SNK Arcade Classics Vol 1
It’s a great time to be a SNK fan. With the lull between King of Fighters titles, the company has apparently decided to re-release all of its major old school titles in the form of anthologies and collections. The lack of originality isn’t a bad thing, of course; it gives gamers who couldn’t afford a NeoGeo (which probably amounts to 90% of the gaming world) a chance to play the games that made SNK so famous. The problem is that the company keeps reusing the same games for multiple collections; faithful collectors have probably realized that they’ve played identical titles on the collections they’ve paid for. Wii owners have been essentially screwed over by the ridiculously high Virtual Console prices as well. Nostalgia may come with a price, but the SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 collection provides one of the best deals of all preceding collections.
The concept is fairly straightforward: the collection features sixteen of SNK’s most recognizable retro titles. While the first installments of Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, and King of Fighters are practically a given, the inclusion of Samurai Shodown is definitely a nice surprise. Even World Heroes shows up as a fairly lame unlockable. Metal Slug, however, is always a welcome sight. There’s the top-down version of it called Shock Troopers, but it serves as a poor substitute. The same goes with Burning Fight and Sengoku, which are essentially the byproducts of Final Fight’s popularity. King of the Monsters, Magician Lord, and the sports simulators haven’t aged well, either. But hey, at leastTop Hunter and Last Resort are still playable. Regardless of what you play, you’ll be given a set of secondary objectives during the games. Complete them, and you’ll unlock dozens of artwork, movelists, and other bonus material. If you can endure the ridiculously long loading times between each menu, you’ll have plenty of incentives to finish them all.
The experience itself, however, might not be as rewarding. These games are faithful ports of their original arcade versions; as such, they come with all the flawed gameplay mechanics that come with them. Take the fighting games, for example. There are plenty of interesting ideas; having the characters fight in either the backgrounds or the foreground, using historical figures, and creating teams of three characters at once were certainly innovative for their time. Unfortunately, many of these ideas weren’t translated well into the gameplay itself. The glitch-ridden controls are as sluggish and unresponsive as ever. The infuriatingly slow-paced fighting doesn’t help much, either. There’s a severe lack of balance as well; many of the characters are either horribly overpowered or possess attacks that make for easily abusable strategies. When you take all of these game-breaking issues into account, you’ll realize just how poorly these games have aged.
The same could be said for the sports games. SNK Arcade Classics serves up baseball, soccer, and golf simulators for you to master. Each game lets you choose a team or individual player (including some pretty hilarious typecast golfing personalities) and where they’ll play. There’s plenty in terms of eye candy; you’ll be presented with numerous cutscenes and highly detailed arenas. Watching you batter dramatically sprint towards first base is far more entertaining than what most average baseball games offer. Seeing a rivaling team begging not to get Yellow Carded or watching your golfer bend his clubs in frustration are pretty funny, but such things serve only to distract you from the simplicity and flawed aspects of the gameplay. Unlike the fighting games, there are no overtly horrendous problems.; the only real issues lie with the responsiveness of the controls. In games where you have to constantly toggle between team members or press a button with just the right timing to perform a perfect swing, the occasionally sluggish controls can grind your nerves.
The same issues plague some of the action games. Magician Lord, for example, offers gamers the chance to step into the role of some shape-shifting sorcerer and crusade across a side-scrolling wasteland of demonic bats and other generic foes. Being able to morph into a shuriken-wielding ninja and a fire-breathing warrior is pretty awesome (and the corresponding animations are impressive), but the titular Magician Lord moves as if he were some sort of mystical tank. His walking, jumping, and spell-casting abilities are so ridiculously clunky that you’ll likely die upon encountering a foe that forces you to perform two actions at once. King of the Monsters suffers a similar fate. The premise is awesome – a bunch of Godzilla wannabes duking it out and wiping Tokyo off the map at the same time – but the execution comes off lacking. There is little skill involved in mashing the attack button, praying that your slashes and kicks connect (the awkward camera and hit detection are the real enemies), and eventually pinning your foe like a professional wrestler. Sure, there are some combos and special attacks to learn, but the game will go stale long before you are crowned as a royal monstrosity.
