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SNK 40th Anniversary Collection

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: SNK
Release Date: March 19, 2019 (US), March 22, 2019 (EU)


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PS4 Review - 'SNK 40th Anniversary Collection'

by Cody Medellin on July 24, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, a variety of classic arcade games from SNK's golden age comes back together in one anthology as SNK 40th Anniversary Collection.

Buy SNK 40th Anniversary Collection

For many players, the name SNK is synonymous with the Neo Geo. Considered to be the unattainable console of the 1990s, it was a system that lasted far longer than expected and produced some classic series like The King of Fighters, Metal Slug, and Samurai Shodown. Many players may even remember some of the lesser-loved titles like King of the Monsters, Shock Troopers and The Super Spy, fewer would remember the company's back catalog, as SNK may have been a player in the games space but not exactly a powerhouse like Atari, Capcom, Midway or Sega. It is for this reason alone that the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is an important release.

Of all of the games released by the company before the Neo Geo, roughly half of them are represented in the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, and while SNK was mostly known at the time for its arcade games and subsequent ports, two of the games here are NES originals. All of the arcade games give you plenty of options, including difficulty level, number of starting lives, and point thresholds for gaining extra lives. Some games even give you the option to turn on friendly fire, which can make some of these quarter-munching games even more brutal if no one aims well. Any of the games that have had NES ports are included, so you can see the difference between them. Most of the games let you play the Japanese version instead, although it isn't so clear what those differences are beyond the title and text. Finally, each of the games has some modern conveniences available, such as the ability to save and continue anywhere as well as the chance to rewind time to correct mistakes.

You'll notice that 16 of the 25 games happen to be shooters. That makes sense, since the 1980s were a big era for that genre. If you're not a fan of blasting things to bits, you won't be pleased with this shooter-heavy lineup. With that said, the range of shooters is rather varied, so with the exception of bullet hell enthusiasts, fans of the shooter genre will find at least one title to like. Side-scrolling fans will be fine with Prehistoric Isle or Vanguard. Top-down shooting fans will like Alpha Mission or TNK III. If you prefer your action on foot, you have games like Guerrilla War or SAR: Search and Rescue. Even those who like rail shooters have Beast Busters to look forward to, while anyone wanting a more Space Invaders-like experience can check out Sasuke vs. Commander.

One of the more interesting things about a good chunk of these SNK shooters is how many of them used unique control schemes. For example, Ikari Warriors and Victory Road both used joysticks that you had to rotate to aim in any direction, and you had to use that same stick to move around the battlefield. Modern controllers transform the titles into twin-stick shooters, which makes things easier since most modern games are accustomed to that setup. Of course, that only applies to the arcade games, as the home ports had a more cumbersome way of rotating characters due to the limitations of the NES controller.

The nine remaining games in the collection do a better job of covering other genres. Beat-'em-up fans will appreciate the presence of Ikari III and P.O.W.: Prisoners of War. Even though fighting games didn't become en vogue until the 1990s, Street Smart shows off an early attempt at the genre. Platform fans have Fantasy, Athena, and Psycho Soldier, with the latter acting more as an auto-scrolling shooter with some platforming elements. Crystalis represents the collection's lone RPG, but it's done up in a style similar to The Legend of Zelda with a more futuristic medieval setting. Paddle Mania is like a goofier version of Pong, as you can use your racket to battle other tennis players or participants from other sports, like sumo wrestling. Finally, Munch Mobile may seem like a racing game due to the presence of a car, but it's strange since your objective involves avoiding other incoming cars and using your arms to get food from the side of the road.

Like many retro compilations, some of these games haven't stood the test of time. Ikari III's clunky transition from top-down shooter to top-down brawler wasn't all that endearing then, and age certainly hasn't helped it. Street Smart might have been decent at the time, but fighting games have evolved so much that few are going to make this their fighting game of choice. Everything else, however, certainly works well nowadays. Almost all of the shooters remain exciting to play, especially with the new twin-stick style making it more accessible to players. Psycho Soldier seems rather goofy due to the synthesized voices and full-on English vocal track that plays in the first level, but it won't take long before you keep playing it for more than just curiosity's sake. Crystalis also fits in well with modern titles, since there are plenty of indie games that mimic this style, making it more up-to-date than one would initially think.

The true highlight of the package is the Museum mode, which has all sorts of miscellaneous goods related to the included games. You have the usual suspects, like sketches for enemies, some design documents, flyers, magazine ads, and box art for some of the games that had NES ports. The title adds a jukebox for some of the games, so you can listen to the tracks outside of their respective titles, and there are some neat ones here since some of the offerings have unused tracks available to play. The lack of translation for some of the design docs and newsletters hurts, as does the somewhat cumbersome method of zooming out of a document or piece of art before being able to continue, but that's nothing new for these kinds of collections. What is welcome and more fascinating is that the museum contains entries for games that aren't in the collection, so even though you can't experience Fighting Golf or Mechanized Attack, you can still learn about SNK's older titles, pre-Neo Geo days. Even if these games never get added on as DLC, at least a bit of their history is preserved here.

The SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is an essential title for retro enthusiasts. It may be very heavy on shooters, but most of the shooters here are decent. Meanwhile, the other genres represented have compelling entries of their own, but Street Smart can be seen more of as a curiosity rather than something you'd actually want to play constantly. It is the Museum mode, however, that makes this collection shine, as there is a ton of content here for retro historians. Anyone who likes retro games should absolutely own this title.

Score: 8.5/10

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