Review: SNK Arcade Classics Vol. One (PS2)

SNK Arcade Classics Vol. One
Genre: Compilation
Developer: SNK
Publisher: SNK
Release Date: 05/05/08


Compilation discs are generally directed to three groups of people: people who’ve been huge fans of the games on the compilations for years and have been aching to play some of whatever game for months, people who’ve been hearing what a great game such and such is but never got to play it when it was available and thus are eager to try it now, and people who like cheap games, as most comps are around $20. Compilations, as you might expect, have thus become very popular ways to make easy money amongst companies who have the backing libraries to release such things, and it’s not hard to see why. Nostalgia is a powerful thing; old gamers love picking up their favorite games of their youth and waxing philosophical about the days “when games were good”, or just remembering their favorite older games, and younger gamers love seeing what all the hype is about with these old games in comparison to their hot new 3D whatever. Companies like Midway, Capcom, Namco (ESPECIALLY Namco), Taito, and Sega have been all over this idea in recent years, and with good reason: they have huge libraries they can mine, and sticking twenty or so five megabit games onto a DVD with an emulator and some concept art you have lying around costs virtually nothing and tends to pay for itself in only a few days.

Now, SNK has been making compilations of individual franchises for a few years now (not including things like the King of Fighters packs, which were moderately current at the time), with the Metal Slug, Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting and World Heroes collections that have migrated stateside in recent years (but not the KOF compilations, for reasons that could presumably be politely described as “abhorrently insane”), but this is their first go of a simple SNK/Neo-Geo compilation without any theme attached to it. That’s not a bad thing, mind you; SNK has released a ton of cool games that AREN’T part of well-established franchises, so it entirely stands to reason that they’d be able to fill several comp discs full of games that don’t star Marco and Terry Bogard, and some of them would actually be GOOD, even. SNK has developed tons of fun platformers, shooters, and beat-em-ups over the years (or, has had said genres of games developed for the Neo-Geo and retained the rights, in any case), so it’s not hard to believe that a truly great compilation would be easy to make.

And so we are given SNK Arcade Classics Volume One, a disc full of sixteen SNK titles, stamped with a name that indicates there will be a second. I certainly hope there will, in any case; there are more than a few fun games on here, but overall, the selection could’ve been better, and no matter who you are, you’ll be left looking at the list thinking “couldn’t they have added THIS GAME instead of something else on here” more than a few times.

Now, in fairness, there are sixteen games on the disc (fifteen unlocked to start and one locked game that can be unlocked fairly easily), which means you’ve got an awful lot of games to play, so even if one or two are out-and-out stinkers you’ve still got a whole bunch more to play, yeah? Personal taste is probably going to dictate a lot of the enjoyment of a compilation collection, simply because it comes down to “I liked/disliked this game back in the day” or whatever. That said… an awful lot of the games on this disc have either been reproduced from other Neo-Geo compilations (which is nice for those who don’t own said products, but a ripoff for those who do), and/or aren’t particularly good in this day and age. For $20 that’s still not bad, but it’s kind of a shame.

Visually, this compilation mostly looks pretty good; only a few games are out-and-out ugly (and really, they kinda were way back when they came out too, so there ain’t no helping that), and with the exception of the occasional minor, non-gameplay affecting graphical glitch (I’m looking at YOU, King of the Monsters, and your glitched out win/loss screens) the emulation is spot-on. Ditto the sound; a whole lot of the games here sound arcade-perfect, and while there some minor exceptions (Samurai Shodown has voices that float in and out, and Metal Slug is louder than anything else on the disc BY DEFAULT), the sound presentation is pretty solid. Overall, this is a solid representation of these games in their arcade prime from a visual and aural standpoint, which is nice.

