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SNK Arcade Classics: Vol. 1 (PSP) artwork

SNK Arcade Classics: Vol. 1 (PSP) review

"Iím happy enough burning though another game of Shock Troopers while on the move. Afterwards, perhaps Iíll surprise myself with another round of golf. Odds are, thereís something on here youíll enjoy."

I was pleasantly surprised to find that, out of the sixteen titles available on SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 it was Shock Troopers that lent itself the most brilliantly to handheld gaming. Back in the foggy mists of time when I had to review the PS2 strain of this title, I found the Commando-like shooter fun, itís true. Itís easy to enjoy the six-strong platoon's personal war on the Bloody Scorpion Group as they take their fight to swampy marshlands, vine-choked jungles and even the back of an in-flight jumbo jet to save a scientistís daughter, but whack it on a handheld and offer the promise of gaming on the move, and it suddenly becomes magic.

A lot of the titles hold the same appeal, and the PSPs d-pad manages these titles better than many of its home console counterparts. Magician Lord is a flawed classic featuring the slowly-plodding Elta creeping his fragile frame, complete with floppy wide-rimmed hat, through non-linear stages filled with gargoyles, demons and Engrish-spitting gods who are very keen to kill you. Despite the abhorrent weakness of its avatar, the game drips with personality and clever ideas, such as doors leading Elta out of his levelís main stage to allowing him to seek out bonuses and power-ups that turn him from timid spell-slinger to mystical ninja.

Last Resort might be the bastard lovechild of the original R-Type and SEGAís Bio-Hazard Battle, but it looks fantastic and, thanks to the hugely-frustrating difficulty that any game looking to copy Iremís coeval shooter has to, by law, include, profits heavily by SNK Collections Vol. 1Ďs decision to have the game save your progress at checkpoints to return to time and time again. It may be gorgeous, sporting destructible landscapes that see you nuke the little harmless tanks that fruitlessly chase you from the ground, or eject the burning corpses of your enemies from the flaming husks of their former fighters, but itís never going to be a game that you can complete in a single sitting.

Then thereís, well, everything else.

Maybe that sounds a little unfair but, what with this being the first collection of retro SNK titles to be released, theyíve gone a bit mad on including the patriarchs of almost every long-running series theyíve ever developed. In a strictly historic sense, this might be appreciated but, in another sense, it means the collection is filled with games long since made obsolete by vastly superior sequels. Perhaps the title to suffer from this the least is the first Metal Slug which, yes, has long since been bettered by the ever-climbing sequels that will outlive every single one of us, but itís still an intense blast of side-scrolling hilarity dripping with challenge and tongue-in-cheek humour that remains well worth your time. Then you come to the large slice of tourney fighters that have been shoehorned in. Every single one of them right at the roots of their prospective franchises.

World Heroes is always going to be the bottom of the barrel when even its later games were hardly well received, but the others do fare a little better. Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting are still playable today and showcase the inventive aspects that continued later in their lifespans: Both games only offer a limited number of combatants to fight through their respective forces of evil (always one-on-one, of course) which allows FuryĎs trio to skip back and forth between two 2D planes to avoid attacks while ArtĎs duo of combatants can receive or dish out noticeable injury during their battles. Samurai Shodown promises much of the same with a more varied and kooky cast as well as the promise of pixelated blood sprouting from sword slashes and the occasional wolf bite while King of Monsters puts you in command of Godzilla-scale monsters and lets you do battle in a completely destructible town where skyscrapers can either splinter under the weight of a falling beastie or be wielded like a club to bludgeon and smash. The King of Fighters Ď94 is SNKís first attempt to throw all their popular characters into a huge team-based fighter, but this initial strain was broken by unbalanced teams you couldnít dissolve or assemble yourself.

Whatís left more often than not shows its age quite unflatteringly. Sengoku is a weird brawler that often transfers its stiff, awkward heroes to the heavens where it can fight surreal demons and enlist the help of heavenly beings that are often just as stiff and slow to react as your standard human avatar was to begin with. Burning Fight fares better; it gives you a choice of three protagonists, all hopelessly clichťd, but at least with more than one attack button shared between them. Here, things play out like a Final Fight-lite, without the power bombs and suplexes but with the second boss being such a blatant parody of WWE cash-zombie Hulk Hogan that I canít bring myself to properly pan it.

The last few titles consist of Top Hunter, which is what Metal Slug would be if it stole Fatal FuryĎs second 2D plane to skip in and out of, and was bought and republished by 4Kids. But even in its overly-cartoony presentation, it showcases a playful and vibrant world to frolic in, and bust the occasional head should you feel so inclined. Baseball Stars 2 is a basic aracadey take on the sport that seemingly lapses into complete randomness on some aspects, such as where you hit the ball should you connect with your swing, and Super Sidekicks 3 is a clumsy take on how we used to play soccer football on arcade cabinets back in the day. Which leaves only Neo Turf Masters which is aÖ well, surprisingly fun golf sim that I didnít expect to find as competent as I did.

Which really sums SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 pretty competently. There are some solid titles on here but the ones I didnít expect to enjoy are the ones that stand out the most, and applying them to a handheld as competently as has been done here only strengthens their appeal. The collection itself isnít content to just hurl these games at you, it encompasses a clever save system which allows you to walk away from your title of choice and restart at any checkpoint youíve managed to reach at any time you wish, as well as include goals and challenges for you to beat, earning medals and unlockable content such as artwork and move-lists for the myriad of games available. The collection, and how itís presented, is solid enough, but itís held back by titles that might well still be playable but are oft made obsolete by the evolution of their own series. If SNK intend to further their Collections franchise, then theyíve made a decent foundation, and one that retro freaks and collectors would do very well to own.

Iím not really either.

But thatís okay. Iím happy enough burning though another game of Shock Troopers while on the move. Afterwards, perhaps Iíll surprise myself with another round of golf. Odds are, thereís something on here youíll enjoy.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (March 27, 2009)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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