Publisher: SNK (1993)
Samurai Shodown begins with a scene of a samurai meditating between two statues. The screen briefly goes black, during which two bright slashes are seen. Next you see the samurai brandishing his sword as the two statues slide off their bases, having been slashed in half. As the scene slowly fades out, your eye catches the enormous tree behind him also
sliding away! It's one of the best video game intros I've ever seen, if not the
best. Samurai Shodown's brand of one-on-one fighting action follows the basic Street Fighter 2 format, but its characters are armed with weapons like swords and maces. Smooth scaling effects are used to zoom in and out depending on the fighters' proximity. Most stages also feature objects you can destroy in the foreground, sometimes revealing a bonus or power-up. As with most SNK fighters, the quality is exceptional. There are twelve colorful martial artists to choose from, including several in traditional samurai garb, a behemoth named Earthquake, a green hunchback named Genan, and the ninja Hanzo. The females are represented by a knight named Charlotte and a little girl named Nakoruru who has a pet eagle. Most stage locations feature traditional Japanese landscapes with tranquil temples, orange sunsets, and quaint cottages. In one memorable stage waves crash into the shore as Mount Fuji looms in the distance. The shipping dock stage is crowded with rowdy spectators, and I like how you can slice open barrels to send apples tumbling. If Samurai Shodown seems a bit slow, it's not your imagination. The control scheme uses button combinations to perform strong kicks and punches, which is a bit awkward. I had some difficulty executing the special moves, mainly because you're required to press the button after
your sweeping motion - not at the tail end of it. Samurai Shodown shows its age, but it set the stage for a long-running franchise that continues to this day. NOTE: In Japan, this series was known as Samurai Spirits. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Normal
Our high score: 43,870
1 or 2 players
Samurai Shodown 2
Publisher: SNK (1994)
Samurai Shodown II begins with this profound text: "Long long ago, there were a man who try to make his skill ultimate. Because of his bloody life, it's no accident he was involved in the troubles." Nothing spices up a classic game more than a really bad Japanese-to-English translation! Grammar nonwithstanding, Samurai Shodown II (SS2) represents a substantial leap forward for the series, and it's probably my personal favorite. SS2 is much faster than the original and the controls have been tightened up considerably. The overhauled roster boasts twelve diverse fighters include a cave girl named Cham Cham, a tiny Asian man named Caffeine Nicotine (really!), and a heavy-set dude named Wan Fu wielding a stone pillar. All of the stages are picturesque, but some are more interesting than others. The wheat field is pretty boring, but the snowy village is beautiful and the stormy throne room is exciting. SS2 expands the number of attacks, and each character can now dash, jump back, and roll. The battles are intense. Weapon lock-ups (resolved via button-mashing) can result in losing your weapon, forcing you to fight with your bare hands until you can retrieve it. When your rage gauge is full, button combos are actually indicated on the bottom of the screen - a nice touch. SS2 is tough and addictive. There are a lot of amusing little intros and endings, such as a group of women who chase Ukyo off the screen after his victory. Unfortunately, those forced to play in the USA mode will be subjected to some awful-looking green "blood". The audio features great music and crystal clear Japanese voice samples. Samurai Shodown 2 builds on the foundation of the original title to create one of the definitive fighters for the system. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Normal
Our high score: 26,660
1 or 2 players
Samurai Shodown 3
Publisher: SNK (1996)
In the days of ancient Japan when samurai and ninja fought openly in public, little did they suspect they were providing rich material for the electronic entertainment of the future. As the third edition of SNK's epic sword-fest, Samurai Shodown 3 (SS3) takes the series to the next level with even faster action and a more complex fighting system. You can select between two fighting styles for each character, each with an extensive set of moves. You'll also select from three "grades" which tailor the action to your level of expertise. The basic controls have been revamped, so the four buttons now map to three slashes and one kick. Button combinations yield a dodge maneuver and a very useful "turn" that lets you attack your opponent from behind. The controls are extremely responsive and the action is frantic. Attacks tend to incur less damage and the clock runs faster, creating a sense of tension. The cast has been drastically overhauled once again. Of the new faces, Basara is an executioner who looks like the zombie from Darkstalkers. The hulking Gaira reminds me of E. Honda (of Street Fighter 2), and Shiro is a magician wielding a crystal ball. I didn't find this new group quite as compelling as the previous one, and it's a shame Earthquake didn't make the cut. SS3's background graphics and music seem a bit more conservative this time around, offering serene natural scenes like a green bamboo forest, a waterfall, and an orchard of pink trees. I like how the color schemes tend to change between rounds. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as SS2, but Samurai Shodown 3's added depth will give fighting game aficionados plenty to sink their teeth into. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Normal
Our high score: 95,100
1 or 2 players
Publisher: SNK (1992)
Sengoku gets my vote for "video game most likely to cause carpal tunnel syndrome". It's a button masher that goes on and on - far longer than my
