EDITOR'S NOTE:
Oh dude, we got PSP screenshots working! God, I love it when we can actually get our own screenshots. As in, it's built into the system or it's an emulator or whatever. It's just having to use capture devices is such a pain in the ass, especially the cheap shite we always end up with where it never works and when it does the quality is garbage and then they fall to pieces in your hand. Anyway. these are all our own shots. For authenticity's sake, the screenshots from the games, aside from those in the little chart outlining the games in this set, are taken from the set itself rather than MAME or anything.

While the first SNK Arcade Classics collection had a somewhat painful entry into PAL-Land (also known as Europe), SNK's next best-of collection, the humorously-titled SNK Arcade Classics 0 ('cause it's their pre-Neo-Geo stuff, ho ho ho) had a hell of a time getting released anywhere. It was first announced way back in 2009 as a PSP/PS2 collection after accidentally being revealed by the ESRB, which mentioned Search and Rescue was on there as well as hinting at some of the other titles, mostly Ikari Warriors. Shortly after, there was an advert for it in a King of Fighters manga which revealed most of the games and a release date of November 26th, 2009, and then...

Nothing. Not a jot.

Until February 1st, 2011, that is, when SNK announced, "Wait, are we still doing that retro collection? Whatever, here you go". As well as reconfirming the games to be included, SNK also decided to let people know that the PS2 version wasn't going to happen- PSP only, just like Capcom Puzzle World and Salamander Portable. This particular collection was developed by the somewhat mysterious US-based G1M2, whose previous experience includes Data East Arcade Classics for the Wii and several SNK retro collections on the PS2 including World Heroes Collection, The King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match and Sengoku Anthology. Their track record isn't too bad, in other words. Anyway, the 20 games included in the collection are as follows... However, the set itself is a little confusing when it comes to names, as while most of them use the Japanese title, others don't (most notably Marvin's Maze, as the Japanese ACW version has never been dumped, if it even exists anymore!) with Ikari III and Super Champion Baseball even marked as 'overseas releases'. So, we've listed both- Japanese first, US second.



Sasuke Vs. Commander
(1980)


ACW /
Marvin's Maze
(1983)



Vanguard II
(1984)



HAL 21
(1985)


T.A.N.K /
T.N.K. III
(1985)


ASO - Armored Scrum Object /
Alpha Mission
(1985)


Ikari /
Ikari Warriors
(1986)



Athena
(1986)


Dogosoken /
Victory Road
(1986)



Bermuda Triangle
(1987)



Psycho Soldier
(1987)



Touch Down Fever
(1987)


Guevara /
Guerilla War
(1987)



Gold Medalist
(1988)


Datsugoku - Prisoners of War /
P.O.W. - Prisoners of War
(1988)



Ikari III: The Rescue
(1989)


Genshi-Tou 1930's /
Prehistoric Isle in 1930s
(1989)



Super Champion Baseball
(1989)



Street Smart
(1989)



SAR - Search and Rescue
(1989)

Of these, three aren't technically SNK games- Sasuke Vs. Commander is apparently the work of TOSE (a Japanese game developer infamous for developing everything you have ever played) and both Gold Medalist and Super Champion Baseball are the Alpha Denshi / ADK representatives on this collection, even if Gold Medalist's credit is hidden in the code (makes you wonder why they didn't throw in Time Soldiers). The main thing you'll notice here is that it's SNK's mid-to-late-'80s output that's primarily represented here, with only Sasuke Vs. Commander and Marvin's Maze being the representatives for the 'oldies'. To an extent, I can understand why- by far the most well-known of SNK's pre-Neo-Geo output, like Armored Scrum Object, the Ikari trilogy, Athena and Psycho Soldier, come from this era, and so it'd make sense to pick from there. However, this does mean the game's missing some interesting and significant games like Ozma Wars (officially considered SNK's first game) and, most notably, the original Vanguard, a very early example of a multi-direction scrolling shooter. Some of the early missing games are no doubt for legal reasons- Pioneer Balloon and Fantasy are weird shmup derivatives, but 'borrow' music from The Great Escape and the melody to Funkytown respectively- but generally, it's SNK's later pre-NG stuff on display here. If nothing else, the game selection probably better represents what SNK was about in those days, just a few older games, to show their beginnings, would've been nice. The core stuff is in, though, so it does its job in that respect.



