Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: July 29, 2008
Released in 1990, the Neo-Geo console by SNK represents a milestone in arcade history. The console that lasted for 14 years gave the company a chance to create arcade games at a lower cost in comparison to their competitors. For consumers, the system represented great 2-D gaming in the face of 3-D gaming coming from other arcade manufacturers and home consoles alike. After several ports of their arcade games and game series compilations were brought to home consoles, SNK is bringing out a compilation of Neo-Geo games on their own for the Nintendo Wii with SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1. With 16 games for $29.99, the compilation disc represents a good value for those looking for some retro gaming. The question is whether you should get this disc or wait for the inevitable Volume 2 instead.
This 16-game compilation (15 readily available + 1 locked) gives a pretty good value for the dollar, especially when you compare it to buying them all on the Nintendo Wii Shop. While old-school Neo-Geo fans will immediately remember the games once they hear the title, those with fuzzier memories or who have never played the games but love old-school gaming would be curious to know what they're getting in this first volume.
Art of Fighting is one of SNK's early fighting games that started to do something different in order to stand out from the crowd. In this case, it was visible character damage and camera zooming whenever the fighters got close to each other. While the two-player mode allowed you to select any of the characters to play with, the single-player mode only allowed you to choose between the two main characters. This limits the single-player game a bit but also gives it a more cohesive story. As far as the fighting goes, it's OK but nothing too spectacular.
The first Baseball Stars was a bona fide classic with good core gameplay and a pretty deep management tool, and some say that it's the first sports sim to hit the market. Baseball Stars 2, included in this compilation, completely rips out the sim portions, so if you're looking for a deep sim this time around, keep looking. What you get instead is some really good baseball that falls under the realm of easy to play but tough to completely master. The graphics are great, the controls are tight, and the presentation, complete with cut scenes, is top-notch. This is the good baseball game for those that don't care about the MLB license or the pitcher and batter cursor system that's been employ in more recent baseball titles.
Beat-'em-ups were still big business when the Neo-Geo came out, so it was no surprise that the system got one of its own. Burning Fight has qualities of Capcom's Final Fight but doesn't have that polish. While the game itself doesn't have anything that makes it stand out from the pack, the issues with collision and the Engrish drag it down.
Fatal Fury is another of SNK's early fighting games. Much like Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury limits the single-player experience to three fighters while the versus mode gives you access to every fighter in the game. The hook for Fatal Fury was the different planes in which the fighting could take place. Most matches see you and the opponent jumping from the foreground to the background and back again, giving the game a sense of depth before 3-D fighting became all the rage. The combat here is a bit stiff but feels smoother than Art of Fighting.
King of the Monsters is billed as another early SNK fighting game, although it plays more like a wrestling game. You take on the role of one of six giant monsters as you fight in areas of the city that have been blocked off by electric walls. While you outwrestle your opponent, you crush buildings and fight off attacks from the military. The fighting aspect isn't particularly deep, but the fact that you get to fight as giant monsters seems to make things better. In a strange twist, the two-player mode here isn't competitive but cooperative, with you and a friend fighting against another team of monsters.
The Neo-Geo didn't have too many space shooting games in comparison to its fighters and other shooters, but Last Resort managed to be a rather good shooting game. Enemies don't become overwhelming like they are in the current crop of shooting titles, but they also take a few shots to destroy, making them tougher than normal enemies for space shooters. The game takes a bit from R-Type and a bit from Gradius by having a satellite power-up that can either be stationary or roving, adding a bit to your offense as well as strategy on where you want your satellite placed. The game is fun but difficult, so don't be surprised at the number of times you'll die in the first level alone.
Magician Lord is one of two platforming games in this compilation. On one hand, this was the free game that was packed in with every Neo-Geo home console so while it didn't take away the sting of spending $650 on the new system, it helped. On the other hand, the game has failed miserably to stand the test of time. Think of it as a longer and tougher version of Altered Beast. Your character can transform into other beings by collecting orbs but loses that ability once he gets hit twice. The combat is fine, but the bugs and design decisions don't increase the enjoyment factor. Enemies and their shots can pass through walls while your fire can't, causing you to get hurt in cheap ways. When you die, you often respawn in bad areas, such as lava ponds, almost ensuring that you'll immediately lose health. Couple that with really bad voice acting and repetitive music, and you have a game that is as painful as it is long. Curiously enough, this is the only game in the compilation that is single-player only.
