the game, though as challenging as you’d expect an arcade title of its era to be, can be pretty fun to play.
1982 was a busy year for Taito, as Wild Western was another title they released then – this one shares some similarities with Front Line, with similarly colourful visuals and an almost-there twin stick control system that sees your horse-riding cowboy taking on bad guys through the dangerous terrain of the American West, alongside a train. Like Front Line, this is another very challenging but really fun title.
Little-known Bubble Bobble precursor Chack’n Pop came to arcades in 1983. Though it clearly shares some DNA with the later adventures of the bubble blowing dinosaurs, its slightly odd, gravity-defying mechanics rob it of the immediacy of Bubble Bobble. That said, with familiar bad guys – who you’ll recognise if you’re a fan of Bubble Bobble – and twisty, single screen level layouts that need a surprising amount of thought and planning to navigate (not to mention a smoke grenade style attack mechanic that’s as lethal to you as it is to the enemies), Chack’n Pop is well worth playing.
One of the most famous games in the collection, Elevator Action is an arcade title from 1983 that was also converted to numerous home formats. It’s a cutesy platform spy romp, in which your gun-toting, surprisingly nimble character shoots, jumps and crouches their way through a succession of buildings from the top floor to the bottom, with the titular elevators being crucial to getting around. Definitely one of the best games in the collection.
1985’s The Fairyland Story is another game that can be viewed as a sort of precursor to Bubble Bobble, with single screen platforming action in which your character fires a magical weapon to turn enemies into food. Beautifully colourful and cartoony visuals – with genuinely impressive cutscenes considering its age – and wonderfully accessible, compelling gameplay make this one of the stars of the show.
Vertically scrolling space shoot ’em up Halley’s Comet, from 1986, is beautifully responsive, is genuinely addictive and has excellent power ups alongside devious enemy attack patterns. Great fun and a classic shooter that, for whatever reason, isn’t particularly well-known – so its inclusion here is very welcome indeed.
Lastly, we have 1987’s The Ninja Warriors – which featured an impressively wide screen in the arcade, which is replicated here with a letterbox effect that works pretty well. The single-plane, scrolling beat ’em up/hack and slash action is fast, smooth and relentless – it’s nicely responsive and incredibly compelling. The visuals are gorgeous examples of 80s pixel art; it’s almost hard to believe that games such as Halley’s Comet, which has functional but fairly basic visuals, came out just a year before the visually sumptuous action featured in The Ninja Warriors.
Though a few of the earlier games are less compelling than the most recent titles – though all are now over 30 years old of course, some over 40 – they’re well worth checking out and Qix, the oldest game included, still has a unique charm. This does feel like an essential collection for gamers interested in arcade history and it’s great value, considering its variety and the fact that many games here are relatively obscure.
Though it’s a shame in some ways that so many of Taito’s genuinely iconic titles aren’t here, they’re more likely to be available on other collections and players are also likely to have played those games to death already. These Taito Milestones may not be immediately recognisable for the most part, but that is also something that makes the collection such a compelling one.
Taito Milestones is available now for Switch, both as a physical edition or digitally. If you purchase the game via the links included in this review, I may earn a small amount of commission that helps me to keep this website going. Thanks for reading!
Many thanks to PR Hound for providing me with a code for review purposes.
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