So, fine, there are sixteen games, and they all look and sound decent, but are they any good and have they held up all these years? Surprisingly, the answer is “a lot of them have”. Rather than make generalizations, though, I thought I’d just run down the list one at a time and address each game, so here we go:

ART OF FIGHTING: Art of Fighting is an interesting game for those who have never played it; the story of the game is straight out of a kung-fu vengeance flick, the characters you play in story mode learn their powerful moves as they progress by way of training, characters show physical damage as you fight, and special moves are treated as potentially game-ending; even when blocked many do heavy damage. You would think this would make the game an instant classic, and it would but for one thing: the game sucks. The gameplay is stiffer than Alan Strang watching an episode of My Little Pony, the controls are generally unintuitive, and it’s really just not a very interesting game, especially when there are better fighting games, not just in SNK’s library, but on this very disc. If this was an effort to entice players to pick up the AOF compilation disc, it’s not a good one; Art of Fighting should have stayed in the 90’s (though AOF 3, which sadly isn’t on this disc, is still pretty sweet).

BASEBALL STARS 2: Japanese baseball games are almost always hilarious and this one is certainly no exception. Teams like the New York Monsters (with names like Mummy, Zombie, and Jason) and the Tokyo Ninjas (who, sadly, just have Japanese names that aren’t so amusing) do battle in a fairly standard game of baseball; hit ball, run bases, yadda yadda. The character sprites are really large and amusing, giving what would otherwise be normal baseball an amusing, laughable bent, especially when a guy who looks like he’s made out of granite and steroids strikes out and BREAKS THE BAT IN HALF. It’s not super-simulation baseball or anything but Baseball Stars 2 is hilarious and fun, and thus it’s pretty much worth playing.

BURNING FIGHT: Burning Fight is essentially Final Fight, only not very good. It plays okay enough that one could spend some time with it, but as beat-em-ups go, there are far, far better, and while using a bo or a handgun to total enemies is vaguely amusing, the visuals are unexciting, the characters are unexciting, and the game itself is really just kind of bland. Something like Ninja Combat would probably have filled this spot better, but as it is, Burning Fight is playable and not horrible; it’s just not anything interesting or worthwhile.

FATAL FURY: Oh lord, where to begin? For starters, the original Fatal Fury, while not as bad as, say, Art of Fighting, was generally better fifteen years ago than it is now; the three characters aren’t generally fun to play as, and the gameplay (while more manageable) is still stiff and awkward. Fatal Fury is still pretty neat for the background/foreground change mechanics, and Terry, Andy and Joe are all generally playable and entertaining in their own ways (though nowhere near as interesting as they would be in much later games). But here’s the thing: even if one takes into consideration that this probably wasn’t the “YOU SHOULD PLAY FATAL FURY” game to include on this compilation, and even if one realizes that this is pretty old and limited as a result, multiplayer for this version of Fatal Fury literally only allows you to pick from the default three characters. No, really. You can only play as Terry, Andy or Joe, in either “dramatic battle” two-on-one fashion, or in versus mode.

Look, whoever put this game in here in this way should be coated in barbecue sauce and thrown into a tiger pit, because this game just ensured no one who bought this game casually will ever, ever, EVER want to buy a Fatal Fury game, ever, on the mistaken assumption that all of the FF games are like this. You could have put the SEGA GENESIS version of Fatal Fury on this disc and it would’ve been better than what we’ve been given. THIS WAS A BAD IDEA. Suffice it to say, you won’t be spending much time with this game unless you just loved the single-player game.

KING OF THE MONSTERS: King of the Monsters is, in essence, a fighting/wrestling game featuring giant monsters beating the mess out of each other all across parts of Japan. In short, it’s pretty awesome. KotM2 was a better game overall, of course, but KotM is still a whole lot of fun to throw down in; essentially, you just pound the crap out of opponents, grabbing powerups/jets/whatever so as to further facilitate delivering suplexes and piledrivers to Godzilla/Jet Jaguar clones in the middle of Japanese cities. As noted above, the victory tallies and stage introductions have mild visual issues, but nothing game breaking, and otherwise the game looks and plays fine.

LAST RESORT: Last Resort is essentially an R-Type clone with two-player simultaneous play. You get an option (the generic catch-all term for “things that fire when you fire that aren’t directly attached to your ship, FYI) you can throw around the screen and gun powerups and such, and there are a bunch of mechanical and biological enemies trying to kill you. Single-player death starts you back at checkpoints, multi-player death lets you keep going so long as both players don’t die at the same time; ergo, it’s a lot more fun as a multi-player game. It’s a little tough, especially in later levels where bosses require you to have an option to use against them so that you can fire behind you… only you died earlier in the level and thus lack said option to do this with, oops… and the visuals occasionally have flicker issues, but it’s playable and fun enough if you’re a shooter fan, so it warrants inclusion.

