Over the past year or so, SNK have been bombarding the Playstation Store with ports of their old arcade games, and since 2010 they’ve been supplying their Neo-Geo back catalogue too. RetroCollect has sifted through ’em, and here’s 5 of the most interesting.
Although keen to port their Neo-Geo library to anything that can handle the system’s power in the past few years, SNK have been a bit stingy with their pre-Neo-Geo games. PS3 and PSP owners are in luck though, as at the time of writing 25 of SNK’s early arcade games are available to download as Minis- small, cheap little games on the Playstation Network- for £1.99. Add in the Neo-Geo Station ports of NG games like Baseball Stars 2 and Magician Lord at a slightly-steeper £5.49 each, and that’s a lot of downloadable SNK content.
So, what follows are five of the best SNK downloadable games on the Playstation Network- three pre-Neo-Geo games, and two Neo-Geo titles that are a little different than what you might expect. At the time of writing, these are available for your PS3, PSP and PS Vita… With one exception. For some reason, T.N.K. III is not available in the European PS Store on the Vita.
Warriors! Show Some Guts! (Pre-Neo-Geo Games)
First up are pre-Neo-Geo games available on PSN. The majority of these were first released on SNK Arcade Classics 0, a PSP collection developed by G1M2 (see also: Data East Arcade Classics) and released only in Japan, but instead of releasing the collection in the US/EU, SNK decided to sell them individually as Minis for £1.99 each. This may have been for the best, as the collection isn’t great- it gathers 20 of SNK’s pre-Neo-Geo games together, and while one (Super Champion Baseball) hasn’t appeared on PSN, six games (Vanguard, Ozma Wars, Time Soldiers, Gang Wars, The Next Space, Chopper I) are PSN-only. None of the game have adjustable life/difficulty options, the game pauses to load the music, and it just feels a little slap-dash- the only perks not found in the Mini versions are support for two-player mode and flipping the PSP on its side for vertical monitor games . The collection has a handful of extras like an art gallery and a music player, but it’s still expensive and really, unless you’re an SNK maniac, a lot of the titles aren’t going to appeal to you.
In comparison, the Mini versions of these games- the ones we’re looking at- have options for lives, difficulty and other settings, the pause when loading music is a lot shorter (if there at all on the PS3) and the fact that you can pick and choose is a big plus. Here’s three you should consider, then:
It’s only right to start with a game that uses one of SNK’s early trademarks- the rotary joysticks. SNK released about ten games that used these special joysticks that allowed for eight-way movement and twisting the joystick itself, usually for allowing your character to move in one direction and fire in another without twinsticks. T.N.K. III was the first of these (using a different design for the joystick itself, it’s fatter and flatter) and yet also one of the best. As Ralf Jones you must comandeer your specialised tank, blast through the enemy base and destroy their super-weapon to turn the tide of World War II (no, really). Your tank’s guns fire in the direction you’re facing, while you twist the joystick to aim the turret for powerful cannon fire, best saved for enemy tanks (in these ports the L and R buttons are used to rotate the turret, or you can make it face the direction you face automatically). Grab power-ups for stronger weapons, and slowly but surely make your way through the enemy forces! There isn’t much to it beyond that, so hop to it.
It’s strange just how different T.N.K. III is from the first Ikari Warriors- if you didn’t look at the year they were released, you’d think T.N.K. III came later. It’s got more to its level design- the world scrolls in all four directions and loops across horizontally so there’s plenty of paths to take- and it’s considerably nicer to the player, with a generous health meter that can be topped up, infinite ammo for your weapons so you’re never left without some decent attack power, and so on. It’s not that it’s easy, mind you- there are a few one-hit-kill hazards such as the landmines (your tank can only detect them when you’re right next to them) and crashing into enemy tanks rips through your health meter- but overall it’s easier to make progress and as a result it feels a lot less frustrating and more satisfying to play. While Ikari Warriors can feel daunting, T.N.K. III is more accessible, more fun, and it’s strange how it seems to have been completely forgotten in favour of the Ikari series. I guess that’s the value of home ports, eh?
