Back when it was first released in the early ‘90s SNK’s Neo-Geo Advanced Entertainment System (or AES for short) was the undisputed Rolls Royce of video game consoles. Because the Japanese firm had decided to base the machine on the exact same specification boasted by its arcade hardware (known as the MVS), games on the AES were 100% arcade perfect – a first for the industry.
The side-effect of all this power was price. Because of the sheer amount of memory that had to go inside each cutting-edge, arcade-perfect home release, the average AES cartridge would set you back around £200 – which, at the time, could have bought you a SNES or Mega Drive console.
With this little history lesson in mind, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 strikes us as astonishingly good value for money. Concealed within the shiny surface of this unassuming DVD disc are 16 slices of Neo-Geo gaming heritage. Back in the day such a collection would cost you somewhere in the region of £3000 – an eye-watering prospect if ever there was one.
Putting aside the issue of money for one moment, it’s clear to see why retro-enthusiasts might get a little hot under the collar about this particular release. When you have games like Metal Slug, King of Fighters ’94, Shock Troopers, Magician Lord and Last Resort all on the same disc, it practically screams ‘must buy’. To be perfectly honest, those games alone would justify a purchase for many hardcore SNK fans.
Of course not all of the games showcased here are solid gold classics; personally we’d rather the likes of King of Monsters, Sengoku and Burning Fight be left in the mists of time. However, even these games are worth a punt for at least a few minutes and their presence on the disc doesn’t detract from the other vintage gems.
The only thing that muddies the water a little is the fact that the majority of the games contained in this collection (12 out of 16) are already available on the Wii’s Virtual Console service, and Metal Slug and King of Fighters ’94 have already been released as part of the Metal Slug Anthology and King of Fighters Collection respectively. So while this is undeniably a highly appealing prospect for dedicated retro gamers, there’s a high chance that these same people will already own a fair proportion of the titles featured here.
Another bugbear is the fact that all of the releases featured here – with the exception of Metal Slug and Shock Troopers – came relatively early in the Neo-Geo’s lifespan. Therefore, they lack the punch of later games, such as the superlative Garou: Mark of the Wolves. However, SNK Playmore has already re-released this as a stand-alone game on the PS2, so expecting it to appear on a compilation at the same time is probably being a little optimistic. Still, it’s a little annoying that this collection isn’t really able to show SNK’s console at its very best.
Of course the quality – and quantity – of the games would count for nothing if the emulation was off target, but thankfully the developer has done an excellent job of porting over the original code to the Wii. Naturally the games look a little rough on modern LCD TV sets, but on the whole the high-quality hand-drawn artwork still manages to amaze even after all these years. Sadly the sound isn’t quite as impressive – it’s been a while since we slipped a few coins into an MVS arcade system but we seem to recall the aural experience being a little less crackly than this.
In terms of additional extras, things are pretty thin on the ground. The developer has attempted to introduce a goals-based medal system similar to Microsoft’s ‘Gamer score’ scheme, as seen on the Xbox 360. Finishing certain objective will unlock artwork, music and video clips – as well as move lists for the fighting games featured on the disc. This last element is unfortunate, as the knowing the moves in a fighting game is almost a requirement and having to play through other games to gain access to them feels like a punishment rather than a reward. It also means that casual gamers that haven’t played King of Fighters or Samurai Showdow before will instantly be at a disadvantage and this may put them off playing them altogether.
However, even this clumsy bonus system can’t taint the overall greatness of this collection. Even if you’re too young to remember wanting a Neo-Geo console, you’ll appreciate the old-school excellence of these titles and if you happen to have a few like-minded friends then you can be assured of weeks of multiplayer action.
It’s not perfect by any means but SNK Arcade Classics Vol.1 represents a solid purchase for those of you that enjoy retro gaming – providing you don’t already own the majority of the games on Virtual Console, that is. However, if you’re new to the ‘classic gaming’ scene or simply wish to know what all the fuss is about then this is a fantastic way to grab several highly-esteemed games in one go. Hopefully SNK Playmore can dig a bit deeper for Volume 2 and give us some lesser known classics.