Next to Nintendo's Playchoice-10, the Neo-Geo was the most successful arcade jukebox in gaming history. Designed with the most advanced technology the late 1980s had to offer, SNK's supercharged system had an unprecedented fourteen year lifespan, outlasting not only its 16-bit contemporaries but later consoles like the Nintendo 64, the Saturn, and even the Dreamcast.
|Wait, isn't a hot dog just a dressed|
The timelessness of the Neo-Geo's best games (and the obscene price of the system...) meant that a classic collection on modern hardware was inevitable. This brings us to SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1 for the PSP. The thought of shrinking all these great games down to a convenient travel size is a tempting one, but there are just two problems. The first is that the interface in SNK Arcade Classics is bloated, ugly, and dog-slow. Most of the content- even one of the games!- has to be unlocked with tedious achievements, and the software is walled off by layers of menus and access time. I've had more luck playing the games on MVSPSP, a homebrew emulator for the PSP, and would suggest going that route if you've hacked your system.
Two, not everything on the Neo-Geo was great, which you'll discover when you read these reviews. The quality of the system's library is higher than that of the Super NES or Genesis, because arcade games are held to higher standards, but there's still a lot of detritus on the Neo-Geo- and in this collection specifically- that doesn't stand the test of time. Hell, a lot of these games weren't even that great when they were first released! This list will help you get the most out of SNK's collection by separating the cream from the crap.
ART OF FIGHTING
|His game sucks, but Ryo throws|
one hell of a kegger.
Look, I'll give it to you straight. For all its visual luster, The Art of Fighting sucks as a game, and sucks hard. You're given a whopping selection of two characters, Ryo Sakazaki and his much too similar friend Robert Garcia. There's only one punch and kick, with a third button assigned to ambiguous "heavy attacks" and a fourth used for taunts. Damage is weirdly arbitrary, with some attacks shaving a couple of pixels from your health bar and others draining a third of it. Combos are all but impossible, aside from rapid-fire strikes like Ryo's Zanretsuken where the computer does all the work for you. The whole affair is clumsy, unsatisfying, and hugely frustrating, the perfect example of SNK's irksome habit of putting style above substance in its early fighting games.
BASEBALL STARS 2
|I'm pretty sure I sent Pikachu into orbit|
with one of those bats...
Baseball Stars 2 swaps the hands-on approach to the sport for a high-energy presentation that makes real baseball look like the World Boggle Championships. Athletes with impossibly thick arms step up to the plate, shown chewing tobacco in a cutaway shot as they wait for the pitch. Players lean against their bats for support when beaned with a pitch, and snap them in half after striking out. You might be tempted to break a few things yourself after a couple of innings, because Baseball Stars 2 is viciously hard. The computer opponent catches pop flies and tags out your players with ruthless efficiency, something to keep in mind if you've got a short temper or high blood pressure.
|"Oh, my car! Er, my piano!"|
One wonders why this collection didn't feature ADK's Ninja Combat instead. It's not, you know, good, but at least it's fairly original and runs at a faster clip than your usual Final Fight clone. Brightly colored shinobi Joe and Hayabusa choke the screen with throwing stars and recruit defeated mini-bosses in some of the most hilariously overacted cut scenes this side of a TurboDuo. "My name is KAGEROW! I was testing your POWAHH!" There's more amusement in those two lines than in all 54 megs of Burning Fight.
|This old guy shouldn't be too tough to... uh oh.|
Fatal Fury brings some refreshing twists to one on one fighters... believe me, this isn't the carbon copy of Street Fighter II that World Heroes was. Unfortunately, the years have not been kind to this game. The technique is appallingly limited, switching between the foreground and background seems to happen at random, and like The Art of Fighting, the game often makes its story a higher priority than the action, resulting in overly frequent cut scenes and weirdly stilted battles. (Knock the pole from Billy Kane's hand and you won't be able to hit him again until a goon tosses him another one. Okay, that's fair!) Fatal Fury is a fine way to familiarize yourself with fighting games, but by the time you launch Geese Howard out the window of his thirty story high rise, you won't want to stick around for the encore.
THE KING OF FIGHTERS '94
|What is this, a fighting game|
or a Russ Meyer film?
Every King of Fighters game released since is better than this one, but since this is all you're getting out of this collection, you'll have to make do with sloppy thirteenths. KOF '94 does offer some amusement, though, whether it's hearing a thinly disguised Faith No More song in the Brazil stage, finding Guile's petrified remains in the villain's trophy room, or just the knowledge that at some point in the distant past, you were young enough and dumb enough to think this game was awesome.
KING OF THE MONSTERS
|Geez. My PSP is NEVER gonna survive this.|
King of the Monsters is a big, big game designed especially for the high-octane Neo-Geo hardware. It would be hard to imagine a lesser console handling all this chaos, and indeed, later ports to the Sega Genesis and Super NES seem a little wimpy by comparison. However you play it, the game won't hold your attention for long due to a limited selection of attacks and gameplay that favors button mashing over skill. For the first five minutes, though, it's a hell of a rush to stomp buildings into powder as an oversized scarab named, ahem, Beetle Mania.
|When he says "I'll be back," he means it.|
Beyond that, this is a very familiar experience, enhanced with all the luxuries 1990's most advanced arcade hardware can provide. Pilots are launched from the flaming wreckage of their ships, sirens blare in the background as you fly over a crumbling city highway, and your satellite leaves behind a trail of glowing crescents as it rams into its next target. It may not be the classic that R-Type or Gradius were, but where style is concerned, Last Resort can hang with the very best in the genre.
|Seven different forms, all with the|
same goofy walking animation.
