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SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1

Reviewed by: Rob StrangmanMedia: DVD
Released by: SNK PlaymoreStatus: available now
Platform: Sony PlayStation 2Number of games: 16
Year released: 2008Players: 1-2 (alt./sim.)

Games included:
Art of FightingBaseball Stars 2Burning FightFatal Fury
King of the MonstersLast ResortMagician LordMetal Slug
Neo Turf MastersSamurai ShodownSengokuShock Troopers
Super Sidekicks 3: The Next GloryThe King of Fighters '94Top Hunter: Roddy & CathyWorld Heroes

On paper, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 sounds like a great idea. SNK Playmore has released only a few compilations so far, and most of those have been series-specific (Metal Slug Anthology, etc.). They haven't released any compilations spanning their nearly 30 year career in the industry. Nor does it look like that's going to happen any time soon either. You see, the title of the disc is somewhat misleading. What the real title should be is SNK Neo Geo Classics Vol. 1, as there is not a single pre-Neo Geo game on it. No Vanguard, no Guerilla War, no P.O.W.... nothing. Misleading title aside, a compilation full of Neo Geo games isn't a bad idea at all. The system had some damn fine games, and due to its high price it was out of reach to the majority of us during its heyday. Even now it's pretty pricey, and a lot of the really good games will cost you a rent payment to pick up. Seriously. I wish I was making that last bit up. Ever try to price a copy of Metal Slug? Give it a shot, then tell me what you think. Here's where SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 starts to fall on its face. SNK Playmore has seen fit to give us only sixteen games. Come on. I understand that Neo Geo games weren't lightweights in the size department, but you're using DVDs here! On top of that, Capcom and Taito are making you look bad. Taito gave us close to forty games on Taito Legends 2, so what's your excuse for shortchanging us, SNK?
Magician Lord: Some might kill me for saying this, but damn does it sound like a TG16 game. That's not a bad thing.

The sixteen games we did get, for the most part, are the first installments in a lot of classic Neo Geo series. There are a few one shots on the disc too, like Magician Lord. I understand that SNK could be holding out the others for SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 2, but what are the chances of that happening? Vol. 1 was released near the end of the PS2's life as it is, so unless Vol. 2 makes the jump to the PS3, I think this might be all we get. Next comes strike two against the disc: the variety of games. The majority of them are one on one fighters. Understandable, given that the Neo Geo had a reputation as being "the fighting game machine", a sad result of being arcade hardware that had the misfortune to come out just as the fighting game craze of the 1990s was taking off. Still, there were plenty of other titles SNK could have included to make the disc a little more balanced. Where's Nam-1975? Where's Ghost Pilots? How about Cyber-Lip, Ninja Commando or Prehistoric Isle 2? But hey, you might be saying, look what we did get! Magician Lord, Metal Slug, Top Hunter, Last Resort, Shock Troopers!
Metal Slug: That laser's close enough to give Marco a nice haircut.

Good point, but sadly, this brings me to strike three for SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1: the emulation of certain games, most notably Shock Troopers, was seriously botched. I'll admit, my experience with the Neo Geo was limited solely to whenever I'd stumble across one in an arcade, but even I could tell that there was something wrong with some of these games. Most of the emulation issues involve the graphics, but the gameplay of one game was affected. Shock Troopers suffers from the worst case of slowdown I've seen in ages. It's not unplayable, but unless you like playing your games in slow motion, you're going to be disappointed. And frankly, this is just inexcusable, especially considering that this is being run on a PS2, a machine that's much more powerful than the Neo Geo was. Adding insult to injury: most of the one on one fighters seem to run fine, but one of the few non-fighters (and the only overhead run-n-gun) on the disc has issues. That's just wrong.
Samurai Shodown: Don't mess with Hanzo.

All of those gripes aside, it's not a bad comp. The interface is easy to understand, and exiting games isn't a problem at all. All of the games are set to "free play" as well, which is nice, and the difficulty level can be adjusted in the menu. There are plenty of unlockables to be had, mostly art and music tests, although the conditions under which they expect you to unlock some of them are downright insane. You try finishing Burning Fight without dying on Insane difficulty. Good luck. You can even set checkpoints in games (usually the last stage you were on when you died), although you must wait for the Game Over screen to appear. Don't exit the game before that, or your checkpoint won't be created. And hey, we did get Magician Lord, Metal Slug, Top Hunter and Last Resort.
Top Hunter: I can't stand this boss, with all his jumping and teleporting.

In the end, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is a nice attempt at bringing us poor shmucks an affordable way to play some of the biggest games to ever hit the Neo Geo. Sadly, that's all it is: an attempt. It falls too short in too many different departments to even be considered viable in the face of the other classic arcade comps that are out for the PS2. Yeah, there are a couple of gems that aren't available for anything else, but you may want to give it some serious thought before you drop some cash on this one.
Sengoku: "DRINK WILD SODA", indeed. You didn't see too many bikini-clad models on billboards in videogames back in 1991.

Worth the purchase: Unless you're desperate for a 2D fighting game fix and don't have a Neo Geo, it's not worth it. But if you're like me and just had to have your own copy of Magician Lord to play on your TV, it's a no-brainer: buy it.

Diversity: Falls flat here. Too many one-on-one fighters, much like the actual Neo Geo library itself.

Playability: For the most part, it's playable, wth no major control issues or serious, serious emulation issues. Shock Troopers, on the other hand...

Hidden gems: Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy. I'd seen it talked about in Diehard GameFAN years back, but never got to play it until now. Fun, fun, fun.

Screenshots courtesy of The Killer List of Videogames.