SNK is a company with a long tradition in videogames going all the way back to the black and white era. Unlike Taito’s Space Invaders, SNK didn’t have a runaway success with Ozma Wars, but they have proved one of the more enduring names in video games with their zenith during the 1990s thanks to a bold entry in the form of the Neo Geo.
The Neo Geo was a bit of a gamble, but the timing was perfect. By the early 90s arcades had taken a significant hit and there weren’t as many around any more; those still operating didn’t necessarily have the floor space to accomodate many cabinets. Namco and Williams had been using game cabinets with standard internals that could be used to play other games with little more than an internal board swap and change of marquee panel for years. SNK decided to go a bit further and introduce a system that could play multiple games without opening the cabinet and a home console that would run identical code. This gave SNK a much bigger footprint in the arcade scene than they had previously as well as a toehold in the home console market.
Machines appeared that could run between two and six different games all with the same joystick and four-button configuration. The system had a good run from 1990-1998 with incremental processor and memory improvements, but SNK ran into trouble and eventually folded. Playmore (now SNK Playmore) acquired their assets and has kept the name and key franchises alive into the present day (Metal Slug 7 and King of Fighters 12 are being released in 2009).
Ignition’s freshman effort on the Wii was SNK Playmore’s Metal Slug Anthology, which is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the controls and the overall presentation. Thankfully lessons have been learned and SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1 more than makes up for the missteps of that first collection. Opening the booklet you can tell the message about controls — the major gripe about the first collection — was taken to heart. It states in black-and-white that “The Classic Controller is the recommended method of play,” and all controls referenced in the manual refer to the Classic Controller button layout. Hallelujah!
In addition to the Classic Controller you can use the wiimote on its side (either in left- or right-handed mode), wiimote and nunchuk or the Gamecube controller. None of these control methods use motion input whatsoever. Controllers can be specified on a per-game or global basis for both player 1 and player 2 and all buttons can be remapped on a per game basis. Even better the in-game code has been changed to reference player-defined buttons rather than the original Neo Geo ones so you don’t need to worry about remembering what controls you mapped to which button (though it will display a graphic of your chosen controller with labels for the controls as currently mapped after you launch a game). The icing on the cake is that Samurai Shodown and King of Fighters ’94, which both used combinations of button presses for a virtual 5th and 6th button, have those moves also mapped to the L and R buttons. Time to break out that Hori Fighting Stick again, fighting fans!
Matching the improvement in controls is a nicer presentation. Pressing up or down on your d-pad or thumbstick (both are active in the games as well) scrolls through the games which are displayed in the form of a running series of still shots surrounded by medals representing various goals and icons indicating the game genre and number of players (nearly all of these games feature some kind of co-op or competetive simultaneous play). The left sidebar features a shifting collage of promotional artwork for all the games. It’s a good effect and shows a bit more care than the Metal Slug Anthology, which felt a little rough around the edges.
From the main menu you can launch a game, call up the options or view the goals for that particular game. Goals are divided into different color groupings (oddly enough just like the colours of the Neo Geo buttons) and achieving them illuminates the corresponding medal and unlocks bonus content: game artwork, video hints, fighting game moves and music. Getting ten medals will also unlock the game World Heroes.
There are eight goals per game and then eight overall goals. There are a few standard goals (beating the game on each difficulty level) and ones that are specific to individual games which can be quite challenging (try getting 1,000,000 points in the first Metal Slug with the score resetting between continues!). What may irritate people who feel compelled to unlock everything is that the unlockables are scattered about such that seeing a piece of artwork in Metal Slug will require you to achieve a goal in Art of Fighting or Baseball Stars 2. I kind of like this because it encourages you to play games you might otherwise have ignored, but I don’t know that I’ll ever earn a single medal in Baseball Stars 2 so I might have to learn to live without some of these.
Medals appear in the lower right corner of the screen as they’re earned during the course of a game. Whilst you cannot save progress mid-game at will, the games do record checkpoints and some of these happen during gameplay (between innings in Baseball Stars 2) or after the Game Over screen appears. This allows you to at least go back to a game with your high scores intact and resume some games in progress. Still, these are arcade games so playing one through to completion shouldn’t take more than 40min. (well, unless you’re really crap at fighting games like me, in which case no amount of time is enough).
You can change the difficulty level of the games before launching them and you have the usual 7 Neo Geo difficulty levels boiled down to four. Helpfully the game will tell you the corresponding Neo Geo difficulty setting: Easy (1), Normal (3), Hard (5) and Insane (7). These options change number of lives and continues available as well as in-game difficulty. Whilst we don’t get access to the full operator control panels, people concerned about such things will be relieved to note that all the blood and violence is intact (no doubt accounting for the 12+ Certificate on the box).
I won’t review all the games included, but you get a great selection of games featuring the large, detailed 2D sprites the Neo Geo was known for. Whether it’s sports (baseball, football and golf), fighting, side-scrolling beat-em-ups, shooters or action platformers you’re bound to find several games worth your time here. The full offering includes:
- Art of Fighting
- Baseball Stars 2
- Burning Fight
- Fatal Fury (King of Fighters)
- King of Fighters ’94
- King of the Monsters
- Last Resort
- Magician Lord
- Metal Slug
- Neo Turf Masters
- Samurai Shodown
- Shock Troopers
- Super Sidekicks 3
- Top Hunter
- World Heroes
Fighting game fans should note separate anthologies are being released for both King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown, but I hope we’ll see more genre-spanning compilations like this from SNK Playmore and Ignition. Nightmare in the Dark, Cyber Lip, Neo Mr. Do! and Puzzle Bobble are other Neo Geo games I’d love to see in a future release. And don’t forget SNK’s non-Neo Geo assets: Ikari Warriors, Vanguard, Victory Road and Prehistoric Isle are all deserving of the same treatment.
For a budget price you get a great collection of games with the attention to detail they justly deserve. If you’re a fan of arcade gaming at all, you’d be mad not to get this. Long live SNK!