Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: May 5, 2008
Arcades might be a thing of the past for many, but that hasn't stopped Taito and Namco from celebrating their history by re-releasing the titles that made them legends. Classic collections appearing alongside their next-gen progeny have allowed the past to live on without the need for a pocket filled with tokens, having to venture into a smoke-filled cavern illuminated only by the attract mode dancing across every screen, or wondering at the sobbing cry of someone who had shot their food instead of eating it. The venue might have changed, but as these collections have proven, many have survived the test of time.
The manual included with SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 glosses over much of the company's colorful backstory by giving you a brief taste of SNK's work on both the arcade and hardware fronts. This is a company that managed to create fighting games that held their own against the likes of Capcom while developing action shooters that blistered fingers and sprained wrists. SNK's home version of the same arcade hardware found in stand-ups, the Neo Geo, would deliver the exact experience to players who were willing to pony up the dough. The price points of the 360 and the PS3 may have made headlines today, but SNK's Neo Geo arcade system proved that players were willing to pay to bring the experience to their homes in the early '90s. Sixty dollars for a game today? Try two hundred bucks or more.
Unfortunately, SNK would nearly disappear into obscurity, due in part to the decreasing popularity of the arcade scene and the viciously competitive hardware wars waged between home console makers. Today, SNK Playmore is a leaner beast with a newish name, and most of its original crew is back to making games. It's too early to tell what they have planned for this generation, but to keep us company, they've put together several of their oldest titles for the PSP in the first volume of their Arcade Classics collection.
This isn't the first time that SNK's titles have come together. Metal Slug Anthology and Fatal Fury: Battle Archives focus on two of the company's franchises, but their latest compilation aims to give players a wider variety of thumb-busting fun. Sixteen games that were once only available on the Neo Geo and in the arcades have been stuffed into the UMD, and while there are a few favorites that I was eager to get back to, like Magician Lord and Metal Slug, there are also a few others that aren't as well known, such as Top Hunter and Last Resort. If I had no clue what they were, I do now, thanks to this release.
The first thing that I noticed in loading up SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 was that it takes almost a minute to get from the initial splash screen to the actual menu. Simply trying to get to the game that you want to play may feel as if you're spending more time waiting than in actually doing something. The good news is that players won't need to deal with this while playing any of the games, but some patience is needed when changing over from one to the next as it loads.
Each game has a set of options that you can fiddle with, such as the difficulty or the controls. On the Normal setting, you get to play many of the action favorites in Free Play mode with unlimited continues, which makes sense if you're the type of player to carry bags of quarters and tokens into an arcade to show that you mean business. Of course, you can raise the difficulty to limit the number of continues, but it would have been nice to be able to fine-tune some of the settings to decide how many lives I want to play with to how many continues I'm allowed, instead of doing it all at once with only one option.
SNK Playmore has also done more than simply port over these titles by creating their own "achievement" system to reward players with medals to unlock art, movies showing off in-game tricks, music, and even move sets for its fighting games. Achievements include finishing a game on Normal difficulty or achieving a high score; as we've learned with the Xbox Live Gamerscore, this challenge-and-reward system encourages additional play.
Having the move sets available from the outset for each fighting game would have been a good thing to have, though, and the rewards are scattered haphazardly, which makes it somewhat confusing. Completing certain achievements for Magician Lord or Metal Slug might net you unlocked assets from another title instead of the one that you'd just completed. It's still a nice incentive on top of maxing out your own score, and the manual contains a list of how to unlock the fighting move lists. Fight fans who really don't want to get into the other titles to simply learn how to use their favorite characters might simply search online for the sets instead.
Competitive players can also use the PSP to join others by using its ad hoc wireless capability to cooperate on two-player titles and beat down friends in King of the Monsters or Art of Fighting. It doesn't have any infrastructure support, though, so you have to find someone else who has the game.
The collection pays homage to SNK's early rivalry with Capcom with a large number of fighting games, which is a real treat for genre fans. The rest of the collection is broken up into a mix consisting of 2-D action shooters like the original Metal Slug, sports titles like Baseball Stars, and beat-'em-ups like Sengoku and Burning Fight. Most of the titles are smoothly emulated and are just as challenging as I had remembered them to be. There were plenty of games to choose from, regardless of whether I wanted to practice pyrotechnics with Shock Troopers or enhance my calm with a quiet game of golf in Neo Turf Masters. World Heroes is also part of the roster, but players have to earn 10 achievement medals to unlock it.
There's not much to say in the graphics department, except that the bright and colorful pixels I remember viewing through a grimy plastic marquee protector in the arcade now look sharp and detailed on the PSP's small screen. The button controls can feel a little awkward in the fighting games, especially Samurai Shodown and King of Fighters, as it makes use of the shoulder buttons in addition to the face ones, but they're manageable with some practice. Most everything else won't stress out your fingers, although you can customize them to some extent and save your settings. There's even a checkpoint system in place with most of these titles, so you can restart from where you left off, although action titles like Shock Troopers have to be finished in one sitting because, well, they don't want to make it too easy now, right?
SNK Playmore has also faithfully emulated each game right down to the occasionally embarrassing translations, turning several titles into snapshots of SNK's early localization efforts. Players expecting a challenge will be happy to hear that they also haven't skimped on the high difficulty level. Even on the Easy difficulty level, many of the titles will pummel players, which begs the question of just how many dollars you would have fed the token machine to beat the game in the arcades. Pixel-perfect platforming jumps, insane fighting combos, and an occasional sense of being caught in bullet hell are only a few of the experiences that these arcade classics bring to the PSP.
While much of the emulation is near perfect despite the crazy load times between getting to the main menu and actually starting a game, the only title that I felt suffered severe performance issues was Shock Troopers. The action-packed shooter occasionally stuttered during the more chaotic moments, as if the game had to load even more data just to keep up. The sound effects in the main game selection screen would sometimes play catch-up right after it loaded. Despite these little glitches, however, the collection still provides plenty of fun, and not just for nostalgia's sake.
Each title brought something different to the arcades, and now players have a chance to experience the best of what SNK had to offer during its heyday with SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1. It's a great fit for PSP owners looking to expand their library with some old-school charm without breaking the bank or having to figure out the emulator scene. There's something here for everyone, whether you want to head out on the soccer field, play a few holes of golf, mix it up with a fighting game, or shoot your way through an enemy army. SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is a solid purchase for players on the go who hope to relive the glory days of the arcades or learn more about the history of their favorite hobby.