SNK 40th ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION Review

The company of SNK is such a fascinating one to track across the gaming decades. Starting off in the arcades, making one of the most expensive but also most impressive home consoles, falling from grace and becoming a pachinko brander, and finally reviving itself in the last couple of years by focusing on nostalgia and mobile gaming. It’s a brand that’s always strong in my mind due in a large part to their fantastic series (Metal Slug, Samurai Showdown and, of course, King of Fighters). But I was surprised to see how much they’ve already licensed out most of their big names to porting companies in order to keep the fan machine going. They were putting out their own throwback titles over a year before Nintendo got their head in the game, and fans who’ve been loyalists have been able to grab these mega success stories (Garou, especially) for mobile play. Well, it’s been 40 years since the company was founded, and SNK is celebrating with their SNK 40th Anniversary Collection. And, wow, it’s a big one.

To begin with, there needs to be a bit of a disclaimer for people who impulse buy before checking what they’ll be getting. All those franchises that I mentioned above are not present, in any capacity, in this game. The SNK 40th’s initial collection focuses primarily on their titles that came before 1990, things that were more arcade focused and better captured the spirit of the gaming community at that time. So you have great pieces of gaming history that we’ll cover in a moment, but the thing that SNK is best known for nowadays – fighting and shooters – are very absent. Additionally, all those games are, again, available on the eShop individually thanks to porting efforts from Hamster, so be sure to grab those if you’re itching for some great 2D fighters. However, if you’re looking for anything that even remotely mentions them, that’s not present in the 40th Anniversary Collection.

What is available, however, is an incredibly comprehensive look at the gaming world around SNK prior to 1990 (okay, including 1990, but nothing that you’re thinking). Instead of starting with the games, it’s great to take a look at the sheer amount of informational work and media presented within the Museum of this game. Here, you’re able to see all the titles that SNK released since their inception in 1978 to the beginning of the 90s, including some screenshots, box art and the general write-up about the games. There are titles here that maybe you haven’t heard of before, or maybe games that you didn’t realize were attributed to SNK due to what they later were best known as. For several of the titles in the collection, the museum goes a step further, offering up original game manuals for home console releases to better see what the artwork is like. Best of all, they have a totally separate soundtrack area to listen to all the music from these relics of the past and just enjoy the chiptune, ambitious soundscapes that used to paint primarily the 80s. Though, in the defense of SNK, the music and styling of Vanguard better represent the 70s and what things sounded like back before the Great Collapse.

The titles themselves are some of SNKs greats and potentially not-so-greats, but they’re all worth playing at least once. Ikari Warriors III I doesn’t feel as good as the original two, but it’s cool to see how the game evolved and expanded based on customer feedback and general crazy ideas from in-house. Vanguard, again, looks more like a vector shooter that you’d see on the Atari and not something that was in the arcades in the 80s, but we all make mistakes along the way, and Vanguard isn’t a bad game by any means, it’s just different. This also goes for Alpha Mission and Prehistoric Isle, which are solid shooters in their own regard but simply not as good as others that have already been brought to the Switch via their NEOGEO collection. It’s an interesting conundrum: had they not put those titles out individually, they could be here on the 40th Anniversary Collection, making it truly something fearsome. However, in that same regard, there’s a good chance that SNK and NIS America wouldn’t have seen the value had those same NEOGEO titles not generated a bit of attention on the Switch in the first place. Nevertheless, we have a good selection of games that I’d consider “okay.”

As for games that I consider great, those are more prevalent than not, making up a bulk of the collection and really keeping me engaged and excited about the whole package. Athena is here in all of it’s glory, giving players a chance to really enjoy some difficult and exciting sidescrolling action. Guerilla War, P.O.W. and TNK III all represent the war style games that made the 80s super exciting thanks in part to Rambo and Predator, and I’d argue they still deliver in a big way. Even Street Smart, which is a pretty simple side scrolling brawler/fighter, gives a bit of a look into what SNK was planning with their games and what they would ultimately create in the next decade. But the big stars are, naturally, Psycho Soldier and Crystalis. Psycho Soldier is such an ambitious title, having music with actual voiced lyrics recorded and synthesized through such primitive technology, and taking a game like Athena and giving it a spiritual sequel in such a strange but successful medium, like a forced running platformer. Crystalis is, hands down, one of my favorite games from the NES era, It’s this wonderfully elaborate fantasy/sci-fi action RPG that, on many levels, delivers a better experience than Adventures of Link, particularly in equipment and soundtrack. But that’s my opinion, and I understand other people have opinions that are wrong.

It would be enough for these games to simply exist, but NIS America has given the royal treatment to each and every game here as long as it was possible. Firstly, save states are a thing, which is mandatory for some of these titles (Prehistoric Isles in particular), but you have the option to use regular save points if they exist in some of the games. The titles will naturally be displayed in a boxed format to help preserve original aspect ratio and be bordered with some creative artwork, and some slightly eyebrow raising designs for Athena as well. If you want to stretch it wide or put the game to full screen, you have the option, as well as a series of filters to better simulate CRT televisions or monitors. But then there’s also the variety in the titles and their sources. People who’ve played Athena before on the console might not know how fantastic the arcade version is and how well it performs and looks in comparison. The same is true for Ikari Warriors, which is wonderful on the NES and such but AMAZING straight from the old wooden box. Psycho Soldier is the big winner in terms of this versatility, simply because US players now have a chance to play the Japanese version and hear the vocals done up in Japanese instead of the bizarre lyrical choices in English. I have a major soft spot in my heart for anime and games from the 80s that got weirdly dubbed over, but Psycho Soldier just sounds so much better in Japanese all the freaking time.

The best part, hands down, is the fact that you don’t even have to play the games. For reasons that probably make sense to someone who isn’t me, each title on the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection also has the option to simply watch someone who is really, really good play through the whole game, front to back, in record time. For titles like Street Smart it doesn’t totally make sense, because, well, you can bang out a full game in under 20 minutes and it’s not exactly difficult to understand “punch that guy.” But for something like Crystalis, where it’s been a few years and I don’t remember where everything is, it’s so convenient to watch an offline, ready to go video tutorial of every single hidden puzzle piece and item. Hell, it’s even great for Vanguard and watching someone playing the hell out of that wireframe shooter like it’s their job. It’s such a small thing to add in a day and age of finding Let’s Plays of every game on Earth on YouTube, but it’s a nice touch, and I seriously enjoyed it and appreciated it.

Like all the great arcade variants that exist out there (NAMCO Arcade Collection, Street Fighter Collection), it really comes down to the players who have massive nostalgia roots and folk who like collecting old titles in a digital format. These players and collectors will be the ones most focused on something like the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, and, for them, this is a serious prize. Cartridges of a majority of these titles are hard and expensive to come by nowadays, so having all the variants in one spot, with all these extra goodies in terms of music and artwork, is a real treasure to have sitting on our Switch. If you’ve got any love for the old titles and knowing more about the background of SNK, this is a wonderful, comprehensive collection. And who knows? Maybe NIS America will add more titles to their game in the future, like maybe December 11th? Might be worth grabbing if you think there’s a chance to see more games in the future added, like on December 11th.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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