Version tested: PlayStation 2
Back in 1990, a lot of the best games were in the arcades, and a lot of the best console games were the best-possible ports. The idea of getting one absolutely spot on, however, was unthinkable - unless money was no object, in which case you could have a Neo Geo. Compared to the other consoles, scant few of us ever saw one, but those who did will be well aware it outlasted the rest of the fourth generation. SNK's been through a transition or two since, but it's tried to hang onto its principles, and the latest result is a trio of compilations. We thought we'd follow the publisher's lead and round them up in one place.
World Heroes Anthology
Born amidst the turmoil of Capcom's success, World Heroes struggled to be heard over the white noise of SFII clones, but fans won't care. The PS2 disc has Neo Geo-perfect ports of World Heroes, World Heroes 2, World Heroes 2 Jet and World Heroes Perfect, bringing the likes of Joan of Arc, Rasputin, Hattori Hanzo and Bruce Lee and Hulk Hogan (likenesses, obviously) back to our screens, thanks to the game's wacky scientist-and-a-time-machine character roster.
The result isn't too bad, as the eclectic mix of combatants answers a few unasked questions in the back of our fighting heads, and as the series progresses a few more fictional alternatives are introduced, including our favourite, Sun Wu, aka Monkey, in World Heroes Perfect. But the controls are also faithful to the flawed originals, which means the special moves lack the variety and imagination that beat-'em-ups fans generally demand.
As a result, it's hard to look at the four games as anything more than budget range knock-offs of SFII, which is ironic considering they were stupendously expensive anti-knock-offs 18 years ago. It also falls down next to other SNK stuff like Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting, and the inflated price is peculiar considering the Art of Fighting Anthology we liked so much was cheaper and better. It's certainly one for the fans and Neo Geo completionists, but curious retro-heads and fighting game fans might get the wrong impression of SNK if they buy this particular compilation.
Fatal Fury Battle Archives Vol. 1
There aren't many tournament fighters from the early '90s that you can't accuse of cloning SFII, but Fatal Fury is one of them, since it was in development at the same time. However, you can accuse it of not being as good as SFII, since it isn't. Much like World Heroes Anthology, it's a faithful replication of the Neo Geo games, although it now has a character colour editor and an accessible menu system to scoot between the games. Also like World Heroes Anthology, it's a faultless recreation of slightly faulty fighters.
Fatal Fury had only three playable characters, and they weren't diametrically different or anything. It did introduce two planes of depth in the environments, which became something of a series signature, but it's actually put to relatively little use, particularly in the first game. The annoying thing though is the controls, once again faithfully ported with misplaced faith, as triggering combos and special moves is frustratingly inconsistent.
Things got better with Fatal Fury 3, but not amazingly, and again we're forced to question how much value you're getting for your fifteen quid compared to Art of Fighting. There's four games here, but Fatal Fury Special is basically Fatal Fury 2 with a few extra characters and a different speed setting (gosh, that sounds familiar), and ultimately you'll have to win a difficult argument with yourself to justify the purchase. Good luck.
SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1
We've saved this until last because it's got sixteen games in it and we wanted to put them in a list. This will make the page layout go wonky, so we thought we'd hide it until now:
- Art of Fighting
- Baseball Stars 2
- Burning Fight
- Fatal Fury
- King of the Monsters
- Last Resort
- Magician Lord
- Metal Slug
- Neo Turf Masters
- Samurai Shodown
- Shock Troopers
- Super Sidekicks 3
- The King of Fighters '94
- Top Hunter
- World Heroes
Since you're an astute EG Retro superhero, you've undoubtedly noticed that this list has Fatal Fury and World Heroes on it, and you're wondering if this is yet another reason to pass over the Battle Archives and Heroes Anthology. Well, yes, probably, although there are small but noticeable differences in playing speed and there's a bit of slowdown in these versions.
This dragging of programming heels seems to run to the menu system, too, which takes its merry time switching between games - probably comparable to pulling a cartridge in a Neo Geo, putting it away and stuffing in the next one. But there's something about playing arcade games that demands immediacy, and unreasonable or not, it gets right up your gaming nose when it's not there.
As steady as it might be in loading, however, getting into games like Last Resort (an excellent R-Type clone) and King of Monsters (not unlike a free-roaming Rampage) helps you realise the depth of competency the Neo Geo really had. We've been inclined to remember it for fighting games, but Arcade Classics speaks to its greater versatility.
There's something of an achievement system built into the compilation too, with a host of unlockable content laced throughout from artwork and info to extra characters and special moves. The way it works might wind you up though. Extra content for Samurai Shodown, for example, has to be unlocked by finishing Burning Fight on a certain difficulty. You also have to question the price (again), although it's easier to let it go.
There are flaws, then, as there are with all these PS2 releases, but it's a promising enough start, and if this is a path SNK continues to walk we'll be there to meet it at the other end with cracked knuckles next time around.