Art of Fighting
Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy
The King of Fighters '94
Of note are three specific revisions of games contained here:
World Heroes is the later revision of the game that nerfs light attacks, with the original version showcased here.
Shock Troopers is Version 1 which has only one life for the whole team in Team Mode among other changes documented here.
Neo Turf Masters retains its original Western name- the Arcade Archives version would patch this out because of the real-life Masters golf tournament.
So, is this a good sample of the Max 330 Mega? Well, it's certainly an interesting smorgasbord of games, with some truly excellent titles (Metal Slug, Shock Troopers, Neo Turf Masters), some 'Marmite' games (King of the Monsters, Magician Lord, Art of Fighting), some relative obscurities worth a look (Top Hunter, Last Resort) and only two games I think you could genuinely describe as terrible (Burning Fight and Sengoku- yes, that means I'm going to bat for World Heroes, come at me). Importantly, there's plenty of games here that show the system wasn't just wall-to-wall fighters, with some of its best sports and action titles represented, so it gives you a nice glimpse into what you could get on the hardware. That said, a lot of these games come from early on in the Neo Geo's life and don't really show the power of the beast, and it's especially unfortunate that the fighting games that are here are first entries- the Vol. 1 of the title suggests they may have wanted to do more and would've included those sequels, but sadly a lot of these series didn't really come into their own until at least the first sequel. I can understand not including multiple franchise entries so as not to clog the set with fighters, but it's still not ideal. There's also some pretty obvious omissions- NAM-1975, Twinkle Star Sprites and League Bowling surely would've fit into this compilation's remit- so this selection isn't as good as it could be, but it has a decent good-to-bad game ratio and serves as somewhat of an introduction to the Neo Geo for SNK virgins. Although showing them Burning Fight right off the bat seems really mean.
As for the emulation of these games, this is another collection by Terminal Reality who put together the shockingly-bad Metal Slug Anthology, but fortunately this is definitely an improvement with minimal loading times and none mid-game, just minor emulation issues (mostly sound-wise and some wavy sprites / backgrounds) and an interface that actually looks pretty swish- it's based on the big red Neo Geo cabinets, and certainly fits the collection better than some layouts I've seen (Midway Arcade Treasures 3, stand up at the back). It also has a checkpoint system that's surprisingly an emulation of the original Neo Geo memory card system, albeit very stramlined- get a Game Over and you can continue, in most games, from the last stage you died on. That's a feature most modern Neo Geo rereleases don't even attempt to emulate, so I definitely appreciate its inclusion here. Generally, I file the emulation here under 'accpetable'- not oustanding but the games still play mostly fine, something that can't be said for all rereleases (hi there, DotEmu!).
One big part of this collection is the Medal system, with each game having a set of achievements like beating the game on certain difficulties or achieving goals like rushing the mound in Baseball Stars 2 and beating the first mission of Metal Slug without using any guns. Earning Medals gives you unlockable content ranging from full soundtracks, tip videos for a tiny selection of games and artwork (some of which is plastered on this page, just so you can get an eyeful of it). It's a neat little way of getting players to engage with these games although some of them are extremely difficult to get and you have to get at least 10 of them to play World Heroes, but if you're the completionist type, these are quite fun to try and unlock. Not that you have to play fair- there's a couple of exploits you can take advantage of to get some of them- but you can do it by the book if you really want to.
And now we get to moan a little. Do bear with us.
The first major problem is that you can't really customise the in-game options- you can only select from four preset difficulties for each game (except Baseball Stars 2) which are Easy, Normal, Hard and (groan) Insane, and these only usually affect the overall difficulty, the number of lives you have, and whether you're allowed to continue or not. Naturally, some of these settings are really silly- Metal Slug has 5 lives on Normal when we all know it should be 3, Burning Fight gives you 99 (?!) lives but no continues on Insane, stuff like that. This is a real shame- the MVS service modes for these games usually have quite a lot of options to tinker with and you're just given no freedom to alter the games to your liking, because it's not just difficulty settings- Shock Troopers, for example, has blood switched on but this effects how many points you can get out of certain enemies by killing them early. It feels like these presets were implemented to ensure you couldn't cheat your way to earning the Medals, but a custom option to let you play the game how you want without affecting Medal achievements seems like it would've been the best option. I'm definitely a stickler for this kind of thing as a lot of collections, especially from this era, are really bad at just letting you set your own options for whatever reason (an example of it being done right is, of course, the Namco Musuem series on PS1.
