"SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 does a commendable job of bringing you more hits than misses in its library of sixteen titles, and carries along with it a few surprise packages in game you would have never played but far from regret spending time with. "
It wouldn’t be fair to start a review of SNK Arcade Classics 1 without giving Magician Lord first mention. You may have never heard of this title, but a fellow HG illuminate has been harping on about this flawed masterpiece for longer than I care to remember. For the most part, he’s been right to: this fantastically atmospheric action-platfomer is well worth its simmering cult status, boasting a kitsch-led foundation of over-the-top seriousness glossed over with artificial challenge thanks to the abhorrent weakness of protagonist spellslinger, Elta. Imagine Shinobi with spells instead of shuriken, goofy mocks from otherworldly boss encounters and your ninja lead replaced with one of Harry Potter’s less successful chums, and what you’re picturing is Magician Lord.
While I’d like to wrap things up on the most personable title in the collection, the keyword here is collection. Magician Lord is only one of the sixteen titles housed within Classics Vol. 1, and some of them even have the gall to match up just as well, if not better. Titles like Metal Slug should need no introduction, but gets one just the same: this iconic run ‘n’ gunner may have since been surpassed by better sequels, but still has more than enough left to provide a thrill ride filled with comic capering mixed with non-stop artillery abuse and chibi tanks. Other titles try to keep up, none more so than Last Resort, a scrolling shooter that clearly wants to be seen as a prettier take on R-Type, but doesn’t come close to the coeval shoot-em-up on any level other than pad-crushing difficulty.
Volume 1 decided to take its numeric ordering to heart, and shows this by including the very first title of any and all of SNK’s most time-tested franchises, bloating out the compilation with enough tournament fighters to embarrass even Capcom’s unceasing necrophilia on Street Fighter II. World Heroes is always going to be the most lacking of the bunch, providing the player with a fighter that packs its roster with interesting characters like Jenghis Carn and Rasputin (notice the slight misspelling of famous, historical names?) but sadly matches this up with a shallow and cardboard fighting engine. Fatal Fury perhaps stands the test of time the best, forging a commendable pseudo-3D stage to fight in by giving a true 2D a background plain you gave skip in and out of to dodge the attacks of martial arts master, Geese Howard, even if your initial selection of characters goes no further than three. Which is still one more than Art of Fighting gives you; here you only get the pick of either Ryo “Don’t call me Ken Masters” Sakazaki or Robert “Ninja Yuppie” Garcia to try and take down the sadistic crime syndicate of Mr. Karate who've taken Ryo’s sister hostage in a suicidal bit of protagonist baiting. Art of Fighting is noteworthy in its own respect: this was the first fighter to have its combatants get more bloodied and bruised as their fights went on as well as employing a limited special bar that could be raised and lowered with appropriate opponent taunting.
Samurai Shodown offers up more of the same, but throws you into Feudal Japan then arms you with katana and the ability to cause your opponent to spray streams of pixalated blood with each strike, giving you cast members like typical anime Japanese guy with impossible hair and an overbearing sword as well as an odd yank ninja with a surfboarder mentality and a pet wolf. King of Fighters ‘94 took warriors from all SNK’s franchise and tried to shoehorn them into a clumsy team tourney fighter where your trio of warriors were pre-set leading to some hugely uneven teams factoring in a new sheen of annoyance. All these fighters are at least competent, even though many have been made obsolete by superior sequels.
King of the Monsters, a Neo-Geo showcase title about huge Godzilla-like beasts scrapping over a soon-to-be-doomed city makes up for shallowness in its unique appeal, but its one and only sequel didn’t really fare any better. So it gets an aside from the other ‘verses’ fighters.
Away from tourney fighters, the compilation makes way for some of the less known brawlers of the era. Burning Fight isn’t a great place to start: it’s generic in every sense of the word, featuring two American no-nonsense cops and their oriental chum who, obviously, has extensive martial arts training and a name like Ryu. It’s a by-the-numbers affair, a game that’s not overly awful, just completely unable to differentiate itself from its crowded genre. Unlike Sengoku, which sometimes allows you to think it’s just another brawler before suddenly dropping you into a weird alternative dimensions where hellspawns and demons do their level best to damn you to hell. You combat this by collecting numerous power-ups that can alter your form Altered Beast style or clad you in majestic, magic armour for ease of slaughter.
Shock Troopers. is SNK’s take on Smash TV and, while it’s not quite as playable, it’s fantastically presented, clearly being infused with the insanity that has served Metal Slug so well over the years and still a lot of fun to play. Likewise, there’s very little to complain about with Top Hunters, a laid-back platformer with some great ideas, like dual planes to traverse that you can skip in and out of and the ability to pluck items out of the environment on whim. There’s some issues with load times that shouldn’t exist in this updated form, but it’s hard to care when faced with the cute and zany jump ‘em up behind it all.
It’s all rounded up by three competent sports titles. Super Sidekicks 3 has long been overtaken by rival
soccer football arcade games over the years, but is still worth a nostalgic visit while Baseball Stars 2 and Neo Turf Masters both provide surprisingly relevant trips to their respective takes on baseball and golf.
SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 does a commendable job of bringing you more hits than misses in its library of sixteen titles, and carries along with it a few surprise packages in game you would have never played but far from regret spending time with. I don’t know what I expected when I came to the end of this review, whether I’d be praising a nostalgic collection of arcade titles or proclaiming them better left forgotten in the past. I have my complaints to level -- which I’ve done majestically, as always -- but there’s an appreciated sheen of care that’s been applied across the board. Completing certain sections of the games on offer unlocks content, such as movelists, artwork and videos, and a very appreciated save system has been coded in to a lot of the titles.
It’s worth a look back in time when the antiquities of yesteryear have been so loving presented for a new generation to enjoy.
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