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SNK 40th Anniversary Collection Review

SNK 40th anniversary collection

As a Brit, I grew up with home computers rather than consoles. This was out of necessity, not choice of course. Paying £30 - £40 for a cartridge in the '80s/ early '90s simply wasn't an option for most kids.

The more realistic alternatives were £1.99 - £2.99 budget games on cassette from publishers like Codemasters or Mastertronic. Even better were compilations from the likes of Ocean or US Gold, which made premium titles like Outrun and Chase HQ much more affordable.

These ‘greatest hits’ packages have survived to the present day, but now tend to focus on retro games. Even as these collections have entered their fourth decade, my instinct for a bargain still exists. That said, I am starting to wonder if I'm just a bit of a mug? I've reinvested in Sega Mega Drive and Capcom titles across physical and digital collections over three generations now... and that's not to mention the micro consoles!

Inevitably I was drawn to the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection - a compilation of deep cuts covering 1979 – 1990 available for Xbox One, PS4, PC and Switch. Fairly or not, SNK never got the recognition of its peers, like Sega and Konami, during that period.

This 1990 cut-off excludes any games released for the Neo Geo, SNK's powerhouse cartridge-based arcade system/(very) high end home games console. This means none of the popular later franchises are included - no King of Fighters, Metal Slug, King of the Monsters, Fatal Fury etc.

However, most of these games are readily available as digital downloads across the major platforms. Alternatively, you can still pick up the Neo Geo Mini micro console, which has a generous selection of the better-known hits bundled in.

There are some recognisable games on the SNK 40th Anniversary collection - P.O.W. Prisoners of War was well-received on NES, as was the widely ported Ikari Warriors. I, personally, have fond memories of Prehistoric Isle from an arcade cabinet I encountered on a childhood holiday.

The rest were a voyage of discovery - and that’s what makes this trawl so enticing.

The collection comes from Digital Eclipse, a developer that specialises in video game preservation. It has a long heritage that stretches back to the mid-1990s when it released the Arcade's Greatest Hits collections taking in publishers like Midway, Atari and Williams. More recently, we can thank it for the Mega Man Legacy Collection, Blizzard Arcade Collection, the TMNT Cowabunga Collection, and many more.

Digital Eclipse is up there with M2 as amongst the best in the business when it comes to giving retro games a second breath of life. SNK was always going to be in safe hands.

Games, Games And More Games

There is something in this selection of 24 games for everyone, including (lots of) shooters, plus brawlers and platformers. Many don't quite stand the test of time compared to some of their better-known peers, but there’re still lots to enjoy from SNK:

Athena (1986): a Ghosts n’ Goblins inspired platform game, unlike the Capcom title our hero (inexplicably) starts in her pants and levels up into a suit of armour as you progress through levels (loosely) informed by Greek mythology. What this translates to is booting and bashing baddies across fairly conventional environments such as the literally-named World of Forest

Alpha mission (1985): a fun but tough vertical shooter, in which you face off against ground and air-based adversaries. This adds a layer of strategy as each must be dispatched using the appropriate weaponry. The mechanic is similar to Taito's better-known Slap Fight, which was released the following year.

Beast Busters (1989): an amusingly gory op on rails shooter - think Operation Wolf with zombies. This is one of the better-known titles to Western gamers as it received a conversion for 16-bit home computers. Great fun and leaves me wishing light guns would work with modern TVs!

Bermuda Triangle (1987): this one is a little quirky. (A)nother vertically scrolling SCMUP with nice chunky sprites - you appear to be piloting some sort of flying juggernaut. Odd.

Chopper (1988): a vertical shooter that’s challenging to say the least - miss the power ups at your peril.

Crystalis (1990): a NES RPG in the style of Zelda but with an intriguing post-apocalyptic premise. Not my cup of tea, but seems very solid. Worth a look if that's your sort of thing.

Fantasy (1981): a pirate-based balloon landing game... It was 1981 - these things happened. It’s insanely hard so you'll appreciate the handy rewind function. It also features early digitised speech.

Guerrilla War (1987): one of many military shooters in the package, which arguably built on the success of the popular Ikari Warriors series. This game's influence can be seen in Neo Geo games to follow, such as Time Soldiers and Metal Slug. It's a lot of fun and the very decent NES conversion is also included, minus the twin stick control option.

Ikari Warriors 1-3 (1986 - 1989) the now iconic vertical murder 'em up, the first of which was converted to all the major 8-bit and 16-bit computer platforms and the NES. I don't remember it being this hard though - you'll need to keep one finger on the rewind button! Ikari 2 is more of the same, but with a sword and sorcery twist... honestly, I didn't have a clue what was going on?! Number three is a vertically scrolling beat 'em up with huge, chunky sprites. Neither of the sequels captures the magic of the original, but at least you can't accuse SNK of being afraid to try anything new!

Iron Tank (1988): the tank sections in the previous year’s Guerilla War were fun - so why not spin them out into a full game and set it during the Normandy invasion? Stick with Guerilla War…

Munch Mobile (1983): sort of like Paperboy, only slower - oh and you play a car with massive hands... I want to be positive, but this is quite possibly one of the most ill-conceived games I've ever played.

