SNK 40th Anniversary Collection

SNK 40th Anniversary Collection - Switch (2018)


SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is a compilation of games from SNK’s early history, before they were known for the Neo Geo and their wide assortment of fighting games. This isn’t the first time these types of games were compiled – SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 0 was released for the PSP in 2011, and while it didn’t make it out of Japan, the games collected there were broken up and sold cheaply on the PSN internationally as PSP Minis, allowing playing on the PS3, PSP, and Vita. The content on these collections are slightly different, as well as from different developers – SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 0 was from G2M2 (who did many of the PS2 Neo Geo compilations) while SNK 40th Anniversary Collection comes courtesy of Digital Eclipse, who also did Mega Man Legacy Collection and Street Fighter 30th Anniversary CollectionSNK 40th Anniversary Collection is also much more fully featured, offering both arcade and NES ports (where available) as well as regional variations of both. There are other home ports, but are missing because they weren’t developed by SNK themselves (for example, the Game Boy Color port of Crystalis, the Genesis version of Street Smart, or the many computer ports of several of these titles).

There are 13 games initially available on the card, with an extra 11 to be added via DLC in December 2018.

Initial games:

 

Alpha Mission

A vertical shoot-em-up from 1985, similar to Tecmo’s Star Force and Hudson’s Star Soldier. Nothing particularly exciting, though it does have a large variety of power-ups. Also includes the NES port.

Athena

The origin of Athena Asamiya in the King of Fighters series (kind of), you control a warrior princess, based on the Greek goddess. You play through eight different worlds, finding tons of weapons and equipment to defend yourself. It has some rough RPG elements and branching stages, but the controls, particularly the short range of many of your weapons and the awkward jumping scheme, makes it extremely difficult. Also includes the NES game, probably more known to American/European fans, which takes all of the issues of the arcade game and amplifies them due to Micronics’ typically shoddy programming.

Crystalis

This is the only title on the collection that’s an NES-only game, without any ties to an established arcade title. It’s an excellent post-apocalyptic action-RPG, having come late enough in the system’s life to learn the lessons from earlier 8-bit games like The Legend of Zelda and Ys.

Guerrilla War

One of the many military-themed overhead run-and-guns similar to Ikari Warriors, using a rotary controller. The original Japanese version starred Che Guevara (and is indeed called Guevara), which is also playable on this compilation, though the characters look identical anyway. The NES version is included too.

Arcade

Ikari Warriors

One of the SNK’s most popular titles of this era, again, it’s a run-and-gun starring two heroes, Ralf and Clark, who look a lot like they came from Rambo. It came in the wake of Capcom’s Commando, though likely took some inspiration from Taito’s early game Front Line. Includes the (dreadful) NES port.

Arcade

Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road

This Ikari Warriors sequel takes place in outer space. The goofy speech by the villain right at the beginning justifies this title’s presence immediately. The NES port might actually be worse than the home conversion of the original, but it’s not really an argument worth having because they’re both incredibly terrible.

Arcade

Ikari III

The third Ikari game mostly trades weapons for fists and boots, turning this into an oddball overhead beat-em-up. At this point SNK was either handling the NES ports themselves or were outsourcing to better companies, so the home port is much more solid than previous entries, even if it’s not all that interesting.

Arcade

POW

A belt-scrolling beat-em-up where you can get knives and guns as subweapons. The NES port is pretty decent.

Prehistoric Isle

A side-scrolling shooter where you control a biplane over an island filled with dinosaurs, similar to The Lost World. You also have a pod that you can rotate around your ship, which has different weapons depending on its positioning. Tends to be overlooked since it never had a home port, but it’s a pretty good game.

Arcade

Psycho Soldier

This quasi-follow-up to Athena recasts the Greek goddess as a modern-day Japanese schoolgirl / pop idol / psychic, who uses her powers to drive off an alien invasion. Otherwise, the only thing it has in common with its predecessor is that you smash lots of bricks and find lots of different power-ups. It’s an unusual side-scrolling shooter where the screen scrolls automatically and you jump between levels, while shooting psychic blasts – it’s very similar to Capcom’s earlier SonSon. Other than the game starring Athena (and introducing her buddy Kensu/Kensou), this is mostly known for its theme song, featuring digitized lyrics. The Japanese version is peppy; the English version is dire but amusing. The game’s not bad though it grows difficult quickly and is kinda repetitive.

Street Smart

Technically SNK’s first entry into the fighting game genre, though the arenas are presented like a belt-scrolling beat-em-up. This is one-on-one, unless you’re playing in two-player, in which it’s two-on-two. It’s clumsy and overly difficult, though the title music sounds a lot like the Blues Brothers car chase theme, so that counts for something.

