"SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 collects 16 arcade classics, which doesn't sound like a significant number until you realize that a lot of what's here is much beefier than the norm. There's nothing wrong with a bunch of puzzle games, something we often get from other such compilations, but sometimes you want something more substantial. Fortunately, that's exactly what you get here (along with virtual medals to collect that let you know you've well and truly conquered each individual title)."
The PlayStation 2 has seen more than its share of arcade compilations, some good and some not. Now SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 has arrived--fashionably late--and at a price point typical of such collections. Is it worth it, though? Should you invest your money in yet another trip down memory lane if your library is already filled to the bursting point by similar efforts from the likes of Taito, Midway, Capcom and Atari? As always, the answer is going to depend upon your retro sensibilities.
SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 collects 16 arcade classics, which doesn't sound like a significant number until you realize that a lot of what's here is much beefier than the norm. There's nothing wrong with a bunch of puzzle games, something we often get from other such compilations, but sometimes you want something more substantial. Fortunately, that's exactly what you get here (along with virtual medals to collect that let you know you've well and truly conquered each individual title).
Right away, you'll notice that there are a lot of fighting titles, including the likes of King of Fighters '94, Samurai Shodown, Art of Fighting and even King of the Monsters (the game that lets you take control of giant beasts and battle it out over the streets of Tokyo). Many of these have been included on other recent SNK compilations, but it's good to have them here too because they round out the collection nicely and give curious onlookers an idea of the full spectrum of NeoGeo titles that they might have missed back in the day. These games have long since been outclassed by their own sequels, but it's still nice to have a sense of where things began. Then when you're tired of the fighting, you can move onto some of the other treats in the collection.
Metal Slug, the first offering on the in-game menu, shouldn't need any special introduction, even if you've only been gaming for a few years. SNK Playmore has been releasing different selections from this series for awhile now. It's a Contra clone with bright visuals, lots of explosions and a slightly humorous touch to it. It has always been a lively run 'n gun shooter and a real treat to play.
Neo Turf Masters hasn't aged nearly as well. Like later releases within the genre, you can choose from a few golf courses and players, then you head to the green where you press your buttons to time golf swings, strokes and slices. At one time, it must've been an impressive game--certainly it has some pretty nice character animations and the like--but it has since been left far behind by numerous alternatives with better visuals, courses and gameplay.
Another distinct part of the package is Sengoku. It's a brawler, for lack of a better phrase. You wander through streets like you might in Final Fight, only you've never seen streets like this. Some of the backgrounds are (literally) out of this world. Regularly, you're dropped into other dimensions where demon warriors slice and dice you with huge swords, plus even regular combat puts blades at your disposal as you power up your character by collecting glowing orbs. You also can change into alternate forms, but biting enemies as a wolf definitely isn't as useful as donning mystical armor and hacking them to bits.
Next there is Shock Troopers a mostly overhead shooter like the old Ikari Warriors games but now with Metal Slug sensibilities. As in that other title, your characters will laugh heartily when they defeat level-end bosses, plus a lot of the special weapons you can collect are similar. One slight complaint is that this game feels like it really should have been controlled by way of dual analog, though it predates the widespread use of that particular innovation. The result is that you control both your movement and your gunfire with the one analog stick. To utilize them independently, you have to hold down the button and your bullets will then continue to fire in the selected direction. It definitely takes some adjustment for those more familiar with the likes of Geometry Wars and Smash TV.
Also included here is Super Sidekicks 3. As a soccer game, it's already been bested by the likes of Konami's Winning Eleven franchise. There's little reason to play it now despite good team selection and general polish (well, for a retro soccer game).
Top Hunter has aged well, though. It's a platformer not unlike Tomba. Your hero has arms that stretch out to punch and grab objects both in the foreground or in the background. You can freely jump between the two planes as you see fit, provided no objects are in the way. There are plenty of goodies to gather in the themed worlds, which are vibrant and active even if their elemental-based themes aren't terribly unique. The only serious complaint against the game is that entering the bonus areas takes too long and there's no way to skip past the delay. This is surely a fault of the original release, but nowadays it can be especially annoying. Such instances aren't common, though, so it's something that can be ignored to a certain extent.
Baseball Stars 2 is a great example of retro baseball gaming, with nice character animations (love the pitcher chomping on his chew). Sometimes it can be difficult to tell where the ball is going when you're controlling players in the field, but otherwise this is about as enjoyable a baseball video game as you're likely to find from the past, present or future.
Burning Rage is another brawler, and not a bizarre one like Sengoku. It's generic, even. You choose from three fighters, including one named Ryu that seems a lot like Guy from Final Fight and one named Billy (a Double Dragon reference?). The bright stages don't really seem menacing, even when you're pushing along the same grimy barrels that litter the streets in other similar titles. Some of the enemies you fight look like Feka agents from an old Johnny Turbo ad, which is about as interesting as this game gets (unless you count pushing hot dog stands into your enemies). Stiff controls don't help matters any.
The same complaint can't fairly be leveled against Last Resort, a horizontal shooter along the lines of R-Type or the Darius games. It does feature rather bland visuals and a pretty steep difficulty level, though. Check points are infrequent, so you can't simply fly through the game on 'free play' mode the way you can with the other selections in the compilation. Worse, you're stripped naked every time you crash, which only makes doom come to you that much more frequently. Long-time shooter fans won't likely mind as much, but for newcomers it can be a bit of a shock.
Magician Lord, which serves as the final option on the menu, lets you continue whenever you like. Unfortunately, what starts out as a really interesting game soon grows tiresome. You control a weakling magician who walks throughout a variety of fantasy worlds like someone shoved a magical rod up his butt. He can fire shots in four directions and must annihilate numerous boss monsters on his way to defeat an evil wizard. The problem is that he's way too large and awkward, even with upgrades. Enemies are experts at pelting him with shots from odd angles he can't easily reach, so that even as early as the third stage the game becomes something of a hassle. It's a neat concept, but the execution doesn't match the promise.
That wraps up the 16 titles featured on SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1. Not every game is a winner, but there's a lot of interesting stuff here that should please you if you're looking to relive some retro goodness or just to experience some old classics for the first time. The only thing left to worry about now is when we'll see a second volume. If it's as interesting as this first one, it can't come soon enough!
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 10, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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