Antstream review: The games of yesterday on today’s technology

Antstream /
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Game: Antstream
Developer: Antstream
Platform: Android, Xbox (O/S/X), PC, Mac, Browser, Epic, Steam (coming soon)

Antstream came as a surprise while I was navigating game news on social media. The Xbox One was coming out with a physical game called Antstream that could play 1500 retro games. As a fellow member of the retro gaming community and a child of the 80s, I was intrigued.

Antstream is a retro service that boasts over 1500 games on over ten consoles and handhelds. The games are streamed through a server allowing you to play them in real time.

I took the bullet and signed up for a month of their service. It was only $5 and I had already drooled over some of their game selection.

Game and system catalog

Antstream made some amazing efforts to tie down the game and console library they have currently. Companies like SNK, Irem, Taito, Piko, Data East, Lucas Arts, Interplay, and Namco have opened up their vault for this service. Players will be able to play games like Double Dragon, Pac-Man, Slaughterhouse, Glover, The Fatal Fury Series, Bubble Bobble, King of Monsters, Earthworm Jim, R-Type, Xenon, Clayfighters, Gunbird, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Day of the Tentacle, Joe and Mac, and Alien Breed. Game systems include NES, Megadrive, Lynx, Gameboy, PS1, SNES, ZX Spectrum, Amiga, Amstrad, C64, Atari 8-bit/2600/7800, Arcade, MSX, and DOS.

If none of those nouns impress you then this is not the subscription for you (and you are not a real retro gamer). Antstream has made one of the most eclectic collection of shmups, beat’em ups, fighters, point-and-clicks, pinball, sports, management sims, and platformers. They took a page from Nintendo’s NSO service (which offers classic Nintendo emulation) and beefed it up 1000%.

Guaranteed there will be games on this catalog that you have always wanted to play. There will also be hundreds of games that you didn’t even know existed. With a simple click and reliable internet, the game will boot up.

The make or break for subscriptions like Antstream are the replay value and enjoyment factor of the library. With that said, a lot of these games were made in a bygone era when video game expectations were very different. Shooters are impossible, platformers are stiff, level design is confusing, and mechanics are straight up unfair. Luckily, you can save your state anywhere in the game. It is not Antstream’s fault that a lot of 80s and 90s games did not age well for our current generation, but these games will spring up nostalgia in someone. I grew up with these games and I can’t even tolerate some of them. Don’t let that discourage you. There are arcade classics like Bad Dudes Versus Dragon Ninja, Joe and Mac, or Super Spy that you can play to the end. There are some Atari 7800 games that are delightfully competent like Alien Brigade or Desert Falcon. The Amiga produced a lot of strong brawlers, shooters, and adventure games that are worth a playthrough like Alien Breed, Pegasus or Monkey Island. The SNES and NES have the beloved Star Wars games like Super Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars. The PS1 is the most rewarding part of this subscription with great hits like Glover, 40 Winks, Loaded, and MDK. The emulator runs great.

The one impoverished part in this library is the JRPG and tactics games. There are a few traditional roleplaying games on Amiga and Megadrive, but anyone who is a fan of Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy, and Ys will feel like there is not anything worthwhile here. New games come out every month so it is hopeful to say that more RPGs are coming.

Challenge Mode

The one aspect of retro gaming I hate is how isolated it feels. Antstream has a challenge center where gamers can accomplish achievements or rack up a high score, inviting other players to beat that score. In another mode there is a Giant Slayer challenge where one player sets an impressive score or time and other players have to beat their challenge. The Antstream developers have cleverly adapted the games so that you warp instantly to the challenge. The challenges are not for the meek and you might find yourself returning to a trial forty times. Antstream lets you enter these arenas by using up a diamond currency. Every time you login or score an achievement you are rewarded diamonds to spend on challenges. I found myself gravitating toward the challenge modes when game binging got stale.