Celebrating 40 Years…With The Ten Dull Ones!

HIGH Crystalis is an underappreciated gem preserved elegantly.

LOW The NES version Of Athena.

WTF The lyrics from the song in Psycho Soldier.

OK, before I go into detail as to why this latest retro compilation is a tough sell, we need to discuss one important thing — Crystalis is an incredible videogame.

Released in the latter years of the NES’ run and renamed (because God Slayer: Sonata Of The Far Away Sky is too cool for Americans to handle) this fantastic title has never gotten the recognition it deserves for being a highly enjoyable, surprisingly complex Action-RPG given the hardware it’s running on.

The mechanics of Crystalis are more akin to something one would see in Secret Of Mana or an early Ys title than the average NES game. It tells a great (and well-translated for the time) story, it’s one of the better-looking NES games available, and I am absolutely stoked that people who missed out on it before now have an opportunity to play a wonderfully-emulated version of it as a part of the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection.

It’s also the only game in the collection I’d recommend playing.

There are 24 titles in this compilation, including Alpha Mission, Athena, Beast Busters, Bermuda Triangle, Chopper I, Crystalis, Fantasy, Ikari Warriors I, Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road, Ikari Warriors III: The Rescue, Guerilla War, Munch Mobile, Ozma Wars, Paddle Mania, P.O.W., Prehistoric Isle in 1930, Psycho Soldier, SAR: Search and Rescue, Sasuke vs. Commander, Street Smart, Time Soldiers, T.N.K. III, World Wars, and Vanguard.

As someone quite confident in saying that they know a hell of a lot about the history of videogames, I had heard of maybe five of them. The SNK games most will know and and have fond memories of — Metal Slug, King Of Fighters, the entire Neo-Geo Library, etc. — are not here.

No, this is a compilation made mostly of SNK’s arcade output from the ’80s, and while some of these titles laid the groundwork for the company’s future success, very few can be considered ‘classics’, and even fewer hold up today.

Apart from Crystalis, the most notable release in the group is Ikari Warriors. While it’s still solid to play and many have fond memories of the inferior NES release, it’s not really something one would want to spend a lot of time on in 2019. Fun fact — SNK made many games in this same style, and maybe a quarter of the collection are a variety of Ikari Warriors knockoffs or sequels to Ikari Warriors I didn’t even know existed.

I will give SNK and developer Digital Eclipse credit for presenting this lackluster collection in a rather outstanding way, though. The offerings here are emulated perfectly, and there are also the standard stretching & filtering options seen in similar compilations in case players want to make the games look worse. They’ve also included multiple ways to play each game, including different regional versions and the original Japanese releases. If a game got a home console version, it’s available here as well, which is a double-edged sword considering how bad the NES port of Ikari Warriors actually is. The NES version of Athena is also quite possibly one of the five worst games ever released.

Digital Eclipse has also included what is perhaps the coolest feature I have ever seen in a release of this kind — each game has a video playthrough. At any point during the video, one can pause and then actually start playing from that point on. It’s a super cool addition, and should be standard practice for any retro compilation from this point forward.

The devs also went the extra mile in the museum mode, which is usually a fairly throwaway feature in most collections. However, SNK has included hundreds of hi-res artwork and advertising stills from not just the games on the compilation, but from their entire catalog, along with a text narration accompaniment. Any person who values this kind of thing from a historical or archival standpoint may find the collection worth picking up for this content alone.

SNK has a legacy worth celebrating and remembering — that isn’t in question. The problem is when they release something called a 40th Anniversary Collection and fail to include any of the games that their legacy was built on. I understand that the Neo-Geo library wasn’t the focus here, but the title is misleading and most people who might be in the market for something like this won’t be familiar with the content on offer. Maybe Crystalis & The Funky Bunch would’ve been a more appropriate title?

Simply put, the releases in this compilation are not worth the extravagant and loving package Digital Eclipse surrounded them in. In this collection, there’s just one bonafide classic (Crystalis), one game people might remember fondly (Ikari Warriors), and a bunch of basically unknown stuff that ranges from being brief, dated distractions to downright horrific work. While celebrating SNK is a fine idea, the ratio of good-to-bad here make this particular compilation extremely difficult to recommend.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by both SNK and Digital Eclipse and published by NiS America. The game was previously released on the Nintendo Switch and is now out on PS4, which is the version reviewed. This copy of the game was obtained via the publisher and reviewed on a PS4 Pro with a HDR certified 4KTV. Approximately 5 hours were spent messing around with the various games. Certain games in the compilation have offline multiplayer, which was not tested.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Mild Blood, Mild Violence, and Suggestive themes. A few of the games have some splashes of blood, but for the most part they’re old arcade releases and don’t reach the level of violence seen in modern titles. Any parent who would be alright with giving their kids a roll of quarters and saying ‘have at it’ at a retro arcade shouldn’t have an issue.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Hardly any of these games are story intensive, and the one that is has full text dialogue. Arcade games were designed with the idea that they’d be played in a loud arcade so instructions are shown on screen and there shouldn’t be any problems. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Each game has fully remappable controls in the menus for each title, and can be changed in game on the fly

Jarrod Johnston
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