Feature: SNK 40th Anniversary Collection – an Essential Slice of History

Reading Time: 15 minutes

Back in November ’18, we got ourselves a curious slice of retro intrigue in the form of SNK’s latest collection. Indeed, our own Shaun Hughes gave it an exceedingly rare 5/5! Having recently dipped back in, I thought it would be fun to share my experience of the individual games in the collection.

This isn’t the first SNK collection to hit shelves and it’s unlikely the last, but this particular release marks a huge milestone (read: it’s in the title) with a range of titles from the SNK 80s arcade-era. Admittedly, I’m not familiar with any of the games included here (honestly, not a single game beyond recognising the name and artwork of a handful), but for a half-retro/half-modern gamer like me, that just made it more exciting to dive in.

The plan? Play a small chunk of each game on the list, add a few thoughts to each from the perspective of a newbie (albeit one donning some funky retro specs) and slap a score on it.

The Mega Man Collection releases have set a recent benchmark for how to competently compile a collection with a bunch of fun features and extras. And it’s a high standard. The good news here then, where SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is concerned, is there’s plenty to sink your teeth into. The self-explanatory Museum provides wonderful hi-res artwork, the guidebooks to the arcade games, some incredible behind-the-scenes trivia and nuggets of information. There’s a lot to love. Game soundtracks are also present, another nice bonus. On top of that, you get screen ratio options; stretched screen (16:9… no, thanks), full screen (boarded) ‘sharp’ screen (bordered but smaller) as well as a choice of TV filters. If that wasn’t enough, not only can you choose between drastically different arcade and console versions of many games, you’re also given the ability to switch region!

With that boxed off, let’s look at the games from A-Z.

Alpha Mission (1985) / Arcade & Console Versions

What do you get?

Vertical scrolling space shooter with a neat mechanic of separate weapons for air and ground mechanics. As well as a hell of a lot of upgrades; variety in weaponry is the main flavour here.

Was it fun?

The slow movement was a little off-putting at first but, after getting into the swing of it there was plenty to enjoy. Grabbing the extra pieces of the ship and pulling it together to form a big ol’ flamethrower against the first boss was a nice moment. The arcade version is far superior.

Will you play it again?

Probably, yes.

Score: 3.5/5

Athena (1986) / Arcade & Console Versions

SNK2

What do you get?

A young lass who appears to lose a lot of her clothing within the opening sequence. She also gives you a creepy wink on the title screen. It’s a platformer with pleasant music. In true Mega Man style, Athena plagiarises her enemies’ style by nicking their weapons. The art looks like a bit of an Alex Kidd meets Wonderboy mash-up. Pretty slick of 1986.

Was it fun?

Sort of. The jumping’s a bit stiff. The arcade version is hard as nails to the point where it’s completely unplayable for a newcomer, without use of the rewind function. Play the console version if you actually want to grab some useful upgrades. Having said that, the console version is too easy.

Will you play it again?

Probably, not.

Score: 2.5/5

Bermuda Triangle (1987) / Arcade Only

SNK3

What do you get?

Another vertical shooter, this time with simultaneous multiplayer. The ships are impressively chunky and the on-screen action is fascinatingly hectic. Because this is the Bermuda Triangle, weird stuff happens. Well, not that weird, you just go to the end of the level, then fly through it backwards before going back up again to face the boss.

Was it fun?

Yes. Grabbing all the ‘E’ powerups made it feel a bit like a ’90s nightclub (the future!), but the resultant upgrades to make the ship even fatter (and, dare I say, phatter). Made me feel invincible. For a bit.

Will you play it again?

Yes, will likely co-op my way through this one.

Score: 3.5/5

Chopper (1988) / Arcade Only

SNK4

What do you get?

An extremely confident title screen declaring that this is, indeed, Chopper ‘I’. Sequel in the bag? The third vertical shooter involves helicopters, believe it or not! The chopper is nippy, as are many of the enemies, the sprite animation is also top-notch. It’s a bit dull looking overall though. I guess, the screen scrolls slightly left and right at the extremes which is something. This one leans on the easier side with projectiles being slow.