Metal Slug is one of the few games that can be called an homage to classic shooters like Contra instead of a carbon copy. This is one of the system's later titles that features great animation to go along with the graphics. The action is good and tough, ensuring that only the skilled can make it past the first level without dying. Aside from the ability to play the game with Classic Controllers, however, it's odd to see this game in this disc. This series got its own compilation, where this title was paired up with Metal Slug 2-6 and X. There's nothing wrong with it being here, but it feels strange that SNK would put this here instead of some other game. Also, for those who are curious, the blood defaults to red.
The words "arcade" and "golf" don't normally go together (Golden Tee not withstanding), but Neo Turf Masters plays surprisingly well. The controls are simple, with a clicking system similar to that of Hot Shots Golf. There are only four courses, but they provide a good challenge. The cut scenes at the end of each hole are also worth watching just to see the exaggerated looks of your golfer when he hits a birdie or goes for a double bogey.
Samurai Shodown is another memorable fighting game from SNK. This one takes the Street Fighter formula and gives it a weapons-based twist. The attacking system is slow, but since you are dealing with samurai and other warriors that deal death with their blades, the speed is forgivable. Besides, what it lacks in speed it makes up for in brutality. The game spurts blood when a particularly nasty hit makes contact, and enemies are often cut in half when you deliver the final blow. Unlike other SNK fighters of its time, you can select any one of the available fighters in single-player mode. The game also features a zoomable camera just like Art of Fighting. Weapons tend to lock up, and fighters can also knock weapons away from their opponent's hands, making for a very cool gameplay mechanic.
Sengoku is quite possibly the strangest beat-'em-up made for the system. You and a friend battle the forces of a supernatural army led by an old feudal lord hell-bent on ruling the world. You constantly switch back and forth between a ravaged Tokyo to the Afterlife and back. Being able to change between different forms during a battle is cool, but the real attraction is the weapons. While other beat-'em-ups features swords and other blades, the ones featured here seem to really make a difference since you see your enemies get slashed instead of just being knocked back. The big flaw comes from the combat itself: While your player is capable of simple combos just like other beat-'em-ups, the first hit always knocks back the enemy, rendering the rest of the combo useless. It's a bad move, considering that the rest of the game is actually quite fun. On a side note, Player 1 wears a jumpsuit with a puffy red jacket, but Player 2 is a cowboy dressed in purple clothing. Keep that in mind when you decide who's the first player in the game.
Shock Troopers is a great top-down shooting game from the company who made classics like Ikari Warriors and Guerilla War. You and a friend can choose between eight soldiers, complete with their own special weapons, and wreak havoc among the enemy troops there. Each soldier also moves differently, making them stand out more and giving the player another reason to choose one soldier over another. The dodge technique here is well done, something that has rarely been used in shooting games of this type before. Some players might never use it, while others will find it invaluable when they're low on health. Another feature is the ability to select between just having one soldier to play with or a team of three. While the single soldier plays like any other game, the team aspect lets the user switch between soldiers in the middle of the fight.
Super Sidekicks 3 is a very simple, fun soccer game. The action is fast, thanks to the accelerated game clock, and the game retains the full rule set, making it odd to see penalties being given for an arcade take on the sport.
The King of Fighters '94 is the other wildly successful fighting franchise for SNK. It plays out like an all-star fighting game by mixing in characters from the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series. This time around, instead of having one-on-one bouts, the user gets into fights with various three-man teams. The teams are preset, so the user is unable to customize the team members. The team dynamic, however, adds more to the game since you always have to think about which member of your team gets to fight first and try to match him up with the opponent. You also have to worry about health management since you immediately fight the next team member, and only a tiny fraction of health comes back once a round is over.
Top Hunter is the other platforming game in this compilation, and it has an option for two players. The graphics and animation show that this was one of the later Neo-Geo games. Instead of killing enemies by jumping on them, you get to punch and throw them using your stretchy arms. The gimmick makes it feel different from other platformers, and the game length is good for an arcade offering. Much like Fatal Fury, the title allows users to switch between the background and foreground, making for some interesting gameplay puzzles.
World Heroes is a fighting game that must be unlocked by obtaining 10 Medals in the other compilation titles. This early Neo-Geo fighting game is pretty much a direct copy of Street Fighter II without going into copy infringement. The game features eight warriors from around the world as they duke it out to become champion. It plays just like any other copycat fighter of the time, complete with a stiff move system and characters that carry traits designed to make it feel like a Street Fighter clone (one character looks like M. Bison but has stretchy limbs like Dhalsim, while two other characters have the exact same move list but with different looks to their characters and colors).
The games of the Neo-Geo represented some of the best sprite-based gaming of the time. Because it was built as an arcade machine first, the graphics often bested that of the 16-bit systems from Nintendo and Sega. The early titles looked good, and the later titles naturally improved on the graphics while the animations became more fluid. After less than 20 years, the graphics represented by the games in this collection have held up rather well. The art style is detailed for a game of its time, and it still looks rather attractive to those who remember playing them all those years ago. The animation, however, is a different story. Aside from a few of the games, most of the games move stiffly, and even when considering how old these games are, this makes for a compilation of games that looks good in pictures and a little less attractive in motion.
