SNK is at it again. Making good on the promise to blanket 2012 with classic arcade ports, the Japanese video game player has released four more hits from the 1980s. This comes hot on the heels of SNK's first batch of PSP Minis, which included Vanguard, Athena, Ikari Warriors, Guerrilla War and more (see our full review of these games in Defunct Games vs. SNK Minis). How does this second batch stack up? Are there any must-buy titles? All these questions and more will be answered when we dig deeper into SNK's back catalog.
Before we jump into the games, I do have a few thoughts about the quality of these eight releases. Although each game has the same basic interface, I was vexed by the always-changing button layouts. Sometimes the shoulder buttons add coins, while in other games it's the triangle button. There are also a few emulation issues, though they were few and far between. The interface is nice, but next time around I would like to see more custom options, especially when it comes to setting up the face buttons. Each game retails for $2.99, so keep that in mind as you read through these four SNK reviews.
The original Vanguard is a genuine masterpiece. When I reviewed this 1981 shooter in the last batch of SNK Minis, I was blown away by the innovative game mechanics. While most games make you choose between overhead and side-scrolling perspectives, Vanguard let you have both. This early shoot-em-up actually switched between perspectives on the fly, something you don't see a lot of in the genre. And because nobody bothered to copy this innovative gimmick, that thirty year old arcade game still feels fresh. It's not up for debate, Vanguard is an amazing shooter.
Unfortunately, Vanguard II is not the awesome follow-up genre fans deserved. Instead of building on what made the first game so memorable (four-way firing, switching from side-scrolling to overhead on the fly, etc.), SNK decided to build an entirely different game from the ground up. This time around you fly around a large open overhead world looking for bad guys to shoot down and bosses to tangle with. While the idea of searching a large world is perfectly sound, there's nothing interesting about any of the stages in Vanguard II.
Beyond the boring stages, I found myself constantly fighting the game's tricky control scheme. The original game worked so well because of the elegant gameplay, but the same can't be said about this sequel. Here's a perfect example of a company fixing what wasn't broken. With the possible exception of later Samurai Shodown sequels, Vanguard II is SNK's most disappointing arcade sequel. You're better off sticking with the 1981 original.
[ Release: 1985 - Company: SNK - Genre: War Shooter ]
Forget Ikari Warriors of Guerilla War, T.N.K. III is the overhead shooter SNK should be remembered for. While every other SNK game was ported to the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, T.N.K. III was left to sit in virtual obscurity. Thanks to Sony's PSP Minis initiative, T.N.K. III is given a second chance. American gamers finally have the opportunity to see one of SNK's very best 1980s arcade releases.
T.N.K. III isn't too far removed from the classic Ikari Warriors gameplay. You play a tank making its way through a narrow warzone. You'll see a lot of familiar terrain here, including forests, cities, villages, beaches and so on. The idea is to shoot everybody in your way and make it to the finish line. Thankfully you have three weapons to aide you in this mission. Your primary weapon is a machine gun, which shoots in the direction your tank is pointed. Next up is a bomb, which always gets shot north (no matter what way you're facing). The final attack is by far the most satisfying. When regular bullets and bombs don't do the trick, use your tank to run over any soldier that gets in your way.
In the wrong hands all this could have gone horribly wrong, yet somehow T.N.K. III works flawlessly. The game has a fair health bar, which means that players can make good progress no matter what skill level they are. Best of all, you won't have to use the shoulder buttons to aim your weapons. This forgotten gem is a perfect fit on both the PlayStation 3 and PSP. Don't let the stupid name fool you, T.N.K. III is one of the best SNK Minis currently available on the PSN store.
Best known for its Neo Geo sequel, Alpha Mission was a mid-1980s space shooter that is indistinguishable from Xevious. You pilot the fighters ship SYD, going head-to-head against a deadly fleet of the Seven Stars Alliance. But don't get too excited, because Alpha Mission largely follows the same generic tropes you've come to expect from all 1980s space shooters. You pick up items to upgrade your weapon, speed up your craft and whatnot, all while dodging incoming bullets. You've played this game before ... even if you haven't played this game before.
Much like Namco's Xevious, Alpha Mission forces players to worry about both what's in the sky and what's on the ground. One button is linked to a regular stream of bullets (good for taking out flying ships), while the other button fires missiles down towards the surface. That not very original gameplay mechanic fits in perfectly with the rest of Alpha Mission. The level designs are standard fare and the boss battles are nothing to write home about. There's nothing outright offensive about this SNK shooter, though you can certainly do a lot better.
It's impossible to overstate how much Street Fighter II influenced SNK's 1990s arcade hits. From Fatal Fury to World Heroes, it's hard to imagine a world with these franchises without the release of Capcom's seminal fighting game. Before Ryu and Ken challenged M. Bison, SNK couldn't make a compelling one-on-one fighting game to save their life. One doesn't need to look much further than 1989's Street Smart to see how clueless the arcade giant was when it came to the up and coming fighting game genre.
Street Smart takes a lot of cues from another Capcom hit, Final Fight. However, instead of being a side-scrolling brawler, players are forced to fight one bad guy at a time while onlookers cheer on the violence. A lot of the tenets of the fighting genre are represented in Street Smart. You go around the U.S. fighting unique challengers (each with their own unique fighting style) and there's even a button for punches and kicks. Unfortunately the limited move set and poor controls brings this unique fighter to its knees.
The game doesn't even pretend to give players a fair fight. You can forget about winning two rounds or even knowing how much damage you're inflicting on the enemy. The idea is to keep attacking until the bad guy blinks red and stumbles over. Getting knocked out is never a big deal, since you can continue the game in mid-fight. And since you can't bring in a second player (a limitation of PSP Minis), the easy single-player story mode is the only thing to do. You can thank Street Fighter II for stopping the Street Smart franchise dead in its tracks.