Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: April 29, 2008
In this modern age of downloadable retro video games, there is a dirty little secret that goes unacknowledged. Sure, you can go on to Xbox Live or Nintendo's Virtual Console and download countless classic video games at the press of a button, and generally for very reasonable prices, but these retro downloads are not always the best deal. You can pay $8 for Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on the Wii, or 400 Microsoft points for Sonic 2 … or you can pay $20 for the Sonic Mega Collection, available on the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox (and backward-compatible on all three next-gen systems) and get almost every Sonic video game ever made. The moral of the story is that just because a Virtual Console purchase is cheaper doesn't necessarily make it the best bang for your buck. However, there are few titles that offer as much of the aforementioned bang as SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1, coming later this year to the PS2, PSP and Wii.
Few modern gamers will remember the ill-fated Neo Geo system. Released in 1990, the Neo Geo was the most powerful system at the time, but the $650 price tag and the upcoming desire for 3-D graphics drove the system into obscurity with surprising speed. However, as far as a lineup of excellent games goes, the Neo Geo had quite a few treasures hidden up its sleeves that, unfortunately, have gone all but unnoticed by the mainstream public. I'm sure even some relatively causal gamers can mention the King of Fighters franchise or possibly even Metal Slug, but ask about more obscure titles like Magician Lord or Shock Troopers, and you'll probably be met with blank stares. While a few of these titles have seen re-release on the aforementioned online retro gaming services, most have been left to gather dust in the hands of die-hard collectors or pawn shop windows. SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1 finally gives the less hardcore gamers a chance to experience some good, old-fashioned SNK arcade fun.
It should come as no surprise to SNK faithful that SNK Arcade Classics includes a healthy dose of fighting games; after all, in recent years, SNK has been best known for its King of Fighters series. SNK Arcade Classics includes the classic fighting game, King of Fighters '94, in addition to other definitive titles, Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury and Samurai Showdown. To fighting game fans, these titles are all but self-explanatory, and while they may not be as advanced as Street Fighter IV or Arcana Heart, they have their places in fighting game history. However, these four well-known fighting games are joined by a couple of slightly obscure titles.
The first is World Heroes, a Street Fighter II clone that has a few unique ideas, although it's best known for having one of the most unique cast of characters in fighting game history. World Heroes pits altered versions historical figures, such as Rasputin and Jeanne d'Arc, against thinly veiled homages to Hulk Hogan and Bruce Lee. The gameplay is incredibly similar to Street Fighter II, and most people will probably dismiss this game as a mere variant of the Capcom classic, but for some gamers, the possibility of having Hulk Hogan bodyslam Rasputin should be enough to justify at least one playthrough.
Somehow, the other fighting title on the list is even more bizarre than World Heroes. King of Monsters is a pseudo-wrestling game starring almost-but-not-quite clones of famous giant kaiju such as Godzilla, King Kong and Ultraman as they battle one another to be crowned the King of Monsters. Your eventual goal is to pin the opponent before he can do the same to you. It's a wrestling game at heart, but the real fun of King of Monsters is having your giant beast destroy the surrounding city while you try to take down the mammoth enemy.
Of course, SNK's other big franchise, Metal Slug, is represented in the form of Metal Slug 1, which has been perfectly translated from its original Neo Geo form. With the availability of titles like Metal Slug Collection for most systems, this may perhaps be the least unique, although most recognizable, side-scrolling action available on the collection. Joining Metal Slug are a number of lesser-known SNK classics.
Shock Troopers is a thinly veiled Metal Slug clone that features an isometric view. Everything — from the power-ups, similarly themed weapons, and the close-range knife attack — feels quite similar to SNK's classic adventure. However, Shock Trooper's biggest selling point is the fact that players have a choice between taking on enemies as a "Lone Wolf" or in a "Team Battle." Lone wolves are a single character with a significant life bar and a small supply of special weapons, while teams are made up of three characters who aren't as tough as the Lone Wolf but can switch on the fly and have access to a heavier arsenal. When you're going up against an endless swarm of enemy soldiers, you're going to need all the help you can get, and while Shock Troopers isn't as unforgiving as Metal Slug can be, it still requires some effort to get through.
