SNK to the Past
Retro game collections are a great way to preserve the past. SNK 40th Anniversary Collection celebrates the golden age of Japanese developer SNK. This compilation curates titles from the company’s earlier years predating the Neo Geo era, so series like King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, and Metal Slug are out. But there are still treats for fans of the arcade classics.
See every game in action with my Video Review!
Fourteen games are available at launch, with more to come as free DLC. In the initial batch, there are three shoot ‘em ups, two platformers, a fighting game, an action RPG, two beat ‘em ups, and five run-and-gun style games. A whopping six are military-themed. Diversity is not the collection’s greatest strength, and its value depends on nostalgia or taste for war shooters. Most are shorter 1-2 hour experiences, but the brutal difficulty can be unforgiving. Luckily, this adaptation offers unlimited credits among other helpful lifelines.
Before going over the games, here’s an overview of the package. The menus are easily navigable and clearly highlight numerous ways to play. For example, almost every game has both arcade and console versions, and in most cases, you can switch to the Japanese edition. The NES versions don’t look as smooth as their arcade counterparts, but the package feels more complete with their alternate takes and exclusive stages. The games are authentic replications of the original arcade cabinets, but look sharper with the 1080p resolution. You’re free to enlarge the display to a full or stretched screen, and you can add TV or monitor filters. Any negative space is filled with a border of official artwork, some fist-pumping, others weird.
New functions for the emulated titles include save states, which immensely help given the difficulty. The robust rewind lets you go backwards by the second to redo mistakes. An unexpected touch is the ability to watch complete playthroughs of every game. Not only do they provide walkthroughs, but you can actually pick up and play from any point during the video. Yes, it’s cheating, but I appreciate the freedom to skip to a specific level or the final boss. Game options are light, but button customization is thankfully present. As a bonus, there is a lovingly crafted museum where you can learn about SNK’s pre-Neo Geo history, view bonus artwork and trivia, and listen to the soundtracks. Finally, there are achievements, but they all amount to simply beating the games. As a retro collection, the presentation and features set an exceptional standard on preserving and improving the classics.
Now for a look at the 14 launch games. Unlike my more in-depth reviews, I will offer brief thoughts for each one. Starting with the shoot ‘em ups, Prehistoric Isle has the standout concept of shooting down dinosaurs while piloting planes. It’s genuinely enjoyable with its colorful graphics, and it’s the only shooter at launch that allows simultaneous two-player co-op. In comparison, Alpha Mission is a more traditional vertical space shooter. While stocking up armors per situation is a neat idea, the standard ship moves so slowly. You have to basically collect every upgrade to survive the intense bullet waves. Vanguard looks archaic, but it’s ambitious for its time, allowing you to shoot in four directions. The repeated layouts are dull, but high scorers will appreciate the difficulty increase with every loop. My bigger gripe is that it’s hard to see incoming hazards before it’s too late.
As for the platformers, Athena is the more traditional of the two, featuring incremental armor upgrades. However, it has stiff controls, and it’s possible to get stuck on some enemies without long-range weapons. The levels incorporate multiple paths but are plagued by repetitive design. Meanwhile, Psycho Soldier is an autoscroller where you move up and down through four lanes, shooting long range psychic blasts at enemies. It’s a simple concept that works, although the plain level designs wear thin. Its full vocal theme song made the biggest impression.
Crystalis is the lone action RPG with a style similar to The Legend of Zelda or Secret of Mana. You explore a large top-down world and wield your sword to vanquish foes. The mechanics are well-thought out, including a chargeable sword beam, a level system, and a wealth of clever magic spells. Crystalis is hands-down the best game in the set, as well as the longest, spanning about six to ten hours. On the other hand, Street Smart is perhaps the worst. It’s set up like a fighting game but plays like a one-on-one beat ‘em up. There are no fancy combos–just simple punches and kicks that are hard to execute. And the opponents don’t even have a life bar. Its only saving grace is two-player mode.
All but one of the remaining launch games are war themed. Iron Tank is a top-down shooter where you drive a tank and decimate waves of enemies. Multiple paths and upgradeable firepower give it some replay value. The controls are cumbersome, however, as only one button slowly rotates your tank’s turret, limiting the effectiveness of multidirectional shots. T.N.K. III plays out the same concept much better. Not only is your tank faster, but you can use the right control stick to rotate your turret, allowing you to move while shooting in eight directions. Seriously, dual-stick support is a fantastic adaptation of the original arcade cabinet’s Loop Lever, which allowed players to run and aim with one rotary joystick. Purists can try out the single-stick mode to recreate the Loop Lever.
This same dual-stick support works excellently in Ikari Warriors, a more traditional run-and-gun. This game and its similar cousin Guerilla War are both solid, fast-paced titles pitting you in the trenches of war. The one-hit kills can be unforgiving, but the collection’s assistive features and co-op mode are empowering and helped me see to the end of this Rambo fantasy. Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road is a sequel that has the same gameplay but oddly enough, takes place in space. The sci-fi setting keeps it fresh with more imaginative enemies, level designs, and firepower. But alongside the brutal difficulty are frustrating elements, including annoying holes that force you to fight a miniboss if you fall in.
Ikari III: The Rescue rounds up the Ikari trilogy. Unlike its predecessors, this is a beat ‘em up…a top-down beat’ em up. It’s a novel perspective for the genre, though it doesn’t particularly work here. The movesets are clumsy, and you have to adapt to close-range combat with poor collision detection. I had fun spamming jump kicks, but it’s not the best iteration of Ikari. Finally, P.O.W. is a military-themed beat ‘em up that sports a traditional horizontal perspective, but it’s just as hard to play, again due to wonky collision detection. There’s also a tedium of fighting the same dull enemies repeatedly.
Overall, the best aspect of SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is how it curates and enhances the games, with excellent emulation and features such as rewind and save states. The ability for portable play with the Switch is icing on the cake. Gamers with nostalgia for SNK’s classics will appreciate this compilation, though others may want to wait. Its biggest weaknesses as of launch are the quantity and diversity of games. Most of the initial 14 titles are at least decent, if not great, but there isn’t a must-buy. Also, they’re short endeavors that feel overly similar, sharing genres and that ever-present war theme. Thankfully, eleven more games will be added as free DLC, including Chopper I, Fantasy, and Time Soldiers. I still wish this collection had more of SNK’s 40-year legacy, but its value can only improve as games are added.
Note: A review copy was used for this article.
Eleven games will be added as free DLC on December 11, 2018: Chopper I, Fantasy, Munch Mobile, Sasuke vs. Commander, Time Soldiers, Beast Busters, Bermuda Triangle, Ozma Wars, Paddle Mania, SAR: Search and Rescue, and World Wars. Additionally, a day-one patch will fix any potential issues with rewind and audio, as well as add optional “Auto Fire.”
Also, there will be a new optional “Single Stick” mode for all twin-stick games. Players can use one stick to control both movement and aiming simultaneously. With ”Single Stick” mode enabled, two players can play multiplayer games together using single Joy-Cons.