Feature

SNK 40th Anniversary is the New Standard for Retro Game Collections

Every once in a while, we see a prolific game developer or publisher put out a collection of some of their best games across their history in a nice, convenient package. These collections give us access to some of our favorite games, or those hidden gems as we move on to new platforms and services. Whenever one of these collections release, I always try to make an effort to check out what they’ve put together. SNK 40th Anniversary Collection on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 is a collection that doesn’t only show of some SNKs finest games before the NEO GEO era, but I believe it has set a new bar for emulated retro game collections,

Doing a great retro collection is much more than amassing a bunch of old games and putting them out there to purchase.

For me, a stand out collection must: Execute in its emulation of these older games. Have a sizable catalog that represents the theme of the collection or the publisher’s body of work. Provide a context for the player of when these games were released or how they were made.

Developer Digital Eclipse really goes the extra mile in every department with SNK 40th Anniversary Collection.

Most game collections execute on the emulation with the exception of some hardware collections like the PlayStation Classic and Sega Genesis Flashback plug-and-play consoles not being up to the task. Some collections have a less than ideal version of a game. Services like Nintendo Switch Online currently only offer the NES versions of titles like Double Dragon and Tecmo Bowl. The console versions of these games may have been the most easily accessible versions at the time, but now when most machines can run original arcade games, it feels like a strange omission.  

In their collection, Digital Eclipse have included not only both the console and arcade versions of these SNK games, but in many cases have also included both the original English and Japanese versions of each game for each platform. It’s an incredibly thorough effort. Will everyone want to play the specific Japanese Famicom release of Ikari Warriors 2? Probably not, but it being here shows how dedicated this team was to this project. Mega Man Legacy Collection, another Digital Eclipse project, included the Japanese versions of Mega Man games in a patch, but this is certainly them out doing themselves.

While I’m certainly no SNK expert, the emulation here in SNK 40th Anniversary Collection feels genuine with pixels looking sharp, frame rate holding up, and music sounding crisp. So genuine that you can see an old school “Licensed by Nintendo” stamp at the beginning of the console ports, on a PlayStation 4. It’s a neat touch. But what’s really impressive about the emulation here is that the game allows you to interact with a video playthrough of a game complete with pause, rewind and fast-forward features, and at any point you can stop the video to pick up and play the game from where the video stops. It’s a feature I’ve never seen in one of these types of compilations before. It allows players to see the entirety of older games, without actually needing to finish them.  

All of this would make SNK 40th Anniversary Collection a stand out collection of older games. But it’s how dedicated this team was at documenting and filling that collection with dozens and dozens of materials from SNK’s early days that makes it feel like a digital history book for a prolific video game developer that withstood the test of time. This collection is filled with high resolution promotional materials, concept designs, and photographs from SNK’s history that are accompanied by well-written, knowledgeable pieces of editorial that explain why these games were made the way they were, and what they tell us about the industry at the time.

When taken all in, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection feels like the Criterion Collection standard of preservation and presentation applied to video games. It’s a digital video game history book. I personally haven’t seen this much detail put into one of these collections since perhaps Rare Replay. It’s also worth noting that many of the games in this collection have not aged well, but when taken all in, it feels like it’s more representing and remembering a time and place for these video games.

It’s tricky, because I would love to say that we should ask developers and publishers to make more collections like this one, but I also understand that doing work like this takes time and budget. Not only that, but some consumers may not be willing to pay the premium price for this work, and may not see the value in what they provide. I for one do think this work is valuable, not only as someone who likes playing older games, but also as someone who wants to see the medium’s history documented. That may result in us paying more than $20 or $30 for a collection of old games, but I think if teams feel passionate about doing this work right, and are given the support form publishers who hold the keys to this information and budget, we should support it. At the very least, I really hope Digital Eclipse continues to find a future in making some of our favorite older games and series shine.

Code for this game was provided by the game’s publisher.