MAGICIAN LORD: One of the “big” classics on this compilation, Magician Lord is still quite a solid action/platformer today. Basically, you’re a wizard who can shoot fireballs and change into other forms (including a dragon and a ninja, thus fulfilling some sorts of internet memes), and you have to run about the various stages murdering everything you see. Pattern recognition is the name of the game in most respects, but there’s a sizable amount of challenge to the game, even on lower difficulties, and it’s still as fun (and frustrating… stupid frogs) as ever. They also didn’t fix any of the translations, so “You persistent guy”, “Be Dead Down Here” and “Anderground Passage of Terror” are always sources of unintentional comedy, yeesh. Generally one of the best games on the disc and for a console release for those who don’t own an MVS, it’s generally worth the price of admission.

METAL SLUG: Another awesome game that’s marred slightly by the fact that, well, it’s already on the Metal Slug compilation that came out a year and change ago. If you don’t own that, though, this is still a whole hell of a lot of fun to tear through; Metal Slug, simply put, is platforming awesomeness, and it’s suitably challenging without being impossible (as opposed to some of the later sequels). It’s not as wacky and ridiculous as some of the later games in the series, though it doesn’t take itself seriously either, and it’s generally fun and amusing by yourself or with a friend. Oh, and as noted above, it’s way louder than anything else on the disc for some oddball reason, so be prepared to you’re your TV/speakers down when you boot it up. Again, one of the best games on the disc, unless you happen to own the MS compilation.

NEO TURF MASTERS: It’s golf! Not that this is a bad thing. Basically, it plays like the old-school pre-Mario Golf/Hot Shots Golf style of game; you’re offered a handful of courses and a handful of characters, each of whom has their own strengths and weaknesses to play off of. From there you’re given swinging power and accuracy meters to line up your shots, and a goal of attaining so many under or over par in order to advance, and… that’s about it. It’s essentially similar to old-school golf games like Arnold Palmer’s Tournament Golf, and as such, if you’re looking to play a nice simple nine holes, it’s pretty cute and enjoyable. Plus it’s pretty easy to play, thus making it fun for just about anyone.

SAMURAI SHODOWN: Until the Samurai Shodown compilation comes out later this year, this the closest non-importing PS2-only owners will get to a home console port of SamSho (thanks Sony), but that’s not too much of a problem; though dated by today’s standards, SamSho 1 is still surprisingly decent looking and still plays reasonably well all in all. There are only twelve characters to choose from (which seems miniscule at this point, but was pretty good at the time) plus several unlockables, each of whom mostly play differently from one another (the two ninjas, Hanzo and Galford, kinda-sorta had a few moves in common, though their actual play styles were different), and the game is generally more focused on the heavy damage the weapons deal than on combos and such, making it something of a different experience from what you might expect if you’ve never played it. That said, it’s still really fun, even now, and still plays as solidly as it ever did (even if some of the death blows seem to have been taken out, which makes sense; this is T for Teen after all), making this one of the best games on the disc, if not a solid reason to buy the compilation outright.

SENGOKU: Sengoku is a weird beat-em-up that, in essence, casts Marty McFly Junior and a purple cowboy to save the world from Stern Lord Nobunaga and his army of expendable undead ninjas. Yep. As the game has all sorts of novel features to it, including the ability to change into other characters, the ability to temporarily brandish swords of various types, and the fact that you’re constantly shifting between the real world and spirit world to fight enemies, it’s pretty amusing to play around with. Plus it opens up the possibility of Sengoku 3 popping up at a later date, and that would be awesome. It’s not great or anything (most of the enemies die in one or two hits, and it’s hard to work up combos or anything based on how the game plays), but it’s novel and amusing, and it’s worth playing based on that alone.

