SNK Playmore has been releasing a number of pre-NEOGEO Arcade classics as PSP Minis that are playable on the PSP and PS3 systems over the last couple of years. The selection has ranged from popular classics to lesser known games. The two newest additions – the side-scrolling brawler Gang Wars and the top down shooter Time Soldiers – definitely fall into the latter category. Let’s take a quick look and then I go hands-on so you can get a feel for how they play on my PSP Go!
The SNK minis titles are a commemorative “retro-arcade emulation” project that allows players to enjoy a grand collection of action, shooting, platform, and action/puzzle titles. Many of these nostalgic, highly innovative arcade classics released during SNK’s Golden Age of action-shooting, etc. during the 80′s, are now exclusively available on PSP® (PlayStation®Portable) and compatible on the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system as well for even greater enjoyment!
Before getting to the individual games, I wanted to talk about some common themes across both. First off, for such small games, the load-times are fairly long. For a smartphone game it would be unacceptable, but it is rather typical of a PSP game. I include some of it in my video.
The other issues relate to the original games. First off, since arcades were not wide-screen neither are these versions. What this means is that you are playing a game that takes up less than half of the PSP screen, making it feel even smaller and more cramped than necessary. Also, while both of these games offer two-player modes because they are direct ports, there is no way to actually play with someone else.
Quick – name an arcade side-scrolling beat-em-up game! Did you say ‘Gang Wars’? Probably not! This game came after the huge success of games such as Double Dragon and later Golden Axe and Final Fight, and was one of many games that filled arcades seeking to grab quarters from those unable to get on the machines to play the more popular games. Gang Wars features ’3D’ gameplay unlike my old Apple ][ favorite Karateka, which means that you can move a limited amount front and back as well as side-to-side. The game world scrolls with you so there is no going back.
The premise is as simple as 'a girl has been taken somewhere unknown' ... so you head out to get her, meeting tons of thugs along the way. There is very rudimentary voice acting in the cutscenes, but otherwise you spend all of your time dealing with increasingly tough bad guys. You do get to choose your character type similar to Golden Axe, but I spent so much of my time just mashing buttons that I didn't notice the difference - but I was never typically skilled at these games.
Overall I found Gang Wars rather repetitive and not something I am likely to play very often - but the core game is fun and well executed. If you have a PSP and are a fan of side-scrolling games, Gang Wars is only a few dollars, and you get the solid tactile feel of the buttons combined with a solid game.
Time Warriors immediately reminded me of the classic Commando arcade game I pumped quarters into in the early 80s, but also the SNK classic Ikari Warriors games already released for the PSP as Minis. It is a top-down game where you are forever marching upwards with the world also slowing moving up, and enemies coming from the top.
You use the directional buttons to move around and the shoulder buttons to change the direction of shooting - or you can make it easier and simply enable auto-aim in the settings. Doing this might seem like a 'cheap' move, but after playing for a short while and dying every 15 seconds and having to 'Continue' every few minutes ... you will get over it.
The big distinction between Time Soldiers and Ikari Warriors is that now you can jump through time portals! You get to batte cavemen and dinosaurs, battle against infantry in more modern settings, Roman soldiers in ancient times, and so on. There are also loads of power-ups that make you a killing machine and alter your appearance in menacing but also amusing ways.
But you seldom get time to appreciate the scenery or your cool new powered-up looks, because the brutal difficulty will have you muting the game to avoid hearing the death screams every five seconds. This game must have been an insane quarter-muncher back in 1987 when it came out - but I would have avoided it because I had a basic rule that if I couldn't get a couple of minutes of fun for my quarter I wouldn't play. And while you get unlimited 'Continues' now, it is still a hard game to recommend - Ikari Warriors is more reasonably challenging and I found it more fun. But if you are done with that and looking for an even steeper challenge ... Time Soldiers awaits!
As you might have guessed, these were not the most impressive SNK ports I have played. I was hopeful that these would be lost gems that I had simply never heard about since they came after my arcade days, but instead they are a pair of me-too games that follow others in their respective genres but never break much new ground. Nonetheless both games are fun, so if you have been enjoying the SNK PSP Minis releases to date, you will definitely want to at least check these two out to see if you are interested.
Here is my hands-on video:
Review: SNK Arcade Classics Gang Wars and Time Soldiers
Where to Buy: Playstation Store
Price: $2.99 each
What I Like: Solid ports; gives your aging PSP something to do; bargain pricing
What Needs Improvement: Nothing new compared to other genre games; no two-player modes; too little screen usage.
Source: Publisher provided review sample