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A treasure trove

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Game Time

SNK 40th Anniversary Collection
Sony PlayStation 4

NOT COINCIDENTALLY, Shin Nihon Kikaku (SNK) picked up steam around the time the video game industry rose in popularity. As the tumultuous ’70s gave way to the optimistic ’80s, gaming arcades and home-console versions of popular titles reached critical mass. And, in the face of rapid growth, the developing, publishing, and manufacturing company was determined not just to take advantage of the boom, but to ensure its sustainability through constant innovation. Soon enough, it became a major player in the coin-operated business, and it astutely leveraged its experience to penetrate the expanding home market.

The rest, as the cliché goes, is history. Intellectual-property giants The King of Fighters and Metal Slug propelled SNK’s prosperity, and the latter rightly sought to dip into the well as often as it could. Sequels would follow, with the franchises figuring prominently in its Neo Geo and other hardware, and, over time, ported over to modern consoles. Meanwhile, precursors in which the company honed its skills flirted with the possibility of fading into oblivion. Thankfully, Nippon Ichi Software and Digital Eclipse saw fit to embark on a passion project that aimed to both preserve the arcade classics and update them for contemporary gamers to enjoy.

The result is nothing short of remarkable. SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is presented with pride, and the labor of love is evident not just in the choice and number of titles included in the anthology, but in the manner they were restored and offered via emulation. Carrying 24 all told, it is certainly representative of the Japanese video game hardware and software company’s first decade of existence. NIS America and Digital Eclipse’s intent is evident: pay homage to its growth years by offering longtime fans an aggroupment of games that reflected its predilection to push the envelope.

To say that SNK 40th Anniversary Collection isn’t slipshod would be to understate the obvious. In fact, the compilation is well thought out; to cover all bases, it presents not just the English and Japanese versions of its offerings, but the home-console and arcade iterations as well. There are brawlers, with Street Smart and P.O.W. headlining the list. There are shooters, among them Alpha Mission and The Ikari Warriors Trilogy. There are side-scrolling actioners, Psycho Soldier and Athena included. And there are groundbreakers like Crystalis and Prehistoric Isle. All have been painstakingly restored and lined up to be enjoyed the way they were originally meant.

Whenever practicable, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection enhances its look and interface for the Sony Playstation 4 Pro. Making full use of the Eclipse engine that enables accurate representations of the classics it carries on cutting-edge hardware, it offers upscaled video in 4:3 or widescreen formats. Parenthetically, the sounds have been preserved; gamers will get to experience the same auditory cues as those of their counterparts in the ’80s. Meanwhile, button mapping is outstanding; controls are both intuitive and customizable.




True, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection breaks no new ground. Then again, its objective isn’t to remake the original releases or update them for current consumption, the welcome introduction of play-through, quick-save, and rewind functions notwithstanding. On the contrary, it seeks to show in pristine form all the titles on its list. And even as the gameplay hasn’t aged well for some, there can be no discounting its worth and, concomitantly, its capacity to inform and entertain. In this regard, the Museum mode — which provides an extensive history of SNK — is a decided boon.

All told, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is a veritable treasure trove that shines the spotlight on the company’s pioneering efforts. Certainly, Digital Eclipse’s extensive experience in putting together restored work with painstaking precision shows; from Vanguard to Beast Busters to Ozma Wars, it rewards NIS America’s trust with output that both protects history and makes it appealing to contemporary gamers. It’s a definite steal at $40.

THE GOOD:

• Outstanding anthology of arcade classics

• Superb emulation and button mapping

• Presents multiple screen options catering to varied preferences

• Offers modern-day luxuries by way of playthroughs, instant saves, and replays

• Provides extensive information on SNK’s history

THE BAD

• Some games are dated

• Gameplay of a number of titles can be frustrating

RATING: 9/10

POSTSCRIPT:
Don’t be fooled by Assault Spy’s standard plot. Through Japanese spy Asaru Vito and American spook Amelia Smith, it deftly blends action and humor to present an engrossing title that will remind gamers of such popular offerings as Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Developed by Wizen and published in the West by NIS America, it’s a fast-paced romp of corporate espionage that has gamers choose between disparate modes of combat. One playable character makes use of a suitcase, an umbrella, and literally explosive business cards to take care of enemies, while the other prefers to engage with a spear, a gun, and, needless to say, bare knuckles.

As a relatively small Japanese firm with limited resources, Wazen wisely saw fit to focus on Assault Spy’s interface. There are evident sacrifices: The visuals are on the rough side, with the dialogue occurring in static and cutscenes not quite as polished as expected. On the other hand, audio cues are spot on, and voice acting is outstanding. Moreover, the narrative manages to set up the gameplay well, lacing the dialogue with extremely funny exchanges that serve to keep gamers engaged and adding anticipation and purpose to their subsequent exertions.

The controls for Assault Spy are easy enough to master, and gamers won’t be hard-pressed to pull off combo after combo even against bosses. Fights are sometimes marred by inappropriate camera angles, but lock-on options help in this regard. It doesn’t take long to finish, but, at less than P900 for the Elite Edition (which includes the stellar soundtrack), it’s a definite recommend. (7.5/10)

As a Capcom-Grasshopper Manufacture joint offering that was initially released in 2005, killer7triumphantly makes its way to the personal computer with nary any loss of impact. Even 14 years after, it remains as subversive as any title coming from the delectably convoluted mind of Goichi Suda. An elite group of hitmen operating on orders from the United States government in an alternate reality bereft of nuclear weapons winds up unraveling a deep conspiracy that exposes Japan’s machinations. Along the way, it treats gamers to edge-of-seat action as a first-person shooter with on-rails-adventure elements.

Visually and aurally, killer7 is nothing short of a stunning remaster. With the PC at maximum settings, it’s certainly loads better than how it looked and sounded on the Sony PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube. Decidedly bold and disturbing for its time, it feels freer and more expressive with the trappings of advanced technology. Its stylized presentation jumps off the screen, and its haunting tracks manage to evoke the intended effects with proper channel separation. Controls are a breeze, especially since movement is restricted and paths are predetermined until decision points are reached.

On the whole, killer7 packs a wallop that more than justifies its already-reduced price tag. The Limited Edition available via Steam for under P800 includes an art book and a soundtrack in lossless format. Finishing it requires around 15 hours, and gamers may well be enjoined to start anew given its conscious decision to withhold all but the barest information needed to advance; a second playthrough will certainly add to the appreciation of the story. In any case, it has found its rightful place on the PC. (8/10)