This Neo-Geo launch title replaces the sprawling level design of Shadow of the Beast with more linear stages better suited to an arcade game, but you'll still notice similarities in the meticulously detailed, wildly original backgrounds... along with the way the lead character constantly dies at the hands of the game's overly abundant monsters. Your wizard can change into six alternate forms by grabbing crystal balls, but don't expect to get much use out of them unless you've got the mad skills to survive the legions of bullet-spitting monsters. Do expect a great deal of swearing until you get that good.
|Metal Slug ranks among the best|
the Neo-Geo has to offer.
Metal Slug, on the other hand... now that's a keeper. Imagine if you will a side-scrolling shooter that takes place during World War II, except the villain is Saddam Hussein instead of Hitler and all his soldiers are the biggest bunch of morons you could ever hope to meet. You'll meet dozens of scruffy P.O.W.s on your mission, who restock your supply of grenades and replace your wimpy handgun with such weapons of mass destruction as the rocket launcher and the shotgun, which reduces General Mordern's troops to a spray of red mist. Survive long enough and you may even find the Metal Slug, a surprisingly acrobatic tank which can double as a battering ram in times of distress. This game is one for the ages... it was fantastic in 1996, it's terrific nearly twenty years later, and it will be cherished by the archaeologists who find it in the rubble of our civilization two thousand years later.
NEO TURF MASTERS
|The speedlines are how you know it's|
a Japanese golf game.
Anyway, Neo Turf Masters is your typical golf game, with exciting cinematic cutaways (watch helplessly as your ball stops just short of the hole!) and brisk play mechanics specially designed to keep players moving and arcade owners swimming in quarters. If you don't make a shot in eight seconds, you'll be given a one stroke penalty. Bogey too many holes and your game will end before you can play the later ones. You'll also earn the derision of the chirpy announcer, Ellis LaPorte, who wisely stays hidden from view so you can't wrap a golf club around her neck. Some day, LaPorte, you'll get yours...
|Sorry babe, gotta split!|
Samurai Shodown isn't just a thrilling series of sword fights enhanced with SNK's typically brilliant graphics and sound. It's also an authentic Japanese experience, with taiko drums thundering in the background and characters inspired by Japan's feudal era. There really is a race of indigenous Japanese called the Ainu, and there really was a man named Amakusa Shiro Tokisada who was feared throughout the country. Of course, that was mostly because he was spreading unwanted Western beliefs... the dark sorcery was creative license on the part of the developers.
|Wild horses (and everything else) could|
drag me away from this one.
Locking swords with samurai zombies was a promising idea in need of a better game... which is why SNK took two more cracks at it. The second Sengoku smooths out some of the rough patches in the original (with a slight visual downgrade), while the third starts from scratch with a sleek combo-heavy brawler closer in spirit to Final Fight. You'd be smart to play either of the sequels instead, even if you have to find a real Neo-Geo to do it.
|Welcome to Shock Troopers, where the|
soldiers die both painfully and often.
SUPER SIDEKICKS 3: THE NEXT GLORY
"Aww, do I gotta play this?"
"Yes, yes you do."
"You stink! I'm never talking to you again!"
"Go to your room."
(angry muttering is heard as loud footsteps trail up the stairs)
|Me, when I found out I had to play this.|
Well, I said I was gonna write about all the games on this collection, so here I go! Super Sidekicks 3 is a soccer game, as you may have guessed from the title and my lack of enthusiasm. It's got tiny but well animated players, plenty of teams from around the world, and tight, responsive control... not to mention a guy who has very little interest in playing it trying to pad out this review to an acceptable size. I was utterly hopeless at Super Sidekicks 3, frequently losing the ball to the sidelines, but I've seen players on YouTube who were able to dominate the game, firing ball after ball into the other team's goal box with little effort. I suspect you're not going to have much trouble winning this game if you have any interest in playing it. As for me, I think I'll stick with Metal Slug and Samurai Shodown.
TOP HUNTER: RODDY AND CATHY
|The long arm of the law.|
(Yeah, I was really reaching with that pun.)
Top Hunter looks marvelous, with each stage boasting its own distinct design and all of them bursting with bright colors. The gameplay may not appeal to everyone, though... the terrain doesn't present much of a challenge, and most of the dimwitted enemies can be dispatched with just a couple of hits. But really, challenge is hardly in short supply in the Neo-Geo library. If you want a game that will put its boot on your throat and press down until you black out, play Pulstar instead. If you're not up for that kind of punishment, Top Hunter is the way to go.
This is without question the Street Fighter-iest of the many fighting games released for the Neo-Geo, with precious little done to disguise its roots. Sure, the talents of Dhalsim are spread across two different characters (Rasputin gets his mysticism and fireballs, while Go-Go-Gadget Nazi Brocken gets his extending arms), and the cast borrows as heavily from historical figures as it does Capcom's World Warriors, but this is essentially store brand Street Fighter II. It even nicks from the original Street Fighter, with the strength of your button taps determining the power of your hero's punches and kicks. This control scheme was rather pointless on the four button Neo-Geo, but would get a lot of mileage on a later SNK game system, the Neo-Geo Pocket.
|Now you got burned!|