With the overwhelming success of the Virtual Console it seems somewhat strange for SNK to release a disc of 16 of their best-known Neo Geo arcade games. But as strange an idea as it sounds, that's exactly what SNK did. Now you have a choice, you can pay $9 per game and fil up your Wii's teeny tiny hard drive ... or you can buy this disc and get 16 classic 24-bit hits from the 1990s for the low, low price of $30. The choice is yours.
Of course, any video game compilation lives and dies based on the games it contains. This is no different for SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1, so I've decided to treat this review like I would any other episode of the Retro Round-Up
and give a short review of each and every one of the disc's 16 Neo Geo games. Let's see how good the games are and if it's worth your $30:
Art of Fighting
At its release, Art of Fighting had some interesting ideas. This wasn't your typical fighting game, you didn't choose from a vast selection of well-equipped fighters; instead you chose one of two guys and played through a linear story. As interesting an idea as that ended up being, it couldn't save Art of Fighting from being an absolutely horrible game. When it comes right down to it every good fighting game needs two things: good control and good characters. Unfortunately Art of Fighting has neither. Controlling this game is a lot like trying to control your cat by using nothing more than your mind. The game actually controls better when you don't have your hand on the control. It's a really terrible game, and an inauspicious start to this SNK compilation.
Baseball Stars 2
Every time I talk about Baseball Stars 2 I get swamped with a lot of hate mail. Who would have thought that this very average old school baseball game would be so respected by so many different people? I personally don't get it, what I see is a collection of game breaking design decisions that turn what could have been a solid sports game into an unplayable mess. Thankfully the game improves when you add a second player, but even then you have to put up with control issues and the fact that the ball flies faster than the in-game camera (making it nearly impossible to field). There was a lot of potential in this franchise, it's a shame that SNK could never get the ingredients right.
Similar to Final Fight and Streets of Rage, Burning Fight is your standard 2D brawler. In some ways that's not a bad thing; however this game's loose controls and boring story mode don't do it any favors. Burning Fight isn't without some interesting ideas, but like Art of Fighting, none of the ideas translate to an improved video game experience. The graphics aren't nearly up to Neo Geo standards and the whole thing is over far too quickly. Thankfully the game does support two players, but all that means is that two people will suffer through this game instead of just one. This isn't the worst game on this SNK collection, but you could do a lot better than Burning Fight.
Fatal Fury is one of the worst fighting games of all time. Okay, it's not nearly as bad as Shaq Fu, Rise of the Robots or Mortal Kombat Advance, but Fatal Fury is a seriously flawed game that nobody should be playing. With so many other fighting games on the market there is zero reason to even load this game up, it's sluggish, only has three playable characters and can't even get the basics of the one-on-one fighter right. It's hard to believe that this game came out after Street Fighter II. While this game isn't as bad as Art of Fighting, at least that game was trying to do something new and original. It failed at every step, but at least it was trying. Fatal Fury isn't trying, it's just floundering.
King of the Monsters
I understand why Rampage was popular all those years ago. There's something to be said about mindlessly destroying buildings while eating humans, stomping on tanks, and beating up the other big monster taking your points away. Was it repetitive and pointless? Of course it was, but it was also a lot of fun. King of the Monsters tries to do exactly the same thing, only this time they've improved the fighting engine and made everything feel more like a standard wrestling game. The problem is that this game neither works as a fighter nor a Rampage-style destruction game. The controls are sloppy and the whole thing just doesn't feel right. I'm sure there are people out there that have fond memories of this series, but as far as I'm concerned this is one that you can completely pass over.Last Resort
Despite the fact that this is a compilation of arcade games, Last Resort is the only traditional 2D shoot-em-up found on the disc. While not as good as Gradius, U.N. Squadron, R-Type and a dozen other shooters from that era, Last Resort does do a lot of things right. It's also good looking ... even now that the game is separated by a dozen years or so. Like all similar shooters, Last Resort is a scheme to make you part with as many quarters as you can in as short of time as possible. The good news is that you won't need to put quarters in your Wii, but that doesn't make the game any less frustrating. This isn't a bad effort, but with so many better shooters on the market (and on the Virtual Console) it's hard to get excited about this throwaway Neo Geo game.