Was it fun?

It wasn’t bad, as such. Just dull. Nothing exciting or stand-out here but it was worth a quick blast.

Will you play it again?

Doubtful.

Score: 2/5

Crysalis/God Slayer (1990) / Console Only

SNK5

What do you get?

A stark contrast in promo artwork between the US and Japanese versions. Crysalis is a neat little action/adventure RPG. You know the type, little tileset towns with inns and shops. You wake up in a cave and an old fella gives you a sword because… you woke up in a cave. Someone then tells you to go to a cave. Not that one, a different cave. OK, this is getting a bit meta now. Battles remind me of a cross between Secret of Mana and Zelda, if a little less refined than the latter.

Was it fun?

Hells yes! With that lovely charged sword attack and upbeat funky exploration music, I want back in. Movement feels smooth and there’s an abnormally quick walking animation. Top-notch.

Will you play it again?

100%. This is one I intend to set aside some real time for, as the early game suitably impressed.

Score: 4/5

Fantasy (1981) / Arcade Only

SNK6

What do you get?

No idea. I challenge anyone to start the game without thinking something along the lines of ‘what just happened?’. It appears that your lady was kidnapped, and you must fly your balloon, before ending up on a pirate ship and orchestrating a rescue. Once you’re out, it’s back to the balloon for a sequence involving dodging a gorilla chucking a banana or something. This is immediately followed by a section of running through a jungle while Funky Town plays in the background. I’m not joking. Then there are some huts with some questionable voices and themes before it’s back to the balloon again to dodge helicopters. That’s when you need to perform turret dodging heroics above London Bridge. It plays like a collection of WarioWare mini-games. But harder. And less fun.

Was it fun?

I have absolutely no idea, it made me feel light-headed. It was what the kids would describe as ‘an experience’.

Will you play it again?

Yes, but only to show people how weird it is.

Score: ?/5

Guerrilla War (1987) / Arcade & Console Versions

SNK7

What do you get?

Twin-stick vertically scrolling shooter. You’re a couple of US war movie types in a bit of anti-Cuban propaganda. You shoot tanks and lads in military green. The arcade version, naturally, has better visuals and music but the console version is the better choice here, being much faster. Asynchronous multiplayer gives this one a boost.

Was it fun?

The arcade version is far too sluggish to enjoy, whereas the console version holds up far better, despite losing the twin-stick aiming. It’s most irritating feature is; on death, you’re thrown back to the exact same spot you were shot. I mean, I got shot because I wasn’t supposed to be there. Don’t put me back!

Will you play it again?

I’d give it another blast, but strictly the console version only.

Score: 3.5/5

Ikari Warriors (1986) / Arcade & Console Versions

What do you get?

Well, pretty much Guerrilla War. Twin-stick vertically scrolling shooter. You’re a couple of US war movie types with mustachios and a bit more Rambo looking. You shoot tanks and lads in military green, or was it blue? Déjà vu? Well, I’ll put an end to that; Ikari’s arcade (better) version doesn’t feel quite as refined as Guerrilla War’s console version.

Was it fun?


The arcade version is alright but there’s nothing to make this one stand out. The music is horribly irritating (and that’s from someone who’s pretty forgiving with retro game music) and Guerrilla War’s generally better all around. Do not play the console version though. Just please, burn it with fire.

Will you play it again?

No.

Score: 1.5/5

Ikari Warriors II (1986) / Arcade & Console Versions

What do you get?

Well, pretty much Ikari Warriors… wait, what the hell just happened? This took a dark turn. Alright, so it looks like our warriors became enamoured with the arcane arts and dabbled in some witchcraft, seemingly pissing off a dark lord in the process. Or they’re still in the jungle, but trippin’. Whatever the reason, Ikari Warriors II has completely ditched its entire vibe, going for what appears to be an alien bug invasion.

Was it fun?

Surprisingly, I spent more time with this than with the original Ikari despite the fact that it’s similar but even more sluggish. The aesthetics and wacky enemies made this easier to drag myself through. That said, Ikari II is too ambitious for its own good. Also, say it with me: the console version sucks. Improved, but sucks.

