SNK 40th Anniversary Collection Review

This is a bit of a tricky one.

So, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection. As you can imagine, it's a collection to celebrate SNK's 40th anniversary. Big year, that. And to properly celebrate, they've built a whole new collection of some of their early, pre-Neo-Geo work.

And that's where the trickiness comes in.

First, let's cover the broad spectrum, before we start dialing in on some of these actual titles. Right out the gate, I can tell you the presentation here is amazing. Every last game comes with just about every variant the original release exists in. American and Japanese arcade variants, contemporary console ports, it's all here.

Not only do you have all of these variants, all of them superbly emulated, but you also have all of the extras. How would you like a ton of soundtracks to listen to, of classic SNK tunes? Done. Posters, samplings of vintage magazines, concept art? You've got it. There's tons of these little details and careful touches all throughout.

There's details on cancelled games, there's scans of some of their arcade guidebooks, there's even a Complete Works overview that runs you through the very beginning of the company, all the way up to the year 1990; right before the Neo Geo changes the entire game.

From a historical perspective, this all makes SNK 40th Anniversary Collection a no-brainer. It's one of the absolute best snapshots of a company's gaming history I've ever seen, in its complete and utter focus on showing where SNK started from.

The emulation in use here is also top notch. While I'd like multiple save states, you've got one for each game to hold your progress and return to it later, plus a rewind feature, which does take care of a lot of the usual need for save states. They've also included portrait mode, letting you put their vertical games on a more full version of the Switch's screen. My only regret with this is that there's no way to rotate the controls for handheld mode, forcing you to either put the Switch upright on a stand or use a Flip Grip.

One of the most interesting features, though, is the "Watch" mode. Every single game has a complete playthrough you can simply watch, to see the entirety of the game done by skilled hands...And at any point you can pause, and jump in to that exact moment.

It's one of the single best ideas I've ever seen in a collection like this. Not only does it give you some of that schoolyard and arcade feel of being able to get advice on how to beat a difficult boss, or even jump in on a friend's credit, but it makes the actual play of these games as much a part of the historical record as the raw data that makes them up. Let's be honest, how many experts at Psycho Soldier do you know that could get you to the end screen?

Of course, there's two sides to every coin, and it's the flipside of this amazing presentation of SNK's older works that gets a little more...tricky.

Because, well, here's the thing. If this was a collection of SNK's Neo Geo era stuff, this review would be over. I'd be saying "Go get it go get it NOW NOW NOW" and shoving you towards the door so I could get back to playing it myself. Their work in the mid-90s holds up superbly to this day, some of the most visually stunning and mechanically smooth games of the entire 2D era.

Their work in the early 80s, is more...Of its time.

That's not to say these are bad games, mind you. Outside of something like Munch Mobile being far, far too fiddly to justify the fuss of its odd concept, and the occasional original bug or glitch, they're well crafted games of their time. It's just that I have to keep coming back to that phrase. Of their time.

A fair few of these games have a certain rough unfairness to them. And some of them suffer from simply being too early for their concepts to work: Street Smart, for instance, feels very much like the contemporary of the original Street Fighter that it is, complete with its own incredibly wonky take on one-on-one combat.

So, if you're just looking for a collection of retro games that're still fantastic out of their context, something to play after you beat Shovel Knight, well, this is facing some stiff competition even just within the Switch. Hell, if you look at the ACA releases, this is facing stiff competition just from other parts of SNK's library.

But on the other hand, if context is your jam, if you want stuff from this era of history? I mean, like I said at the top, this is a top notch historical preservation. I can think of others that compare, but I can't think of a single collection like this that does it definitively better.

So, all that said, ignoring problems that are from the original games and the selection, what're my troubles with SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, in and of itself? Well...Not many, but there are a few.

I mentioned before the lack of control re-orienting when you go into portrait mode. On top of that, portrait mode is also a handheld only thing. If you're the kind of crazy-dedicated fan who has a tate setup, or even just one of those cool rigs where your monitor or TV can flip vertical with a flick of the wrist, you're out of luck.

The other thing, and it's pretty greedy of me, but I would have killlllled for more translations of the historical content. There's rundowns of a lot of it, but it would have been so, damn, cool to get to read the translations on some of those guidebooks, or the original Japanese arcade ads.

Still, what we've got here is pretty spectacular as a piece. For the collectors and buffs out there, this is a definite buy.

...Now who do I have to talk to to get something this good for the Neo Geo Pocket Color library?