Incase you’ve been asleep for the past five years or so, ‘80s retro has made a comeback. Whether we’re talking about television (The Goldbergs and Stranger Things) or movies (IT and Top Gun) or video games (NES Classic Edition), us older gamers carry heavy nostalgia for the days of our youth. Indie games have capitalized on the aesthetic and gameplay ideas forged back in the ‘80s and ‘90s and many of them have performed exceptionally well (Shovel Knight being a prime example).
Over the years there have been countless compilation packs containing a bunch of retro games, and indeed when we talk about SNK we have the weekly update of NEO GEO games to play on our Switches. But what about those of us itching to play SNK’s older library of games? Well, we’re in luck, because SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is here with twelve classic arcade games (seven of which also include the NES versions) and two NES-exclusive titles. On top of that another eleven classics will be added on December 11 for free. That’s a lot of bang for your coins, but as with anything deeply rooted in the past, your mileage may vary depending on your familiarity with the various properties.
If you are someone who frequented arcades during the ‘80s you’ll be familiar with many of SNK’s offerings. Before the one-on-one fighting scene took off in the ‘90s, the company focused primarily on space shooters (Alpha Mission, Vanguard, Prehistoric Isle) and boots on the ground overhead shooters (Ikari Warriors, Ikari Warriors II, Ikari Warriors III, Guerilla War, P.O.W., and TNK III). Many of the games feature two-player co-op support, which works fantastically well with the Nintendo Switch. Although you can play with a single Joy-Con controller, many of the games are vastly superior with the Pro Controller or utilizing the pair. The reason is that in the arcade games like Ikari and TNK III used a joystick to move and a rotary dial to aim and shoot, allowing for players to move and shoot in different directions at the same time. By utilizing both analog sticks on the Switch controllers you can replicate the gameplay in a similar manner and it makes the games much easier to play. In the review copy we still had to hold down a button to fire, but we’re being told that a patch will be available at launch allowing for the option to simply point the right analog stick in a direction and the gun will fire automatically, giving the games more of a true dual-stick shooter feel to them.
If you’re not as big into the shooters, there are still a few options available in this package. On the action/platform side of things is Athena, where you must progress through a level while destroying enemies via melee attacks. You’ll destroy blocks and enemies to find new weapons, armor, and abilities. Psycho Soldier is the pseudo-sequel that plays completely different where you control a girl who can jump between several lanes to avoid or shoot various enemies. This one is highly different from anything else on the collection and even though it was my first time playing it I had a decent time. I was somewhat impressed that the background music featured actual vocals, albeit sort of muffled thanks to the primitive technology of the day. Finally there is Street Smart, a sort of primitive Street Fighter II featuring a limited move set.
Of course, it’s not just the arcade games that are at your disposal here. In a stroke of genius, the developers included the NES versions of the games as well. You get: Alpha Mission, Athena, Crystalis, Ikari Warriors, Ikari Warriors II, Ikari Warriors III, Guerilla War, Iron Tank, and P.O.W. Now, you may be wondering why you’d ever want to play the NES iterations over the arcade originals, and that’s a fair question. In all of the cases the arcade ports look and sound better. However, they were designed to be quarter munchers and thus the difficulty levels are sometimes going to be much higher than the console versions. Also, the NES games often deviate greatly from their arcade counterparts both in level design and gameplay. There’s a case to made that some of the console games are simply more entertaining. Plus you get Crystalis – a NES exclusive that never came to the arcades and is one of the best games included in this compilation. If you’re unfamiliar, it plays very similar to a Zelda game, complete with townsfolk to talk to and get clues and new items to discover and use.
SNK 40th Anniversary Collection has a wide assortment of extras and options to enjoy. One of my favorite additions is the ability to rewind time in any of the games. At any point you can simply hold down the L shoulder button to rewind the action and when you let go it begins again. Sure, it may be cheating, but it’s so handy to use in some of the more difficult titles. You can go into the options screen and change the orientation of the screen, which will be very handy for those hoping to play some of the arcade games in vertical mode like they were intended. And then there is the awesome gallery, which shows off a bunch of artwork from the various games as well as giving some history behind each title. This is a really awesome resource to see and fascinating to look at. Kudos to the development team for taking the extra time and care to include this extra.
The graphics and sound are going to look and sound just like you remember them. They look surprising good blown up on the TV and really shine when playing on the portable. The games will still feature the flickering and slowdown that were present originally, but that’s to be expected. None of the games will impress gamers who grew up with later machines, but those of us old enough to have played these when they came out will appreciate the pixels and muffled sound effects.
Compilations like this one live or die by the games included, and unfortunately this is where SNK 40th Anniversary Collection loses ground for me. The games included just don’t have the same impact as I’d expect to see from other companies like Sega, Konami, or Capcom. You really have to love SNK’s early output to find these games fun to play today. So many of them are ten-minute curiosities that flame out long before the credits roll. Obviously if you’re a huge fan of the games included then this should be an easy purchase, and as I mentioned earlier another 11 are on the way (Munch Mobile, Fantasy, Sasuke vs. Commander, Chopper 1, Time Soldiers, Bermuda Triangle, Paddle Mania, ZMA Wars, Beast Busters, SAR: Search and Rescue, and World Wars). But, if you look at the list of games and don’t know most of them or have good memories of the games included, then you’ll probably want to pass. Still, the high quality work put forth here and the effort to reward fans of SNK’s early work is to be commended and I wish more companies would dig into their vaults and release similar compilations. Many of the titles didn’t resonate with me, but for the most part I still had a good time messing around with them.
SNK 40th Anniversary Collection Review
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Even though many of the games included in SNK 40th Anniversary Collection weren’t for me, several of them did capture my attention. The hope is that there’s something here for everyone, but with limited genre appeal this is a far cry from something like the NES Classic Edition. Still, great ports, awesome extras, and both arcade and NES versions make this a good game that many will enjoy.