As for the games that actually are here, they're probably worth a closer look than we usually afford to game collections like this. They're a very odd bunch indeed, making this a pretty niche collection, and this is most obvious when you look at the curated selections of work in collections like Midway Arcade Treasures and the Namco Museum series (with games from the same 80s era, rather than the later Cpacom and Taito sets that have more 90s stuff). Compared to these sets, SNK's pre-NG output is not replete with mainstays like Pac-Man or Defender, or underdog titles like Grobda or Vindicators. Instead, I'd characterise SNK's early output as 'marmite', games that tend to create either strong fondness or intense dislike with little middle-ground. At least, from my personal experience, anyway. I think this is best shown with the most well-known games on the set, Ikari Warriors and Athena. Putting aside the disastrous NES ports of both (you can blame Micronics for those), this is the first time the arcade versions have received faithful home ports, which is significant in and of itself. The most palatable of the two is probably Ikari Warriors, which you might see categorised as a briskly-paced shooter in the style of Commando, but to me it actually seems a lot slower-paced. Trying to play it like Commando will just get you killed, hard, because Ralf and Clark- sorry, Paul and Vince- are that much slower than Capcom's nippy super soldier. They also need to pick up power-ups constantly to keep their bullet and grenade supplies stocked, so the game becomes something slightly more methodical- there are a lot of threats constantly in your way, but you have to approach them carefully, especially things that blow up that can be used to your advantage (catch enemies in the blast!) or your detriment (they can get you too). It's difficult, no doubt about it, and yet I find myself coming back to it more so than other top-down shooters of the time. Definitely a highlight of the set for me.

Athena is less accessible, as it's a very difficult platformer taking item-collection and secret elements in the vein of The Tower of Druaga, but it also fits into something some of the other games on this set display, SNK's apparent interest in experimenting with genres of the time. This, of course, is an experiment in the platformer genre to add in rudimentary RPG elements, and how successful it is depends on how much patience you have, with enemies gleefully murdering the poor Goddess of Wisdom in seconds if she doesn't have the right equipment (and bosses too- hope you have a projectile for that tree boss). It's an infuriating game, yet one I find myself coming back to for one more try, so having the original arcade version available at last is actually neat as a portable game. Two other examples of this experimentation come in the form of Bermuda triangle and Street Smart. Bermuda Triangle is a very, very strange shoot-em-up that uses those rotary joysticks SNK were so keen on and also has segments that scroll backwards and a strange constantly-changing ship (there's more about this particular game at Lunatic Obscurity. Street Smart is an absolutely fascinating specimen, a post-Street Fighter one-on-one fighting game with vague similarities to Taito's Violence Fight but with very slippery controls and hit detection that's a bit all over the place. The fun you'll have with either of these games is limited, but they're really interesting to look at in the context of their time and the games to come later, especially for Street Smart. At the same time, you have 'safer' games that work really well- Genshi-Tou 1930's / Prehistoric Isle in 1930s is a solid shoot-em-up with a protective orb that changes weapons depending on where it's positioned, and HAL 21 is a surprisingly decent Xevious-alike which goes at a nice clip.



