Even though we’re awash in remasters and remakes in modern times, commercial preservation of videogame’s past is generally in a suboptimal place. It doesn’t help that, even with the assistance of digital marketplaces, the industry has shifted toward a subscriber-based “rental” model that’s worse than what we had during the era of the Nintendo Wii.
And yet, we’re not without hope in some corners. The first Capcom Arcade Stadium released on the Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Windows in the spring of 2021, and its sequel—Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium—hit digital shelves in late-July of 2022. Each has 32 arcade games from Capcom’s past: some classics that have seen re-releases and console ports throughout the years, some pulled out from the way back of the vault, and others seeing their first-ever port to console from the arcade—games that, unless you’re the kind of person who sets up MAME to play arcade games, might not even be aware you missed out on.
Consider this all not a review of Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium, but of the concept of Capcom Arcade Stadiums themselves. To that end, we need some context.
Hamster’s Arcade Archives series is truly lovely, as it pulls some long-lost classics, favorites, and obscurities out of the past and onto modern platforms. A new Arcade Archives title releases each week, at $7.99 a piece. That, in a vacuum, is reasonable, but if you have any interest in grabbing them all, well. Between the standard Arcade Archives releases and the Neo Geo-specific line of them, that count stands at around 300 games, meaning you would spend over $2,400 to get them all without even taking local taxes into consideration, with both figures climbing each week. And these releases are rarely ever discounted, to boot. Of course, you don’t need every Arcade Archives release in order to enjoy them, but this is just meant to point out how enormous of a lift it would be to actually get them all.
Meanwhile, the original Capcom Arcade Stadium made its games available in a number of ways. You can buy the entire 32-game bundle for $39.99, or buy one of three smaller bundles, broken up by time period, for a slightly less discounted $14.99 each. Or, if you don’t want to buy in bulk or by time period, you could shop a la carte instead: each of the games within Capcom Arcade Stadium, aside from the free inclusion of 1943: The Battle of Midway, run you just $1.99. That’s right: you could buy a Cave-developed shoot-em-up that Capcom published, that has never otherwise appeared on consoles, for all of $1.99 if that’s the extent of your commitment to the Arcade Stadium lifestyle.
Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium isn’t quite as good of a deal on the a la carte side—the individual games are now $3.99 each—but this has also just made the $39.99 bundle price that much more attractive. Pick and choose a few if you must, but if you wanted even one-third of what’s available, you’d be silly to not just buy the whole slate in one go. And even at the increased $3.99 price point, they’re still half the cost of the Arcade Archives titles—and with even more quality-of-life, modern emulation additions attached to them, too.
If you purchased 64 Arcade Archives titles, that’d run you over $500—64 of Capcom’s arcade games, however, can be yours for $80. You should get Arcade Archives releases, too, because it’s really a wonderful series: just recognize how wild it is that Capcom is doing this the way they are, at a time when the ACA setup is already considered a steal.
As noted, Capcom has brought these Arcade Stadium releases into the modern world of emulation, with rewind, the ability to speed up or slow down play, various difficulties, customization for starting lives and extends, and a plethora of filters that range from simple scanlines to an attempt to replicate the curvature of a CRT arcade monitor. This is no small thing in a world where Square Enix just smooths over the gorgeous pixel art of their past instead of creating even a halfway decent CRT filter to celebrate it instead. You can also make it so your settings apply to every single game in either Arcade Stadium, meaning you don’t have to manually change them 32 times. If a specific game has a specific setting you’d rather utilize—maybe you have a Flip Grip on your Switch, or a monitor or television you can set vertically for TATE play, and decide to make that the default for 1943 while keeping other appropriate titles horizontal—you can just change that one thing when you open that game up, instead of having to set your filters and frames and all of that each time you start a new arcade game.
If you really want the arcade-style experience, you can try to emulate it through Arcade Stadium. Some of the views let you use arcade cabinets as the frame for the game, with or without buttons and joystick in view, depending on if you want it to look like you’re standing in front of a cabinet. Personally I prefer just setting the resolution to match the original arcade output and popping on some basic scanlines and frames, but if you want to go wild or really lean into the arcade parts of the experience on tap, the options are there.
