Originally Released: 2008
Version Played: Wii
On the most recent episode of the podcast, I extolled the virtues of Neo Geo games on the Wii Virtual Console, while coming off as a bit dismissive of the SNK compilations released on the Wii, which I had never played. See, as a long-time Sega fan, I’ve been burned by poor emulation, lengthy load times, and ugly visual filters in these “too good to be true” value-packed comps. After spending a dozen or so hours with the 16 games on SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1, I’m happy to report that my worries were unfounded- this is a fantastic package.
One great thing about the Wii is that the system allowed for a variety of control options- which unfortunately, many developers, including Nintendo, didn’t take full advantage of. SNK gives players a breadth of controller options on this comp, including Wii Remote (left or right-handed), Wii Remote + Nunchuk, Classic Controller, and GameCube pad. I don’t have a fight stick to try (like the rad Neo Geo replica stick for Wii), so I’m not sure if those work (I’d hope so).
SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 also includes a pretty decent metagame in the form of its achievement system. You earn medals for completing tasks ranging from finishing a game on easy difficulty to more specific challenges like scoring 3 goals in one game with one player in Super Sidekicks 3. These medals don’t just look nice displayed on the game selection screen- they also unlock bonuses in the gallery such as original art, hint videos, character move lists, and music tracks.
All the control options and unlockables would mean nothing however, if the emulation of the games wasn’t great. I’m by no means an expert on these games- the majority of my Neo Geo experiences in recent years come from the Virtual Console, but I came away from this comp very impressed by the quality. There are no egregious load times, no “new” slowdown, and the sound was great in every game. I thought the games looked excellent on my modest 32” HDTV, same as they did when played on the Virtual Console (these games have aged much better than 3D titles of the time). That said, for more detailed technical impressions from people more intimately familiar with the games, you’ll probably want to search around Neo-Geo.com.
Speaking of the games:
The first thing I played on this compilation was one of my absolute favorite games on the platform, the original Metal Slug. I had actually just played through it a week or so ago on the Virtual Console, so I was able to notice one key difference instantly. On this compilation, all games have the option for infinite continues. While Metal Slug on Virtual Console only allows you 5 continues per stage (which is generally more than enough), this version makes the experience even easier by allowing you to instantly continue at the point you lost all your lives, as many times as you want. It’s obviously not a “feature” for hardcore players going for 1CCs, but it’s a nice option if you want a more casual experience (or want to play co-op with someone who isn’t a Slug enthusiast like yourself).
King of Fighters ‘94
KOF ‘94 is an innovative and solid team-based fighter mechanically, but lacks the bells, whistles, and roster of later titles in the series. For hardcore King of Fighters fans, or those who want to start at the beginning of the series only. The rest of us should stick with ‘98, ‘99, or XIII.
Super Sidekicks 3
I’m a big fan of non-sim soccer games, so Super Sidekicks 3 is right up my alley. While the players may seem a bit stiff in their movement and animation, the game play is fast and intuitive. The real highlight of SS3 though, may be the goal “cutscenes.” The slow-motion-flying-man-hug is right up there with the strange celebratory animations of the original International Superstar Soccer on the Nintendo 64.
While I really dig Last Resort’s Neo-Tokyo aesthetic, the sparse checkpoints make the game feel incredibly difficult. The option for infinite continues is a welcome one, and if you stick with it, you’ll find a solid horizontal shooter.
A pretty standard early sidescrolling beat ‘em up that can easily be completed in one quick sitting. Possibly the most memorable aspect of Burning Fight is a Hulk Hogan “inspired” boss named TOM ANDERSON, which kinda cracks me up.
Neo Turf Masters
While the characters may be a bit on the ugly-side, once Neo Turf Masters clicks it’s an addictive masterpiece of streamlined golf simplicity.
Magician Lord is an incredibly difficult action platformer; it’s frustrating, even with infinite continues. It sports Altered Beast-esque transformations, which unfortunately aren’t nearly as empowering as in the aforementioned title. Like Altered Beast, it kind of wins you over with great music, cool enemies, and endearing macabre settings. Magician Lord was at one time, like Altered Beast, a pack-in title.
Magician Lord is the Neo Geo’s Altered Beast
Magician Lord is Altered Beast
World Heroes (unlockable after earning 10 medals)
World Heroes kinda has a bum rap as a C-tier SNK fighting franchise, but it has its charms. After Samurai Shodown and King of Fighters, I appreciate World Heroes’ simple controls and few special moves- it’s a much friendlier fighter for new players. Aesthetically, World Heroes is a blatant Street Fighter II rip-off in everything from roster to bonus stages, but it differentiates itself with death matches, in which there are various hazards inside or around the fighting area.