Paddle Mania (1988): a prettier looking - but not great - vertical Pong.

P.O.W: Prisoners Of War (1988): this one did crop up in plenty of British arcades, it's a decent Double Dragon-style sideways scrolling brawler. What it lacks in Double Dragon's charm, it makes up for in automatic weapons. One of the stronger games in the package, both for the coin-op original and its NES conversion.

Prehistoric Isle (1989): now we're talking! One of my favourite sideways scrolling shooters. Great graphics, great premise, great fun. Essentially, it's Kong: Skull Island as a SCHMUP. You find an undiscovered island crawling with dinos and outsized insects, so the obvious response is to bomb them back to the Stone Age (yes, there are cavemen too). Genius.

Psycho Soldier (1987): Athena's back and this time she's got her own (quite catchy) theme tune, the first vocal track used in a video game. She's still smacking things - aliens this time I think - with sticks. You occasionally get to smash up a building Rampage style as well, which is fun.

SAR: Search and Rescue (1989): a (very) Alien inspired shooter - in space no-one can hear you tearing up copyright! It's broadly Ikari again, but well done and very atmospheric - an unexpected pleasure.

Sasuke vs Commander (1980): Space Invaders, but with ninjas and a colour palette inspired by vomit. It’s a game that lives up to modern seizure warnings.

Street Smart (1989): a fast-paced one-on-one brawler, ironically each round seems to go on forever though. You travel around the USA beating people up, the original Street Fighter may have got there first, but this is more fun. It’s decidedly better than Atari’s very similar Pit-Fighter, which was released a year later.

Time Soldier (1987): yep… another variation on Ikari. This time you travel back in time to the 'Primitive Age' to show the people who live(d) there the error of their ways... by shooting them. Diverting.

TnK 3 (1985): released as T.A.N.K. for western home computer conversions. I'm not sure why we skipped straight to TnK 3, there was never a TnK 2 or TnK 1, nor do you control three tanks? You get to run over dinky little soldiers in an armoured vehicle and shoot at other tanks. It's okay, but without it we may not have got the tank bits in - you guessed it - Ikari Warriors.

Vanguard (1981): an early (largely) horizontal scrolling shooter that's notable for allowing you to fire in four directions, a bit like the later Prehistoric Isle. You don’t get to shoot at all when you've picked up energy, which you do a lot. I can see why that game design choice didn’t catch on. Good fun though and innovative for the time.

World Wars (1987): another tough vertical shooter and the second game in the selection that's obsessed with detailing how far you've flown (Fantasy also works on this premise.) I can only assume that at least some of SNK’s developers went on to work on satnavs and/or fitness trackers?!

The extent to which you enjoy the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection depends on how invested you are in gaming history. There is fun to be had, but do keep the rose-tinted specs on. However, what this does offer is a time capsule that goes deep into how SNK developed in its formative years and its influence on the coin-op scene.

It feels a little unfair to rate this package for modern sensibilities, it's beautifully presented and emulated throughout but the graphics are, at best, fairly good for the 1980s. That doesn't matter though. What’s more important is the fun-factor and that’s not lacking, especially when enjoyed on local multiplayer.

Arguably there's one too many vertical shooters featuring burly men in sweat bands, but you can appreciate the fact SNK was perhaps a victim of its own post Ikari success... We don't hold it against Nintendo for being a bit Mario-centric!

Overall, it’s a lovingly curated cabinet of curiosities that sets the scene for SNK’s better-known Neo Geo years. What's unquestionable is the sheer amount of love and attention that's been put in to preserving what are, in many instances, fairly obscure games. The emulation is fantastic and (where possible) you can compare and contrast the original coin-ops next to the NES ports.

The collection is well geared to modern Twitch audiences too, you can choose to watch videos of experts playing the games when the challenge gets too great... and it often does!

Aficionados will want to check out the Museum section, which contains a wealth of SNK riches: soundtracks, ads and other artwork, manuals, as well as a handy release timeline. You may have come for the games, but exploring the background materials helps us appreciate them in a fresh light.

Final Thoughts

Games compilations have evolved alongside their audiences. While many retrogamers may have comparatively more disposable cash, we're time poor. The joy of collections like these is they allow you to dip in and out of games with unlimited save points and other features that work around hectic lifestyles.

Physical games hardware and software have finite lifetimes, something that retrogaming enthusiasts are acutely aware of. So it's only right we should digitally preserve games and the means to play them legitimately and as the makers would have intended. Plus, we learn the context for each game as a cultural artifact – something sorely lacking in MAME. Without this, it's all too easy to forget the hard work that went into each and every release. Yes, even Munch Mobile...

That's where developers like Digital Eclipse come in. As a celebration of SNK's rich history, this package transcends the games themselves and deserves a place in any retrogamer’s collection. Preferably a physical one - but that should go without saying!

Zatu Score


  • Graphics
  • Multiplayer
  • Story (Career Mode)
  • Originality

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