attention span. It's a side-scrolling fighter with jaw-dropping graphics but repetitive gameplay. The two playable characters look ridiculous. One is an Asian guy with sunglasses, a red jacket, and yellow pants, and the other guy wears a cowboy hat, a light blue vest, and purple pants. C'mon now! The only possible explanation is that SNK was trying to show off the system's extensive color palette. The stages are bizarre and the scenery is constantly changing. One minute you're fighting in the streets, and then you're whisked off to another dimension, battling an army in the clouds. Most of the enemies look like ancient Asian warriors, but there are some huge, ugly monstrosities as well. I love how you can watch certain enemies approach from the background, thanks to some nice scaling effects. Three buttons are used in this game: attack, jump, and transform. By defeating certain enemies, you gain the power to transform into different characters, including a samurai warrior, a ninja, or vicious dog. The game is loaded with power-up orbs that provide each fighter with unique special attacks like weapons and fireballs. I especially like how the dog can spits out tiny dogs that chomp on the enemies' legs. For the first few minutes of play, I thought Sengoku was awesome. I couldn't get enough of all that kicking, punching, and slashing action. But you can only fight the same thugs so many times, and my wrist starting hurting from continuously tapping the attack button! I suppose the real
culprit is the unlimited
continues - always a bad idea in this kind of game. It effectively removes any sense of challenge and tension, and they're awfully hard to resist. Sengoku had two sequels. This one's a wild ride, but you'll probably get sick of it like I did. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (1993)
Wow - this is a seriously fun side-scrolling hack-n-slash game! Sengoku 2's background story involves some epic confrontation with a demonic warlord, but you'll need to be a speed-reader to keep up with the intro text. Two people can play at once, and each player can switch between four
identities on the fly (including animals). Each identity is a unique character with its own attributes, weapons, and techniques. The action is fast and furious, and there's never a hint of slowdown. A fine control scheme provides plenty of attacks, and well as letting you block and transform. Thanks to cool power-ups and diverse enemies, the action never gets stale or repetitive. Although most enemies are samurai-inspired, there's always something new lurking around each corner, including a few horseback-riding stages. Some the bosses, like the giant skeleton at sea, are absolutely jaw-dropping. But what really impressed me is Sengoku 2's attention to detail. Enemies keel over dramatically as they are sliced in half. Swords clash and lock against each other. Dragons fly in the background as crowds of people run in fear. Although the game is a CD, the loading times are not bad at all. On the downside, the two-player mode is pretty easy, and enemies tend to linger slightly off screen. But overall Sengoku 2 is terrific and a big step up from the original. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Noise Factory (2001)
The Sengoku series pushed the limits of hack-n-slash fun with its huge characters, weird monsters, and colorful scenery. Sengoku 2 is regarded as the best of the series, but Sengoku 3 is no slouch either. Four huge playable characters include a pair of swordsmen, a hottie, and a big brawny dude with a bat. The controls are more robust than previous Sengoku titles, utilizing all four buttons. There are two attacks, a jump, and the fourth button tosses projectiles when available. You can even unleash different types of Ninjitsu magic when your meter is full. Three selectable stages include China, Italy, and Tokyo. Frankly I didn't find China and Italy to be very exciting; they're mainly just a series of streets and storefronts. The Tokyo-at-night stage is pretty awesome though. That vivid skyline in the background exudes a "let's go wild and kick some ass on a Friday night" vibe. Good stuff! The difficulty is fair, and the five continues are just about right. Sengoku 3 won't blow you away, but those who can appreciate a quality side-scroller are in for a treat. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: with continues
Our high score: 256,604
1 or 2 players
Shock Troopers (MVS)
Publisher: Saurus (1997)
If you're in the mood to inflict massive destruction for no particular reason, Shock Troopers is just what the doctor ordered. This one-man-army shoot-a-thon is like a top-down Metal Slug, although classics gamers will see shades of Rambo: First Blood Part 2
(Sega Master System, 1986), Ikari Warriors
(NES, 1986), and Mercs
(Genesis, 1991). You'll mow down waves of generic soldiers as you forge through jungle, mountain, and valley locations. The violence is very gratifying as you toss grenades into bunkers, incinerate enemies with flamethrowers, explode helicopters with missile launchers, and engage in high-speed motorcycle shoot-outs. It's especially satisfying to watch guard towers and concrete bridges explode and collapse into rubble. Shock Troopers has a slick rapid-fire control scheme that lets you tap the button to spray or hold it down to strafe. It may sound shallow, but there's more to this game than meets the eye. When close to an enemy you will automatically perform a melee knife attack, and this can be used strategically. Knifed enemies usually drop food or bonus items, allowing you to replenish life and rack up big points. Although your soldier is slow, a useful evade button lets you roll under enemy fire. It's easy to forget about, but I'd advise keeping a finger on that button at all times. You get a generous supply of grenades as well, so apply them liberally to bosses. The scenery includes swamps, markets, caves, trains, and river boats. The locations are diverse and the level of detail is impressive, but there's nothing particularly memorable about them. Likewise the bosses are pretty unimaginative, usually assuming the form of giant tanks. The two-player cooperative action is a nice feature, but its slow-down is pronounced. Heck, I even noticed slow-down in the single-player mode. It may not quite be up to Metal Slug standards, but if you're in the mood to inflict unspeakable carnage, Shock Troopers is very, very good. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: normal w/ cnts
