PS2 Review: SNK Arcade Anthology Volume 1

Review by: Petter Walsh

When the current generation of consoles offers an endless array of single shot arcade classics for download, to be provided such a carefully selected collection of games is quite a treat. Taken from the endless back-catalogue of SNK, this anthology offers a hefty 16 titles to those thirsty for some coin-op nostalgia. That the majority of these titles never saw British shores makes the title all the more interesting for those curious of the many branches in SNK’s legacy.

The selection covers a wide range, but can none the less be categorized along the lines of – Beat-em-ups (or Scrolling Beat-em-ups), Shoot-em-ups and Sports. Even the initial selection screen has divided the titles between ‘Fist,’ ‘Gun’ and ‘Exclamation Mark!’ which quite neatly sums up SNK’s approach to game development. With titles from as early as 1990 up until 1997 the range of depth and quality varies greatly.

Among the beat-em-ups Samurai Shodown and King of Fighters ’94 stand out as two of the best, both offering a unique take on the tried and tested formula of knocking ten bells out of cartoonish characters. Samurai Shodown bases its action on the crazy swordplay of old feudal Japan. Swinging between the blindingly fast and the occasionally languid, with the constant battery of other fighting games eschewed for carefully timed blows. Twelve rather eccentric characters all provide different paths of slicing and dicing, and the intricate setting of each arena really adds to a consistent world.

King of Fighters ’94 pits trios of eccentric characters from various national teams against each other, forcing you to embrace a mix of moves and fighting styles. The constant change of gameplay keeps things fresh and interesting, and sprites and backgrounds, although blocky, do display a level of detail enough to make the narrative pretence of an ‘international’ tournament seem believable enough.

The other beat-em-ups do not hold up as strong. Art of Fighting is balls-breakingly unmerciless at points, but detailed pixel art and a reasonably complex narrative (for a beat-em-up at least) is enough to keep the persistent persevering. The original Fatal Fury was the first to introduce two planes of fighting, and while adding a literal depth to the game the fighting is still slow and clunky. The unlockable World Heroes is even slower, and this rather unbaked offering offers little on its own merits beyond its ridiculously camp humour.

A special mention goes to King of Monsters, which in difference to the other fighting games mentioned stands out for allowing you to pummel numerous Godzilla derivatives in a wholly destructible cityscape of modern Japan. Not quite living up to my memories of the classic Rampage, the simplistic gameplay of King of Monsters is wholly exonerated by the joy of just smashing shit up.

Alongside the numerous round-based fighters mentioned above are two scrolling beat-em-ups. Burning Fight lies closest to the brilliant Streets of Rage, pitting the player against the seediest hoodlums the back streets of Japan can offer. Just like Streets of Rage, fighting can be frustrated by puncher and punchee existing on slightly different planes. Still, with stages littered with knives, sticks and regenerative roast chickens, the game has enough to keep you smashing along.

Sengoku takes the scrolling beat-em-up into a post-apocalyptic sphere, with angry gods, marching ghosts and metamorphosing spirit forms. With endless jumps between astral and earthly plains, the narrative is next to impossible to follow and almost epilepsy inducing in its flashing screens and exploding sprites. Memorable if not lasting.

A note of shame goes to the rather dismal platformer/scroller Magician Lord. The oldest game in the collection, primitive barely even covers this slow and floaty ledge hoping bore of a game.

In the second largest category found within the game we find classics such as Metal Slug and Shock Troopers. The former needs hardly any introduction, and this port is of a decent standard, on par with the most recent Wii port of the game. It is unquestionably a welcome classic. Shock Troopers is in crude terms a top-down looking take on Metal Slug, and while the action isn’t quite as delightfully hectic as it’s inspiration, it does work well in co-op.

Top Hunter sticks even closer to the Metal Slug action formula, albeit based largely on bare knuckle fighting, with much more of a colourful family-friendly take on things. That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but the result is a painfully chirpy multi-leveled smash-em-up. Unlike some of the derivative titles in this collection this one stands out for taking the good ideas of it source and augmenting it with a few novel ideas (walking robots, no guns) of its own. A stand-out game in the collection.

Last Resort is as direct a rip-off of R-Type as money can buy, only without the elusive just-one-more-go factor which the source has nailed. Thoroughly unrewarding this passes from the memory faster than cake on a fat man’s plate.

The three sports titles offer a welcome aside from the cavalcade of smashing and destruction. Neo Turf Masters has a crazy mix of cartoonish and photo-realistic graphics, and while the controls aren’t wholly intuitive it does make for a pretty workable golf-sim. Just like the real sport, it demands a fair amount of patience. The Next Glory: Super Sidekicks 3 is less enjoyable, reminding me of some of the worse early football sims on the Megadrive. Running along what feels like a long and narrow pitch, The Next Glory suffers just like Burning Fight and Streets of Rage from imperceptible degrees of visual depth.

The highlight sports game is the one that focuses on the bashing and hurling of baseballs. Aside from its irritating habit of needing to remind me audibly every three minutes that it’s called Baseball Stars 2, this game is bursting with twitchy yet complex sprites. Just like other Baseball games (like the one on Wii Sports) it’s tricky to start with, but its almost frenetically quick pace breaks you in quickly. It doesn’t hang around and innings pass in the blink of an eye, which is just what the game needs.

The Verdict

All in all the collection weighs up in the positive. There are some absolute duffers which truly don’t even deserve the brief time it takes for the games to load. Other titles like Metal Slug, Top Hunter, King of Fighters ’94 and Baseball Stars 2 will have me coming back to this collection. Other players will find another range of titles of particular interest, but whatever your tastes are there’s bound to be more than one title to tickle your fancy. Even with the titles that don’t immediately draw your interests, there’s a cunningly implemented ‘achievement/trophy’ system which works as a tempting carrot to keep you exploring the more trying titles.

A solid anthology, the breadth on offer is just about enough to help you overlook the dross.