Will you play it again?

It’s still a no.

Score: 2/5

Ikari Warriors III The Rescue (1989/1990) / Arcade & Console Version

SNK 10

What do you get?

Four years on and our warriors (Paul and Vince, for the record) have returned from their drug-induced coma. They don’t even care anymore. The comedown’s in full swing, they’re back in the jungle but now with high visual fidelity. In a moment of clarity, the warriors decide they don’t need weapons and recall their martial arts training (pub street brawling), opting to pummel their opponents to death with their bare fists. Ikari III has far more in common with beat ‘em ups than it does with its predecessors. In fact, it is a beat ‘em up if I’m being honest.

Was it fun?

A resounding yes! Not for long, mind, but a yes in any event. Movement is nice and smooth, controls are far more responsive, and there are some really impressive details within the sprite work. The soundtrack’s weird but give the lads a break, they’re still recovering.

Will you play it again?

A definite maybe.

Score: 3/5

Iron Tank (1988) Console Only

SNK 11

What do you get?

Another beach landing! And tanks. And some letters to collect. OK, so the letters are alternative weapons which are all similar, this being a 1988 console game and all. To be fair, yes, Iron Tank is visually bland, but the trains are cool.

Was it fun?

Mechanically this is just another vertical run ‘n’ gun, though feels rather smooth given you’re operating a tank. Having the turret fire in a different direction to the standard gun is nice, but clunky.

Will you play it again?

No. There are similar, better games within this very collection and, even with its middling-sluggish gameplay, the lack of multiplayer and lack of visual variety means this one’s beached.

Score: 1.5/5

Munchmobile (1983) Arcade Only

SNK 12

What do you get?

Herbie? Nope. Kit? No, what you’re getting is Brum. This vertically scrolling arcade high score chaser has a pleasant backing tune and a lovely bright colour palette. Your aim is to navigate what looks like the park pathway with reckless abandon. Prams be damned. You grab neglected fruit from the floor with your massive, swollen hand, dumping the scraps in the bins as you pass, just for the glory of it (read: points). Clearly aimed at kids but my word, it’s a tough game.

Was it fun?

When imagining this rampant, maniacal, sentient vehicle tearing down the path, grabbing bags of discarded money or an old lady’s building society book with his misshapen hands, it’s quite fun. Looks novel for a game as far back as 1983. Give the old-timer some respect (perhaps by not addressing him as ‘Brum’).

Will you play it again?

This is an old arcade game. You know what you’re getting and, as long as you bear that in mind, why not? Strictly short bursts only.

Score: 3/5

OZMR Wars (1979) Arcade Only

SNK 13

What do you get?

Vertically scrolling (yes, I know) Space Invaders-type jazz; an old sit-down arcade cabinet from the late 70s.

Was it fun?

The limitations are plentiful, especially with that sound chip but, again, for those basic, no-nonsense high score chasers, it’s deserving of a round if you enjoy a good history lesson. Does not have legs. Well, the cabinet did, but you know what I mean.

Will you play it again?

Yes. One more time. That’s it.

Score: 2.5/5

Paddle Mania (1988) Arcade Only

SNK 14

What do you get?

A strange, frantic round of tennis which plays out in the style of an arcade air hockey game (the ball bounces off the wall and the aim is to score goals). Chunky sprites and courts with some imaginative gimmicks such as facing sumo wrestlers and synchronised swimmers in a half-pool court. Complete with multiplayer singles and doubles. Somewhat comically, in one-v-one match, both players are named ‘You’.

Was it fun?

Yes. In terms of gameplay, this is one of the few that’s aged extremely well and feels more like a refined SNES game, than an 80s arcade effort. It’s effortlessly fun, responsive and unique.

Will you play it again?

Absolutely. Also, if you play against a buddy, ‘You’ will always win.

Score: 4.5/5

P.O.W. (1988) Arcade & Console Versions

 What do you get?

