Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SNK: The Video Game Industry's Pheonix

Ikari Warriors, Baseball Stars, Alpha Mission, Guerrilla War...I could go on for a while listing the Classics published by Shin Nihon Kikaku Corporation. SNK, as they became known, developed some of the greatest games to come along after the crash of 1983, and their proprietary arcade technology, The Neo Geo Multi Video System, became the stuff of video game legend and video game collectors' dreams. Long before the Neo Geo, though, SNK broke into the video game business with a game called Micon Block, but they achieved their first major success with Vanguard. Vanguard was groundbreaking for two major things; it was the first scrolling shoot em up in video game history, and it allowed players to fire in four directions while moving. SNK followed the Success of Vanguard with the opening of their North American offices, and then with a string of highly popular coin op titles like Athena, Alpha Mission, Psycho Soldier, and Ikari Warriors. The last of those, Ikari Warriors was so popular that it was ported to several systems. Ikari Warriors also spawned two sequels in Victory Road and Ikari III: The Rescue. For the rest of the 1980s, SNK was one of the industry's best arcade and home console game publishers, and all the while they were preparing to unleash something that nobody saw coming. In 1990, SNK released its all new 24-bit arcade system, the Neo Geo Multi Video System, or MVS. The Neo Geo was an arcade operator's dream, since the cabinets used cartridges and were sold in 1, 2, 4, and 6 cartridge slot varieties, it cost a fraction of the initial cost to replace games. There was also an incentive for gamers to play since the Neo Geo arcade cabinets had memory card slots that players can use to transfer scores and save data from the arcade games to their home Neo Geo consoles. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that SNK released the first chip for chip arcade perfect home console in the form of the Advanced Entertainment System or AES. Gamers were generally excited about the AES, but there was a big factor that kept many from buying one, namely the price tag. The Neo Geo came in two flavors, with the base model costing $499 while the high end package costing $649.99. Suffice it to say, many gamers never got to play a Neo Geo AES. Which is sad, considering how excellent the library of game was for the system. SNK had bonafide classics on the Neo Geo, including Baseball Stars 2, Super Sidekicks 3, Viewpoint, and Fatal Fury among many others. SNK started to experience a financial meltdown towards the end of the 90s, and folded in 2001. All was not lost however, and the original founder of SNK, Eikichi Kawasaki started Playmore, then that company acquired SNK's assets. From there, Playmore sought out and successfully rehired most of SNK's old staff, and SNK Playmore was born. Over the past few years, SNK Playmore has been gradually reviving a number of old Neo Geo franchises like Metal Slug and King Of Fighters, while bringing back old favorites through a number of compilations. Playmore has struggled to keep pace with mega publishers like EA and Take Two, but SNK Playmore has garnered quite a cult following among retro gamers and they aren't going away any time soon.

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