Like so many things connected with the PSP, Sony's PSP Minis initiative has been met with mixed results. There are certainly a lot of amazing (and dirt cheap) games available, but everybody involved has had a hard time generating any excitement. Perhaps that will change thanks to the recent release of eight classic SNK arcade games. This pack of games span nearly a decade; offering some of SNK's best known games (Ikari Warriors, Athena), as well as a few that have never been released in the United States (Sasuke vs. Commander).
With so many games to choose from it's tough to even know where to start. That's where Defunct Games comes in. Before you decide to buy only the games you know, I suggest you spend a few minutes reading the next two pages worth of SNK Minis reviews. A few of these games stand out from the crowd, and I guarantee they won't be the titles you expect. Below you will find all eight reviews in chronological order, from 1979 to 1987.
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 eight SNK reviews.
We begin our journey with Ozma Wars, a game so old that SNK was still known as "Shin Nihon Kikaku" when it came out. This rare 2D shooter is making its first console appearance thanks to this SNK batch of PSP Minis. This is a wave-based vertical shooter not unlike Space Invaders, only this time around players have a life bar and boss battles. The presentation is as simple as you would expect, offering players slow-moving black and white graphics and minimal sounds. But even with the limited resources, Ozma Wars has a number of unique alien crafts to shoot down, as well as a little cinema involving a ship docking.
Unfortunately this Minis port suffers from a few technical problems that bog down the action. Even with only three or four enemies on screen at once, characters have a tendency to literally disappear and reappear without warning. This isn't a big deal when the baddies are at the top of the vertical screen, but it can be real frustrating when your spaceship accidentally crashes into an invisible enemy. And while there may be dozens (or hundreds) of phases to shoot through, I will never know. The game makes you start over from the beginning every time you push start. The end result is interesting enough to check out once or twice, but probably won't be something you come back to on a regular basis.
Never heard of Sasuke vs. Commander? Don't worry, you're not alone. This ultra-rare shooter somehow missed a stateside release, making this the first time it's found its way to an American home console. But don't hold that against it, because Sasuke vs. Commander is secretly the best game of the bunch. It's basically a re-skinned version of Centipede (which also came out in 1980), only SNK wisely swapped out bugs for kickass ninjas! You run around at the bottom of the screen dodging ninja stars and shooting down ninjas. The object is to land a hit while they're leaping from one ledge to another, which sends them plummeting towards the ground. But don't get too cocky, because that falling ninja can really ruin your day.
Even though I fully endorse this hidden gem, understand that this is a 31 year old action game. None of the characters are detailed and the animation doesn't move as fluidly as one might hope. Also, the ninja stars can sometimes get lost in the busy background. The action moves fast, which I wasn't expecting at first. It takes a few tries before you get the hang of it, but once you've mastered Sasuke's movements it's easy to rack up high scores. Even with its imperfections, Sasuke vs. Commander ends up being an incredibly addictive 2D shooter.
Vanguard doesn't get the amount of respect it deserves. This thirty year old shoot-em-up does a lot of enormously influential things for the very first time, yet it's rarely referenced. Not only is this a competent horizontal shooter, but it's also a great vertical shooter. That's right, Vanguard manages to fit both types of shooters into one game, all while introducing the world to the concept of dual-stick shooter. It's a dizzying amount of new ideas, many of which are still trendy all these years later. But even if you take out all of these firsts, Vanguard is still a damn fun action game that holds up better than you think.
Like all shooters, you fly a ship through a series of corridors shooting down whatever gets in your way. There aren't any weapon power-ups to speak of, but you do have a spaceship that can fire in four directions (up, down, left and right). This unique control scheme makes switching from horizontal to vertical (and sometimes even diagonal) seamless. Everything goes down in one hit and it's easy to dodge most of the bullets, even in the later (read: faster) stages. Unfortunately the game can be a little too easy at times, but not to the point where it takes away from the enjoyment of this influential shooter. Vanguard is definitely worth the three dollars.