The SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is a rather brave and interesting project that some enthusiasts wouldn’t expect to have seen outside of pirate emulation. The SNK brand – or Shin Nihon Kikaku (“New Japan Planning”) – is mostly known for their arcade ventures throughout the 90s and early 2000s. As well as being responsible for the adored Metal Slug series, the company stood toe to toe with Capcom in more ways than one as both rival and ally in the coin-op fighting game market. They are also known for creating an incredibly expensive home console with games priced at a margin only those with a mountain of spare cash could afford. However, what a lot of gamers may not know is that the long-running Japanese brand has actually had their fingers jammed within the industry since 1978. That’s a good 12 years before the birth of the Neo Geo successful interchangeable arcade system board.
Games like TNKIII (otherwise known as T.A.N.K), the Ikari Warriors trilogy, Vanguard and Athena would grace the screens of cabinets throughout the 1980s. If none of these ring any bells, there’s plenty of information available in the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection to educate the player of their legacies. It’s more the case of bearing in mind that the majority of the 14 games that are playable in this package may come across as vastly outdated for the more modern folk. In any case, none of that really matters for this is a bundle of classics tailored for the amateur collector. It’s a folder full of worth intended for those who want to delve into the roots of the company’s contribution to gaming and experience its history first hand. There’s a trove full of treasured memories and a preservation of childhoods. A digital compendium if you will, one not too dissimilar to the Hyrule Historia series, but with the added benefit of actually allowing you to interact with the source material.
While the package doesn’t quite cater for the vast majority of SNK games released between the company’s initial debut up until the launch of the Neo Geo, it’s still good to see that the first half a dozen years has still been documented thoroughly enough to show how the company evolved. There’s some extremely rare artwork on display here with even rarer Japanese “fanzines” to skim through. Player guides accompanied by plenty of cool trivia bites to educate the fan with snippets of information of lost archives of games that just unfortunately never came to be. It is within this kind of presentation where the collection really blooms and portrays itself even more so as a nice fit for a portable system such as the Nintendo Switch.
As for the games themselves, the emulation of each title has been handled incredibly well. Not only do you have access to both the Japanese and western ports of each game, but you can also switch between the arcade and home console variants for most of them. Screen filters and display sizes can be manipulated in place to provide that nostalgic touch, while the controls in some cases, have been remapped to cater towards certain games. Take Ikari Warriors for example. The original cabinet would use a loop lever joystick to provide the flexibility of movement with a 360-degree firing range. In SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, both analogue sticks are utilised in the same way as most modern twin-stick shooters to somewhat replicate the way a handful of these titles were meant to be played.
There are some other innovations found throughout the original games outside a cool rotary stick control system. The 1982 arcade shooter Vanguard would have levels that would scroll both vertically and horizontally, contain voice samples and even introduced a genuine continue system – a feature so new for the time that the developers felt the need to explain the concept to the player with screen-filling text. The audio flamboyance of Psycho Soldier would have the main protagonist sing a whole song which turns out to be so incredibly catchy, I found it nearly as hard to shift the sound of vocals from my cranium since discovering that the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate theme song had accompanying lyrics. Just listening to a full song alone played out in the background of a video game from 1986 felt like I was witnessing a past technological achievement. Furthermore, there is both the English and Japanese version of the song available to listen to by either changing port regions with a simple tap of a button in the library options or pleasantly flicking through the included audio gallery.
SNK has always been known more for their coin-chomping quick-fix arcade games. Yet, they were never a company that would shy away from a little experimentation. NES exclusive Crystalis is a prime example of this. While it may take some gameplay tips from the original The Legend of Zelda, it’s easy to see how this little-known action RPG is cherished amongst its fans. One particular game that I got a kick out of playing was the strange, but somewhat relevantly titled Prehistoric Isle in 1930. It’s a fun and gorgeous-looking shmup that begins to transition closer towards the 90s Neo Geo lifecycle that we already know and love. The same could be said about Street Smart, a 1-on-1 brawler that contains impressive animations for its age and a foresight into the slew of arcade fighters that SNK is more famously known for.
In accordance with any criticisms that I found within the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, there were a few elements of the presentation I would have liked to have seen pushed forward will more effort. The lack of English translations for the vast amount of Japanese text within scans made me feel like I was completely missing out on something. The absence of SNK’s earliest ventures such as the Micro Block titles from the Micro Kit series and Safari Rally would have been nice to dive into after reading about all about them – despite on how rubbish they probably are. After all, this is a 40th-anniversary celebration focused across the course of over a decade where visuals and gameplay would rapidly change so significantly. One of the smaller gripes I had was that there is no online multiplayer or leaderboards to speak of. I suppose this is understandable given the niche audience the collection is aimed at. Either way, if the netcode of Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection is anything to go by, then it is probably for the best that Digital Eclipse didn’t decide to include it in after all.
What does deserve to be praised is the extra support of free downloadable content making its way on December 11th. A generous 11 extra titles will be added to flesh out the compilation to reach a considerable 25 games in total. One of these upcoming additions is 1980’s Sasuke vs Commander, which would provide the first ever boss fight in gaming. There was also a game-breaking bug present in the original arcade release that Digital Eclipse has fixed for the collection to allow the possibility to actually finish the game for the very first time. Another fantastic and generous little feature is how you can watch a tool-assisted recording of each game played out to the end. Not only that, but you can even man the controls at whichever point of the recording should you decide to see fit. It may not be a feature that wouldn’t be utilised very often, but, as a quirky little extra, it’s still a pretty awesome addition nonetheless.
To see the younger side of SNK’s history treated with such love and careful attention is a fantastic preservation effort for the company’s future in gaming. It’s clear that Digital Eclipse has jumped through hoops to compile such a comprehensive and almost forgotten selection of games. If anything, it’s more a shame that there probably won’t be more added content outside the free downloadable content, as it’s always great to obtain such building blocks that fill in the gaps of gaming history. Either way, it doesn’t take a genius to see that the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection isn’t for everyone. Many of the games here really haven’t aged quite as well as others developed for the same generation. If rummaging through the nostalgia of gaming history does appeal to you though, then this mid-range priced time capsule could very well be worth your investment.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by NIS America