By Anthony L. Cuaycong
IT’S NO COINCIDENCE that the birth and growth of Shin Nihon Kikaku (SNK) as a video-game developing, publishing, and manufacturing company coincided with the industry’s rise in popularity. The transition to the 1980s saw the proliferation of gaming arcades and the inevitable releases of home-console versions of popular titles, and it 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.
Needless to say, SNK struck gold with intellectual-property behemoths The King of Fighters and Metal Slug, and it 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. Beginning with 13 upon release last October and adding 11 more earlier this month, 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 group of games that reflected its predilection to push the envelope.
To argue 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 Nintendo Switch. When run in docked mode, it offers several screen options at 1080p resolution, allowing for upscaled video in 4:3 or widescreen formats. And it’s even better on the go, with tabletop settings providing for a vertical orientation that best presents the arcade versions of games. 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, even for twin-stick options, are intuitive.
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 the 24 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.
By Anthony L. Cuaycong