The Games of the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection

NIS America recently released a collection of some of SNK’s arcade hits on the Switch.  While SNK is mostly known for their fighting games and NEO GEO, before then they made other arcade games, too, and that’s what this collection is all about.  So no King of Fighters or other NEO GEO games.  Mostly pre-90’s stuff here.  But despite having a lot of army themed shooters, this is still a pretty good collection, so I thought I’d go over the games on it today.

Before I start, I wanted to say that I got the special edition of this game, so here’s G.P. the GamerPuppet showing off what was inside.  You got the game, an art book with developer diaries on many of the games, a soundtrack with way too many versions of Psycho Soldier for my taste, and some postcards.

One neat little detail about the box is that there is printing on the inside, too!  As someone who used to work in printing, I know how expensive that is!

So you can choose to play the games or watch a demo.  You can also rewind and save your games, too!  There is also a history section where you can view art and screens of nearly every game in SNK’s arcade pre-NEO GEO library, and they even have information I didn’t know about and it was different than what was in the art book!  Very impressive.  Only problem is the game is a bit buggy and would reset on me a couple of times, but only in the menus (so far).  Also, about half the games on this collection were considered DLC, but they just appeared in a software update and they were all free.  So it’s all good, but kind of weird they did it that way.  Anyway, so let’s take a look at the games on this list.

Alpha Mission

This is a generic vertically scrolling space shooter where you shoot both ground and air targets.  It was clearly trying to copy the popularity of other games like Star Force and Xevious.  It also had a weird power-up (and power-down) system using letters of the alphabet that they would also put in later games.  In Japan the game was called ASO, or Armored Scrum Object.  Yeah I think we got the better name.  I know that was what it was called in Japan because you can play the US and Japanese versions of many of these arcade games!  On some games, you can even play the NES version!  Including this one!  It’s amazing to see how bad the NES versions are compared to their arcade counterparts.  When my brother Jeff saw some of these games, he understood better why I preferred arcade games over the NES back in the day.  I remember Alpha Mission pretty well, because not only was it at the local Pizza Inn near my house, one of my best friends had the NES version for some reason.  So I played it a lot.  I don’t know if where I live in Texas had a good SNK distributor, but I remember a lot of the games on this collection.  But when I talk with some people from other parts of the country, they don’t have as many memories of SNK games.  Later, SNK would release Alpha Mission 2 on the NEO GEO.

Bermuda Triangle

Speaking of sequels, this game claims it’s a sequel/spinoff to Alpha Mission.  They say the ship from Alpha Mission went back in time for this game, and they use the name “Alpha Mission” in the voices, but other than that, it’s not too much related.  The ship doesn’t even look the same.  Your ship is so big on screen that it’s hard to avoid things, but luckily you can take multiple hits.  Otherwise it’s just another vertically scrolling shooter with backgrounds from different time periods.

World Wars

They also claim this is a sequel to Bermuda Triangle, since it came out shortly thereafter.  It uses a lot of the same music and voices.  Seems like they took the lazy way out, but a lot of arcade game makers did this back in the day.  Even my favorite company Namco did this with games like New Rally-X and Assault Plus.  Your ship is smaller, but can only take one hit.  Instead of going through time periods, you travel around the world.

Chopper 1

Yet another vertically scrolling shooter, this one featuring a lot of helicopters.  The graphics are pretty good for the time, but you die in one hit and lose all your power-ups and get sent back in the stage a bit, so it’s pretty hard.

Crystalis

This is actually just a NES game.  It’s an action RPG with an overhead perspective, like Zelda or Secret of Mana and has a post-apocalyptic setting.  I’ve heard it’s pretty good.  I never played much of it myself.  It wasn’t available to rent at the local video places when I was a kid, and it was too expensive to buy.  It also came out pretty late in the NES lifecycle, but it’s still pretty popular among fans and that’s why I’m sure they included it here.  I’d like to sink my teeth into it, but I don’t have time right now and it’s hard to fiddle with NES style menus and things.  You can play the Japanese version of this game, too.  It’s called God Slayer over there.  I can understand why they changed the name for the US.

Fantasy

For a 1981 arcade game, this one is pretty ambitious.  You play as a guy trying to save your girl from pirates, and must go through several screens to do so.  Some areas are like vertically scrolling shooters, some are like overhead mazes, and some are Donkey Kong platform challenges.  I love the voice work.  You start on an island and the guy says to the girl, “Hello, how are you?” and she replies, “I’m fine, thank you.”  And then pirates come to take her and she says, “AAAAA!”  Unfortunately I couldn’t get past the first screen where you try to land your balloon on the pirate ship.  It’s impossible to avoid the cannon fire!  So if you want to hear more about the game, just look for it on YouTube.  I don’t ever really remember seeing this game in arcades at all.

Ozma Wars

When Space Invaders first came out, it was very popular and many arcade parlors would just have rows and rows of that same game.  Other companies tried to copy cat that game, and this is SNK’s entry.  You shoot different kinds of spaceships that come toward you.  You can also shoot a comet at one point and then try and shoot a giant orb that fires tons of missiles at you that are impossible to avoid.  You also refuel from a ship that looks like the one in Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers in the US).  The worst thing is the annoying siren sound they play in the background!  Ugh!

Vanguard

This is another old shooter.  You are a spaceship scrolling forward to the right, but sometimes you can move diagonal and upward as well.  You can fire in four directions, but your ship always stays in the same position.  It’s impossible to avoid some of the enemies, though.  It kind of reminds me of Defender, but gameplay wise it’s closer to Konami’s Scramble.  I don’t remember this game much in arcades, but apparently it was popular enough to get a lot of home ports on consoles at the time.  I think there was one on the 2600, and even the Vectrex got a port!

Sasuke vs. Commander

This early shooter reminds me of Galaxian, but instead of a space setting, you must shoot ninjas who are jumping from tree to tree.  Not only must you avoid their ninja stars, when you shoot them they fall, and you must avoid their falling corpses, too!  It’s amazing how a simple, tired space shooter can feel fresh with a new setting.  I don’t think this game ever came out in the US, but I’m surprised it didn’t considering how popular cheesy ninja movies were in the 80’s.

Prehistoric Isle in 1930

And speaking of generic shooters that seem fresh because of a new coat of paint, here’s a horizontally scrolling one that’s not set in space, but has you fly biplanes and shoot dinosaurs on a lost island instead of aliens!  You shoot a lot of pterodactyls and cavemen (who latch onto your plane and pull it down), and the bosses are real dinosaurs and they even give you their name!  For some reason, this game always stuck out in my mind to me.  At the time I remember thinking how amazing the graphics looked, and I usually only played it at the basement floor of the West End Mall in Dallas.  The whole bottom floor was a Tilt arcade!  I loved that place.  They made a Prehistoric Isle 2 on the NEO GEO set in more modern times.  You flew helicopters but still shot at dinosaurs!

Paddle Mania

This is kind of a cross between tennis and air hockey.  You view the field in an overhead perspective and use the left stick to move and the right one to swing your racket left and right to hit the ball.  If you can get it past the opponent’s goal, you score a point.  It’s really only fun with two players, though.  I THINK I kind of remember this game in arcades, but Data East would later perfect this idea with WindJammers on the NEO GEO.

Munch Mobile

I’m so glad they put this game on here.  I’ve always wanted to play it more often.  In the game you are a cartoony car with eyes and drive on a road in an overhead perspective.  You must steer left and right to avoid crashing.  But you use the right stick to stretch out an arm left or right to grab fruit and other bonus items.  Then you must move the arm back in so the car can ‘eat’ the food to refuel.  After that, you can extend the arm back out to dump the trash (apple core, fish bones) in wastebaskets for points.  The game was called Joyful Road in Japan.  I never heard of this game until I saw it on the game show Starcade as a kid.  Only place I ever saw it was at a sit-down-and-eat pizza place (remember those) called Crystal’s Pizza.  Only problems I had with the game is that if you’re just one pixel off the road, you crash, and the hit detection on grabbing the fruit is iffy, too.  Still, this has always been such an intriguing game for me for some reason.  And I’m not just the only one.  When I showed it to my brother Jeff, he was very interested in it, too!

Athena

In this 2-D platformer, you play as bikini-clad cutie Athena, who beats up monsters and giant trees.  You can collect armor to help you out.  Shoes let you jump high, armor and shields let you take hits, a helmet that can let you bash blocks from above, and different weapons.  I never really liked this game much.  Although the NES version isn’t THAT bad and far from the arcade, after playing it on this collection, too.  If the name Athena sounds familiar when associated with SNK, there’s a reason for that.

Psycho Soldier

This is supposed to be the sequel to Athena.  You play as her distant decedent: Athena Asamiya, a Japanese schoolgirl with psychic powers.  If she sounds familiar to you and you’ve played King of Fighters games, she’s also in most of those along with Psycho Soldier’s player two character: Sie Kensou.  You can play as the original Athena in some of SNK’s other crossover fighters.  Psycho Soldier is a horizontally scrolling shooter where you jump from four platforms to move up and down.  If you’ve ever played Capcom’s earlier game SonSon, this game is almost just like it.  Psycho Soldier is most notable for being the first arcade game with a theme song with vocals.  They play it on the first stage.  Give it a listen on the Internet sometime if you’re curious.  It’s so bad!  I never saw this game in arcades as a kid, but many years later after I graduated college, my friends and I were driving around looking for rare arcade games (yeah we were wild and crazy), and we found a Psycho Soldier arcade machine in a laundromat!

TNK III

This game is known as Tank in Japan.  This game started SNK’s trend of army war shooter themed games, which we’ll go over below.  You drive around a tank and can move and shoot in different directions.  They claim this game is the predecessor to Ikari Warriors, and the tank in it is driven by the same character: Clark Jones.  But he never leaves the tank so you don’t really know.  Supposedly this game was a hit and saved SNK from bankruptcy.

Iron Tank

Also known as Great Tank in Japan.  Usually on this collection they put the NES version in the same spot as the arcade version, but this one got its own slot even though it’s just an updated and reworked version of TNKIII.  But since it was built from the ground up for the NES, it’s not as bad as some of the other NES games on this collection.  I love how the soldiers you can shoot and run over are all cutesy squatty chibi marshmallow guys.

Ikari Warriors

At least as far in my neck of the woods, Ikari Warriors was super popular.  It was in all the arcades, and my friend’s neighbor had it on his computer so we played it a lot there, as well as the NES version.  It’s another army themed shooter in a jungle setting and was clearly inspired by popular movies at the time, like Rambo.  You play as Ralf or Clark (Paul and Vince in the US), and shoot army guys on foot and can also climb into tanks.  People say Capcom’s Commando was the game that really started the whole army game craze, but Ikari Warriors is the one I remember most.  SNK still uses Ralf and Clark in their more modern games like King of Fighters and Metal Slug.  The NES version is on this collection, too, but it’s awful.  I hear it was programmed by an outside company, the same one who did a lot of Capcom’s early NES games and they were notable for not being very good at what they did.

Ikari Warriors 2: Victory Road

This was a total departure because instead of a jungle setting, you’re plunged into an alternate fantasy world where you fight goblins and monsters instead of soldiers.  Instead of guns and tanks, you get weapons like swords and metal armor.  I guess it was inspired by the other type of popular movies in the 80’s: fantasy films.  But you still play as Ralf and Clark.  I read that they made this game and Ikari Warriors two player games because at this time, Japan made laws to close arcades earlier, and they wanted to make two player games to double the revenue.  Victory Road has exceptional voice work for the time, and it’s very clear.  The arcade version of this game was at the front of our local Wal-Mart for a while when I was a kid, so I’m pretty familiar with it.  The NES version is on here, too.  It’s a little better than the first game on the NES, but not by much.

Ikari 3: The Rescue

This one came out a few years after the other Ikari games, so I was surprised when I first saw it in an arcade.  The graphics are vastly improved and I thought they looked awesome at the time.  This game is really more of an overhead beat ‘em up than a shooter, as you rely more on your fists and feet than guns.  You still play as Ralf and Clark, and the setting is a return to the first, more of a realistic military in the jungle setting.  The NES version is on here as well.  I didn’t know there was a NES version.  As it was released late in the NES lifecycle, the graphics look great and the 8-bit soundtrack is rockin’!  It’s a little different from the arcade, too.  Unfortunately, it’s not as fun as enemies hop and bop around like they’re in a pinball machine, so it’s hard to hit them!

Guerilla War

This is pretty much a spiritual successor to Ikari Warriors.  It plays the same, just with different characters.  I remember seeing it in arcades a lot.  Did you know that in Japan, the main characters in this game are real life dictators like Fidel Castro, and they are going on a murderous rampage to save their countries?  Yeah, it’s crazy, but true.  Naturally they changed things for the US.  The NES version is on here, too.  Surprisingly, it plays way faster than the arcade version!

P.O.W.

This is another army themed game, but instead of a shooter it plays like an early side scrolling beat ‘em up, similar to Double Dragon.  I remember it being fairly popular in arcades and on the NES.  The NES version is on here, too, and aside from lesser graphics, it plays pretty much the same.

Time Soldiers

This could’ve been a Ikari sequel but it’s not.  It plays the same, though.  You travel to different time periods to save your friends.  It’s also non-linear as you can go through different time portals in the levels.  You can go to WWII times, prehistoric, ancient Rome, and more.  Not sure how dinosaurs could fire missiles or how the Romans got a hold of a three headed dragon, but oh well.  At first I didn’t remember this one, but after playing it, I do remember it in arcades after all.  In Japan the game is known as Battle Field.  I think the US name is a bit more descriptive.

Street Smart

And last is SNK’s first fighting game!  It’s also one of their last arcade games before they would start using their NEO GEO hardware.  In later SNK fighters, they were known for good characters designs, but not here.  You just play as either a generic karate man or wrestler and fight other generic brawlers.  In two player mode you work together to fight the CPU, and then you fight each other for the affection of a 16-bit babe who tells you congratulations.  The losers are picked up in an ambulance that says SNK Hospital on it.  I’m sure that’s an interesting place.  I wonder if the generic characters and settings were later embellished upon in their later fighters?

And those are all the games on the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection.  I only wish they included more games like Marvin’s Maze.  What are your favorite SNK games and characters?  My favorite SNK games are Neo Mr. Do! on the NEO GEO and SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash on the NEO GEO Pocket Color.  I’ll let you try and guess my favorite characters.  The first is a dog in the Samurai Shodown games, and the other character is a blue haired army lady who is on the Ikari Warriors team.  And that’s all for now!  Later!  –Cary

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