The collection hits its lowest point, however, once you try playing Burning Fight. It’s essentially a clone of Capcom’s Final Fight. It attempts to emulate everything that made the epic brawler great: three playable characters fighting against some omnipotent criminal syndicate (though you’ll have to replace Mad Gear with the Yakuza this time), destructible phone booths and oil drums, and several ineffectual weapons. There is one thing that SNK failed to copy from Capcom’s game: quality. Unlike the memorable warriors of Final Fight these guys have no personality whatsoever; their moves and powers use nearly identical playing styles, the animations are wooden, and the enemies have no originality whatsoever. In contrast, Sengoku lets you fight your way through a bunch of possessed Japanese armored suits in a bid to save a post-apocalyptic Earth. Being able to acquire a handful of weapons is pretty neat, but the real appeal comes with changing forms mod-battle; you can become a wolf, ninja, or samurai with specialized movesets and powers. There’s nothing quite as awesome as summoning a horde of mystical puppies to do your dirty work for you. The repetitive enemies are balanced out by a constant barrage of unusual levels, ranging from the cloudy heavens to a decrepit subway station. Not nearly as charming as Final Fight or Streets of Rage, but it gets points for originality.
But if you want something really obscure, Top Hunter offers one of the most unique experiences in the collection. You play as some generic muscle-bound on a crusade across four elementally-themed planets. The details of these levels are on par with some of the best 2D graphics SNK has ever used. You’ll see leaves drifting along with the wind in the forest planet, the subtle shades of red on the fire planet, and all the little animations that make the characters seem livelier. It’s the gameplay, however, that stands out the most; Top Hunter plays like the bastard lovechild of Ristar and Gunstar Heroes. While you won’t have much in the way of weapons to deal with the endless hordes of foes, your stretchy limbs allow you to dish out punishment from a distance and grasp objects to interact with the levels. With a nod to Fatal Fury, the game even lets you shift between the foreground and backgrounds of the stage to avoid oncoming attacks. While so many of the other games suffer from various flaws, this title is the underappreciated gem of the collection.
Of course, you’ll likely skip over all of this and go straight for the one title that always delivers: Metal Slug. This epic side-scrolling shooter game represents some of the finest work SNK has ever done. You’ll get to shoot, blast and knife your way through a seemingly endless army of soldiers, tanks, and anything else the game throws at you. The action is fast-paced, bloody, and incredibly vivid; you’ll see blood spattering across the screen with every dying body, whole villages reduced to rubble, and plenty of highly detailed wartime settings. The sheer amount of blood, shrapnel, and explosions will satiate many a gamer’s hunger for awesome visuals. The fact a single bullet can kill you keeps things interesting as well. But if you prefer something a little less conventional, give Shock Troopers a shot. It’s essentially Metal Slug, but seen from a top-down perspective a la Commando and Ikari Warriors. With plenty of enemies, weapons, and playable characters, it offers something different for seasoned Metal Slug fans. That’s assuming, of course, that you don’t mind the horrendous slow down that occasionally accompanies the gameplay.
Well, SNK has done it again. They’ve delivered yet another anthology of their most popular games, praying that nostalgia will sustain them until their new titles finally surface. They are starting to push their luck, however. A good portion of these games are already available on the other collections, which means faithful SNK fans will be paying for content they’ve already likely acquired. Many of the games retain the glitches and flaws that haunted their original versions; many of today’s gamers will find some of the titles nearly unplayable. Despite such shortcomings, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 has its share of awesome titles. Stuff like Metal Slug, Top Hunter, and Sengoku are definitely worth playing, regardless of the other games’ mediocrity. Besides, you’ve got tons of unlockable content and a wide variety of games to play for a reasonable price. So if you’re a retro gaming fan or feel the need to experience some old school SNK awesomeness, then give this a go. It may not be perfect, but at least it’s a good deal.