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SNK 40th Anniversary Collection review – Classic Hits and Misses

It may not boast some of the more well-known SNK games, but there's some gems in there for the old coin op kids. The Finger Guns Review;

Whenever I read or hear anything to do with the words “SNK” and “arcade”, my mind always goes to classics like Metal Slug and King of Fighters: a brilliant side scroller and fabled beat ’em up, respectively. Or even Fatal Fury, or Samurai Showdown.

So colour me slightly disappointed when none of these were present in this collection. What is in there, is a handful of titles from the early days of SNK’s forty year career, ranging from platformer, to top and side scrolling shooter, to even some first person on-rails shenanigans too.

The problem is, especially with the variety (or lack thereof) in SNK’s decade-spanning compilation is the familiarity of most of the games. You can see the evolution in some of the early iterations of top down screen scrolling shooters, to the improvements made in later games in visual style, but you are essentially playing the same kind of game.

Whether you consider that a pro or con depends on how much you enjoy that kind of game. If, say, you were raised on the likes of Pop ‘n’ Twinbee, Parodius, and R-Type, then playing through the chronological evolution will appeal to you.

However, if you’re not into playing the same version of a game over and over, then you’ll be struggling to find something to sink your teeth into.

That’s not to say this collection is an embellished version of one of those bootleg 1001 games GameBoy cartridges, with a hundred versions of the same game. There is variety in there.

Beast Busters (1989), for example, is an on-rails, first person shooter. Pre-dating the likes of House of the Dead, it plays a lot more akin to the T2 Arcade game from the Megadrive.

Taking out hordes of gun-toting zombies (because why not) with your machine gun is great fun, if a little difficult to work out when you’re being shot back. It benefits from the modern ingenuity of a thumbstick to aim, even if it is a bit sensitive at times. It’s a great little title, even if one of the playable characters is called Johnny Justice.

It’s not all screen scrollers and shoot ’em ups, though. There are some interesting variations on games that were less common back in the old coin op arcades. Paddle Mania (1988) is an ace little tennis game, with a twist. A mash up between Super Tennis and Windjammers, tennis courts are walled in affairs, and points are scored by hitting the back wall/netted area behind the player. Instead of button-based shots, directional rotation of the right stick gives you more control over where your shot is going.

You can play singles or doubles, or a combination of the two. What’s great/annoying about it, is not playing it like a tennis game. I’d try and play to the net and return shots, only for my opponent to instead bounce it off a wall into the ‘goal’ behind me. Almost had a few McEnroe moments about that, I’ll admit.

There’s a few beat ’em ups in this compilation, too. Ikari Warriors 1-3 are faithfully restored in this, which whilst the first two are more fun favoured, the third one is a lot of fun with its top down brawler antics.

But for me, Street Smart (1989) takes the “surprisingly fun” mantle. It’s a nifty little arena fighter, where your player character (Karate Man or Wrestler) can move in all directions and take on a slew of varying enemies. Attacks are contextual depending on the distance of your foe, and it’s just a well animated title. Stick around for the Double Dragon homage ending, too.

“You Were Good Kid, Real Good…”

But alas, for every innovation you’ll always get the imitators too, with some of those being present here. Now, I realise that all of these (and any) games are going to be somebody’s first of that style, to them, so anything they play afterwards is always going to seem inferior/superior. If you’d only played FIFA first, to be told that Pro Evolution was better, you’d always have that comparison to the former because that’s what you’ve played first.

For me, it was Athena (1986). Apparently one of SNK’s “most iconic characters”, to me it was a weird knockoff of Alex Kidd, favouring an armour progression system like a reverse Ghouls and Ghosts: you start off in your underwear and progress to finding better sets to protect yourself.

It handled badly, which didn’t really enthuse me to carry on with it.

For What It’s Worth

Which really sort of brings me back to the whole point of these collections: they’re only really going to be an all-round success if you’re a fan of the preexisting selected works. It’s great as a medium if you already own the originals, and want some easier way of playing them without having to dig them out. Hence why mini versions of home consoles do so well with the modern convenience of being emulations on USB/HDMI devices.

To say “I didn’t like the SNK collection” would be unfair, it’s just that I’m not familiar with a lot of these titles, so there’s no nostalgia hook to bait me in. Whilst I can appreciate the evolution of both the company and a lot of its staple games, unless there’s some memory of these games making you happy in the past, it’ll be hard to pick up on a whim.

On a positive, though, there is the usual spit and polish that you’d expect on a showcase extravaganza of a compilation. The museum feature allows you to peruse promotional and making of artwork from a vast range of the titles, as well as listen to selected soundtracks, if you fancy.

In short (as this review has been), the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is by no means a bad bevy of retro delights. It’s just such a niche collection from a company that’s always going to play second fiddle to the likes of Capcom and Konami, that unless you’re a hipster of classic gaming, and is unlikely to attract your attention.

However, if you are inclined to try new things, there are some little gems in here for you.

SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is available now on PS4 (reviewed on Base PS4) and Nintendo Switch

Developer: SNK
Publisher: NIS America

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.

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