I’ll level with you here: the Gaelco Arcade 1 cartridge for Evercade is unironically one of my favourite releases from all of 2021.
If you’re finding yourself tired and frustrated with all the nonsense that surrounds modern gaming — particularly with more and more big companies seemingly eager to jump aboard the odious NFT bandwagon — then the Evercade handheld and its console counterpart the Evercade VS should be some of the most exciting pieces of gaming hardware out there.
The Evercade focuses exclusively on physical releases of an enormously varied collection of games stretching right back to the earliest days of the arcade and Atari 2600 right up until the PlayStation 1 era. To date, the platform has brought us a huge library of games that blend big hitters from days of yore with more obscure titles. And the result is a system that allows us to enjoy all-time classics as well as discover new favourites — and the Gaelco Arcade 1 cartridge will likely fall into the latter category for many people.
For the unfamiliar, Gaelco is a Spanish company that is still around today — though nowadays they mostly make electronic darts machines. Back in the ’90s, though, they made some great arcade games — and they were rather distinctive in that there were some very obvious Japanese influences running through them, combined with a distinct element of Spanish flair. Of particular note in this regard was the fact that most Gaelco games did not feature a synthesised soundtrack; rather, they featured recordings of Gaelco’s resident musician Joan Sanmarti Serra noodling away on electric guitar.
They’re some of the most distinctive arcade games you’ll ever play, and none of them have ever had home console ports prior to now, making the Gaelco Arcade 1 cart noteworthy from a collector’s perspective as well as for those who simply want to enjoy the games.
So let’s take a closer look at those games!
One of the most visually striking games in the Gaelco Arcade 1 collection, Alligator Hunt is a third-person shooter for one or two players in the mould of titles such as Cabal and Wild Guns. You control the game by moving a crosshair around the screen to fire bullets and missiles, and you are also able to make your character (or, later, spaceship) “roll” to avoid incoming enemy attacks with the tap of a button.
Alligator Hunt is a spectacular game to look at, and it plays really well, too. The shooting action is satisfying, the stages are enormously varied and it’s simply a ton of fun whether you’re playing solo or with a friend. It also has some of the best “badly localised dialogue” since Zero Wing, though in this case it’s a little tricky to determine if this is a deliberate stylistic choice in an attempt to pay homage to early Japanese arcade games’ trademark “Engrish”, a dodgy translation from Spanish or something else altogether.
Why is it called Alligator Hunt when it’s actually about blasting giant robots and spaceships? Our best guess is that the invading alien forces somewhat resemble alligators… but this is one of those games where it doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that it’s called Alligator Hunt, and it’s awesome.
A friend of mine, after playing this for the first time, described it as “weirdo acid trip Euro Metal Slug”, and that really is pretty much the perfect way to describe it. Taking on the role of a badass action figure named Inguz, you’ll have to blast your way through a series of challenging stages as you attempt to track down the evil Scrubby, who has stolen the Magic Pendulum that brings toys to life.
The game is a side-scrolling run-and-gun platformer with a delightfully chaotic energy about it, some beautiful visuals and animations plus some really satisfying action. Each level has a very distinct feel to it, starting with a fairly abstract opening level full of floating platforms and sentient chess pieces, moving onwards to a range of other locales, including a train ride and the inside of a computer.
Best of all, despite being an arcade game, this game feels distinctly “fair” to play. It would have been right at home on a platform like the Amiga back in the day, which is why it’s so surprising that the Evercade version on the Gaelco Arcade 1 cart is the first time it’s come home.
We’ve previously seen Glass here on Rice Digital over in the History of Lewd column, though the version we have for Evercade makes use of a somewhat more “family-friendly” variant of the game in order to maintain the PEGI 12 rating for the cart as a whole. That means, regrettably, that the busty anime girls (and, indeed, the naked ladies from the original original) and the hilariously cheesy ’90s men in Speedos are gone, replaced with silhouettes of ladies and gentlemen in various mildly sexy poses.
This is a shame, of course, but don’t let it put you off playing Glass, because the core action is super-fun. Unfolding as an arena shooter for one or two players, your task in Glass is not simply to shoot everything, but also to uncover the background by stripping tiles using a whirly thing that rotates around your ship. Various power-ups make this task a little easier — but an enormously varied cast of extremely well-animated enemies themed around the various “worlds” you visit throughout the game want nothing more than to make your life miserable.
Also worth noting: while the stage-end “reward” images are gone from this version of Glass, there are still plenty of busty ladies in provocative outfits waiting to welcome you to each level in a delightfully breathy (and heavily accented) voice. Between that and the really enjoyable gameplay, this is a definite highlight of the collection.
Arguably the weakest title on the Gaelco Arcade 1 collection but still an enjoyable game in its own right, Snowboard Championship is an isometric-perspective racing game in which you hurl yourself down a mountain against the clock and try not to come a cropper on the various obstacles along the way.
The game moves at a fair old clip and features a challenging control scheme that might take a bit of getting used to; once you get your head around it, though, you’ll be zipping down those mountains in no time — and looking good while you do it.
In many ways, this almost feels like a clone of the vastly superior World Rally that is also on this collection — but it’s got enough different about it to make it worth a go in its own right, particularly once (if?) you master the aforementioned World Rally.
Another game that would have felt right at home on the Amiga, Thunder Hoop is a platformer in which you control a character very obviously inspired by Goku from Dragon Ball Z. It unfolds at a much more sedate pace than Biomechanical Toy, and this gives the game as a whole a very different feel; Thunder Hoop is much more about precise timing and making deliberate movements, while Biomechanical Toy is all about going in all guns blazing.
Thunder Hoop is a pretty tough game, but like Biomechanical Toy you get the impression that it’s been designed to be firm but fair. While there are some tricky jumps to make and some enemies that it’s challenging to time getting past, the game never really feels like it’s inflicting cheap deaths on you for the sake of another credit — and this makes it particularly shine when played at home or on the go with the Evercade.
Thunder Hoop might not be quite as in-your-face spectacular as some of the other titles on the Gaelco Arcade 1 compilation — it’s one of the company’s earlier games — but it’s still an enjoyable platformer that will keep you busy for a while. Be warned, though; Thunder Hoop’s “death scream” is one of the loudest sound effects ever created.
Finally, we come to what, for many people, will be the main attraction of the Gaelco Arcade 1 collection: World Rally. This is the Gaelco game that you’re most likely to have seen in the wild, and the company’s real breakout hit. It’s an isometric perspective racing game themed around rally racing against the clock, and it’s an absolutely wonderful experience to play.
Featuring responsive controls that “snap” nicely to the course, some interesting and challenging but eminently beatable track designs and some excellent visuals and sound, World Rally is a highly playable game that will keep you coming back for more time and time again.
Like most of the other games on the Gaelco Arcade 1 collection, World Rally has never had an official home release prior to now; a PlayStation port was in the works at one point, but was cancelled, and the game was notoriously difficult to emulate for quite a while thanks to some rigorous anti-piracy measures that were baked into the original board. No such worries now, however — just plug, play and enjoy!
With six games to enjoy, the Gaelco Arcade 1 collection for Evercade perhaps doesn’t sport as much “content” as some other Evercade carts, but what is here is of consistently high quality. Every single one of these games are among the very best the platform has to offer, and both Alligator Hunt and Glass provide excellent simultaneous two-player co-op action that is ideal for the VS.
And while these games may not be as familiar to you as some of the titles on the Technos and Data East arcade collections for the platform, this compilation as a whole demonstrates a real strength of the Evercade: its willingness to highlight, preserve and celebrate the more obscure titles as well as the stuff everyone’s played a thousand times over. Because those titles deserve love, too; in fact, it’s arguably more important that they get this sort of attention, particularly when they’ve never had home releases before!
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