Thanks to NIS America for the review code
Title: SNK 40TH Anniversary Collection
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 11/13/2018
Retro games are my favorite kind of video games. Offering a look back into our past, it’s surprising to see how games we take for granted like Ocarina of Time and Castlevania Symphony of the Night came out over twenty years ago, and are now under this category when they felt like they were brand new yesterday. This is even more apparent as someone who grew up in the Game Boy Advance/PSP Era, but the history of gaming stretches back longer than that. Companies such as Nintendo, Namco and Capcom have been operating from the late 70s or early 80s to the modern age, but SNK was also in this group of developers operating during the pre-console era.
Yes, that SNK, the very same company that became famous with the Neo Geo and their dozens of Street Fighter II clones with ridiculous difficulty spikes, and seemingly made nothing else but that, even after they went bankrupt in the early 2000s and became SNK Playmore before finally dropping that last word in recent years. But believe it or not, SNK actually made games that weren’t fighters or clones of other games, or at least, games actually good enough to be cared about before their high points of the Neo Geo. Remember, the period from the early Neo Geo to the excellency of titles such as Garou, King of Fighters 98, Shock Troopers Second Squard or Real Bout 2 was incredibly rough, so it’s hard to imagine pre-NG SNK would be any better, or that they would even acknowledge the times before they became well known with the Neo Geo.
Yet, here we are, several years after a few PS Mini ports and a Japan only retail compilation of them, we finally get a proper collection of SNK’s early hits, including some cult classics that have never been reprinted since launch! SNK 40th was one of my most wanted titles of the entire year, solely because it promised to do something that I always want more from this industry: document and revive obscure games for a new generation to play them. Reprinting the more obscure games included here, rather than yet another port of King of Fighters or Samurai Shodown is what made me very interested in this, and I hope collections like this inspire other companies to dig up their obscure titles to let others experience them. With all that out of the way, let’s see how SNK 40th holds up, and if it met my expectations of being a great treasure chest of obscure goodness.
SNK 40th offers a promising UI for the menus and game selection screen, being straight to the point and even allowing for full touch screen support, if that’s a thing you prefer. Since this is a Digital Eclipse joint, their usual screen size and filter options are on display for every game included, and they work the same as they did in Street Fighter 30th, for the most part.
There’s three screen size options, three filter options, and one border option, and changing these in one game will do so for all the others, which can be a bit irritating considering the difference in resolution from Arcade to NES. Luckily, it’s very easy to adjust all these with the minus button while in a game, but I do wish you were able to adjust these settings on a one-by-one basis.
For the screen sizes, you have a pixel perfect option, which offers a super crisp image for the NES games and a shrunken image for the Arcade titles, while the full option will stretch the image to be akin to a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is the preferred way to play the Arcade games. There’s also an option to stretch the game to fill up the entire screen but please don’t do that.
The filters and borders are little to write home about, with the CRT/Monitor filters being much improved over their Street Fighter 30th and Mega Man Legacy Collection counterparts, but doesn’t even compare to seeing the full image without any lines blocking the way. As for the border, you get one for each game, and they’re shared for both NES and Arcade versions despite the key art for titles such as Ikari Arcade and NES being entirely different. These don’t do much for me unless I’m playing in handheld mode with the small screen options, so I personally prefer to just leave the filter and border off. You can even orient the display of the entire compilation vertically for any games with a vertical display, which is a really neat feature for games like Ikari I-III.
In terms of how the actual games look, both due to the emulation and how the games look originally, most of these games look and sound really good for their time. Vanguard uses a color scheme that makes things very easy to distinguish, Prehistoric Isle uses impressive 16 bit graphics despite being released near the end of the 1980s, Ikari III on NES manages to look even better than the Arcade original thanks to the better color scheme, and plenty of the other titles in this collection hold up extraordinarily well. Even the audio manages to be solid, with plenty of the games having memorable tunes, especially Crystalis, which has some of the best music on the entire NES!