The rest of the games are a similarly mixed bunch, but we'll just go over some of the more notable titles. The oldest on the set, Sasuke Vs. Commander, is a very fun gallery shooter oddly prescient of Satan's Hollow by Midway, with a 'boss' fight against a fire-spewing ninja, and little touches such as having to avoid falling corpses of your enemies. Marvin's Maze is one of the more enjoyable Pac-Man clnes of the era, with an isometric perspective and several defensive options including switching junction platforms to catch your pursuers out. Finally, top-down shooter fans are catered to with three other games beyond the standard Ikari games that show different ways to iterate on the genre- SAR: Search and Rescue which is the least well-constructed of the three but has ridiculous gore, overpowered weapons and a hilariously over-the-top evasive dive; Guevara / Guerilla War is a bit closer to the Ikari games but with chunky sprites and a more cramped feeling to proceedings; and T.A.N.K. / T.N.K.III, my favourite of the three (and surprisingly, the earliest) for its lenient energy system, varied level design and approachable, pleasant difficulty. Oh, and there's Psycho Soldier too, which I replayed for this collection and reminded myself how great it is.

On the other hand, there's a few genuine duffers. Vanguard II is not even remotely like its more-important predecessor, instead being a third-rate Bosconian knock-off with very little sense of direction or accomplishment. Gold Medalist is a Track & Field clone made with the intent of completely ruining your hands and is pulled off with far less confidence and panache than the original or any of its imitators. Finally, special mention must go to the two Ikari sequels, with Victory Road / Dogosoken being the game I imagine people think the first is like- a completely brutal and overwhelming top-down shooter that you have to slog through as it has a habit of sending you to boss encounters on a whim. Ikari III, on the other hand, mostly ditches gunplay for hand-to-hand combat but adds in a punishing time-limit, endless and samey enemy mobs that take forever to kill, and stages that just go on for way too long. I suppose you can add P.O.W. - Prisoners of War to the clangers list too, which we've covered extensively elsewhere.



Rattling off my list of favourites is all well and good, but in a lot of cases, retro collections like this live or die based on their implementation. On this front, G1M2 have done a passable job, but with caveats and issues. In particular, the screen options aren't as nice as those found in other sets, with the Stretched option sometimes causing horrible double-pixels (especially in Psycho Soldier) and the non-rotated mode for vertical-monitor games sometimes cutting bits of the screen off (like the name prompt in Ikari Warriors). Psycho Soldier also seems to have some more slowdown than there should be, but that might just be me. The biggest emulation flaw- one that I was convinced was down to my PSP being old, but it happens in G1M2's Mini versions too, which we'll talk about later- is that the game must pause to load every time the music changes in-game, sometimes straight-up stopping for as long as two or three seconds. That's... Really not very good at all. It only does this the first time you hear a song once you load the game up, but when you change game, it'll do it again. Another mark against the collection is you're stuck with the standard dip-switch settings, with no way to change them- not even silly 'pre-sets' you see in other collections. Especially with games as difficult as Athena, it'd be nice to tone things down a bit! To give credit where it's due though, G1M2 managed to come up with a decent substitute for the rotary joystick system, found in almost half the games in this set. Rather than twist a joystick as in the arcade, you can either use the L and R buttons (the sensible choice) or opt to have your character face the direction they're moving only (not recommended for any of the games except Ikari III: The Rescue). This is as close as approximation as you can get with the PSP's controls, and they do the job, although you can't alter the digital speed of them when doing it manually.

The presentation and extras are OK, if a little sparse. To start positive, I loved the box and manual- the new artwork on the cover is great stuff (with layout based on Neo-Geo boxart, replacing the MEGA count with 20 GAMES) and the manual is chock full of art- so it's a shame that the menus in-game aren't as nice. Rather than all the medals and unlockables from the last SNK collection, all the bonus material is available from the off, in this case an art gallery and sound test. The gallery has some very neat, rarely-seen materials (I didn't know they did official art for Marvin's Maze!) as well as bezels, marquees and flyers for most of the games, but there's only about three to four pieces per game. It's also weird that almost all of the materials here are based on the US versions (Victory Road instead of Dogosoken, etc.) though, seeing as this is a Japan-only collection after all. The sound test is also worth a mention just because it's the most baffling I've ever seen- it doesn't name any songs or even identify which game they come from, and while some games have their songs grouped together it's mostly a crap-shoot, so unless you know that Track #67 is the bitchin' Stage 1 theme from Guevara, you'd never find it. The last extra is save state support for every game, though you can only have one per game at any time.



