IGS, or International Game System Co., Ltd — not to be confused with ’90s Japanese developer IGS (Information Global Service) — is a dedicated arcade developer hailing from Taiwan. Still going strong after 25 years in the industry, it maintains an incredibly strong foothold in both Taiwan and China, producing successful racing game series like Speed Driver, now on its fifth entry, and various light gun and redemption machines.
IGS’s development of the Polygame Master (PGM) hardware in 1997, and its acquisition of the DoDonpachi license from shooting game Goliath, Cave, was significant. After seeing IGS’s DoDonpachi II: Bee Storm in 2001, Cave was not only convinced to stay in the market, but went on to license the PGM hardware to produce DoDonpachi DaiOuJou and Ketsui. This Switch collection is based on that hardware, ignoring the PGM2 and PGM3 that succeeded it.
In the IGS Classic Arcade Collection package are eight titles: Knights of Valour: Super Heroes, Knights of Valour Plus and Knights of Valour 2: Nine Dragons; Oriental Legend and Oriental Legend: Spooky; The Gladiator, Martial Masters, and the eminent Demon Front.
The Knights of Valour series, now nine episodes strong, can still be found in almost every Taiwanese and Mainland China arcade. Based on the famous 14th-century Chinese historical work Romance of the Three Kingdoms, its beat-’em-up profile draws heavily on Capcom’s 1989 Dynasty Warriors – also inspired vicariously by the Three Kingdoms story.
Where Knights of Valour impresses is in its ability to better Capcom’s effort in many ways. The initial game features a whopping eleven playable characters, each with a broad variety of moves. Beginning with a stunning flaming ship assault, it follows the Three Kingdoms tale fairly closely with cutscenes and voiceover narration, beautiful locations, and appropriate enemy progression. Graphically it’s a knockout, with stunning animation, gorgeous colour casting, and fantastically exotic backgrounds.
It’s only superseded by Knights of Valour Plus, a reworking that changes the cast slightly but rebalances and improves the game with new objects, scenes, items, and play structures. It’s a long affair, working best with multiple players, and requires concerted dedication. But, as period scrolling beat ’em ups go, it’s remarkably well done.
The collection’s most recent entry, Knights of Valour: Nine Dragons, is an all-new game that maintains the same windmill menu system of secondary items, including projectile bombs and magic, and other practical improvements. All-in-all, these are worthy titles for fans of Capcom’s Dynasty Warriors and Dungeons and Dragons titles, offering tens of hours of gameplay, nuanced options for strategic battling, and impressive styling.
The two Oriental Legend games are not quite as refined as Knights of Valour, predating them by a few years. Also scrolling beat ’em ups, here they draw from the ancient Chinese literary tale Journey to the West. Oriental Legend: Spooky is a major reworking of the former title, introducing entirely new sections, bosses, weather effects, new magic items and attacks to acquire, and a host of new playable characters to accompany protagonist Sun Wukong.
Although sloppy in places, they’re certainly not bad games. Spooky does make the original slightly redundant with its additions and expansions, although genre fans may enjoy battling their way through both. While initially, they seem lacking in precision, these are games that can be mastered, and learning how to measure your attacks and make use of pickups makes for a far more enjoyable experience than just blindly hacking through. Oriental Legend is a good example of IGS’s early prowess, and the Monkey King premise is an interesting departure from the US gang warfare theme so prevalent in the genre.
2001’s Martial Masters is a one-on-one fighting game: a territory all too easy to get wrong for inexperienced developers. IGS’s foray, however, is fantastic. Beautifully rendered 2D pixel art is accompanied by a combat system that stands toe-to-toe with many of Capcom’s more favoured titles. Wonderfully animated, this feudal China-themed fighting game offers up 12 broadly different characters, a combat structure as deep as Guilin’s mountains, incredible combo building, nifty tack-on attacks, juggles, and flashy super moves. It’s a game that enjoyed some recognition among Western fighting game communities on release, not only looking better than many of Japan’s attempts at the time, but offering a flexible battling form that genuinely resembles classic kung-fu movies when in flow. Quite frankly, it’s one of the main reasons to purchase this package, and stands the test of time incredibly well.
Demon Front (2002) for many will be the main draw of the collection. It’s one of IGS’s better-known releases in Western arcades, and, as a Metal Slug-style action game, very accessible. Again, the animation and graphical flourishes are beautiful; and, as well as packing in optional stage routes and a truckload of new and interesting weaponry, it also features an original attribute in the form of your familiar: a small trailing creature that provides offensive and defensive properties. You have a choice of several characters, each with slightly different pros and cons, and each with a unique familiar.
It’s a slower game than Metal Slug, requiring you to carefully navigate pitfalls and obstacles, scale mountains and take out a host of enemies with different attacks. Bosses are large and impressive, with fun patterns to dissect, and there are hidden secrets to weed out. It’s more a measured ‘walk-and-gun’ than run-and-gun, and powering up and utilising your familiar is integral to progression. Once you’re in the groove, however, it’s a rewarding action adventure, bursting with colour and movement, and an endearing Metal Slug alternative.
2003’s The Gladiator is the final and most recent game in the collection, and it really shows. Yet another scrolling beat ’em up loosely based on historical Chinese literature, this is a title of some fanfare. Absolutely gorgeous-looking through and through, loaded with playable characters, and stuffed to the EEPROMS with abundant move repertoires, it’s incredibly impressive on several fronts. The combo building is off the chart right from the get-go, packing in juggles, a special attack menu that increases during play, and a goldmine for strategic combat mix-ups. The characters offer enough mechanical diversity to make them unique and encouraging for replays, and it’s superb fun for two players to learn down-pat.
In all, the IGS Classic Arcade Collection has a lot to love. What frustrates is a lack of polish in its emulation and presentation. The initial menus have zero audio: no music or even sound effects for navigation. Additionally, we’re not convinced certain games run accurately. Martial Masters and The Gladiator seem fine, but Demon Front’s slowdown is suspect in places, seeming to chug momentarily at points where very little is happening and running full speed when it gets hectic. Most critically, the audio emulation seems off across the board, with certain music tracks being too quiet, and all of it suffering a warbling effect that doesn’t at all sound right.
The screen adjustment settings are completely useless as nothing can be put into the original 4:3 aspect ratio. The only option available is to pointlessly shrink the screen while remaining in 16:9, and there are zero CRT, pixel sharpening, or arcade screen filters on offer. It does better in terms of save states, multiplayer options and online rankings, and crucially, online network play that allows four players to take on certain titles simultaneously – although we can’t speak to its efficiency at the time of writing or whether or not it’s built with rollback net code. There are also move lists, complete button configurations, and adjustable difficulty settings for all titles.