“Another one?”, I said. No, it’s not. It’s a side-scrolling beat ‘em up! There are no combos as such, but most enemies can be sent flying with one hit. It’s very simplistic, especially when you consider the genre greats to appear in the not-so-distant future, but there’s a decent look to the sprites, even if character design is lacking. The screen is always busy with generous servings of enemy waves, some with weaponry which you can also utilise. Multiplayer is present on the arcade version. Considering the console version was on the NES, it gets a completely different visual take, but works equally well, mechanically, though doesn’t feel all that similar.

Was it fun?

The arcade multiplayer does its job and it’s a passable experience but, unfortunately, it does nothing to elevate it above the competition of the era. It does have a funky soundtrack though.

Will you play it again?

Unlikely.

Score: 2.5/5

Prehistoric Isle (1988) Arcade Only

SNK 16

What do you get?

A side-scrolling shoot ‘em up, but stepping outside the usual alien / sci-fi genre comfort-zone with a wonderfully realised Neanderthal and dinosaur tag-team. In the 1930s there was some suspicious activity around a small island off the Bahamas. In your ‘30s warplane, your task is to begin an inquiry into these events. What plays out gameplay-wise is a solid two-player shooter with enemies and projectiles coming from all angles, eventually progressing to bullet hell. That may sound fairly standard but it’s all about the little touches, such as waterfalls slowing you down (with some nice accompanying sprite-swaps), the power-up weapon-positioning mechanic, which allows you to switch the direction and type of projectile (bombs, larger energy waves, additional bullets etc), as well as the angle of your secondary weapon. It’s got a fairly even difficulty for a coin-muncher.

Was it fun?

Hell, yes! Thoroughly recommended. If this was ‘89 and I was in an arcade, I’d be penniless. I’d also be three years old, but you know, technicalities. The visuals are bold and backgrounds varied. The boss fights are against massive, epic creatures with their own move sets. The scrolling changes direction but to good effect, giving plenty of thought to enemy placement as well as environmental hazards. It’s great fun.

Will you play it again?

You bet your over-sized ‘80s 10p coins, I will. I’m also eyeing up the 1999 sequel now.

Score: 4.5/5

Psycho Soldier (1987) Arcade Only

SNK 17

What do you get?

An oddity in the line-up, with lots of distinguishing features. At its base, Psycho Soldier reminds me of C64 platformers with movement being limited to moving horizontally and swapping between four vertical tiers. You play Athena’s ancestor from Athena (see part 1) and it’s this game where you’ll notice the connection to SNK’s flagship fighting series, King of Fighters! And Athena comes out singing. Literally. The lyrics are the stuff of legend and her schoolgirl idol psychic powers are out in full force.

Was it fun?

It was. More so with two players. The action is top-notch without being overly difficult. The secondary, limited special attack is really satisfying for clearing out multiple enemies.

Will you play it again?

Yes, hyaku paacento (100%)

Score: 4.5/5

Sasuke vs Commander (1980) Arcade Only

What do you get?

One-man army, Sasuke (not, that one) has been given his orders by the Shogun; ‘PROTECT MY LIFE FROM NINJA’. Turns out that, even though the enemy shinobi have clearly been skipping dojo sessions, it’s a tall order for our Sasuke and his robe of infinite knives. There are bloody loads of them jumping between branches an dropping the ol’ throwing stars. It’s a bit like Missile Command with ninja and shuriken. An old, slow and basic hi-score chaser.

Was it fun?

Well, as I said, it’s an old, slow and basic hi-score chaser. It has its own look and feel but it’s just another dodge and shoot affair with little incentive. Actually, it had a boss fight so that’s a thing.

Will you play it again?

Not unless the Shogun kicks my door down and screams “PROTECT MY LIFE FROM NINJA”.

Score: 1/5

Street Smart (1989) Arcade Only

SNK 19

What do you get?

Mechanically plays out like a side-scrolling beat ‘em up with 3D movement but with fighting game-style one on one bouts. The sprite animation and floaty movement works nicely during the long and drawn-out (in a good way) fights. It’s about draining the opponent’s stamina until they’re visually exhausted, in a tense showdown.

