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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Review


SNK Arcade Classics
(PS2 & PSP)


Bringing together 16 classic titles on a single disc, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 delivers a solid selection of the companyís legendary games on the PSP and PS2. Thereís a varied genres covered ranging from action titles like Top Hunter and Magician Lord to shooters with Last Resort and of course several fighting titles like World Heroes, Fatal Fury and King of Fighters í94. Each title is faithfully reproduced here, looking and playing identically to their arcade counterparts. Numerous extras such as unlockable artwork, moves lists and movies round out the package which offers a solid lineup of challenging and entertaining games for classic gaming fans.


SNKís legendary Neo Geo system first lit up arcades and homes back in the early 90ís and while the original hardware has lost some of its status, it was still the state-of-the-art machine back in those days, and featured some truly outstanding software. If you couldnít afford the expensive
AES home system you were generally stuck with watered-down ports on the lesser home consoles of the time. With the advent of todayís new consoles like the PS2 and PSP having enough power to successfully emulate these titles with little compromise, it should come as no surprise that the companyís previous Metal Slug and Fatal Fury compilations were received enthusiastically among gamers. Now the latest release SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 expands the scope of these releases and encompasses a variety of genres and titles that offers a well-rounded retrospective on SNKís legendary titles that delivers the solid gameplay and fantastic visuals that made Neo Geo titles stand out from the pack. Both the PSP and PS2 editions of the compliation feature an identical list of titles and the parallels donít end there, since they have nearly identical menus and interfaces, which is slightly weird but somewhat par for the course these days. Both games allow players to map the buttons, select difficulty, screen size and other options at the menu screen and most players will find both editions fairly easy to navigate if sometimes interchangeable. The good news is that the minor issues donít diminish the high-quality of these titles. On the PSP, the ability to play these arcade-quality titles on the go more than compensates for any minor issues. With all that said and done, itís time to jump in and discover the games themselves and see whatís inside this disc.

Probably the most interesting game on the disc for hardcore SNK fans is Shock Troopers, a really superb action/combat title that expands and innovates the companyís older Ikari Warriors game with both vertical and horizontal action, excellent character animations and the challenging, yet not excessively frustrating gameplay that became SNKís trademark. This is a high-quality title thatís as good as anything on the Neo-Geo, and its accessibility to a mainstream audience should be cause for celebration. Next up we have Art of Fighting, one of SNKís seminal titles that served as the genesis of later series such as King of Fighters. While the move lists and animation seem a little bit lean these days, the solid and tight play mechanics in this title set the stage for what would come later.  Speaking of which, the excellent KOF í94 is also included on this disc, and playing both games back-to-back shows a dramatic jump in quality with a massive number of characters, vastly improved backgrounds and character animation and much deeper gameplay that makes it one of the highlights in this long-running fighting franchise. The stylish kanji inspired fighting world of Samurai Shodown was one of the most memorable series in history and the inclusion of its first installment shows the balance, depth and fantastic character design that would become the seriesí trademark later on. World Heroes was a bit of a generic Street Fighter II clone, but its excellent balance and great animation made it a solid addition to the SNK library, though later revisions were when the series really began to shine in terms of overall quality and design. Another original fighter was Fatal Fury, a legendary SNK title if there ever was one, though this was also limited in terms of character numbers and move lists, it had several innovative features such as the ability to fight on different planes, and moves that would make the camera zoom in for a close-up view of the action. Itís also a surprisingly difficult title in terms of opponent AI and while itís difficult to beat, it makes a great introduction to the SNK style of fighting, which was more technical and less flashy than Capcomís approach.

These popular titles made SNK synonymous with the fighting genre, but the company delivered excellence in other genres as well. While the graphics in the side-scrolling Magician Lord were amazing for their time, what stands out about this classic adventure is its difficulty, where enemies attack you mercilessly, giving you little room for error. The gameís outstanding design made for some very difficult boss battles, but persistent players were rewarded with one of the consoleís most satisfying experiences. The horizontal scrolling shooter Last Resort shows off the Neo Geoís technical capabilities with a cool cyberpunk look and some surprisingly difficult boss battles, but it offers only a taste of the many excellent shooters on the system. King of the Monsters was probably one of the most popular SNK titles amongst what are now called casual players, and while its simple play mechanics and destroy everything motif were seen in Rampage, the gameís vastly superior graphics and open-ended environments made for some truly impressive battles between the gigantic combatants. King of the Monsters has held up surprisingly well and it makes a great pick up and play title for gamers looking for a quick burst of action. Fans of the old-school Final Fight style brawler will probably enjoy Burning Fight, which features very familiar play mechanics, though much better visuals than many of the home-console versions could deliver. In a similar, but somewhat strange style is Sengoku, another side-scrolling brawler, but this time youíre fighting against hordes of undead samurai on surreal stages that take place both in cities and a kind of strange netherworld, which makes this more interesting than the standard cities most of these titles usually offer. Platform fans will have much to like with Top Hunter, a very interesting and challenging title where you have to change planes and make more strategic moves in order to progress from level to level. A pair of sports games are also included, the arcade-style action of Super Sidekicks 3: the Next Glory makes it fairly easy to play and instantly enjoyable, and this versionís excellent graphics and broad selection of teams make it accessible as well. The golf title Neo Turf Masters is also fun, offering some fairly interesting courses, solid visuals and an excellent feel overall that should please casual sports fans.

While most of the titles on SNK Arcade Classics have held up well over time, there are a few minor issues with this release that make it less perfect than it could have been. Several of the titles, such as Metal Slug and Art of Fighting have appeared recently on other SNK compliations, which is probably disappointing to the hardcore fans, but casual gamers who havenít been exposed to these games probably wonít mind these duplicates too much. While the emulations are amazingly faithful to the originals, there is some significant load time between games which is slightly annoying. This occurs on both platforms and while they are basically identical ports, it seems a bit lazy to do this on the console edition. The system of medals and rewards is decent and easy to understand, but it can be confusing to figure out at first. Most of the titles look fine on the big screen, but the smaller PSP display makes it hard to figure out some of the action in some of the busier titles like Last Resort and Sengoku, which is a shame since it hurts their replayability. However, these are minor issues when compared to the overall quality of the translations and the compilationís low retail price on both systems makes it an almost no-brainer purchase for classic gaming fans. SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is an excellent compilation that will appeal most who remember the Neo-Geoís legendary titles. However, those younger players who want to know why these games were so memorable in the first place. Itís a great start and weíre hoping SNK releases a second volume sometime soon.
- Michael Palisano

Grade:
B


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