As for emulation options, this is another part where the set falters as there aren't really any. No filters, no screen size adjustment, nothing like that, you get what you're given. This is a problem with the Wii version if you happen to play in 16:9 mode as it will stretch the games to fit the screen and good heavens, no, play how you want but at least give us the option to adjust it or add borders or something! At the very least the control options are a big improvement from Metal Slug Anthology with support for the Classic Controller and no forced waggle controls of any kind when playing on the Wii Remote. The games will automatically replace certain button prompts with whatever you've set as that button, which comes off as a little awkward and sloppily-done, though. Again, it's acceptable emulation but certainly not outstanding. Finally, it's probably worth mentioning the versions of the games used- these are all the English MVS (arcade) versions set to Free Play, which means some games are slightly different from the AES (home) versions (Magician Lord has a different respawn system). Generally the MVS ones are the ones SNK uses for rereleases (the PS2 collections and Neo Geo Station on PS3 / PSP did go for the AES versions though) probably for the convenience of Free Play so it's not too unusual. There's also no regional differences like you'd see in the AES versions, so that means blood in Metal Slug and Mai's overly-springy sweater puppies in KOF '94. However, not everything has made it in-tact- Japanese dialogue from Shock Troopers and Ryo's cutscenes in Art of Fighting have been taken out, something consistent with the localised version of Art of Fighting Anthology on PS2, for reasons mysterious and unknown.
There's also a distinct lack of instructions. The wafer-thin instruction manual you get with the collection isn't going to help you here, as while each game gets a fairly sizable story description (the one for Magician Lord is bloody huge!) there's nothing on how to actually play the games beyond the controls and a very brief look at what's displayed on-screen. On the one hand, arcade games are generally the kind of thing where you work things out by yourself, but this is made worse by the fact that Neo Geo games in particular often had very helpful (if sometimes poorly-translated) 'How to Play' demos after you press Start. These have all been switched off in this collection and there's no way to turn them back on, meaning at no point in the experience are you told how to pin your enemy in King of the Monsters. Whoof. I used to think it was a bit silly how old video game books would actually review the instruction manuals (Jeff Rovin's How to Beat Nintendo Games books spring to mind) but maybe they were on to something! I'm not asking for a full guide, but a brief description of the game and a few more helpful hints would've been nice, especially considering how notoriously difficult SNK games can be. Worse still, you have to unlock the move lists, which in a collection of SNK games, should not happen- their fighting games have steep learning curves as it is, and the fact that you have to do stuff like beat Sengoku to see the move lists is extremely off-putting. Yes, you can just as well look up the moves online, but this is a problem with retro rereleases as a whole (even in the decade since this release it's still a problem even with sets like SNK 40th Anniversary Collection) that don't explain, you know, how to play the games which can make it frustrating if you're playing them for the first time.
Generally, this is a pretty OK set especially for its time, and one that will do if you'd like to start looking into Neo Geo games but don't want to buy individual rereleases, and just want a sampler set. It feels a little low-budget in terms of options and customisation but there really are some cracking games here, and the extras are very welcome if you can unlock them. While there are certainly some omissions from the roster and plenty of areas to criticise, the roster is a pretty solid list and while your mileage may vary in some cases (Fatal Fury and World Heroes come to mind) this is a decent introduction to SNK's early work on the system, albeit an incomplete one. It helps that there's some excellent games on here- Metal Slug, Shock Troopers, Baseball Stars 2, Neo Turf Masters and Top Hunter are the big ones for me- and so this might be worth a try with the caveats we've looked at today. The main issue, of course, is the unrelenting march of time. In the intervening... Ten years? Ten years?!... The state of Neo Geo preservation has improved dramatically, and you have significantly better legal emulation options, especially when it comes to game settings. In particular, Hamster's Arcade Archives Neo Geo series consists of individual rereleases rather than all together, but for the going price of this set now, you can grab four or five of the games you really want, and they cover as much as is legally possible from the system's library including the titles missing from here plus have almost all the dip switch settings you'd ever need. I suppose this is something that'll happen to all retro collections of these particular console generations eventually, but still, sometimes it's nice to go back and see what we had and how far we've come, no?
For its valiant attempt at teaching us the history of Max 330 Mega, SNK Arcade Classics is awarded...
In a sentence, SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is...
A pretty good collection of SNK classics, but where's The Super Spy, guv?
But hey, folks, that's not all. The handy SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 is here, telling you how to unlock all the Medals! Whee!
If you're not strong enough, this collection's already chiselled your gravestone! Back to the index for you.