SHOCK TROOPERS: This game was a surprise; it wasn’t hugely well-known as being an arcade classic for SNK, but it’s actually one of the most entertaining games on the disc pound for pound. Shock Troopers essentially plays something like an Ikari Warriors clone, only you’re given eight characters to choose from, each with a default gun and a default secondary weapon (like Rio with an exploding arrow and Big Mama with her rocket launcher), characters can pick up new weapons as you go through the stages, and, oh yeah, YOU CAN DODGE. Seriously, there’s an actual button to press that allows your characters to dip and dive around to avoid bullets and such. This is on top of the serious amount of silly style the game has, from the goofy Big Bad to the silly poses your characters make at the end of each stage, and the generally strong gameplay of the game overall. I am told by my cohort Mr. J. Rose that this emulation of Shock Troopers moves slower than the arcade release and that on the PSP version of Shock Troopers the game is emulated more correctly, but this version is still loads of fun, so unless you care about arcade perfection, you probably won’t mind. In short: Shock Troopers feels a whole lot like a cross between Ikari Warriors and Metal Slug, and is a whole lot of awesome as a result, making this another fantastic reason to buy this compilation.

SUPER SIDEKICKS 3: GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLL!

Sorry.

Super Sidekicks 3 is your standard old-school arcade soccer; you’ve given a metric ton of teams who are only vaguely differentiated by their home country and outfit colors, and you basically just kick and pass the ball up and down the field/run up and down the field trying to steal the ball until you can kick it into the goal. The major novelty of the game comes from 1.) kicking the ball face-first at the goalie so as to knock said goalie the hell out, thus giving you a free shot at the goal (or, in some rare cases, kicking the ball so hard so close to the net that the ball wrecks the goalie AND goes into the goal, just to rub it in), and 2.) the silly cinematic scenes after goals, featuring players diving at other players or running around in the background while the goalie clutches his face in the foreground or what have you. It’s amusing as arcade soccer games go and it’ll probably keep you amused for a few goes, but it’s really not anything amazing otherwise.

THE KING OF FIGHTERS ’94: The game that started it all, KOF ’94 is generally a decent enough fighting game that plays reasonably well and is pretty enjoyable on its own. It’s not really indicative of the various KOF titles that have come out since, as it works off of the charge meter supers exclusively (from ’97 onward there were multiple options for super move charging, including the tried and true stock-building super meters), it has a far smaller talent roster than most of the games, and, oh yes, YOU CAN’T EDIT YOUR TEAMS, so if you want to play as, say, Kyo Kusanagi, you’d better learn Goro and Benimaru or hope Kyo never bites it (which instantly makes several of the teams more user-friendly than others). It’s not a bad little test run for the series, especially if you’ve never played a single one of the games before, but pretty much every game in the series is better than ’94, so if you like it, the later games are even better, and if you don’t, well, the later games are better. Still, not a bad addition.

TOP HUNTER: A side-scrolling action game that looks like something that sprang forth fully formed from the loins of Treasure, Top Hunter is a decent little action game with lots of cute style that’s amusing and novel, but not really terribly special. The characters attack with medium-ranged whip/chain/yoyo/whatever things, and can pick up guns from defeated enemies, and the game offers plane shifting ALA Fatal Fury to get to extra bonus items and enemies and such, but essentially it feels like Gunstar Heroes light: it’s cute and colorful and amusing, but there’s not really anything notable to the game outside of its presentation.

WORLD HEROES: As “cram a bunch of people from different points in time into one fighting game and let them kill each other” games go, Eternal Champions was a better time than World Heroes in most respects (Dragon Punches that go straight up are epic fail), and considering this is locked to start and requires earning ten medals to unlock a fighting game that isn’t really any better than KOF ’94 or Samurai Shodown, this is a confusing addition that seems to have been added to advertise the World Heroes collection more than anything. It’s amusing for a few rounds and it’s more playable than Art of Fighting and more versatile than Fatal Fury, but it’s really not exciting in comparison to a lot of the stuff on the disc.

And there you have it.

