A Whimsical Tour of One of Japan’s Arcade Wonders
It goes without saying that retro games have been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. I first cut my teeth on my grandparent’s Colecovision, and it was all downhill from there. My first NES, Genesis, SNES, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and Dreamcast are all memories I fondly remember. One of my fondest memories, however, is getting my first experiences at the local arcades. Growing up, I’d always dunk quarters into the machines at the mall arcade and the bowling alley my mother and grandmother frequented. Chief among the machines there at the time were various games made by a little company called SNK.
Founded in 1971 in Japan as Shin Nihon Kikaku (New Japan Project in English) as a stock company, SNK soon sought to capitalize on and revolutionize the budding coin-op market of the time. While people most fondly remember them for generating the arcade powerhouse that is the Neo Geo MVS (arcade) and AES (home) systems, they first made their mark doing a wealth of stand-alone coin-op games starting in 1979 and are still churning out arcade machines to this day (the most recent being SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy on Taito’s Type X3 hardware, released in 2018). To celebrate this, NISA teamed up with SNK to celebrate 40 years of the company’s success and history of great games. SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is a wonderful, well-sorted collection of thirteen of the company’s greatest and most significant arcade (as well as some home) hits covering their first years in 1979 through 1990. Eleven more free DLC games are also available, making the total 24 games.
“You see that Carl? I am NOT going in there”
SNK 40th Anniversary Collections main menu is crisp and clean, with tons of options and even regional switches to choose from!
My first stop when I started playing the collection was checking out the vast assortment of history offered up in the game’s “Museum Mode”. Indeed, there’s a wealth of history to read through and is like going through a guided tour of a museum in your own living room. Each game has a well-written article covering its history and interesting quirks, along with tons of promotional materials and development artwork, and even the games’ soundtracks. I found this in itself to be utterly fascinating. Enjoying shows such as Game Center CX, where learning about the history surrounding the games is as interesting as the games themselves, I got lost for quite a few hours in this section.
After I finished reading through all the material, I’d learned a plethora of things ranging from Sasuke vs. Commander being the first game to have what could be considered a Boss Fight, to during Guerilla War’s (Guevara in Japan) development, staff considered going to Cuba to learn more about Che Guevara (thankfully that didn’t quite work out). Also of interest was SNK’s development of the “Rotary Joystick”. A joystick with a rotatable knob which was first used in the arcade version of Ikari Warriors. The joystick could be rotated as well as pushed in multiple directions at the same time, allowing characters to aim their fire independently of the direction they were walking. SNK’s history is chock full of interesting moments such as these and this makes the Museum Mode brilliant to read through.
It’s Raining (Ninja) Men
SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is full of classic and historical SNK Goodness to check out, such as Sasuke vs. Commander.
My next stop was obviously checking out the games themselves. The collection has all the games sorted in alphabetical order, with release date and regional info listed as well. In addition, you can change various settings such as switching between the arcade and home versions for games that support them, and arcade options like when bonus lives are earned and starting lives. It’s like having a centralized arcade in your living room! The games themselves are presented in pixel perfect high definition and look as good as you’d remember if you’re familiar with any of these classic titles. The aspect ratios are maintained as well, and while this means empty real estate on your modern 16:9 (or 10) display, the games make use of charming game-specific wallpapers to fill the void. Even with the loss of space, the games still don’t feel too cramped or small. I personally like to think of it as looking at a large arcade monitor with a fancy bezel shroud installed.
Most important of all is how they play. The controls for each game are spot on. Standard games control as well as you’d expect, and the games that make use of the Rotary Joystick have been relegated to being twin stick games coupled with a fire button, which makes perfect sense and doesn’t feel odd. Don’t expect them to be any easier though! Games like Ikari Warriors are still plenty challenging to go through. Sure, you can just keep pumping virtual quarters in and eventually make it through, but the real beauty of arcade games is making it as far as you can without continuing. Finding the fabled 1 Credit Clear in some of these games will be pretty difficult unless you’re a seasoned coin-op veteran!
My nightmares have been given form
Some of SNK’s older games, such as Munch Mobile are bizarre, but still a blast to play
The NES home ports are done perfectly as well. Ikari Warriors 1-3, Crystalis, P.O.W., Alpha Mission, and Athena are all available alongside their arcade brethren. While some games are clearly inferior to their arcade counterparts – as is usually the case for the 8-bit era – they’re still worth checking out for their own merits and historical context. For example, did you know that not only did the home port of Ikari Warriors have to be handled differently because of the lack of a Rotary Joystick, but the map data and code for the arcade version was forever lost? The developers had to play an arcade PCB and note each and every little detail and translate it to the NES version. The home port of Ikari Warriors was practically constructed by hand!
Crystalis is easily the star of the home games. Being an original NES game by SNK, they really shined at making this action RPG. Sort of akin to a Zelda clone, you adventure across a sprawling, continuous world map, interact with NPC’s, find items, solve puzzles, and slay monsters. As an Ys fan, I really enjoyed spending my time with this one. The music is great, the action is fast-paced and fun, and it’s a nice testament to what SNK was capable of when working outside their comfort zone. The game also supports emulated saves, so you can pick up where you left off with no issues.
A Love-Letter to SNK’s Influence and Innovation
Overall, I really enjoyed this nice tip of the hat to one of Japan’s arcade giants. They might not be as big a behemoth as companies such as Sega or Konami, but their influence on the video game world is decidedly apparent. The lack of Neo Geo games is a disappointment, but given things such as ACA’s console releases and the Neo Geo Mini, it makes sense that SNK and NISA would opt out of including them. This is all about showing SNK’s roots and their historical significance, not the Neo Geo. If you’re an arcade connoisseur and want some sweet offerings for your home library, are an SNK fan, or just appreciate a nice piece of history arranged in a neat little package, you’ll find this collection well worth your while.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Switch; Publisher: NIS America; Developer: SNK; Release Date: November 13th, 2018; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of SNK 40th Anniversary given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher.