When I was younger, I would frequent my local arcade. In between the 6-player X-Men cabinet and the overused Street Fighter 2 machine would be this strange red cabinet. It always had two or more games in it, and they looked like nothing else. There were shooters, fighting games, run n’ gun games, and sports games, all in one cabinet. It amazed me. Then I would throw in a quarter and get my butt handed to me with a side order of my dignity.
The maker of these machines was SNK, and the Neo-Geo system in those arcade cabinets was capable of some amazing things. There was a palpable sense of love in their craft, with an enormous amount of detail in their backgrounds and more action on-screen than any other arcade machine could handle. They ruled the roost until they were supplanted by newer 3-D games, and the old red cabinet couldn’t keep up.
However, SNK didn’t go limping off into the night. They’re still making games as SNK Playmore, and have released a collection of some of their most beloved arcade games in SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1. How do these games hold up? If you’re a veteran of SNK, will they play like you remember? And if you’ve never played a Neo-Geo game before, will you enjoy it?
While some 2-D graphics don’t age well, the games in SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1 manage to hold up very well. There were a couple of games that didn’t really do it for me, but the graphics generally didn’t detract from the experience. There are some games that really don’t hold up well, like World Heroes or Sengoku. These usually prove to be the exception rather than the rule, so you shouldn’t run into any problems.
The sound is also just as you remember it. The grunts of combat, the yells of fallen enemies, and the various other noises are all intact. The sounds are lo-fi, to be sure, and there’s some laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled in. For instance, there’s an announcer in Neo Turf Masters who is obviously a Japanese woman speaking heavily-accented English. It demonstrates that SNK knew better than to change even one little thing, which works very well in nostalgia-based compilations like this one.
The music is all very sharp as well. If you’ve never heard Neo-Geo music, you’ll definitely enjoy the tracks. Each game has unique and memorable music, from the battlefield stomp of Metal Slug to the intense tunes of their fighting games, most notably King of Fighters ’94.
SNK gives you a couple of different control schemes, but none of them are totally ideal. For instance, you can use nothing but the Wii Remote tilted sideways. This works great for some games like Metal Slug and Baseball Stars 2, but not so well for the more button-intense fighting games. To give a brief example, in King of Fighters 94, you can dodge by hitting the A and B buttons together. However, if you’re holding the controller on its side, you have the control stick right next to both of the buttons. In order to dodge, you have to slide your finger off the control stick and squeeze the controller with your left hand, which is just as clunky as it sounds.
You can also use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. This works much, much better, except for one annoying problem: The menus are all navigated by the control stick on the Wii Remote, not the control stick on the Nunchuk. It’s a jarring and confusing transition, and one that could have been easily fixed.
They also let you use the Classic Controller and the Gamecube Controller. I don’t have the Classic Controller, but I refused to use the Gamecube controller because then I’m tethered to the system in a way that I am now unaccustomed to. It would be all right with a Wavebird, but I don’t have one. (Hint, hint, Ron.)
Here’s the list of games included in this release:
- Art of Fighting
- Baseball Stars 2
- Burning Fight
- Fatal Fury
- King Of Fighters 94
- King of the Monsters
- Last Resort
- Magician Lord
- Metal Slug
- Neo Turf Masters
- Samurai Showdown
- Shock Troopers
- Super Sidekicks 3
- Top Hunter
- World Heroes
It should be stated right up front that I’m not very good at fighting games. I’m good at Soul Calibur, but a weasel with a penchant for twitch controls and alcohol can be good at Soul Calibur. So, when I say that SNK’s fighting games don’t really hold up well, I need you to know where I’m coming from. Most of them, except for King of Fighters 94, feel like Street Fighter 2 clones even if they’re not supposed to be.
The great thing with this collection is that even if you feel the same about fighting games as I do, there are still a ton of games to play. You may be familiar with Metal Slug already. If you aren’t, it’s a seemingly cute 2-D platformer full of guns and violence in a warzone. If you are, you probably know how awesome it is. However, I challenge you to tell me about Top Hunter without consulting Wikipedia. Top Hunter is just one of the strange surprises in this collection. Your characters grab enemies, throw them at each other or fling them into the ground while jumping back and forth from the foreground to the background.
There are a lot of surprises in this collection. There’s the futuristic shooter Last Resort, which has a punishing difficulty level but incredible gameplay and sweet powerups. There’s Baseball Stars 2, which has surprisingly deep team management, including pitch counts, relief pitching and pinch-hitting, and the ability to randomly charge the mound when you get hit by a pitch.
I could go on about the different games that are in this collection, but I think you get the message. It doesn’t matter what kind of gamer you are. SNK probably has a game for you in this package. Whether or not you’ll enjoy all of them depends on your personal preference, but you’ll find something fun, no matter what your tastes are.
Like many compilations, SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1 includes a lot of unlockables. Every game has different goals to meet which can unlock move lists, game art, or even an extra game. The goals and what they unlock are very clearly spelled out, so you won’t have to consult GameFAQs just to know what they mean.
Some have argued that you can already purchase most of these games on the Virtual Console, so this collection is redundant. However, only twelve of the sixteen available games are available on the Virtual Console for a price of $9 apiece. By the time you’ve purchased four of them, you’re almost at the price of this whole collection. If you like SNK, you might as well just purchase this collection, especially because you might find a game you never knew existed.