In any case, this is a bit of a tough sell. That really stings, because none the games on this collectio have been given one-to-one home console ports (and the ones that did were either OK, absolute disasters, or different games entirely), and many of them are fascinating games in their own right. If you have a very strong interest in SNK's early work, this should be a very easy recommendation. It certainly fares a little better than some retro collections I've seen, with the disastrous Metal Slug Anthology on PS4 being a prime candidate (oh yeah, gimmie the half-a-second imput delay, it fuels me!) and even other sets on the PSP (like Midway Arcade Treasures Extended Play). The games generally play as they should, and if there were more egregious glitches that interfered with the games themselves, I'd be a lot harsher. However, the way the game pauses once per play per track to load music, along with the sparse extras and omitted dipswitch settings mean these are not the high-quality ports they could be. Fortunately, for almost all these games there is a slightly better, albeit more fractured, alternative available, which we'll be seeing after the score. Not the note I really hoped to end on, honestly, but that's just how it is. Hopefully these games get another, more polished chance, another time (hey, Hamster, wanna rerelease 'em on PS4? I'd pay full whack for a better Psycho Soldier port!)

For being literally the only way to play Super Champion Baseball these days, SNK Arcade Classics 0 is awarded...

In a sentence, SNK Arcade Classics 0 is...
An imperfective collection of imperfect games.



And now, it's that time, folks!
EXTENDED PLAY!





You may be wondering what happened to this little collection outside Japan, dear reader. After all, didn't its entire release history start with the ESRB revealing its existence? Well, after that, no-one heard a thing about it coming out in the West. All the other info that trickled out was specifically for Japan, and while it might have had a chance of coming out as a download-only title in Western territories, like Neo-Geo Heroes - Ultimate Shooting (you know, that shmup that totally isn't KOF: Sky Stage), it never happened. Even so, the West didn't get completely forgotten... In a way, we kinda got the better end of the deal!



Between 2011 and 2012, SNK released 25 (!) PSP Mini versions of their pre-Neo-Geo games, playable on the PSP, PS3 and (later) PS Vita. These ports were, surprisingly, developed by G1M2, and are basically the same as the versions found in SNK Arcade Classics 0 with a few key differences- the load times for the music is still there but is slightly shorter, and you can actually change the game settings like difficulty and number of lives now! However, because of restrictions apparently placed in PS Minis, there's no two-player support for any of these when played on PS3, which is a big missed opportunity for games like Psycho Soldier and the Ikari trilogy. Additionally, some games (in particular Prehistoric Isle in 1930s) really don't run very well on the PSP for whatever reason (no such problems exist on the disc versions) so PS3 and Vita are generally the way to go. What is interesting is, as that's 25 games, there's a few new ones not included for whatever reason with the collection. They are Ozma Wars (1979), the original Vanguard (1981), Chopper I (1988), The Next Space (1989), and Alpha Denshi / ADK games Time Soldiers (1987) and Gang Wars (1989). The one game on the collection you won't find as a PSP Mini is Super Champion Baseball, so not a huge loss.

So, these ports are still not perfect, but owing to the slightly truncated load times and actual dip-switch additions, I'd say cherry-pick the titles you're interested in this way, instead of getting the UMD collection. The fact they can be played on a TV via the PS3 is a big bonus too. Sure, you'll have less games at the end of the day, but they are in a slightly better state, and c'mon, look deep inside and ask yourself: do you really need a portable version of Touch Down Fever? Nah. You don't.





So, uh, when do we get a proper port of the Hyper Neo-Geo 64 stuff...?

Playstation VR port of Beast Busters Second Nightmare please.