Unfortunately, some games have not aged well in either aspect, and this mainly applies to the early NES titles included in this collection. The NES ports of Alpha Mission, Ikari Warriors, and Ikari II all look, sound and run like utter garbage, and this isn’t an emulation issue either. No, unfortunately the Ikari duo and Athena were programmed by Micronics, some of the worst ghost developers to ever come out of the NES era. Even for the time on real hardware, their games look and sound like utter garbage, while NES Alpha Mission looks and runs as slow as molasses due to being SNK’s first programmed NES title, and it shows. Luckily, the only Arcade title that has aged as poorly is Athena, which is ironic considering how the NES port isn’t much better, being notorious for not having any ending to speak of and how the select button makes the entire screen go black.
When it comes to the museum mode, there’s tons of goodies and history to look through, all accompanied by a soothing background theme that brings back childhood memories of browsing the archives of Sonic Mega Collection. You’ll certainly get a lot out of this, since most of the scans included here are of the highest quality possible, although unfortunately a lot of the NES Boxart lack the Nintendo logos despite magazine scans mentioning the platform names in full, along with the NES title screens retaining the licensed by Nintendo messages. It’s weirdly inconsistent, for sure.
The museum also sports a music player, just like in prior Digital Eclipse compilations, but the potential here is greatly missed compared to the Mega Man and Street Fighter compilations. For starters, any game that was multiplatform will only focus on their Arcade versions, so if you want to listen to the OST from the NES version of Ikari III, you’re out of luck. There’s also the issue of how the track listings consist of nothing but “TRACK 1, TRACK 2” and so on.
Surely some more effort could have been placed in this field, and considering how it also lacks bonus tracks that would have been super cool to see included, such as that vocal version of the Psycho Soldier theme that came with the Famicom version of Athena, it’s clear that this is the weakest part of the museum.
SNK 40th Collection includes over 20 games from the pre-NeoGeo era of SNK, most of which haven’t been rereleased in ages, if at all.
The games included from day one are as follows:
IKARI II Victory Road
Ikari III: The Rescue
Alpha Mission, Athena, Guerilla War, Ikari I-III and POW all have their NES versions to accompany their Arcade releases, while Crystalis and Iron Tank are NES exclusive. (although technically, Iron Tank is a remix of TNK III, so Crystalis is the only original NES title included here) Every game but Arcade Athena and Vanguard also includes their Japanese counterparts, which means that if you count all the different versions included in this compilation, you have a whopping 40 to choose from.
Of course, some games such as Street Smart and POW barely have any differences between their US and Japanese versions, but it’s very nice that they’re included nevertheless, plus you can access some obscure secrets this way, including the secret Sasuke Vs Commander minigame in the Famicom port of Guerrilla War, or a completely different background theme in Psycho Soldier. Unfortunately, Crystalis’s super secret debug cheat that’s available in the Japanese version is totally inaccessible, since it requires a full hard reset of the console and it’s not possible with how SNK 40th handles the emulation, due to lacking two player controller support for that game. (since you need two controllers to pull the trick off) Likewise, the simpler map select cheat in the US version is unavailable as well.
With all the other details out of the way, how do these games run, and how’s the emulation overall? Well, for the NES games, it’s the usual Digital Eclipse fare, although there’s a few hiccups that weren’t there in the Mega Man collection, while some issues from that compilation are fixed here. I’m very glad to say that the audio desync that would occur if you mash the Home Button over and over again in MMLC is nowhere to be seen in SNK 40th, as the game just keeps playing in the background. (So be sure to pause with the Minus button, or in-game before you have to put the system in sleep mode) Likewise, I noticed no major input lag or the odd weight that could be felt in the MMLC, and it actually felt a lot better playing Psycho Soldier and Ikari on this compared to the PS Mini versions.