What used to be the single best game at the Neo Geo's launch is now nothing more than a standard platformer with above average graphics. But don't let my negativity persuade you, because Magician Lord is still worth playing through. The gameplay is about as simple as it gets (you jump and shoot), but at least you can change into different characters along the way (including a wizard and a dragon). The game's not perfect, but it's easily one of the best games available in this Wii compilation. It's a shame SNK didn't turn this game into a full-blown franchise, there's a lot of potential in this magical action game.
By now everybody knows what Meta Slug is, but if you've somehow been living in a cave for the past fifteen years then here's the skinny: It's Control with more character and better graphics. That's right, this is basically just a run and gun shooter, the type you've seen dozens of times before. What sets Metal Slug apart from the rest is that all of the hand drawn graphics pop off the screen. Well, they do in Metal Slug's various sequels. Oddly enough the graphics aren't nearly as interesting in this first game. Also, why is this game even packaged with this compilation? It has its own compilation disc called the Metal Slug Anthology I even reviewed it
. If all you're looking for is one Metal Slug game then wait for Metal Slug 3 to hit the Virtual Console, but fans of the series should just go ahead and pick up the Metal Slug Anthology instead.
Neo Turf Masters
Say what you want about this SNK Arcade Classics compilation, the one thing you can't say is that it's not diverse. When you think about all of the classic Neo Geo games you probably think of nothing but fighting games, but SNK proves yet again that they had a handful of other games worth playing. Neo Turf Masters is one of those games. While not a great game of golf, it does make for some nice variety after all of these action games. The character models are strong and the courses look good. The problem is that there isn't enough variation to keep you busy for long. However, if you're just looking for a fun game of golf then you're going to have a great time with Neo Turf Masters.
As much as I love Samurai Shodown, this is not the version you should be seeking out. With the money you could spend on this you should go and download Samurai Shodown II for the Virtual Console, it's the only game in the series you need to own. However, if you really must have more than one Samurai Shodown game then why not just wait a couple of months and pick up the upcoming Samurai Shodown collection? It features all of the Samurai Shodown, including the best and the worst of the franchise. This isn't a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, it's just difficult to go back to this first installment after putting so much time into the vastly superior sequel.
Sengoku is the other 2D brawler on this disc. While not a phenomenal game, it's slightly better than Burning Fight. The good news is that this game's locations and characters are a bit more interesting, which means that you may actually enjoy what you're doing as you plow through the story mode. The multiplayer stuff is fun as well; however Sengoku never rises to the level of Final Fight or Streets of Rage. Thankfully the controls are solid, which is not something I can say about every game in this SNK compilation. If anything this game proves that SNK was unable to fully grasp all of the popular arcade games of the 1980s and 90s, which is disappointing. Either way, you'll have some fun with Sengoku, even if it's not especially original.Shock Troopers
If Metal Slug was SNK's answer to Contra, then Shock Troopers is their answer to Capcom's Commando/MERCS franchise. This is an overhead shooter where you and your friends go around exotic locales blowing up everything that moves. It's not the most original game, but it is one of the most exciting titles in this compilation. With cool looking power-ups, two-player action and a number of exciting bosses, it's hard to deny the fun of Shock Troopers. Of course, it's even harder to deny that Shock Troopers 2 was a better game, but maybe we'll get that in SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 2. Either way, Shock Troopers is a lot of fun. It's just disappointing that the game is over so quickly.
Super Sidekicks 3: The Next Glory
Here we have our third and final Neo Geo sports game, and this time around it's taking on soccer ... which I hear is really popular in other parts of the world. This non-licensed soccer/football game does a lot of things right, but if you're not a fan of the sport then it's not going to convert you. The action is fast and the graphics are surprisingly good. In fact, Super Sidekicks 3 is one of the newest titles found on this disc, which is probably why the graphics are so strong. It's not my cup of tea, but I certainly had a lot of fun with it and I can see how some soccer fans may feel that this is the single best game on the disc.