From the main “choose your game” screen, you’re offered the option of adjusting the controls and default difficulty of each of the games (though in some cases it really doesn’t seem to matter much); in some cases this makes the game easier by reducing enemy offence or volume, in others it just gives you more health, and in pretty much every game the Easy and Normal difficulties feature unlimited continues (which is great for those of us who never broke a $20 bill to beat Magician Lord in the arcade), while anything beyond that limits your credits in addition to making the game harder, which should offer a challenge to anyone out there who blew through the arcade versions of these games way back in the day on a quarter or two.

There are also a ton of unlockables in the game, which can be unlocked by all sorts of means, some of which are easy (like beating the games on Easy or Normal), others not so much (finishing King with a fireball in Art of Fighting, which can be a pain in the ass depending on how good/lucky you are, among other challenges), though most of the good stuff is easy to unlock. But, in an odd design choice, SNKAC is designed such that many of the things you would want to unlock for certain games must be unlocked by playing OTHER games; IE to unlock the move lists for SamSho or KOF ’94 or whatever you’ll have to play OTHER games to unlock these things. While I appreciate the need for diversity, I don’t really want to, for instance, play Metal Slug again after having beaten it half a million times when the compilation came out back in the day. Also, most of the unlockable items amount to move lists and concept art, so once you’ve unlocked World Heroes you need not really strive to unlock anything else except for completion’s sake, though it’s nice that the option is there, I suppose.

The big problem with this compilation comes down to this: of the sixteen games on this disc, four of them (Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, World Heroes, Metal Slug) have appeared on other compilations, one will be on another compilation (Samurai Shodown, though that, at least, works as advance advertising) and four more of the games are available on the Virtual Console (Magician Lord, Top Hunter, Baseball Stars 2, KOF ’94); thus, depending on your level of SNK love and your access to various systems, you might well already own HALF of the games on this disc. Even assuming all you have is a PS2, you already own for of the games on the disc and probably half a dozen better KOF games than the one on here, which essentially means that you’re buying this disc for twelve games, not the advertised sixteen. Further, of the sixteen games, only about ten or eleven are worth playing more than once; this is a fine number considering how many compilations can even achieve that ratio of good to crap, but considering how many other awesome, or at least decent, games could have been on here instead of clunkers like Burning Fight and the broken version of Fatal Fury (NAM 1975, Cyber-Lip, Mutation Nation, Ninja Combat) and it’s sad that there are more than a few games that aren’t worth playing more than once here. Oh, yes, and the thirty seconds of loading time from the point of selecting a game to the point of the game booting up? That kind of hurts a little.

That said, most of the games are emulated well, and there are several games that ARE worth playing multiple times on the disc, and really, it’s $20 for games that in their heyday would have set you back $200 for arcade perfect releases (now, not so much; AES carts go for about $10 on Ebay, which is still way more expensive in bulk than this compilation), so it’s hard to complain much about a few stinkers. The good outweighs the bad on the SNK Arcade Classics compilation, by and large; there aren’t as many games as on other compilation discs, but a lot of what is here is pretty damn entertaining for you and friends to play around with, and the low price point certainly justifies owning the good games on the disc, as they’re generally enjoyable throwbacks to yesteryear that are enjoyable solo or with friends, and you really can’t ask for a whole lot more than that.

Except, perhaps, for a sequel with NAM 1975, Ninja Combat, Sengoku 3, King of the Monsters 2 and Cyber Lip. Just saying.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GREAT
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: GOOD

Final Score: DECENT.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Like most of its contemporaries, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. One is a collection of old games, some great, some good, some okay, some awful. The selection is pretty diverse, and if you’re a fan of SNK games (or a fan of old arcade games, if not an SNK specific appreciator), paying $20 for a compilation of arcade titles from all sorts of different genres that would’ve cost you probably about that much to beat in the arcade by themselves is pretty sweet. If you’re a hardcore SNK fan, mind you, you might not be thrilled about paying more money to own games you already own, and if you don’t know anything about the company at all you might find yourself less enthused about the fabulous games than annoyed that there are a few clunkers here. All told, though, $20 for a handful of awesome arcade classics, weak entries aside, is still plenty awesome, and if you love the old-school arcade classics, you’d be hard pressed to find a reason not to pick this up

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