Nowadays it's hard to think of SNK for anything other than the Neo Geo. But there was once a time before they were pumping out gloriously animated 2D fighting games and run-n-guns. And the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection has been a lovely reminder of that time. The amount of love put into compiling this collection is staggering, and I hope it sets a new high water mark for other publishers to bring out their old games.
The love that I speak of comes in many shapes here. There are plenty of options on how you want to play the included games. You can stretch the screen or not. You can play with scanlines. You can choose between different regions or arcade and console versions where applicable. Beyond the usual save states you've also got the ability to easily rewind or fast-forward a game. Heck, there's even a mode that will play a game for you so you can see how it's played.
But beyond all that is the extras. Y'know when you buy an overly expensive 3-disc version of a movie on Blu-Ray just to get all the extra stuff? It's like that. There's a timeline/gallery of all of SNK's output prior to Neo Geo - which makes me wonder if we'll get all of these games eventually. There have been more games added as free DLC post-launch, so it could happen. I say totally unironically that I want Fighting Golf! Beyond that the collection is loaded with scans of magazine ads, strategy guides, promo artwork, arcade manuals and so on. And then there's a full audio collection of each game's soundtrack, which is something we're starting to see more and more of with the likes of Smash Bros Ultimate, and is appreciated.
Crystalis seems like the true standout in this collection, though. Certainly there are other games I remember from the NES era. I hate to say that I spent so much time playing Athena back then, but when you're young and have no money of your own, you play what you have. Crystalis was a game I was totally aware of when it was released on NES. A friend of mine had it and it looked awesome. But I never got to play it back then. Eventually I picked up the GBC port about a decade ago and gave up on it fairly quickly. It turns out the GBC version is much maligned for its zoomed in aspect ratio, so it's not just me.
So here I am playing Crystalis almost thirty years later. Does it actually live up to the expectations I've created in my head? Well, yeah. It turns out that Crystalis is fairly awesome. While it's easy to superficially dismiss this game as a Zelda clone, that's not quite fair. Considering its release late in the NES lifetime, it has a lot more in common with something like Link's Awakening, which often feels like a 16-bit RPG that's been magically programmed for 8-bit hardware. There's some truly impressive technical feats here - namely in the boss battles, or later on when you finally get the Flight spell.
Combat works well enough. You've got eight directions of attack, though I often found it more comfortable to just stick with the cardinal four. There are four main swords to find throughout the quest and each has two levels of power-ups to find. You'll be switching between these elemental swords often depending on enemy types as some are immune to each element. This can be slightly annoying but not rage-inducing. The same can be said about the grinding in this game. Surely it's important but it's not overbearing. The level cap is a mere 16 which can be hit easily enough. In fact, I eventually found a cave that I was able to continue through and level up from 14 to 16 in a pretty fast clip.
The setting really connects with me. Although it's mostly a sort of traditional Zelda-ish fantasy world, it actually takes place in a more technologically advanced world. In fact the story revolves around computers and AI and stuff like that. I don't really know, because I didn't pay close attention haha. But there's definitely computers and technology and in that sense, I'm reminded a bit of Phantasy Star with its mix of sci-fi and fantasy - which is good.
My only real complaint probably isn't even fair as it's one of the era: there's a lot of cryptic stuff that isn't properly explained to the player. There are key items you'll need to have obtained to beat the game (or even do certain battles) that can EASILY be missed. This means that if you're not using a walkthrough, you should expect a lot of blind backtracking. Also the last boss feels laughably easy compared to the one right before it. But whatever. Crystalis is an awesome game and everyone should check it out.