Athena is a difficult game. It is probably best known for introducing a goddess who would eventually be the inspiration for SNK’s Athena Asamiya, her descendant and counterpart. But, it also did a lot of cool things! It was an action game with an armor collection system, and the arcade version even had RPG elements to it! There were branching paths. While it might be difficult to return to such a title on the NES, the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection makes the prospect a little more appealing and comfortable.
The arcade version of Athena present in SNK 40th Anniversary Collection is really nice to have! Especially if you were only exposed to the console release. This adaptation has detailed sprites, four difficult levels, lets you have three or five lives, and allows you to adjust the controls. It can be very difficult and throw a lot of enemies out there, but also is very clear about your current strength, power, and life. It also shows off the opportunity to explore different paths a little more clearly, which can send Athena to different worlds on her trek to Defeat Emperor Dante in Fantasy World and return to the Kingdom of Victory. You can see items for her to collect and use. There are definite shortcomings. There are so many enemies who are always spawning even on the easiest difficulty level. But having it here allows someone to appreciate the chances SNK was taking.
As for the console version of Athena, well, it is nice to have it here for the sake of offering a different look at the game! You can choose between the Japanese and US versions of the game, which are pretty much identical. If you managed to make it to the small mushroom in World of Forest, the first level, and hold down on it, you can get armor and equipment that might help you survive against the near endless waves of enemies this version of the game throws at you? (Said mushroom is shown in the screenshot above.) That is, if you don’t inadvertently grab one of the weapons dropped by said hordes, getting rid of the very good one you acquired. It is not the best version of the game and sometimes, if you die in odd positions or places, the screen might go black for a second when it removes one of Athena’s pieces of armor and make you think it has frozen.
These are two games that very much benefit from some of Digital Eclipse’s special features. There is a rewind function here, which allows you to backtrack and perhaps avoid a pitfall. Even in early levels, you might face archers suddenly appearing in trees or a pegasus archer who flies in to land a cheap attack, and rewinding can help you prepare for that. You can also save at any point, offering a backup. Both are great as you find your footing and attempt to maybe, perhaps, possibly, somehow beat either version of Athena.
Digital Eclipse also did its usual due diligence with SNK 40th Anniversary Collection’s Athena explorations. The game has a substantial installment in the SNK Complete Works 1978-1990 section, going over tidbits that came up during the development process and showing off screenshots from the arcade version of the game. For example, her fire sword caused a lot of problems due to its size and the flames that would take up memory. Its Arcade Guide Book also appears, though that is not translated. Its 17-song soundtrack is even there.
One thing I would have liked to have seen was some information going over the differences between the arcade and console versions of Athena. (The former was made by SNK, while the later was handled by Micronics.) As someone will note when going through the two versions, there are substantial differences. Compromises needed to be made to get the game running on the NES, changing the appearances of characters and environments, cutting into animations, and sometimes seeming like it is trying to replicate the feel of the original game. A segment in the Museum section going over how it transitioned from an arcade game to a console adaptation would have been appreciated.
Athena is a game that tried to do interesting things. It gets bogged down by often unreasonable difficulty, but having the save options and rewind feature makes it easier to appreciate what is here and actually survive in the game. It is also interesting to see how different the arcade and console versions are, and going between the two allows players to see what sorts of sacrifices had to be made when such an adaptation appeared. Plus, it gives us a first look at an early Athena.
SNK 40th Anniversary Collection will release on Nintendo Switch in North America on November 13, 2018 and in Europe on November 16, 2018. All 11 DLC games will be available on December 11, 2018.