SNK has a long history in the gaming industry. Unfortunately, the only way to play a good number of their titles was to go to the arcade or own either the expensive cartridge-based AES or CD-based home system. The $200 price point of the cartridges and the late release of the CD system meant that solid ports remained out of the hands for many. Until fairly recently, the arcades were by far the best chance any gamer had at playing sound versions of the titles.
The Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis did host a number of SNK titles, such as World Heroes and Fatal Fury, but they paled in comparison to the arcade and Neo-Geo console home versions. SNK’s ports improved as the years went along, but the very best versions of their titles were often limited to the Japanese market: the PlayStation saw a number of fighters in the U.S., but they were far inferior to the import-only Sega Saturn versions. Over a decade after their releases and many titles are finally finding their way, in good form, to consoles on this side of the ocean. SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1, however, isn’t the best way to experience them.
SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is another in a long line of compilations that fail to hit the arcade perfect mark yet is grudgingly accepted anyway due to the quantity overcoming the uneven quality. There is no excuse that in this day and age there shouldn’t be perfect ports on the PlayStation 2. The large, colorful characters of the original releases are often shorter and muted while the sound quality dips and controls suffer from lag, first timers aren’t going to walk away impressed. Despite the game having a budget price and the titles treated as such, these aren’t budget games.
The line-up of included titles is actually impressive, given that they are all very early releases. With 16 games in all, you can look forward to trying Art of Fighting, Baseball Stars 2, Burning Fight, Fatal Fury, King of the Monsters, Last Resort, Magician Lord, Metal Slug, Neo Turf Masters, Samurai Shodown, Sengoku, Shock Troopers, Super Sidekicks 3, The King of Fighters ’94, Top Hunter, and World Heroes. Surprisingly, fighters aren’t dominant and there is a decent array of genres represented. Some of them – Neo Turf Masters – I had never played before and absolutely loved, while others – Shock Troopers – I had never played.
Previously, it was around this point where I pointed out some of the technical problems with the PS2 version. As I went through the Wii version, however, I did not experience the same moments of slowdown and minor sound distortions as before. Another plus is that the classic controller and GameCube controllers can be used for play, with the classic being an excellent alternative to both the remote and dualshock – or, if you have the scratch, an awesome NeoGeo AES-style joystick controller has been released in Japan. This version also costs $10 more than the PS2 version, so you just need to weigh controller preference and just how much you’ll end up playing this to determine if the extra bit is worth it – with the anemic Wii library and improved performance, I say go with this one.
One of the strangest aspects about the collection is the rewards system. Similar to the achievements found in Xbox 360 titles, meeting certain criteria throughout the various games results in receiving a ribbon and unlocking a goody. I don’t know of anyone that doesn’t enjoy a good reward, particularly one in a compilation disc: Sega had some really great unlockables in the Sega Genesis Collection, like interviews and extra games. What do you get when you best an arm wrestler in Fatal Fury? A move list for a Samurai Shodown character, of course. Yes, getting a million points in Metal Slug or a string of victories in King of Fighters nets you the oh so rare prize of content from a manual. At least the ribbons are prominently displayed.
SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is the best way to get a quick fix of SNK’s past without resorting to skullduggery. Even if you were to purchase some older versions of these on the Super Nintendo, PlayStation, or import the Sega Saturn releases, you are still looking at well over a hundred dollars. A few are already on Virtual Console, which not only doesn’t undermine this release but also makes it an even better deal due to the low suggested retail price. Still, as good as the emulation is it’s still not perfect, so those who never played these in their heyday of the mid to late ‘90s will have to wait even longer.