The sound for this compilation is a very mixed bag. With the exception of Metal Gear and possible The King of Fighters '94, most of the music here is forgettable. It's serviceable enough that you won't want to turn it off when you play any of the available games. The sound effects are solid, but the compilation is polarized when it comes to the voices. Metal Slug and Baseball Stars 2 are great examples of how voice acting is supposed to sound on the Neo-Geo, but Magician Lord is the epitome of bad voice acting and bad spoken dialogue.
The menu system for choosing which game to play is nice and large. A good amount of real estate is taken up by the highlighted game playing a slideshow of screenshots while a smaller strip on the left displays artwork. The descriptors are a bit basic, with an icon conveying the game type (sports, shooting, fighting, etc.), how many players can play the game (and what type of mode), and the year of release. There's also a display for how many Medals you obtained in that particular game.
The options for each game are deep enough. Aside from being able to adjust video and audio options in general, you can also change control preferences on the game in general and specific titles only. You can specify the control scheme that you want to use (Wiimote, Wiimote and Nunchuk, Classic Controller, GameCube Controller). Finally, you can fine-tune each game's options, including difficulty, number of continues and number of lives per continue. Keep in mind that the default for continues is set to Free Play (unlimited).
Like all of the Xbox 360 titles and some of the PS3 ones, this game features an achievement system dubbed Medals. Each game has 10 Medals that all have to do with how you play the game. While some of the Medals are game-specific and have you doing things like obtaining all forms in Magician Lord or performing a double play in Baseball Stars 2, a majority of the Medals have you doing the same thing, such as beating the game in each of the three difficulty levels or obtaining a high score.
Unlike the other games, however, these Medals unlock things. Some of them unlock a music test for a game, while others unlock artwork and short videos on some of the secret areas. Obtaining 10 of the Medals overall will unlock World Heroes. Curiously enough, a bulk of the Medals has you unlocking move lists for characters in the compilation's fighting games. This one is a head-scratcher since it essentially forces you to play a multitude of games multiple times if you ever hope to see a complete move list for just one game. It's not the most enticing way to get someone to play a game multiple times, and one wonders if they would have been better off using those Medals to unlock more games or artwork instead.
Considering that the SNK Arcade Collection Vol. 1 is all about old-school gaming, the best way to play the game would be to use either the Classic Controller or the GameCube Controller, both of which are supported here. As expected, they feel good and are a natural fit. The real question is how the game controls if you don't have either of the aforementioned controllers. It's actually not bad.
A majority of the titles uses the two main buttons for gameplay, so using the Wiimote alone is a reasonable option. For those games that absolutely need all four buttons to function, using the Nunchuk in conjunction with the Wiimote is serviceable. Using the analog stick is fine, but using both left and right fingers for all of the buttons can take some getting used to. All in all, control shouldn't be too much of an issue for the games here. The only real gripe with using these control schemes is that the Wiimote d-pad is used in both Wiimote and Wiimote/Nunchuk scenarios, and they must be used in the remote control orientation (IR sensor facing the TV). It's not a bad thing for the Wiimote/Nunchuk combo players, but when you play with just the Wiimote and you have to constantly change between holding the Wiimote like a TV remote and holding it like a NES controller, it does get annoying.
As far as home consoles are concerned, SNK Arcade Collection Vol. 1 was released earlier in the year for the PS2. The PS2 has the advantage of being released earlier but has major disadvantages when it comes to game saving. Where the Wii version didn't take long at all to save progress and high scores, the PS2 takes a few seconds longer to do the same thing. When the difference goes from instant to noticeable, it becomes a major advantage for the Wii. The Wii version also supports 480p while the PS2 version does not. These games are really meant to be played on a standard definition TV, but the Wii's 480p support means that you won't be seeing a blurry mess if you happen to game on your new HDTV.
If you're a fan of old arcade games, SNK Arcade Collection Vol. 1 is a worthy pick-up. Considering that the number of good games (Baseball Stars 2 and Samurai Shodown come to mind) outweigh the bad (Burning Fight) and that there is no other way to obtain these games aside from buying the actual Neo-Geo system, this is money well spent. The same advice also applies if you like co-op and competitive games. For those new to old-school gaming or want more meat in their titles, give it a good rent first. Like all arcade games, these aren't very long and can be beaten in an afternoon when you use unlimited continues, but there's no denying that it's a ton of fun while it lasts.