Collecting retro games has been a longtime hobby for many a gamer, but the context of that hobby has been steadily evolving. Retro gaming on original, physical media has a shelf life, after all. Your favorite Nintendo cartridges and PlayStation discs will soon rot and be completely unplayable. Much like a huge percentage of movies from before a certain time, many games have likely already vanished and we haven’t noticed. Many retro enthusiasts have turned their hobbies into historic action, and game preservation has become a bigger and bigger deal in recent years. This trend is particularly attributable to Frank Cifaldi, who is best known for his work with Digital Eclipse and as director of the recently founded Video Game History Foundation. Cifaldi’s work has changed the very shape of officially published game collections, and his team’s latest work in SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is their most ambitious, successful, and important yet.
A Collection of Collections
SNK 40th Anniversary Collection follows in the footsteps of Digital Eclipse’s Mega Man Legacy Collection, The Disney Afternoon Collection, and Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. These collections are powered by the studio’s Eclipse Engine, which is a new, homemade way to take code from older games and get them both efficiently and accurately running on modern hardware. This collection puts that tool to the test in a way the previous collections haven’t, as it uses several different kinds of sources.
The museum even includes actual lost games so forgotten and obscure, someone on the team had to literally travel to a remote location in Japan to do proper research in one case. Check it out:
As the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection nears release, I want to talk about some of the work that went into making it. I’ll share an anecdote surrounding the extremely early SNK arcade setup, Space Micon Kit. When we started working on the game, all we had was a couple fliers. pic.twitter.com/cIgLAM3BFt
— brandon sheffield (@necrosofty) November 6, 2018
The Nuts and Bolts of Game Preservation
Here’s the skinny on what’s actually in the package. This is a new version of SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, bringing the title to the PlayStation 4 after its previous debut on the Nintendo Switch. While the Nintendo Switch version added a few titles after launch as free DLC, the PlayStation 4 version includes every game right out of the box. These games range from SNK’s ancient, but innovative, Vanguard shooter, to the more popular SNK arcade fare like all three Ikari Warriors titles.
These are as complete as Digital Eclipse could possibly get without running into licensing issues, which means you can select the region for the games and, in some cases, even swap between the arcade originals and the home Famicom/Nintendo ports. These include the familiar screen sizing and filter options (all done with higher quality than most), as well as a rewind feature that will help curious players make their way through these beastly quarter-munchers without trying their patience too hard.
Also included is a museum, a concept that Digital Eclipse has reinvented from the past. Before, when a company released a game collection, you’d usually get some sort of gallery feature that usually included character art, music, and concept art if you were lucky. But the Digital Eclipse team takes its museum content to the next level, scouring archives and magazines for advertisements, hand-scanning materials such as concept art and even boxes, and in some cases even tracking down and scanning original development and design documentation.
SNK 40th Anniversary Collection also includes a historical featurette of sorts in addition to the museum, one that presents a ton of information about the pre-King of Fighters and Metal Slug SNK that many gamers might not know about. This includes information on the Space Micon Kit mentioned above, up to the tail end of the 1980s when SNK was really starting to grow. The information is novel in and of itself, but it’s also presented in a brisk and accessible fashion that helps maintain a balance between snappy, entertaining, and informative.
A is for Alpha Mission, W is for World Wars
Now, how about the games themselves? Perhaps one of the most fascinating thing about SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is that it isn’t necessarily meant to be an entertainment product. This isn’t just a novelty collection meant to gauge interest in a classic series, or a way to resell games long considered classics. This is an extremely elaborate historical document, meant to preserve games that nobody else probably would have taken the effort to otherwise.
There’s a good chance that, out of over 20 games, you may only find yourself coming back to a handful when it comes to having “fun.” That’s probably why Crystalis is included here, despite never being an arcade game, because Crystalis is Certified Dope. But that’s fine—this is a niche “product” that is meant to both appeal to a specific audience, but also do a sort of civic duty for the medium. Not only does it bring back games that SNK has never re-drawn attention to in my lifetime until now, but it also is the first time the infamous loop lever control mechanics has been effectively adapted.
The loop lever was used for games like Ikari Warriors, and it was essentially two joysticks in one. You could rotate a mechanism looped around the joystick, which would rotate your character in order to aim your gunfight/grenade/etc. This collection converts the loop lever into a dual stick sort of control scheme, and it works swimmingly. Thus, this will likely be the best and most accurate way to ever play any of these games today, as finding intact and properly functional loop levers is not an easy task.
In addition to the loop lever being adapted, you can also set the screen orientation to rotate. For the Nintendo Switch version, this makes the game compatible with the Flip Grip device. In the case of our PS4 version here, it prepares games for vertical-oriented displays. It’s about as authentic as it can get. And, if you’re not actually any good at these games, there’s also a strange “Watch” feature that will let any of the games just play themselves to completion, during which you can jump in and take control yourself at any time. Why not? It’s a knowledge tool that ensures anyone, for fun or research, can see these games to the end without having to master them.
SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is one of the coolest, most fascinating video game releases out in 2019. There is really nothing else like it, even when you compare it to the work Digital Eclipse has done in the recent past that led up to this being made. It preserves gaming history not because these games are particularly legendary or fun or to sell a different game. I doubt the profit expectations are high. You won’t find Windjammers or Fatal Fury on this bad boy, and that’s because those games will always be safe. SNK 40th Anniversary Collection exists because of an ongoing effort to save as many games as possible from being lost to time due to things like disk rot or IP-holder negligence. It’s a middle finger to the way things have been and a guide post pointing to what could and should be.
SNK 40th Anniversary Collection review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a Standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.