Sure, mini consoles are great but Antstream Arcade opens up the door to a whole other world of retro gaming.
We’ve had our eye on Antstream Arcade for a while, ever since it launched on PC. But we never took the plunge. That’s not because there wasn’t anything to play – the service has over 1,300 games across multiple platforms. We just wanted to be able to sit down on our sofa and get playing. Now that Antstream Arcade is available on Xbox, we’re in retro heaven.
Antstream Arcade is priced at $29.99 a year or $79.99 for a lifetime subscription. It runs as an app and streams the game of your choice to your console. There’s a massive, massive number of games on offer, covering Amiga, SNES, SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis, Amstrad, Spectrum, Arcade and more.
Yes, there are a few SNES games, though if you’re expecting Super Mario World you’re out of luck. Instead, you’ve got Earthworm Jim, Zombies Ate My Neighbours and the whole Super Star Wars trilogy, to name but a few.
Speaking of Star Wars, the original old-school arcade Star Wars trilogy is on there, too. Plus you’ve got Pac-Man, Fatal Fury, Metal Slug X and so on. Amiga fans will be happy to have the definitely-not-Aliens Alien Breed, Chaos Engine, Gods and so on. And if you miss Dizzy, you can catch up with many of the egg’s adventures.
Honestly, we’d be here all day if we picked out every single retro-gaming gem. But we’d advise you to cast your eyes over Antstream’s catalogue here. We’ve been using Antstream Arcade for a good few days and we keep finding unexpected treasures. Mortal Kombat? Splatterhouse? Yes, please.
But how do these actually play? You’ll need at least a 4Mbps internet connection to stream them, preferably 20 Mbps+. Running at 100 Mbps, the app warned us we could encounter input lag, but we didn’t have a single noticeable controller issue.
The catch is that, since the games are being streamed, they’re not quite as sharp as they could be. Playing Mortal Kombat, we noticed artefacts around the characters. But it varies from game to game: Pac-Man was much sharper and Samurai Showdown was a better experience.
But, even when we plugged directly into the router rather than use wifi, giving us a 500 Mbps connection, we still encountered a little blockiness. It’s not evident in every game and you may be distracted by the serious business of staying alive. We think Antstream Arcade’s vast catalogue is worth the slight quality trade-off but you might see it differently.
We also had a couple of issues with Antstream Arcade’s front end, too. There’s a multi-slot save feature which, given how many old school games didn’t let you save, could be a godsend. But the save feature didn’t work for us. We’re assuming this is a bug and the sooner Anstream fix it the better.
Secondly, the games are grouped by genre and so on and you can ‘favourite’ games as you see fit. But if you want to browse by platform you have to go via the search box which seems unnecessary. It’d make more sense if you could simply browse by selecting a platform.
Those issues aside, both of which are fixable, Antstream Arcade is a real treat. The controller mappings are spot on and, Spectrum games included, we never once felt lost.
Remember Bully, from Rockstar? School Daze was doing that all the way back in 1984. We sat there, controller in hand, grinning as we bumped people off their chairs. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that matter.
Fatal Fury was a fantastic flashback, too. Sadly, there’s no King of Fighters here but there are enough SNK titles to keep you busy for weeks. All the games that originally supported two players are two player here. There’s no online play but Antstream has added the next best thing: humiliation.
Okay, that’s not quite how it’s officially billed, but there’s a big social aspect to Antstream Arcade. There are competitions you can participate in, challenges to beat and so on. But even if you don’t seek them out, it happily reminds you when someone’s beaten your high score. It’s a neat recreation of old school competitive gaming, when you’d get a warm, fuzzy feeling from seeing your initials on show.
Some time after we played Splatterhouse, for example, we got a message advising us that another player had bested us. We weren’t actively setting out to complete but, seized by the desire for vengeance, we’ll soon be picking up the old virtual machete to reclaim our glory.
Despite the less than perfect streaming quality, Antstream Arcade is a fantastic deal for retro gaming fans who want more than just Sonic, Mario and Street Fighter 2. $29.99 nets you access to a huge library of retro classics for a full year, and the chance to show off your gaming skills.
Just be warned, if you beat our high score we’re going to hate you forever.