The King of Fighters '94
The King of Fighters is SNK's annual fighting game franchise, a series that seemed to get worse and worse with age. Unfortunately this 1994 edition came out before SNK had perfected the formula, so in turn it feels like a huge step backwards. A more suitable addition should have been The King of Fighter '98, which was right around the time SNK really understood what characters and options gamers wanted. Either way, this weird mash-up is far superior to most of the other fighting games on this compilation, including both Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury. It's a shame that SNK was never able to get the Last Blade and Samurai Shodown characters in on the action, but if you're looking for a great fighting game then you can't go wrong with The King of Fighters '94.
Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy
Like Metal Slug, Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy feels like an adorable version of Contra. But don't be fooled, the game is actually a lot better than it looks. The two-player gameplay is fun and it actually plays into a lot of the "puzzles" found throughout the game. The graphics are also sharp, with funny backgrounds and a great sense of style. Of course, the game is terribly short and repetitive, but it's fun to play through once or twice with friends. This is another SNK game that was ripe for a sequel, but for whatever reason SNK chose to focus all of their attention on The King of Fighters series. The Top Hunter name may not mean much to you, but this is easily one of the best games on this disc.
Who would have thought that World Heroes would be one of the better fighting games on a Neo Geo compilation? World Heroes is nowhere near as good as The King of Fighters '94, but it's light years ahead of Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. For all of its problems, the character line-up in World Heroes isn't half bad. Oh sure, it's full of cheesy characters that look like they have no place in a fighting game, but at least they're interesting. That's certainly more than you can say about Art of Fighting. Still, there's a better World Heroes collection already on sale, so fans of the series should just choose that disc over this. As a sampler, this taste of World Heroes won't be enough to make you want more ... but it will also save you a lot of money from having to run out and buy the World Heroes compilation.
As you can tell, the game selection is all over the place. The good news is that more than a third of the games are real winners, including such titles as Top Hunter and Shock Troopers. On the other hand, six of the games are in that so-so area, which means that there are better games available and maybe you shouldn't waste your time. Only four games are real stinkers, and most of those are the well known titles (Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, etc.). All in all this disc's line-up is solid enough to warrant a look.
Aside from the games, each of these titles can be played using the Wii's classic controller and the remote/nunchuck. While the remote and nunchuck combination works on most games, the best way to experience these games is with the classic controller. Sadly there isn't an arcade stick to give the games a level of authenticity, but most of the games control perfectly fine with the regular D-pad on the classic control.
The problem I keep having with this compilation is that I don't understand how it fits. All of these games are currently available on the Virtual Console for $9, which makes this disc-based collection look like a really good deal. Even if you hate half of these games, you're still going to save money buying the four or five games you want this way. If you were to buy all of the individual titles on the Virtual Console it would run you $144, compare that to the $30 you'll spend on this disc and it's not even a close call. It baffles the mind why SNK would even release a disc like this given the success of the Virtual Console, but as somebody who would rather spend $30 than $144, I thank them for doing it.
Hopefully this set will be popular enough to warrant a second volume, one that would fill in some of the gaps left by this game. Where is Wind Jammers? Why no Last Blade? How about Blazing Star? There are dozens of really good games that could be ported, so here's hoping that SNK manages to start offering the really good stuff. Either way, this collection has enough good to warrant the purchase. You will still have to put up with some genuinely bad games, but they don't get in the way as much as you would think. No matter if you are playing all by yourself or have friends over, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is definitely worth picking up.
SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 may have a lot of games, but it's missing some of the Neo Geo's best titles. Perhaps these games will be represented in Vol. 2 or 3, but for now it's a shame that we have to put up with yet more ports of Art of Fighting instead of the infinitely better Wind Jammers. All in all, this single disc is a much better value than buying these 16 games individually through the Virtual Console!