Sometimes there are games that aren’t the most fun to play today, but remain significant from a historical perspective nonetheless. SNK’s 1986 title Athena, in both its arcade and NES incarnations, definitely falls into that category.
Acting as a spiritual predecessor to Psycho Soldier but having pretty much nothing to do with it — the “Athena” in this game is supposedly a distant ancestor of the “Athena” in Psycho Soldier, so it’s not even the same character — Athena is a monstrously challenging platform action game that does a lot of interesting things… and a lot of frustrating things!
Let’s take a closer look.
Continue reading SNK Essentials: Athena
Athena’s name is magic, mystery is what you see.
Her crystal is the answer, fighting fair, to keep us free. She’s just a little girl with power inside, burning bright. You’d better hide if you are bad, she’ll get you!
She’ll read your mind and find if you believe in right or wrong…
Continue reading SNK Essentials: Psycho Soldier
In the same year as the excellent Vanguard, SNK’s 6502-based “Rockola” hardware played host to an altogether different kind of game.
Fantasy was a rather unusual game. Eschewing the usual spaceships and aliens in favour of a distinctly more “human” setup, the game actually made an effort to tell a story as it progressed. An extremely simple story, yes, but exceedingly ambitious considering this was 1981.
HOW ARE YOU? I’M FINE, THANK YOU. AAAAAAHHHHHH.
Continue reading SNK Essentials: Fantasy
As you may have noticed already, early-days pre-Neo Geo SNK is a real treasure trove of classic shoot ’em ups. And few come more classic than Vanguard.
First released in 1981, Vanguard was another game of “firsts” for the fledgling SNK. It was not, as some sources claim, SNK’s first colour game — Sasuke vs. Commander predates it by a year — but it was their first to incorporate something that would become a mainstay of their later titles, including Bermuda Triangle and World Wars: multi-directional shooting, independent of movement direction.
It also featured some delightful synthesised speech and gratuitously, shamelessly stolen music. And it’s a lot of fun to boot. Let’s take a closer look.
Continue reading SNK Essentials: Vanguard
Ozma Wars isn’t the only very early SNK title to feature in the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection — we also have an unusual fixed shooter from a year later: Sasuke vs. Commander.
Like Ozma Wars before it, Sasuke vs. Commander is another game of possible “firsts” in gaming — and also a game that doesn’t get much acknowledgement today, thanks to a lack of home ports until it got a PlayStation minis release for PS3, PSP and Vita in 2011.
SASUKE READ ON FOR LEARN MORE. YES SHOGUN.
Continue reading SNK Essentials: Sasuke vs. Commander
Well now. Here’s one that doesn’t get talked about all that much: one of SNK’s earliest games, and a title believed to be the second ever fixed shoot ’em up, after Taito’s genre-defining classic Space Invaders.
In fact, Ozma Wars, developed by Logitec (no, not that one) and published by SNK in 1979, ran on the same Taito 8080 hardware that powered Space Invaders, was available as a conversion kit for Space Invaders machines, and even made use of the same coloured overlay on its black and white display to bring a bit of vibrancy to the visuals.
What’s more, it provides a thoroughly interesting early shoot ’em up experience that is markedly distinct from Taito’s title. Let’s take a closer look.
Continue reading SNK Essentials: Ozma Wars
The loose “trilogy” of vertically scrolling shoot ’em ups from SNK’s early days that began with Alpha Mission and Bermuda Triangle finally concludes with 1987’s World Wars.
Sometimes erroneously described as a reskin of Bermuda Triangle, World Wars offers an interesting blend between the gameplay elements of its two predecessors, and manages to carve out an identity for itself as an enjoyable, addictive shoot ’em up in its own right in the process.
Alpha mission start! Launch all ZIG!
Continue reading SNK Essentials: World Wars
A couple of years after Alpha Mission, SNK put out a follow-up of sorts — if not a direct sequel. (That would show up in the Neo Geo era!)
That game was Bermuda Triangle, and much like Alpha Mission before it, it’s a very creative and unusual take on a genre that, even as early as 1987, was heavily saturated with very similar titles of varying quality.
In order to stand out in such a situation, you need to do something distinctive — even unique. And, well, there are definitely a number of features in Bermuda Triangle that I haven’t seen attempted since!
Continue reading SNK Essentials: Bermuda Triangle
SNK is primarily known for its fighting games these days, but in its earlier years it was known for a number of solid (and influential) shoot ’em ups.
While Alpha Mission (also known as ASO: Armored Scrum Object in Japan) isn’t the company’s first shoot ’em up by any means, it is an important one and forms the first in a loose “trilogy” of titles that we’ll explore over the course of the next few articles.
Drawing inspiration from Western RPGs, of all things, this is a fun but challenging vertically scrolling shoot ’em up that any fan of the genre owes it to themselves to become intimately acquainted with.
Continue reading SNK Essentials: Alpha Mission
As the years advance and old gaming hardware and media gets more expensive, harder to find and even more difficult to maintain, the matter of gaming preservation is of increasing importance.
I’ve previously talked about how emulation and ROM archives have an important role to play in all this — in spite of interference from certain quarters — but of arguably greater importance are companies’ own efforts to preserve their respective histories and portfolios.
I picked up the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection for Nintendo Switch recently, and I’ll be covering the individual games in it over the next indefinite period of time in an “SNK Essentials” column (and perhaps some videos) — but today, I wanted to talk about this package as a whole, what it gets right, and what I wish it had done slightly better.
Continue reading SNK 40th Anniversary Collection: (Almost) Perfect Preservation