Digital distribution via the Virtual Console and Xbox Live Arcade has thankfully helped stifle the previously intense flow of classics compilations to retail, but this is one greatest hits package we can get behind. SNK Arcade Classics: Volume 1, as indicated by the title, compiles 16 of the most prominent NeoGeo hits from the early 1990s – Metal Slug, Samurai Shodown, and The King of Fighters '94 included – without the need for dusty, overpriced cartridges.
SNK Arcade Classics: Volume 1 works best as an introductory course to the company's wide array of 2D favorites. Hardcore NeoGeo fanatics might buy it for fan service (unlockable concept art and videos), but they'll nitpick the loading times and PlayStation 2 control scheme. Rather, this collection is primarily for the dabblers. Metal Slug remains as glorious as you remember from your last bowling alley bender, and the ability to use unlimited continues means you may actually finish the side-scrolling military shooter this time around. Last Resort is a sharp shoot-'em-up that will test your skills (and patience), King of the Monsters gloriously combines professional wrestling with Godzilla rejects, and the quintet of 2D fighters (among them Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, and World Heroes) offers a history lesson on the notable variations offered by the genre during its peak.
Granted, not everything here is a winner – that's typically the case with such compilations, and SNK Arcade Classics: Volume 1 offers up a handful of stinkers. Sengoku is a bland fantasy beat-'em-up with bizarre animal transformations, while Burning Fight is little more than a drab Final Fight clone. And though still playable, the three sports titles (Baseball Stars 2, Neo Turf Masters, and Super Sidekicks 3) can be frustratingly limited compared to modern-day counterparts like Hot Shots Golf and MLB Power Pros.
By and large, the emulation of these hits is up to par, with only 1997's Shock Troopers significantly affected by the curious double-punch of slowdown and loading pauses. Aside from having to unlock World Heroes by earning medals (similar to Xbox 360 Achievements), we're pleased with this debut package, which not only sets the stage for future Arcade Classics collections, but also for the more focused sets like Metal Slug Anthology and the upcoming Samurai Shodown Anthology. At five quarters a pop ($20 for 16 titles), this may be the most affordable trip to the arcade you'll take all year.
May 13, 2008