Speaking of Ikari, that game was originally an Arcade title that required rotating the joystick to aim in eight directions. The PS Mini version of the game used the shoulder buttons to slowly drift to the eight directions, but it made the game incredibly slow paced and not fun to play, due to how slow the aiming was. SNK 40th resolves this issue by simply making the game dual stick, with one stick moving and one stick aiming. You still have to shoot with the fire buttons, but these are comfortably mapped to the shoulder buttons by default, although the lack of rapid fire in arcade Guerrilla War or Ikari I can be make firing a bit tiresome. Still, this makes games like Ikari II much more enjoyable to play, and I found the rotary games to be some of the best titles in the collection, with Guerrilla War, Ikari II, and Prehistoric Isle being my most played titles for a quick Hi-Score fix due to their great scoring systems.
Unfortunately, there are still some new bugs in place of the ones patched from older collection. The biggest and most annoying by far comes from how the rewind feature stops working. Besides the fact you can’t unbind the command if you want to avoid hitting it altogether, (though I found mapping it to the right stick button works well for anything that isn’t a rotary game) sometimes when you do want to use it it’ll just stop working for no reason, even if you rebind it to another button. This is beyond infuriating in games that need the darn thing such as the NES versions of Ikari I-II, or any version of Athena, so you’ll have to save a state, exit to the game select menu, and reload the game in order to have rewind start working again. This seemed to happen more often on the NES games than it did with Arcade titles, though oddly enough I found it to barely happen on Crystalis, with the glitch only taking place once in the five hours I’ve spent on that game so far.
There’s another annoying bug that may cause more problems for hi-score fanatics if you aren’t careful, and it comes from the collection’s save state feature. For seemingly no reason at all, loading the state from the game select will just start the new game option instead, requiring me to load the state again from the menu to get my score (and progress) back. Thank god that you can’t permanently lose your save states through this bug, otherwise we’d have a real problem.
Both of the glitches I mentioned above are to be fixed in a patch this week, but the rewind one in particular really made the few awful games in this collection not fun to play due to how randomly it occurs. There’s also the occasional stutter or hiccup shortly after starting up a game, but that issue barely happens and isn’t really much of an concern. It should also be noted that the battery backup in Crystalis isn’t kept once you close the application, even if you save in the game’s own save menu. You must use a save state in order to keep progress, which is pretty weird considering how other compilations handle in-game saves totally fine. Same goes for if you want to save any high scores for the arcade titles, too.
In conclusion, SNK 40th is a very good compilation of the pre Neo Geo SNK. With a robust museum mode, a solid game lineup including one of the best Action RPGs from the NES and plenty of addicting score chasers, this is certainly one of the best retro game compilations on the Switch. Unfortunately, some emulation issues, despite promises of a patch, along with lacking music content in the museum make this not quite as top tier as it could have been, but those who were hoping for a way to play Crystalis for the first time ever, or for the first time in years, or to check out a bunch of the other obscure gems, this is a great, engaging way to go about it, and a must-own for any SNK fan, and a strong recommendation for any retro gamer. That being said, you may want to wait until mid December to get this game if you’re on the fence, since ten more Arcade titles will be added, and they all look like promising additions that will add to the value. That, along with bug fixes for the issues I already noted, (and more options for the rotary games) and the collection should be in much better shape for those who might not like the sound of the few glitches I came across, and want to wait for absolutely everything to be ironed out.
Still, I’m reviewing the game as the way I experienced it, and I have to say, I greatly enjoyed my time with the game regardless of the minor quirks I bumped into, easily spending 15 hours on Arcade goodness and sessions of Crystalis alone, while also spending the occasional weekend with a friend to go co-op in a game like Street Smart. It might not be as top tier as I hoped for with the Museum’s music category, but this did meet most of my expectations and made me really happy to enjoy more of SNK’s back catalogue. There may be some utter disasters such as those Micronics games, but there’s tons of hidden gems such as Crystalis to make it all worth a look.
I give SNK 40th Anniversary Collection an 8 out of 10.