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SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1

Ah, nostalgia – it can blind even the most critical of gamers. It raises smiles and brings on the kinds of memories that linger in the mind for years and years. It is why we value retro games so highly, and tend to forgive their recurrent and obvious flaws. It is universally known that 2D games age incredibly well as opposed to 3D, so by that rule SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 for the PSP should very well prove successful. Barring some painfully dull presentation, unbearable loading times and some truly throwaway games, this collection of SNK arcade titles is worth a shot at the right price – for an informed look on the early days of SNK, and for a handful of arcade gems.

Included in the game are sixteen ‘classic’ SNK titles spanning a good amount of genres – however the variety leans heavily toward fighters. Amongst this fighting stable there are sports games, shooters and even an obligatory side scrolling shoot-em-up. At first you may feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of fighting-orientated games showcased, but again there is just enough variety elsewhere that it shouldn’t deter you. Besides, it certainly fills you in on a few of the more historical chapters of the fighting genre.

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The games are admittedly a mixed bag, with some stand-out gems and some stand-down mugs. To start with the fighting games on offer, none are particularly brilliant, but are worth playing at least. King of Fighters ‘94 is the collection’s cover game, and is surprisingly average. The visuals are impressive in the sense that most 2D fighters look good, but gameplay-wise there isn’t much there to hold onto. By the first round you’ll think you’ve seen it all, and you won’t be much inclined to return. Similarly, Art of Fighting and World Heroes do little to stand out from other fighters (the time you care for the characters will be the time you eat your own head), and is like a poor-mans version of KOF. Fatal Fury and Samurai Showdown fare much better, offering a more enjoyable and accessible fighting experience, with satisfying albeit simple move sets and colourful visuals – the latter home to some refreshingly designed characters. King of the Monsters is a thinly disguised fighter, portraying the much loved sport of wrestling amid Japanese cities, and is suitably mediocre. Its appeal begins to be alluring, only to disappear once you finish your second bout. It’s by no means a bad game, but much like many of the games on this collection, its fun factor wears thing quickly, and you doubtless won’t be coming back for a repeat go.

Continuing the fighting theme but this time with side-scrolling beat-em-ups, you have Burning Fight and Sengoku. Burning Fight is slow, simple, and ultimately forgettable yet is mildly enjoyable. You roam predictably corrupt streets fighting off the many crooks that litter them using a small array of moves, but the ability to use dropped weapons is a nice touch, as is some of the destructible scenery. Much like most of the fighting games however, you likely won’t be returning to it once you’ve played a level or two. Sengoku is another side-scrolling beat-em-up, but involves a magical teenager who can change into multiple forms, such as a mystical fire-breathing wolf. The levels are interesting and fantastical, and combat is repetitive yet strangely delightful – must be the protagonist’s spiffing yellow trousers. Sengoku is one of the collection’s more credible additions.

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Feeling a little left out, you have Last Resort, a side scrolling shoot-em-up which is quite frankly poor. It does little to suck you in, the graphics are merely competent and it’s also frustratingly difficult, there isn’t much else to recommend it on. At least the gun-play is almost satisfying.

Like Last Resort in that it’s the only one of its kind on the collection, Magician Lord is a 2D platformer-adventure hybrid. The gameplay is boring, frustrating and extremely short-lived, and like many of these games you’ll soon be quitting out once the derivative visuals and gameplay irritates. The ability to turn into various forms is nice but ultimately forgettable.

Surprisingly it is two of the three sports games that offer some of the best gameplay on the collection, as well as impressive graphics and long-lasting appeal. Super Sidekicks 3 is a football title that has translated extremely well to the handheld – its side-on view adds an arcadey spin on the gameplay and everything flows extremely well. Shooting is incredibly satisfying and the cut-scenes that play as you get fouled or score a goal are visually a treat. For football fans this one is a sure-fire keeper. In a similar vein, Neo Turf Masters is a traditional golf game with clean styling and simple but decent gameplay mechanics. The way everything is set out, too, is sure to get nostalgia running in your veins and with four eighteen-hole courses, it will last a while. The third sports game, Baseball Stars 2 works much like the others, with cleanly drawn characters and environs, however it is fiendishly hard and games last much too long a time – you’ll literally be praying for the end past the second innings. Out of the three this game is undoubtedly the weakest.

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Easily the most well known game on the collection is Metal Slug, a 2D shooter franchise that has seen numerous sequels and appeared on as many consoles. Its addictive high-temp gameplay is as fun as it ever was, with gorgeous backgrounds and sprites. As with any Metal Slug game things get repetitive quickly and the constant deaths start to grate, but regardless it’s still one of the best on the collection.

Shock Troopers is much like Metal Slug in its gunplay and enemies, but this time takes a top down, deceptively 2D perspective. It works much better than Metal Slug in that it looks more visually striking, and the action doesn’t sour as quickly. For a game this old it still has you considerably impressed with everything that happens on-screen. Massive tanks, helicopters and macho-brutes litter the stages, and you’ll love all the explosive good-ness felling all your enemies grants you. Unfortunately the game hasn’t been translated well, as slow-down affects the game frequently, and is a constant annoyance. In fact, it should be noted that a few other games on the collection suffer from jarring and slowdown, which greatly affects your enjoyment – these are far from perfect ports. In spite of this, Shock Troopers is unquestionably the game of the collection, closely followed by Top Hunter.

Top Hunter is an odd duel-plane, 2D scrolling fighter/platformer/mech-arm-em-up, where your aim is to get from A to B across four different locales. The graphics are cartoon-like yet vibrant and beautiful, with some genuinely fantastic animation and humourous enemies. At one point the background of an ocean suddenly conjures up an awe-inspired tidal wave. Again – as arcade games tend to be – the gameplay is repetitive but you can’t argue it’s not fun. You could probably buy the collection just for these two games and not be disappointed.

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Regarding the collection’s hub from which you select the games, it is disappointingly below average. The games are presented in a pedestrian way, with ugly lines, simplistic imagery and clumsy text. The various games can be scrolled through with ease, and all it takes is a quick button press to boot up the relevant game, but the loading times are abysmal. Initial boot up of the entire game is a lengthy and tiresome process, with the company logos seeming to appear for minutes not seconds, and later the load times for each of the sixteen games are tough to accept. It’s a huge shame, as it can’t help but mar your enjoyment as you’re sat waiting endlessly. There are no slick loading screens to compensate, too. You could argue that presentation in a game like this is unimportant and it’s the compendium of games that matter but nevertheless it takes a lot of your enthusiasm away from enjoying and selecting each game, and the title as a whole.

A great addition of worth, however, is the medal system implemented. Each game has a set number of achievements to work towards in order to unlock relevant concept art and videos among other things. They vary in difficulty, from simple to impossible, and essentially extend each game’s core gameplay – never a bad thing. Each game is very tough however (without continues they would be near-impossible). Even on the easy difficulty you’ll be dieing an obscene amount of times – especially on the fighters, where strangely the first round proves a solid challenge. This collection goes to show how videogames have since become undoubtedly more gamer-friendly.

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It may seem as though this collection is full of simplistic, no-hoper games, but underneath the shocking presentation you can find a fair few games that you could happily spend hours on. Even the bad games have some beautifully nostalgic charm, and give you an insight into SNK’s far from perfect discography. At full price you may not be completely satisfied with SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1, but otherwise it may very well be worth getting your retro on.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @_Frey.

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