Sampling the AntStream Arcade service

Just as digital purchases have muscled into the gaming scene, it’s an upcoming inevitability that cloud- or streaming-based gaming delivery will continue to slide onto the table.

In a previous games writing endeavor, I had unlimited access to the digital landscape of GameTap – a service hosted online by Turner Broadcasting System (which explained why I constantly saw advertising for the service when watching Adult Swim). Its online offerings provided a “classic subscription” that emulated a number of different games.

During my time playing on the service, it offered games by SNK, Capcom and more and served as the first time I was ever able to play games like Breakers, Cyberbots and Last Blade 2. To boot, it even offered limited multiplayer options.

It was serviceable and I enjoyed the scope of games, but it lacked the support to keep it running beyond its 10-year lifespan.

With modern games now requiring more might running under a hardware’s casing, you can imagine how skeptical I am of newer streaming projects when you consider my closest metropolitan city is consistently ranked among the absolute worst in the nation for fixed internet speeds and stability.

I had to invest in what online strangers would call my “potato internet” to beef it up any way I could and make playing online games a passable endeavor. And, in a tiny victory, I was finally able to get a service that offered me more than 30 down/5 up at the tail end of 2020. This is absolutely not a region to live in if you desire blazing-fast internet and mobile speeds.

I’ve noticed the games streaming service AntStream Arcade before, but, it wasn’t until it received a number of updates and game additions that I came across a news bit for the service in February. I honestly can’t remember what made me eventually sign up for the service, but, sitting here a couple of months later, I’m really glad I did.

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The service was touting a week-long free trial period, and that may have been what made me decide to get my feet wet with the game streaming. I’m not sure if it was because I clicked on a link made available through a gaming press resource site or if I misunderstood the promotion, but I seem to have services on AntStream Arcade secured for an entire year.

AntStream uses partnerships with companies such as Taito, Data East and SNK, and this brings with it the allure of having some impressive arcade hits (and some not-so-impressive) in its library. For me, arcade titles are definitely the most attractive set to have, but, being based in Europe, AntStream makes efforts to offer up titles for the Amiga, Spectrum and Commodore 64 that are giving me a window into even more gaming opportunities. The titles heavily skew toward these formats, but there is a smattering of games based on 16-bit consoles as well.

Much like any online service, users create a login and this username is the player’s identity on the website. I find delight in the very obscure avatars you can choose from – mine being Mizoguchi from Data East’s Fighter’s History. After logging in, players are taken to a main menu that uses rows to split the game offerings into different categories, such as by genre, what games are the newest additions and favorites set by the player.

Naturally, my biggest concern for the service was in getting bogged down by my internet and the need to stream the game data. I honestly did have a few issues at first, especially in playing the newly-added (at the time) Mortal Kombat arcade game – there were skips in the action and times where the game paused momentarily.

However, in surfing through the service’s options, I changed my server preference from the defaulted North Central U.S. to the East U.S. server, and since that time my issues in playing the games have diminished to very rare occurrences. AntStream thankfully has an option to check over your connection and this gives you ratings on the estimated performance of your server setting.

What has also been handy is that AntStream has recognized my USB Playstation 4 controller from the get-go. There are options to use other configurations such as the keyboard, but I was able to immediately jump into games without excessively fiddling with controller configurations. I’ve found some controller layouts for certain games that I didn’t exactly vibe with, but none of those have hindered the fun I have with the games.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the service’s game content, but information that pops up online indicates AntStream features more than 1,200 games, with the Arcade portion offering 1,175 games as of this posting. I’ve mostly gravitated toward the arcade-based lineup, but the variety is impressive overall even if “game x” from your favorites might not be included.

With this, I’ve been able to explore fighting games such as Galactic Body Blows and the absolutely fascinating Weird Dreams on Amiga. I’ve been able to take in some Manic Miner on the ZX Spectrum. I’ve stumbled upon a shmup I’ve never played before – Gekirindan – as well as discovered puzzle games such as Chain Reaction and Uo Poko, which are essentially Magic Drop and Mushihime-Tama, both void of their notable characters.

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And then there are just the familiar goodies like Clay Fighter, Double Dragon, Fatal Fury, Elevator Action Returns, Rampage and much more. There was even a game I came across – Super Bikes for Commodore 64 – where I paused and asked “Is this the motorcycle game I used to play with the EPYX joystick?” It, in fact, was, so AntStream reunited me with at least one game from my C64 days that I didn’t think I would ever play again.