Magician Lord, one of the better-known SNK platformers because of its frequent appearances on popular kid's show "Nick Arcade," is also easy to find outside the collection, on the Wii Virtual Console. Magician Lord places gamers in the shoes of the wizard Elta, a weak-but-determined fellow who wants to save the world from destruction by blasting through a series of side-scrolling platform adventure areas. Elta's wizardry power is strong, but he isn't the most capable attacker. He can fire fast-moving but ineffective blasts, but he can't take too many hits before he meets his doom. By picking up various colored orbs scattered throughout the levels, Elta can transform into a number of different forms, ranging from a fire-breathing dragon to a samurai with an incredibly powerful melee attack. These forms are powerful, but if Elta suffers too much damage while transformed, he reverts to his wimpy self.
Fellow side-scrolling beat-'em-up Sengoku comes from a very similar mold. Players take the control of rather generic-looking '90s beat-'em-up protagonists as they battle their way through a horde of evil Japanese demons and monsters to … well, prevent them from taking over the world. It's not exactly Shakespeare. While battling the demons, your two heroes can take advantage of the spirits of non-evil Japanese demons and monsters to aid them. Scattered throughout the stages are various orbs that allow your protagonists to gain temporary weapons, such as dual katanas or claymores. As the game progresses, you gain the ability to temporarily morph into one of three forms — dog, ninja or samurai — each with its own set of special abilities.
Top Hunter: Roddy and Cathy is a side-scrolling platform game (shock!) in the vein of Bionic Commando and Ristar. You're given control over Roddy or Cathy, two heroes with super-extendable arms and excellent brawling skills as they beat their way through a number of elemental-themed environments. Obviously, the unique element here is the super-extendo arms, which can be used to hit enemies from afar, switch between the foreground and background, pull special rings in order to unlock bonuses, and even interact with the environment by pushing objects onto enemies for huge damage. It's a surprisingly charming title, and the cartoonish graphics are a bit of a relief from the more realistic sprites in the SNK Arcade Collection's other beat-'em-ups.
Burning Fight is perhaps the least interesting, although certainly not the least fun, of the games on the compilation. At best a Final Fight clone, Burning Fight lets you take control of one of three muscular brawling detectives as he beats his way through the Japanese underworld in an attempt to stop the villain of the week from wreaking havoc. This is done through the fairly classic beat-'em-up method of punching everything and everyone in your path. It's not a particularly innovative or memorable game, but for those seeking a Streets of Rage fix, it's pretty darn fun.
The most surprising addition to the collection is a number of SNK's more obscure sports titles. Rounding out SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1's list are three of Neo Geo's finest sports titles: Baseball Stars 2, Neo Turf Masters and Super Sidekicks 3. Baseball Stars 2, now available on the Wii Virtual Console, is a fun and wild baseball title set in a fictional league. It's an easy pick-up-and-play title, and while it may seem hopelessly archaic compared to any modern sports game, its charm lie in its ease of play and cartoonish graphics. Neo Turf Masters and Super Sidekicks 3 are surprisingly similar in that they're both charming representations of the sport (golf and soccer/football, respectively) that are simply rendered too archaic and old to be anything more than a fun selling point to those of us who remember playing the titles on our Genesis consoles.
Like so many games in this post-Xbox 360 era, SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1 looks to improve its overall replay value by include a series of achievement-like challenges for each title in the compilation. For each game, you have a list of unlockable conditions ranging from the simple, such as using all four transformations at least once in Sengoku, to the incredibly difficult, such as beating Metal Slug on the hardest difficulty level. Each completed challenge unlocks artwork or move lists from one of the titles. While more casual gamers probably won't be interested in forcing their way through Magician Lord on the hardest difficulty for some artwork, the encouragement is a nice bonus for completionists and those who want to show off their mastery of SNK's best.
SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1 is another compilation that is almost too good to pass up. Even if one-third of the SNK titles on this offering are to your liking, then it is already the best deal on the market. With well-known titles such as Metal Slug and King of Fighters '94 joining difficult-to-find classics Top Hunter and Magician Lord, this is one collection that gamers shouldn't pass up if they want the best deal in town.