While the Virtual Console may not be making a comeback on Switch, we’ve seen plenty of publishers step up to fill the retro void, with wide-ranging efforts such as HAMSTER’s Arcade Archives Neo Geo eShop series sitting alongside curated collections including Capcom’s Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection

Not to be left out, golden-era arcade powerhouse SNK is also getting in on the game with the upcoming, Switch-exclusive SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, a compilation featuring retro titles from the publisher’s pre-Neo Geo days, being released by NIS America. We were able to go hands-on with a non-final build of the collection at this year’s E3, and came away equal parts humbled in our gaming skills and excited about getting to dive back into these coin-op classics, thanks to some excellent accessibility features.

Our demo started with an attractive menu that let us select any of the available titles to sample, by scrolling through their HD logos in a crisp, easy-to-use interface. The first game we decided to jump into was 1986’s Athena, a side-scrolling action platformer starring the eponymous ancestor of The King of Fighters’ famous schoolgirl idol. After choosing the game, we had the option to pick between a ‘Home’ or ‘Arcade’ version - an option planned for all included titles with both home and arcade ports - each of which came with large key art specific to the selected version.

We went with the arcade release of Athena, and were quickly smitten with the bright colours and cheery chiptune music. Controls felt tight and responsive on the grip-mounted Joy-Con we played with, and were fully remappable too. Sadly, tight controls couldn’t save us from the merciless difficulty of the early arcade. Athena’s gameplay ostensibly consists of walking from left to right, jumping between platforms, and kicking enemies to defeat them and acquire new weapons, armour, and equipment, but for us, it was more a matter of taking a few steps and then dying spectacularly. After a few repeated wipeouts, the NISA employee running the demo pointed out that we could hold down the ‘L’ button to rewind, and back up the action to right before a mistimed jump or enemy attack.

Smooth, instant and easy, rewinding felt fantastic; rather than a simple ’10 second skip’. It runs back the tape in a way that feels almost analogue, allowing you to take in your line of play as you scrub back to safety. It also isn’t limited to the very recent past; you’re able to rewind as far back as you like within your current play session, and our clock showed several minutes of recallable gameplay by the end of Athena’s first stage.

This is quite literally a game-changer; more than just a gimmick, rewinding goes a long way towards upping the accessibility of these classic-but-almost-unspeakably-hard titles. Of course, one could argue that the unlimited credits of ROM releases such as HAMSTER’s Arcade Archives fulfil a similar function, but rewinding felt preferable to us for two main reasons. First, its instantaneous nature makes it far less tedious - we might not have hit ‘Continue’ 12 (or 20) times to get through the first level of Athena, but it felt easy and painless to just rewind back a bit every time we made a bad decision or wound up dead.

Second, while credit feeding can feel just a bit dirty, somehow - perhaps paradoxically - rewinding doesn’t; rather than the illicit thrill of throwing down endless virtual coins, it’s more like having a super power that helps you learn from your mistakes. It’s a much better way to get a feel for the level layouts, enemy patterns, and set-pieces that make up the beating heart of these arcade classics; instead of having unlimited chances at a stage, you have unlimited chances to try, retry, and study every jump, shot, or hit. It’s a wonderful feeling.

After making it up to (but not past, sadly) Athena’s first boss, we decided to try out another title. Jumping between games was a simple matter of hitting the ’+’ button and heading back to the main menu - from there you can also save states, view and customise controls, edit options (including toggling borders and either TV or Arcade-style visual filters on or off), and turn on or off included cheats such as invincibility. The next title to catch our eye in the menu was Alpha Mission, an early vertically-scrolling arcade shmup that also saw a Famicom/NES port, both of which are included in the collection.

Our first-stage run of Alpha Mission felt great on the Switch, and while we made far less use of the rewind function here than in Athena, it still came in handy - not just for avoiding death, but also for going back to pick up different powerups to see what each one did. Our NISA representative also mentioned that they’re targeting including Tate mode on all vertically-oriented games in the collection, so that you could prop your Switch up on its side and rotate the picture 90-degrees - an excellent addition that we’re happy to see becoming something of a standard in Switch shmups.

There are currently 13 games confirmed for the collection - Alpha Mission, Athena, Crystalis, Ikari Warriors, Ikari III, Guerrilla War, P.O.W., Prehistoric Isle, Psycho Soldier, Street Smart, TNK III, Vanguard, and Victory Road - with more to be announced ahead of release. As it currently stands, the lineup does seem to lean a bit heavily on military-themed shooters, but colourful titles like Athena, Psycho Soldier, and Crystalis help even out the ratio. We hope the final list keeps up the quality and diversity, because between its feature set, presentation, and unique source material, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is looking to be an incredibly enjoyable history lesson for retro-minded Switch players when it releases later in 2018.

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