There are default controls both for gamepads and arcade sticks, and you can customize the button setup how you want. There might be games where you don’t have a button available for speed up or slow down on your arcade stick, for instance, since the controller needs to replicate both the cabinet’s buttons as well as your system’s menus, but still, the whole thing is simple enough to tweak and make it work for you. If you want to utilize the gameplay speed up and slow down features for Hyper Dyne Side Arms in Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium, for instance, you can decide on whether you want the rapid-fire buttons (you press a different one to fire left or right) available, or if you’d rather the standard fire that requires multiple presses. Whichever you choose against using, that can be mapped as the speed up/slow down buttons on the arcade stick. Or you can just go without the speed tweaks, or play with a standard pad in order to have it all. Customization is the name of the game here, and given the wide range of games to choose from, there probably isn’t a universal mapping and feature answer for any one person, never mind multiple people.
Like the Arcade Archives games (and basically every retro compilation that exists these days) there are online leaderboards. Unlike with the more basic ones, however, the Arcade Stadium games also introduce various challenges with their own leaderboards that give you even more reason to go back to a game you’re familiar with already, or simply let you challenge yourself and play a new game in a different way. The Score Challenge has you attempting to rack up the most points you can by completion or Game Over, and doesn’t let you use the modern features like rewind, saves, or changing the game speed to do it. The Time Challenge sees how long it takes you to do a run of the game, and tracks your top score during it, as well.
And then there’s the Special Challenge, which there are multiple of for each title—Ghosts ‘n Goblins has three such challenges, Progear and Strider each have four, while 1944: The Loop Master and GigaWing have five. Maybe the difficulty is cranked up to maximum in these, and you need to complete the game on one credit. Maybe the speed is turned all the way up, or you’re plopped down into an endless mode to score as many points as you can until you lose. It gives you so much more reason to go back, or to actually master these games instead of just messing around with them because you’ve got a digital library full of them now—and again, despite all of these additions, you’re still talking about very little money to get them all, especially compared to lesser collections and individual releases.
Neither Arcade Stadium release is perfect, though. The biggest complaint you can make is that there is no online play, so you can’t boot up your favorite classic Street Fighter variant with a pal unless they’re in the same room as you. It’s silly to avoid implementing online play, too, even if the idea is to lean into the arcade experience—especially since the Capcom Fighting Collection that shares some titles with the Arcade Stadiums does have online play. Just like some people might not want to pretend they’re in an arcade while playing these with their display choices, some people might rather break the illusion of that experience in order to play online. It’s basically the only thing that keeps these from being perfect compilations.
The other “complaint” is that 64 Capcom games still isn’t enough: being Capcom, these two releases are heavy on Street Fighter, and someone who isn’t a fighting game diehard surely would have rather had something else instead of every variant of ‘90s Street Fighters they could squeeze in here. Still, all this means is that an Arcade 3rd Stadium is a likelihood, and between the a la carte and bulk pricing of the current ones, that would be a good thing. I can wait for Giga Wing 2, is what I’m saying, especially since I appreciate the form Capcom has been deploying these games in. And even more especially since, eventually, they’ll have put out all of the big fighting games in their back catalog and will have to dive even more into other genres to fill the space. And maybe then I’ll finally have context for what a good score in Giga Wing 2 actually is.
Capcom isn’t the only company doing things right in the retro release space: the Sega Ages titles are regularly discounted, sold individually, and packed with enough modern-day quality-of-life features that they’re always worth grabbing. And Arcade Archives might be more expensive than the Arcade Stadium titles, but Hamster is also pulling from everywhere, including from developers and publishers that no longer exist to re-release games themselves like Capcom still can. Still, though: as there are far too many companies not bothering to release things from their enormous catalogs at all or barely doing so (hello, Nintendo and Konami, among others), or releasing things regularly but attaching some wild price tags to them, or coming out with massive collections but only doing so with expensive, limited-stock mini cabinets, what Capcom is doing here is very much appreciated. The last thing the world needs is more Taito Milestones-esque collections where you get just 10 old-school arcade games for $40, and without any of the major draws like Darius even being there because they’re part of a different collection. No offense to Taito’s wonderful, deep, and underrated library, but full offense to the publisher’s curation here. Taito also used to release 30-plus arcade games at a time with modern tweaks in affordable collections, you know, but those days are nearly multiple decades behind us.
Basically, we need more Capcom Arcade Stadium-style collections, that go big on the library, and present multiple options in terms of not just how to play and continue to enjoy these titles, but also in how to buy them in the first place. And less of almost everything that isn’t that. Capcom might have gone this route first, and will maybe go it alone, but there’s no good reason that at least a half-dozen other publishers with a similarly lengthy arcade or console history aren’t doing the same thing.
Marc Normandin covers retro videogames at Retro XP, which you can read for free but support through his Patreon, and can be found on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin.