Antstream Arcade – What is this? A streaming service for ants?!

So are the games streamed by ants or am I completely misunderstanding this.

Stream nearly 1500 arcade games on Antstream Arcade.

Video game preservation is quite the topic at the moment, with allegedly over 80% of games no longer available to play through legitimate means unless you already own them or want to dive into the pricey retro market. There are some games that will almost certainly never see the light of day again, but products like Evercade and those likely dodgy handheld retro consoles you’ve probably seen advertised offer at least some of those classics to retro gamers out there. Antsream Arcade seeks to offer a similar service, but as a streaming platform on PC and Xbox.

There’s a lot on offer with Antstream Arcade. Currently there’s over 1400 games on the service, all of which are legitimately available through licensing deals. That’s a hell of a lot of games, and they stretch across a fairly significant portion of gaming history, from Amstrad to PS1, along with a swathe of arcade titles and the promise of more to come over time. 

Antstream Arcade
The sheer volume of games on here means that the menu can be a bit overwhelming. It’s better if you go in knowing roughly what you’re looking for, or browsing by genre.

Whilst you won’t find the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Crash Bandicoot on here, I found a whole lot of games I remember from my youth and was incredibly happy to be reminded of them. Total Carnage, Clay Fighters, and even rather niche games like Afterlife popped up during my scouring of the available games. It’s worth looking through their list of games if only to see if there’s something you’d like to experience again.

I’m not going to list every game on the service, and I’m absolutely not going to review all of them. Instead I’m going to focus on how Antstream Arcade works as a product. When launching, you’re presented with a lot of options on the title screen. Although overwhelming at this point, it’s pretty easy to work out what’s going on. You’ve got the top 10 most played games, recommendations for you to try, and choices from a few different genres. You’ll also find a search function that you can filter by genre and the device the games were released on. 

Personally, I went through the list of all the games and found ones I wanted to try out. I favourited a number of these so I could find them more quickly in my profile page. In a way this is very much like a Netflix model in which you create your to-play list, whilst the algorithm on the landing page works out what games you might want to try in the future. 

Antstream Arcade
What’s there plays very well, and often has different versions of the same game from different platforms.

Additionally, there are tournaments and “giant killer” events in which you get one life to complete a certain objective, be it hit a points target, survive a length of time, or simply get the highest score you can. The tournaments are fairly self explanatory, with the highest scorer being the winner who is awarded crystals — more on those in a moment. The giant killer events set you a target, and if enough players beat that target, then everyone is awarded crystals. These events are frequently updated with a variety of different games which is a nice way to encourage you to try something you haven’t before.

Now the crystals are an odd inclusion, especially in the console release that I’ve been playing with. When you buy the cheaper version of Antsream Arcade, priced at £30, you get a year’s pass to play all the games you want to. As I understand it, when this time runs out, you can use the crystals to continue to play games on a piecemeal basis. At least, this is what I’ve gleaned from looking at the information on the Epic Games Store release. Beyond that, you can only use crystals to enter competitions to win more crystals. At the moment there doesn’t seem to be an option to access Antstream Arcade for free and pay for crystals as a microtransaction in the console release, so this seems like an odd economy to me for the time being. 

Antstream Arcade
There are even some modern games made in a retro style. This is Flea, a Nes game made in 2020.

There’s an alternative price point too, of £80 for lifetime access to the service, and this leads me to a concern that I have. How long will the service be online for, and will there be enough content added over time to make that worthwhile? The devs have mentioned that they are regularly pursuing new licences, which is promising, but does this mean that licences they already have could expire?  As it stands, I feel like this is a really solid offering, and it’s great to have such a large number of games in one place, and for £30 I think that’s really good value for money, but I don’t want to be paying that every year. The lifetime subscription is a really tempting deal, but I want to be sure that these games will still be available to me in three years’ time.

The other element of this is the fact that all the games are emulated and streamed to your device. This is fine until your internet has a bad day and suddenly you may struggle to play. I’ve only had this happen once, and even then only briefly, but if your internet is a bit shaky, then buyer beware. 

But put those worries aside and I am really happy to have Antstream Arcade on my Xbox. Playing through MDK again was so much fun, even with the silly Playstation control scheme, finding that Total Carnage still holds up was great, and introducing my kids to Llamatron was quite the experience. There’s even the option for couch co-op, but no online sadly — these are just emulations after all. Having the likes of Metal Slug, Mortal Kombat, and Earthworm Jim on hand strikes me as a pretty good deal, although whether you see the same value very much depends on how many games you see that you’ll actually want to play.

It’s nice to play Marble Madness again, even if I’m still terrible at it. I didn’t come across any input delay that messed me up as a result of the game streaming.

Antstream Arcade is available now on PC and Xbox.

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