SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is a strange beast indeed, mostly because of its somewhat tortured entry into Europe. A collection of 16 Neo-Geo games, it was initially released on the PS2 and PSP in 2008 with several slowdown problems (mostly in Shock Troopers), then released a few months later for the Wii with the slowdown mercifully fixed. Well, that's how it went down in America- over in PAL Land, the PS2 and PSP versions were released at some point in 2008, and the Wii version was supposedly released in 2008 as well, but only started appearing in the stores in early 2009, at a massively reduced price. Almost as if the shops had forgotten they'd ordered copies of it, then slashed the price just to get the damn things off the shelves. Because, naturally, being subject to the whims of Ignition Entertainment is such a joy. Enough release history, what games does it have? Well, here's the full 16 just in case you weren't aware...

Art of Fighting

Baseball Stars 2

Burning Fight

Fatal Fury

King of the Monsters

Last Resort

Magician Lord

Metal Slug

Neo Turf Masters

Samurai Shodown


Shock Troopers

Super Sidekicks 3: The Next Glory

The King of Fighters '94

Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy

World Heroes

Ah, now wasn't that presented in an aesthetically pleasing manner? I own the Wii version of this collection (I wasn't going to have any slowdown in Shock Troopers because it is my favourite Neo-Geo game ever and I love it to pieces) and, as with a lot of retro collections, it's almost great. To be fair, the game selection is pretty good, with some really excellent games (Metal Slug, Shock Troopers, The King of Fighters '94), some 'Marmite' games I happen to like (King of the Monsters, Magician Lord, World Heroes), some choice obscurities (Top Hunter, Last Resort) and only two genuinely terrible games (Burning Fight and Sengoku- throw in Art of Fighting if you want). At the very least, the ratio of good-to-bad is better than some collections out there, and hell, I'd buy it solely for Shock Troopers, it is that good. Unfortunately, most of the games here come from early on in the system's life so they don't really show the raw power of the Neo-Geo, and there's some obvious omissions- The Super Spy, NAM-1975 and Twinkle Star Sprites in particular would've been nice to have- so the selection isn't perfect, but it would, in theory, serve as an introduction to the system for SNK virgins. In theory.

The emulation is also vastly improved from the shit-stain that was Metal Slug Anthology (shockingly, it's the work of the same developers, Terminal Reality- they really improved their shit since they last tackled SNK games!) with minimal loading times, only a few tiny emulation issues (mostly sound-wise and some barely-noticeable wavy sprites) and an interface that actually looks pretty swish- it's based on the big red Neo Geo cabinets, and certainly fits the collection better than some layouts I've seen (Midway Arcade Treasures 3, stand up at the back). It also has a checkpoint system that's actually an emulation of the original Neo-Geo memory card system, albeit very stramlined- get a Game Over and you can continue, in most games, from the last stage you died on- and there's a huge bunch of unlockables, ranging from artwork (some of which is plastered on this page, just so you can get an eyeful of it) to videos and even the full soundtracks. The artwork in particular is great, with the Sengoku and Samurai Shodown art being standouts, and it's really worth unlocking.

However, it wouldn't be a product with the SNK Playmore name on it if it didn't have problems!

The first major problem is that you can't really customise the in-game options- you can only select from four pre-set difficulties for each game (except Baseball Stars 2) which are Easy, Normal, Hard and (groan) Insane, and these only usually affect the overall difficulty, the number of lives you have, and whether you're allowed to continue or not. Naturally, some of these settings are really stupid- Metal Slug has 5 lives on Normal when we all know it should be 3, Burning Fight gives you 99 (?!) lives but no continues on Insane, stuff like that. This is a shame- the MVS service modes for these games usually have quite a lot of options, and you're denied here. This might just be me though, as it really annoys me when you can't change these options- these collection developers must think we're allergic to choice or something. At least the games aren't censored- all the gore of Metal Slug and Shock Troopers is retained, and so are Mai's bouncing mammaries in KOF '94, but still, this lack of options is a common trend in these arcade anthologies, with only a few collections (Namco Museum for the PS1, Capcom Classics Collection) getting it right.

There's also a distinct lack of instructions. The wafer-thin instruction manual you get with the collection isn't going to help you here, as while each game gets a fairly sizable story description (the one for Magician Lord is bloody huge!), there's nothing on how to actually play the games. I can hear you already- "But Mr. Internet Asshole, these are arcade games! You need to figure this shit out yourself!"- and I retort with the fact that the instruction demos for most games have been removed too. This leads to the situation where, at no point in the experience, are you told how to pin your enemy in King of the Monsters. Not good enough. I used to think it was a bit mad how old video game books would actually review the instruction manuals (Jeff Rovin's How to Beat Nintendo Games books spring to mind) but maybe they were on to something! I'm not asking for a full guide, but a brief description of the game and a few more helpful hints would've been nice, especially considering how notoriously difficult SNK games are. Worse still, you have to unlock the move lists, which in a collection of SNK games, should not happen- their fighting games have steep learning curves as it is, and the fact that you have to do stupid stuff like beat Sengoku to see the move lists is extremely off-putting. If you persevere, of course (and maybe look the moves up online) then there is a lot of fun to be had here- it just seems so unnecessary to lock the move lists away!

Despite these gripes, though, if you're looking for a way to play some classic Neo-Geo games without forking out for the original system, then this is a nice little collection with enough games to keep anyone happy. Some of them haven't aged that well (your mileage with Fatal Fury and World Heroes may vary) but there really are some cracking games here, and the extras are very welcome if you can unlock them. That's the main point, really- while I can moan about the lack of instructions and move lists from the get-go, and I can whinge about the fact that NAM-1975 and League Bowling are missing, what I really can't moan about are the games that are here. Sure, having some of the sequels (Samurai Shodown 2 in particular) would've been preferable, but in the majority of cases- Metal Slug, Shock Troopers, Baseball Stars 2, The King of Fighters '94 and Top Hunter in particular- these games are bloody excellent, classic SNK material, and well worth investing time into. Because of that, I can't be too harsh on the collection, so if you can find the Wii version, give it a try- you might just find a hidden gem on this disc!

For its valiant attempt at teaching us the history of SNK, SNK Arcade Classics is awarded...

In a sentence, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is...
A pretty good collection of SNK classics, but where's The Super Spy, guv?

But hey, folks, that's not all. The handy SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is here, telling you how to unlock everything! Whee!

If you're not hardcore, this game's already chiselled your gravestone, punk! Back to the index for you.