When those private SNK Hospital ambulances show up, you know there’s some form of scam going on, though. As if these bare-knuckle street fighting thugs have enough money to cover the health insurance. Unless they’ve become some sort of international NHS (IHS?), which, judging by how quickly they turn up, is unlikely, as they’re clearly better funded. Interestingly, the second fight is against Shenmue’s Tom from the hotdog stand. Do you remember how cool that tornado kick was that he taught Ryo back at the harbour? Watch out though, he’s buffed up.

Was it fun?

Exceptionally. As with most arcade games, and for obvious reasons, it’s suited to short bursts but with the AI being so horrifically unfair at time, it’s adds an urgency to getting back up and backflipping out of the way of their giant fists. It’s strangely satisfying.

Will you play it again?

If I feel like trying to escape a desperate beat down from steroid-driven nut jobs, I’d rather do it here than in town.

Score: 3.5/5

Time Soldiers (1987) Arcade Only

SNK 20

What do you get?

Well, you get into a big mess where your buddies have been scattered across time. Get out there and save them. It’s a vertically scrolling twin-stick shooter but you have a laser gun this time! Yes, there’s the usual SNK army-green brigade out to greet you in the beginning, but when you zap ‘em, they blow up or disintegrate to nothingness. Nothing quite like an exploding Anubis boss. Excellent.

Was it fun?

Once again, the best way to play is with two players. The hook of time travel, firing lasers through an impressive array of locations, jumping through time portals leading to bosses, and a genuine piqued curiosity over what’s to come next kept this one fresh.

Will you play it again?

Yes, I’m keen to try to finish this one with a little less reliance on the rewind ability (though let’s be fair, it’s more fitting in this title).

Score: 4/5

TNKIII (1985) Arcade Only

SNK 21

What do you get?

A game so hardcore they don’t even need the ‘A’. Go back to be my review for Iron Tank; similar visuals, same premise, less sluggish turret use, better implementation of directional shooting and generally more fun. That’s TNKIII.

Was it fun?

Yes, as TNKIII manages to make you feel as tough as you should in a tank.

Will you play it again?

Yes.

Score: 3.5/5

Vanguard (1981) Arcade Only

SNK 22

What do you get?

What feels almost like a racecourse rather than an environment fitting the space shooter it is, due largely to the mini-map displayed as you shoot your way through this very, very, old-school relic.

Was it fun?

Bar its infuriating boss fights, it’s actually quite interesting. The happy music shifts with each zone as you make your way through the level towards your inevitable death at the boss fight.

Will you play it again?

If someone had it on a cabinet, I would.

Score: 5/10

World Mars (1987) Arcade Only

SNK 23

What do you get?

The final game of the collection (that honour goes to the last alphabetically, of course). Bit of a bum note, unfortunately. World Mars is a competent… you guessed it, vertical scrolling shooter. The music is a mixed bag but the shooting itself is fine. Upgrades can be added to your plane adding some extra oomph to your firepower.

Was it fun?

It started OK but once you’ve upgraded your plane to the max, it’s a little underwhelming and makes it feel there’s nothing much more to aim for given the relatively bland presentation. It has the odd good idea, like dropping bombs on a projectile-shooting active volcano to cave it in, but it all feels extremely samey after a couple of levels.

Will you play it again?

It’s technically fine but I honestly can’t be bothered.

Score: 2/5

The Final Word

I love a lot of the 16-bit to modern-day SNK hits from The King of Fighters line (here’s to ‘98, baby!) to Garou and the unrivalled Metal Slug series, but the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection opened a world of titles that completely passed me by. It’s great to have short bursts on and to look a slice of gaming history, with all the bells and whistles of a modern collection. The additional free DLC adds some extra value for money. Some games are great, some are simply products of their time, a few are out and out duff. That doesn’t matter though as there’s nothing quite like opening a box of retro treasures for the sake of curiosity.

And that’s your lot! Did you enjoy this feature? Would you be interested in seeing me tackle a different collection? Give me a shout @2DMike3D on Twitter.

About Mike Hallam

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