Next, one of SNK’s better shoot-em-ups. Prehistoric Isle in 1930 is exactly what it sounds like- a sole bi-plane pilot (only one in this Mini version- no two-player support, remember) investigates an island linked to mysterious disappearances, and finds that it’s crawling with dinosaurs, cavemen and giant insects. The obvious solution is to gun ’em all down and escape in one piece. Aside from the novel theme- let’s face it, there’s not nearly enough shoot-em-ups with dinosaurs as the main enemy- Prehistoric Isle’s main draw is the power-up system. This is a post-R-Type shooter so of course it has a little pod that clings to your bi-plane, but rather than let the pod free to wander around the screen, tapping the second button revolves it around your ship, resting in one of the eight cardinal directions. The weapon it uses changes depending on its position- place in front of your plane it’s a extra-powerful shot, place it behind and it lays a time bomb, lower-diagonal drops bombs at an angle, etc. Grabbing more P icons increases its power, and you can speed your plane up with S icons… all of which you lose the second your little plane (or submraine in the ocean stage) carks it.
In an odd way, Prehistoric Isle in 1930 is reminiscent of a forgotten Hot-B/Taito shoot-em-up, Insector-X- both games are notable for ditching the space battle motif prevelant in shmups (IX uses cute insects and spiders), but whereas Insector-X can’t back its unique theme up with much else (the weapons aren’t great, and there’s a rank system that encourages you to play by avoiding power-ups as much as possible, which is off-putting) Prehistoric Isle has its great pod weapon, and a little more bite to it. It’s intiially awkward get the pod in position as you move it with a button rather than the joystick, but once you get used to it, it’s a pretty versatile weapon that’s got something for every situation, and it’s one of the more unique shmup weapons out there as it’s pretty much eight-in-one. You’re going to need it as well because this game is no joke- it’s pretty difficult, and learning the patterns of enemies is essential to survival. Learn to use the pod and Prehistoric Isle in 1930 is a fun, imaginative little shooter… And like all good arcade games, has a depressing ending.
One odd thing about this version is that the PSP we tested it on (our faithful PSP-2003 model) experienced awful slowdown for most of the game. We then tested it on the PS3 where it runs fine, and asked around to find no other PSP users experienced this problem. Our PSP must be unlucky, then, but probably best you go for the PS3 version.
It’s a decent-enough brawler- less frustrating and more fun than the likes of Crime Fighters and POW: Prisoners of War from around the same time- marred slightly by the funky controls (combining up/down movement with left/right is a little weird in particular) and that nagging feeling that you’re not playing Final Fight right now. Why put it on this list, then? Well, there’s just something odd about Gang Wars, and as a result the game is unintentionally amusing in a strange way. The sprites look a little funny and are animated awkwardly, the weapons are ridiculous (including but not limited to bottles, flamethrowers and a oversized scythe that covers the whole screen), the enemies constantly laugh at you and eventually you’re attacked by tigers… Best of all are the cut-scenes between levels with art that’s not easy on the eyes and voices that sound hilariously muffled (with such lines as ‘EVEN THE PUNKS ARE NOTORIOUSLY INCOMPETENT’). You really need the subtitles to see what they’re on about. It’s a shame this version doesn’t support two-player mode, as it’s likely the only home port we’ll ever see, but even on your own, Gang Wars is such an odd little game that it’s worth a go, even if it’s just for a cheap laugh. Only two quid as well. You can’t lose!
The 100 Mega Shock (Neo-Geo Games)
Next, the Neo-Geo games. These live in their own corner of the PSN store under the Neo-Geo Station banner- handled by emulation masters M2 (see also: the recent Sega Vintage Collections on XBLA, the Konami Rebirth games) these are all based on the AES home carts, are very faithful ports, and even connect to each other (the more you buy, the more characters that appear in the intro). They also come with extras such as manuals, music players and, on the PS3, online co-op/competitive play. At the moment, most of it is from the early years of the system, so the machine’s true power hasn’t really been on display yet. It also doesn’t help that with the exception of The King of Fighters, they haven’t got to any of the fighting game sequels yet, which are generally better than the first instalments. Finally, you can get a lot of the games available on SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 for the Wii (not the PS2 and PSP- there’s extra slowdown in a few games, apparently) which comes with a ruck of unlockable content, and at £5.49 a pop, the collection might be more economically sensible. In light of this, the two NG picks on this list are for games in slightly different forms that you won’t find elsewhere.