A recent update also brought something very unexpected: A shmup developed in 2019 for the Amiga. I’m all for homebrew efforts on classic systems, so hopefully there is more to be made available on this front.

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I realize many people are not going to budge from emulation such as MAME or Fightcade. Especially as those who tinker and customize with the programs will have unlimited flexibility in how they play their games. However, when I dig into the service, AntStream has a community edge that currently cannot be outdone by the current offerings.

Outside of a user generally enjoying video games, AntStream offers an optional competitive side to the service. What’s even more impressive is players can handle competition in their own way – personally on their own through the challenge and leveling system, or against others through routinely-scheduled competitions.

The challenge system operates similar to going for achievements or trophies on home consoles. A select range of games on the service offer these challenges, and players can try their hand at them to achieve bronze, silver or gold ratings. Higher ratings yield more experience points that have the player leveling up quicker.

Clearing challenges also awards players gems. While each game by default will have one or two challenges from the get-go, players can cash in these gems to unlock more challenges that yield even more gems and experience. Players can also earn gems through methods such as daily logins.

I suppose I do have some experience with a lot of arcade games, but, at no point did I ever feel like I had to grind out gems to experience more that the site had to offer. I’m finding myself with a continual flow of gems that I have access to as more challenges become available.

The service also does have its own achievements system based on the number of games played and challenges cleared, so players can get accolades added to their profile for other users to see. On top of these awards, each individual challenge (and game in general) has its own leaderboard to show how you compare to other players.

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I think the neatest concept with the challenges is the service is set up to provide a lot of variety. Not only are there the basic “score as many points as possible” challenges, but there are challenges based on how fast a task can be completed, along with other clever setups.

You can play a Bad Dudes challenge where only the charged power punches count toward score, an EDF challenge where your ship can’t fire and you have to survive for as long as possible, a Bubble Bobble challenge where only food pickups generate score, a Double Dragon challenge that records how long you can hold onto a bat and more. There’s a lot of flexibility present that changes how the player needs to play the game and keeps them coming back.

I haven’t utilized the feature yet, but the challenges also allow you to place up gems in order to challenge another user in a one-time play of a specific game challenge. I’m guessing the gems used for the feature are a sort of “wager” with the other player, but I’ll learn this feature as I branch out a little more.

The competitive feature I have participated in, though, are the weekly “tournaments.” This feature labels the games as tournaments, but there are no eliminations and they are competitions that give players approximately a week to post their personal best performance. While many of these are score-based, others have popped in such as the aforementioned EDF challenge.

Tournaments require an entry of 50 gems, but these are placed into a prize pool for a designated field of top-placing players. These are great ways to see how you stack up against other users, and the events offer a wide range of games to play.

I’ve participated in a handful that have included playing Pac-Man in a mode where the power pellets have no effect and the current tournament of playing Mighty Bomb Jack for score, but you only get one life.

Most of the games have honestly been outside my wheelhouse, but I went all-in last week for the very obscure Shadow Force by Tecmo. This challenge placed players in stage one with the character Tengu, and you could only score points by using the character’s command throws. I can’t believe it is the year 2021 and I get to claim I won a competition featuring at least 100 people in the game Shadow Force.

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Also, I really enjoy that your ranking is tabulated in real time during tournament play – your current rank is displayed at the top right, and it updates as you pass other players. AntStream isn’t quite as robust as something like the Xbox 360 Game Room where more data is given to you at one time (such as showing the full leaderboard in real-time so you know what scores to shoot for to raise in rank), but, as someone who actually really enjoyed Game Room, it gives me that vibe.

Overall, AntStream Arcade isn’t going to pull fans of MAME or the like away from those programs. However, I’ve also seen that there are several people who are confused by the setups of adding games to those formats and don’t want to deal with the steps of getting them to work the way they want.

I see AntStream attracting the more casual crowd who want to experience retro games, and perhaps the service’s tagline of “Netflix for Gamers” is very apt to this crowd. There is very little to tinker with and these players can be set up and playing games in a short time.

But, I think there is even room for players outside that crowd with the challenge and competition system in place on AntStream. These features are what keep me checking back to the service every couple of days, and of course the stream of new, obscure content helps as well.

AntStream isn’t going to replace some of the other programs I use. However, in giving it a shot and enjoying its offerings for a couple of months, I have to say it is a great addition to the rotation of programs I’m routinely using now.

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Categories: GemuBaka Feature

Author:indiesnack

Indie Snack is a video gaming Web site focusing on independent developers and game releases. Indie Snack will also soon have services made available to independent developers to include tools aiding them in public relations and game marketing.

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