Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: May 5, 2008
As stated in one of my previous reviews, the day of the compilation has arrived. Many game companies that have been with us for years have elected to pull together an assortment of their old titles that are no longer making any money and offer them to gamers in an attempt to squeeze a few extra bucks out of them. For nostalgia fans, this can be either a great boon or a serious blow. All too often, we find ourselves looking back on our youth and fondly recalling memories associated with a given game … and all too often, we play those games again only to realize just how sub-par they really were. SNK Playmore has decided to throw its hat into the ring with SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1, and the result is a very mixed bag indeed.
One topic that is important when considering any compilation is how faithful the new collection is to the originals, both in the good and bad aspects; nostalgia isn't the same if the game producers have gone back and put white-out over the parts that aren't as pretty as they would have us remember. On this count, I am pleased to inform you that SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 delivers rather solidly; even going back to the start-up screen, each title has been painstakingly recreated, down to the slight flicker issues whenever the action on the screen gets particularly hectic. As something of a retro gamer, I remember these issues like scuff marks on an old pair of shoes: They may not be ideal, but they seldom detract from functionality, and they give a certain aura of character. Adults can point their kids to compilations like this and say, “See, this is what gaming used to be like.”
The real flaw in this title is that SNK has pulled principally from their pre-1995 library, with only three titles (Metal Slug, Neo Turf Masters, Shock Troopers) breaking this theme, and it shows. When SNK named this "Arcade Classics," they weren't kidding; almost every game on this playlist was intended to be what was often referred to as a "quarter muncher." For the uninitiated, these were machines that were put into actual brick-and-mortar arcades and were not intended to be games that you could beat with a quarter or two ... or even four. The difficulty levels were often ramped up so high that players would have to pump a seemingly endless stream of quarters into the machine if they wanted to see the final fruits of their labor. The real problem with this is that games of this ilk don't translate particularly well onto console systems; players would ideally be limited in the number of continues they could use. However, "Free Play" mode takes a game whose difficulty was principally due to its limited access and removes that limitation. This makes the games far too easy; with the exception of Samurai Shodown, I was capable of beating each game in a half-hour and with sufficient patience.
While it's true that SNK's selection of titles was fairly limited, it would have been nice to see some N-Gage titles on the playlist because what they've given the player is hit-and-miss. Some of the games available on this disc are real winners: Magician Lord, Metal Slug, Sengoku and Shock Troopers all stand out as having weathered the test of time with surprisingly enduring play value.
The trouble begins when some of the less-lauded games are played, whereupon it quickly becomes obvious that SNK needed some serious diversification. The inclusion of the original Samurai Shodown only drives home the fact that six of the games available are one-on-one fighters, and playing any of them quickly makes it clear why Street Fighter II dominated the fighting game scene for so long; many of the controls are inexact or baffling to try to figure out, and the game isn't terribly helpful. The inclusion of Sengoku made the existence of Burning Fight purely academic, and none of the sports titles are particularly engaging or innovative.
The true irony is that it was when SNK deviated from its attempts to usurp Capcom's stranglehold on the fighter-versus-fighter market that it really hit its stride; whether it's Sengoku's varied gameplay, Metal Slug's Contra-esque gameplay, or Shock Trooper's take on the Ikari Warriors gameplay style, anyone who really digs into this title will realize that SNK was at its best when it was doing its own thing.
When considering a compilation title under its own merits, very little can be said about the included games that has not been said before, so much of the review begins to reflect the presentation of the titles and the execution thereof. Much like the rest of this disc, the frills on SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 are inconsistent in quality. The opening screen is pleasantly cinematic, but the actual game selection screen feels more than a little bit lazy, with only brief information given about the game (year, game type, number of players).
Once a player is engaged in the game, pressing the Select button gives a series of options that include a list of achievements one can unlock, but the unfortunate truth is that virtually every game uses almost all of the same achievements: get a high score or beat the game on easy, normal, hard, and insane. This is a nice idea for some games, but the repetition gets old in a hurry. The other real gripe here is with the save time. Whatever caused the game-saving process to take so darned long should have been remedied before this title went to market; it's unreasonable that a bunch of games produced in the first half of the 1990s should take longer to save than a game that came out 10 years later. Easy access is crucial when you've really done little more than throw a few old games together, and SNK disappoints on that front with the save times.
Overall, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is a fairly accurate representation of the company's library during the time from which most of the titles were taken: a truckload of fighting games, a few sports games, and some gems that managed to sneak by. Nostalgia enthusiasts could do a lot worse than to pick up a used copy at their local game store, and $20 is about right for the new price. SNK Playmore could have done better than this offering, but they could have done a lot worse, too. Just don't pick up a copy for your kids; I assure you, they won't understand the appeal.