Old games are hard; like, really, really hard. Back in the day when coin up arcade hangouts were the place to be, people could be found furiously pounding buttons and slamming in coins, trying to get top spot on the leaderboards in a bid to impress their mates, even if it cost them an arm and a leg. SNK were innovators when it came to making arcade games, and now, you can bring that nostalgia back with SNK 40th Anniversary Collection on the Nintendo Switch.
Included in this nifty collection are some of the lesser recognisable games from SNK’s back catalogue, mainly due to a lot of the top-draw titles already being available on the Switch store. Thirteen games are available from launch with eleven more coming as free DLC on 11th December. Of the eleven DLC titles, nine will be implemented via patch, while the remaining 2, Beast Busters and SAR: Search and Rescue, will be available as a free bundle on the game’s store page on the Nintendo eShop the same day.
Going back to what’s included, on the surface, it looks like you are just getting thirteen games, but, some of them actually have two versions included – arcade and home console. Despite them being slightly downgraded versions, that’s still an additional nine games, which if you’re a fan of arcade nostalgia will add plenty of bang for your buck. You can even switch the regions of each title adding more variation, which is fantastic.
So what’s included? First on the list, you have Alpha Mission which is a single player, vertical scrolling shooter that puts you in a ship, and pits you against waves of enemies. It was originally released in 1985 and definitely shows its age. It feels decidedly slow to control, and is initially confusing as to what you can and can’t shoot with your different weapon types – machine guns for air units and bombs for grounded units. It’s fine for a quick blast but otherwise there are better games included – and arguably a better sequel on the Switch store.
Moving on, when a small princess leaped out of a window and all her clothes fell off, I wondered what on Earth I was playing. It’s very clear that Athena is a product of its time; a time when people considered games to be a man’s thing so the why not put a girl in a bikini on the front cover and have done with it? One of the developers actually said the reason Athena starts in a Bikini is to show that she gets stronger as she finds armour. Why does that feel like it should be accompanied by “You will be ashamed of your words and deeds?” This detracts from the fact that Athena is a pretty hard but enjoyable platforming game, clearly designed to eat change. Thank God for the collection’s rewind button.
A year later, a spiritual sequel to Athena would be released called Psycho Soldier, taking place in present day as opposed to the fantasy setting of of the original. You play as Athena Asamiya (yes that one from King of Fighters), a descendant of the previous games protagonist on a missions to destroy the evil monsters that have invaded her hometown in Japan. It’s the better game.
When you’re ready for something different there’s Crystalis. For years, many have phropisised the end of the world, and one of gaming’s earliest dives into this subject came in the form of Crystalis – an action RPG adventure set in 2097. It’s clearly inspired by The Legend of Zelda, with its top-down perspective, control scheme and combat being all too familiar to fans of the genre. Now considered a cult classic, Crystalis fits perfectly in this collection as one of SNK’s greats.
The collection includes a series of games that have “80’s action” written all over them. Ikari Warriors puts you in control of Ralph (of KoF fame) and Clark (the most Commando names ever) as they trek through the various enemy filled levels, to reach the village of Ikari. If you can’t tell from the front cover, the game is heavily inspired by the Rambo films and the action certainly fits as you run and gun through soldier tanks and helicopters, using whatever weaponry you come across. Innovative for its time, Ikari was one of the first of its type to use rotary joysticks, which could be rotated in addition to being pushed in eight directions, making the action feel fluid.
Its sequel, Victory Road, went to a whole other level of madness, swapping out the realistic environments and thrusting our heroes thousands of years into the future to fight an evil alien race. It maintains the fluid gameplay of the original despite being a little jarring in its setting. After the craziness of Victory Road, SNK decided to dial it back with their final entry in the series, Ikari III. Ikari III feels stripped back compared to the first two, with the camera zoomed in for more intimacy and the combat focus shifting more to melee. You can still find guns and other weaponry around but most of your time will be spent round house kicking bad guys Chuck Norris style, on your way to rescuing the President.
Ralph certainly gets around, appearing in another SNK entry, T.N.K. III. This actually predates Ikari Warriors but plays in similar style to the other featured top-down shooters with all the action confined to a tank. The tank combat would later be utilised in another SNK title, Guerilla War, which is a spiritual successor to Ikari with similar mechanics, larger sprites and a more frantic pace. Players take control of ‘not Che Guevara’ and ‘not Fidel Castro’ as they look to liberate the unnamed Caribbean Island from the evil dictator. Despite being virtually the same game as Ikari, it definitely feels more polished and is one of the better games in the collection.
There’s a bit of a theme here… In P.O.W. Prisoner of War you’re a military prisoner who breaks free from his cell and is looking for an extraction. This time though the action takes place as a side-scrolling beat ‘em up akin to Final Fight, using punches and kicks, and eventually, guns and knives you find round the levels. It’s a fairly simplistic jaunt but fun nevertheless.
When you’re done with that, Prehistoric Isle is brilliant and easily one of the best titles in this collection. This horizontal shooter, similar to games like R-Type, sees you fly your plane to investigate the mysterious Greenhell Isle and the prehistoric creatures that inhabit it. One the of best features of Prehistoric Isle is the fact that depending where you rotate your secondary weapon to on your ships, will change the properties of what you fire.
Street Smart is a hybrid game, mixing elements from side scrolling beat ‘em ups and 2D fighters. You can choose either from ‘Karate-Man’ or ‘Wrestler’ each with their own style and speed. There are seven opponents to take on and can be done on your own or with a second player, with a grudge match afterwards to determine who gets the bonus points. It’s not the best.
Last but certainly not least is Vanguard; the title that put SNK on the map. It was released in 1981, was the first colour game released by SNK, and was also one of the first shooters to feature multi directional scrolling. You, the player, are tasked with taking out the Gond (a big evil space face), who has been terrorising space colonies close by. You must fly into the nearby asteroid field and enter the dark cave where he is residing, using your advance fighter ship to get the job done.
If any of the games are giving you trouble, there’s a handy rewind function in place, so you don’t end up smashing your Switch after the twentieth restart. For those of you that want to know more, in the main menu, you’ll find a museum brimming with information, screenshots and more from SNK’s Golden Age of titles. No bugs were found during our review, but there will be a day one patch that addresses a number of potential bugs that may be encountered, such as possible issues with the rewind functionality.
This collection may not appeal to everyone, as when you boil it down a lot of these title feel the same. This serves more as a collector’s piece, which isn’t a bad thing; it’s just very niche. As you can see though, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection does has a lot on offer. With thirteen titles from the off, eleven more coming the month after, and the various versions included, this anniversary bundle makes for quite the collection of portable nostalgia. Old games are very hard and it’s important that we know where all the wonderful games we play today, started out. If you’re interested in seeing those beginnings, then pick this game up and fill your boots.