Despite it being a pretty butchered port, I owned and loved the Genesis version of Fatal Fury in my younger years. Playing the original game now, it’s easy to see why. Yes, the roster is paltry compared to Street Fighter II (which released the same year) and unlike SFII, the game’s balance is… questionable at best, but it still just exudes charm at every opportunity. The “rules” of the fighting game genre were still being written at the time, so Fatal Fury is ripe with weird additions, such as multi-plane combat, arm wresting minigames, and story segments between matches. While many of Fatal Fury’s contributions turned out to be evolutionary dead ends within the genre, its legacy lives on today – in fact, this is the game where the “King of Fighters” tournament debuted!
OK, I’m going to try to describe Sengoku in one sentence. It’s a beat ’em up that takes place in an urban environment where your character can transform into mystical characters such as a samurai, ninja, or dog to fight enemies from the Sengoku period who are invading through time travel portals which you also get sucked into and have to battle monsters in a parallel universe resembling a dream-state version of Warring States Period Japan and- OK, this is impossible. While the gameplay was refined in the sequels, Sengoku remains a blast to play due to its consistently absurd surprises.
With its branching paths and multiple play modes, Shock Troopers gives you reason to replay. It’s a totally worthy successor to SNK’s pre-Neo Geo vertical shooters like Ikari Warriors and Guerrilla War (though Shock Troopers sports some horizontal-scrolling stages as well).
Another nostalgic one for me – in 1996, after the system was discontinued, I bought a 3DO with Samurai Shodown for about $50. As I recall, the SamSho 3DO port was quite decent, with great audio and the awesome sprite-scaling intact. While I can’t seem to get a hang of the deep and nuanced controls today, the atmosphere and depiction of feudal Japan in this game still resonates (only to be topped in my mind by another SNK fighter, Last Blade 2).
Art of Fighting
Art of Fighting is probably the SNK fighting franchise I have the least amount of history with. As in, I’ve only played the first game in the series, and briefly. While AoF brings some neat ideas to the table (special move bar, taunts that drain your opponent’s special move bar, and GIANT sprites), it feels too stiff and cramped to be enjoyable.
Baseball Stars 2
Disclaimer: I’m much of a fan of the sport in general and I don’t really enjoy any baseball games outside of Base Wars on the NES. That said, I really dug Baseball Stars 2 after playing it for the first time ever on this compilation. It’s fast, mechanically sound, colorful, and expressive- the perfect baseball game for non-fans of the sport such as myself.
King of the Monsters
The open-arena kaiju combat is a great concept, but the controls feel stiff and the AI cheap. I’d probably give it 7.5 Danzigs out of ten.
Top Hunter: Roddy and Cathy
While I initially found the SD sprites oft-putting, I fell in love with the gorgeous animated backgrounds. The more I played of the game, the more I came to appreciate Top Hunter’s Ristar-meets-Street Fighter II action platforming and Fatal Fury-esque plane hopping. Speaking of that plane hopping- man, that would look great in 3D. When are we going to get SNK 3D Classics on 3DS, M2?
SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is an impressive collection of Neo Geo games spanning a broad spectrum of genres. The compilation serves as an interesting history lesson, showcasing games from the genesis of the hardware to titles released towards the end of Neo Geo’s run. It’s fascinating to see the technical strides made from Magician Lord (1990) to Metal Slug (1996), but while the games on this comp vary in genre and technical prowess, they all have two aspects in common: intuitive controls and clear goals. This arcade philosophy combined with striking 2D visuals make these games very accessible today (though admittedly, not all of them will remain compelling past the 15 minute mark).
The compilation is far from a cynical grab for nostalgic gamers’ cash- this is a quality package with captivating metagame incentives and no egregious flaws in the emulation. I found my copy (used) for $4.99 at a local GameStop and honestly feel like it’s worth ten times that cost. I’m sorry I was kind of a dick about it. It’s pretty obvious at this point that we’re not getting a Vol. 2, which is a shame because there are still, beyond this comp and what’s been released on the Wii Virtual Console, many Neo Geo games deserving of a larger audience. I hope that SNK Playmore continues to re-release their back catalog in the future, whether it be on Wii U Virtual Console or compilations like this, and I hope they maintain the same high level of care that they showed when crafting this release.