TNK III

Probably the game that begins the “modern” SNK in 1985, as it begins its obsession with military-themed games, though unlike the others, your character is unseen and never leaves their tank. The levels scroll upward but also left and right, so allow for some freedom. It’s pretty decent!

Iron Tank

This game is counted separately on the menu (but not in the total game count) even though it’s basically an NES port of TNK III. However, like the home ports of Rygar and Strider, it’s vastly expanded, taking the basic concepts and making them more suitable for home play. This includes adding things like com radio you can answer for advice. The hero is technically Ralf, one of the Ikari Warriors, though the English version renames them Snake. The English script writers must’ve really liked either Metal Gear or Escape from New York.

Vanguard

This 1981 shoot-em-up looks like Konami’s Scramble at first glance, but its main gimmick is that it scrolls in different directions, changing after every level – horizontally, vertically, and even diagonally. It’s enough to make it interesting enough despite its age.

The games scheduled for inclusion as free DLC are: Chopper 1, Fantasy, Munch Mobile, Sasuke vs. Commander, Time Soldiers, Bermuda Triangle, Paddle Mania, Ozma Wars, Beast Busters, Search and Rescue, and World Wars.

Missing from this compilation compared to SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 0 are: Marvin’s Maze, Gold Medalist, HAL 21, Super Championship Baseball, Touch Down Fever, and Vanguard II. Most of these titles aren’t all that interesting (though Marvin’s Maze has a cute main character) so it’s not a huge loss.

The emulation is pretty good on all of these collections, though there is some extremely infrequent stuttering in some of the arcade games, usually right when you start playing the game. There are two types of scanline filters and a handful of screen resizing options, though no ability to use 1-1 pixel scaling. A few games (Psycho Soldier, Guerrilla War) use odd resolutions anyway and would look strange when not presented in 4:3, but Guerrilla War in particular has some very noticeable shimmering. You can also flip the Switch console to play vertically oriented games. To emulate the rotary controller some of these games use, the ability to aim is mapped to the right analog stick, making these much easier to play, and preferable to mucking with MAME configurations. There’s also support for save states (single slot) and a rewind function, plus pre-recorded superplays to show how to properly beat each game, which you can jump into and play at any time.

As for the games presented here, especially at its initial release…well, most of these games haven’t aged all that well or were hardly classics to begin with. There is a large amount of war games – nearly half of them! – but that’s simply because they were some of SNK’s most popular products at the time. The best games here are probably Crystalis, Prehistoric Isle, and TNK III (and Iron Tank). Athena and Psycho Soldier are interesting historical curiosities for King of Fighters fans; there’s some nostalgia for these in Japan but Athena is widely hated in America thanks to its dreadful NES port and Psycho Soldier is otherwise known only to European fans for its hilarious cover artwork for the computer ports (neither those games nor the art is included here due to the different publisher). The Ikari Warriors games (and Guerrilla War) are okay, but there have been many better overhead run-and-guns since (and arguably none of them are good as Commando anyway). 

The real value here is the collection as a historical artifact, not just preserving these games, but also all of the supplementary material. These additions have become more common in retro compilations over the years, but they have a tendency to just to be throwaway extra modes with some scanned images and not much else. But this is one of the most fully featured history modes yet seen.

There’s a collection of scanned design notes for certain games, created during their development, all of which are pretty cool, but the museum mode here features a look at everything SNK published and developed from its inception all the way up until 1989. This includes the titles that weren’t presented as playable in this compilation, too. They include screenshots and arcade flyers, as well as brief write-ups about the game itself. Not only is it comprehensive but gives some context to what these titles are and how they were important at the time. It also reveals plenty of interesting history, like Yosaku, one of SNK’s earliest arcade games, about a lumberjack. The actual arcade board is exceedingly rare (and is not present in this compilation nor available in MAME) and only exists as a bootleg port and as a minigame in King of Fighters: Pocket de Paradise for the Neo Geo Pocket. The only thing is that the text can’t directly reference other company’s platforms when referring to ports – it doesn’t specifically reference the Super Cassette Vision as the system where the off-brand Yosaku was released, for example.

In its present, incomplete state, it’s hard to give an affirmative statement on its content – 13 games is a little thin, especially when so many of them are the type you might muck with for a few minutes before moving on, but the extra titles to be added in December bolster the total roster to 23, which is much meatier. But the release really is almost worth it for the museum content alone, and will hopefully convince more publishers to include similar modes in the future.