Retro collections are currently experiencing a new raise, either in form of rather peculiar versions like the SNES Mini and other physical editions or digital ones. Yet, it quickly became obvious how different all of them are, for example, the Castlevania ports are nothing compared to the Mega Man Legacy Collections. So, naturally, NIS America tried their hands too, bringing Digital Eclipse back, who are the ones responsible for the Mega Man release, to restore more than twenty games for SNK´s 40th birthday.
Instead of simply collection all time classics, the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection aims to bring us more of SNK´s earlier titles, that inspired the classics we all know from them. From Ikari Warriors to TNK 3 or Vanguard, you probably only heard of a little chunk and that´s exactly why this collection exists: To show the interested those forgotten, lost games, which later inspired whole genres. Certainly, a very appealing premise considering the audience for such packages is already full of nostalgia.
And in terms of size, you won´t be disappointed, as there aren´t only over a dozens of available games (plus more than ten coming as free DLC in December), a lot of them have both their Arcade and console version as well as the American and Japanese version, packing pretty much every available version together, often some unavailable until now. Then top it off with Digital Eclipse´s typical love for restoring those gems: You have every filter you could wish for, can save anytime, play with another one, select different control schemes designed for each title and so on. In terms of comfort factor, there´s everything a hardcore fan or newcomer would like to see. Additionally, the games run on their native aspect ratio on 1080p (with borders), improved audio and a technical framework aiming to eliminate any loss of detail in the process. Honestly, this is as good as the Mega Man Collection, technically.
So, how does the actual content hold up? Well, alright. Naturally, you shouldn´t expect anything in terms of graphic, not even super beautiful sprites. They´re from 1980-90 and you see that it was a time where most games were still experimenting with more detailed sprites and animations, as a result, most of them simply look aged. In every possible way this is a collection for a niche audience, at least when you first look at the screenshots and trailers. On top of that, the museum mode, another amazing feature, may be filled with unreleased trivia and photos, recovered directly from the SNK archives but won´t be of much interest for most people.
However, where the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection still shines surprisingly well is the gameplay because none of the games actually feel as old as they are. Of course, they tend to be a bit clunky, lack tutorials and generally take a few attempts to figure everything out and survive for a few minutes. Not to say all of them are pretty hard, either due to limited life, health or even magazines, making it especially hard in the early moments. Despite all that, I enjoyed myself a lot. Why? Well, the game design is still good, able to guide you through obstacles, levels and the hardest challenges if you want to since they nail many essential parts. Ikari Warriors shows you how to destroy obstacles or tanks while preserving ammunition through very accessible early enemies, Athena uses the same basic concepts seen in Mario´s first level and so on.
If you informed yourself about the basic concepts of game and level design, this collection can be quite a treat because SNK clearly nailed many of them. In combination with the graphics, you automatically focus way more on the gameplay and quickly see, that it´s actually fun, though you have to be in the right mindset. Seeing the fundamentals of 2D shooters and Jump´n Runs implemented in this rudimentary form was, honestly, really interesting, even though I´m not a big retro gamer myself, simply interested in design. That´s also the biggest take-away I can give for anyone not directly on-board with the idea behind this collection: It can be educated, all the more if you´re a designer or student yourself.
In the end, is SNK 40th Anniversary Collection something for everyone? Not necessarily. As long as you´re not into SNK games or interested in their design, I honestly don´t see any reason to buy this one, as it offers many quite niche titles for a pretty high price. Nonetheless, it´s a great collection technically and can offer more trivia than any other, so retro fans definitely have something to look forward too.
[A Review Code was provided by NIS America]