The year was 1982. Tron called out to gamers with its unique arcade cabinet and variety of content. The game was so successful that it out-grossed the film which inspired it. Capturing the attention of a proportionate cult following, the game burrowed from the cinematic namesake directly in its portrayal of a digital mainframe. Albeit aged, this very same mainframe later appeared as the structural influence for the Kingdom Hearts universe.
But unlike SquareSoft’s cross-over masterpiece, Tron feels absurdly out of place in today’s market. After-all, it’s only an emulation, which amounts to nothing more than the source material. Yet for the light charge of admission – only 400 Microsoft Points, as of this writing – it’s sort of hard to complain.
But as a standalone product, time has not been kind to Tron.
With one subgame for every 100 MP spent, it would seem like a sound enough purchase at face value. However, seeing as Tron: Discs of Death was released separately over Xbox Live for the very same charge, one might wonder just how far we’ve come in the past couple of decades. Apparently not very far. Because Tron: Discs of Death was packed in with Tron and an all new game on a Game Boy Advance cartridge only just recently, the notion of combining the two seems reasonable enough to me. Because DoD was at first intentioned as the fifth subgame in Tron, but had to go it alone as the developers found technological problems not allowing for them to include the fifth.
A hub connects the four subgames through diverging paths. There are twelve levels of increasing difficulty, speed, enemy count, etc., which are marked by a new hub world with the same four level themes. Three of the games used a rotational control scheme in the arcades. In this emulation, the rotational control is poorly mapped to the right stick, making it painfully difficult to aim.
Armed with a gun (literally attached to the character’s arm, it seems), I slaughter a mess of rapidly reproducing spiders, one after another, making my way to the center of the Inside/Outside room, in which a timer relays the countdown to my impending doom if I can’t make it inside… or maybe it’s outside… I’m unsure. Some mind game.
Afterwards, I’m piloting a light cycle. It leaves behind an afterburner-like trail and has a few speeds. It’s never explained exactly why it’s necessary to destroy the yellow bikes, but as the blue biker, I wrote it up to destiny.
Fans of Family Guy and/or Robot Chicken may recall the satirical pokes at Tron’s light cycle game, in which characters veer about wildly, eventually meeting their demise as they intersect a trail of light. A stream of color follows your cycle, as you attempt to trap yellow bikers. This is broiled down to figuring out how to box-in the lackluster enemy AI, which can be easily tricked with a short-handed bag of practice.
Tron’s tank battles happen to be somewhat reminiscent of one of my favorite arcade games, Vindicators, which was also Developed by Midway. But Tron doesn’t quite get it right. The strange original development choice in giving the faster moving CPU tanks one shot kills and giving me three shot kills, aggravate the subgame without need. The broken rotation control doesn’t help matters, making aiming a chore, as you bounce back and forth from behind a barrier, and the CPU’s head in that general direction.
My favorite of the four is a Breakout-esque level in which you must shoot out the bricks of a revolving halo, while standing underneath it, as the screen pushes upwards. Through the holes, you must reach the top. This one’s fun, but you must complete each game to move on to the next hub world, so it’s unlikely you’ll face more than a few variations of any type. Poor hit detection makes one of Tron’s only qualities bittersweet.
The standard visuals are the same as the original. Enhanced visuals are mysteriously different than other XBLA emulations in that they don’t really even sharpen things up, but rather opt for a look that seems to have been re-drawn without any marked improvement. If you’re going to touch anything, why not just go for the complete overhaul?
Over Xbox Live, your opponent’s reduced to a mere miniature rectangle to the side of your screen – and their action’s aren’t even visible. Not very involving. I found myself waiting upwards of an hour for matches – having to leave my 360 on and distract myself until the game could begin and lag out a minute or two afterwards. There’s a light cycle vs. game as well, but again, the lag makes it near unplayable.
I suppose things could’ve been worse: they could’ve done a poorly emulated version of the Intellivision hit Maze-A-Tron.