Our high score: 6,047,803
1 or 2 players
Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad (MVS)
Publisher: Saurus (1998)
The first Shock Troopers was a rip-roaring overhead shooter with a level of destruction on par with Metal Slug. This sequel however is surprisingly tame. Cast from a different mold than the original, Second Squad has its own quirky graphic style and some very questionable stage designs. Like the first game you select a soldier and blast your way through streets, air bases, ports, and even moving trains. The background graphics are the most compelling aspect of the game. The scenery is so detailed with rich textures that it almost looks digitized
at times. Likewise the explosions are some of the best I've seen in any video game. Sadly, the characters are rendered in a goofy cartoon style that clashes with the semi-realistic scenery. Not only does your soldier look like a dork, but enemies look like a bunch of bumbling buffoons as well. Shooting them results in silly animations that will have you longing for the splattering of blood. The stage designs are lacking. In the first game you were constantly forging ahead, but here you tend to remain in one area as enemies are air-dropped all around you. Since you're constantly finding yourself completely surrounded, the evade button is your one saving grace. Sadly, it is assigned to the C button which is less-than-optimal. Another problem is the extreme slow-down, and we're talking about the single-player
mode. Don't even think
about playing this with two players. Shock Troopers 2 has some sharp-looking set pieces but if you're a fan of the first game this sequel is bound to disappoint. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 474,000
1 or 2 players
Publisher: SNK (1991)
With Soccer Brawl, SNK was clearly trying to create a turbo-charged, futuristic version of the sport along the lines of Super Baseball 2020. They were not completely successful. The teams are comprised of seven armor-plated players, each with their own "attack capabilities". The action is fast paced, but the controls are lacking. Two buttons are used to perform all of the moves (including attacks), which is very confusing. Powering-up players is no problem (hold down A), but the attacks are not the least bit satisfying. In addition, it's impossible to "head" the ball with precision. Your viewing angle is fairly close, so by the time you get the ball in proximity of the goal, the goalie pounces on it. Shooting from a distance is also problematic since your limited perspective prevents you from knowing where the goal is with respect to your man. You can only shoot from three angles, although walls that enclose the course do provide carom opportunities. These walls are great in concept, but inexplicably there's still an "out of bounds" zone in front of them. What's up with that? Predictably, the ball always winds up in that zone, resulting in constant throw-ins, and that truly sucks. Soccer Brawl's single redeeming feature is the two hot chicks displayed whenever a goal is scored. If anyone ever accused the VGC of being influenced by the inclusion of gratuitous, scantily clad babes in a game, well, they're right. But even that can't elevate Soccer Brawl above the average mark. The game is interesting in concept, but the execution is weak. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Data East (1993)
This platformer has managed to remain under my radar for many years, but it currently ranks as my favorite
Neo Geo game! Spinmaster might be considered a blatant Metal Slug rip-off had it not been released three years before
that game! One or two players control a pair of cartoonish yo-yo-wielding bothers fighting their way through jungles, rivers, tombs, and castles. You'll embark on a wild riverboat stage and a fantastic high-speed mine cart ride. Unlike so many other platform games, your default yo-yo weapon is extremely effective, especially since you can throw it diagonally and in a rapid-fire manner. Other weapons include fireballs, bombs, and boxing gloves, but my personal favorite is the throwing stars. Spinmaster's sprites are absolutely huge
, but the on-screen chaos never feels overwhelming. Exotic layered backgrounds call to mind Indiana Jones, and the stages are short enough that they never wear out their welcome. Playing alongside a friend is especially fun. Although much of the game tends to move at a breakneck pace, you'll definitely want to take your time when it comes to the platform jumping. Spinmaster's difficulty is very fair, but you'll still find yourself wanting to use the continues. The game's musical score is so good that it sometimes reminded me of a Zelda game (high praise indeed). Coming off like an easier and more whimsical version of Metal Slug, Spinmaster is one Neo Geo title worth hunting down. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Saurus (1996)
I may not be a big horse racing fan, but I consider the triple crown to be one of the welcome signs of Spring. Most horse racing games tend to be overly complex or gambling-oriented, so Stakes Winner's simple arcade format is refreshing. The horses are cartoonish but the tracks are green and lush. You view the action from a raised side angle as if you were sitting in the grand stand. Conditions are usually bright and sunny, but sometimes they can be overcast or rainy. The controls are somewhat mysterious. You tap A to gallop at a steady pace and hit B to use your whip and pick up the pace. You can tap the stick forward twice to bump a horse ahead of you out of the way. It's possible to tap backwards to slow down, but I have no idea why anyone would want to do that. The races are pretty chaotic as the horses tend to crowd each other, and frankly it's hard to tell if your button tapping is having any impact at all. A close-up of your horses' face indicates his energy level, and apparently much of the strategy lies in pacing your horse correctly. The collision detection is a little fishy around the rail, so be careful not to get caught up on it. Your best shot at victory is to grab that cheap speed boost icon (wings) that often appears in the final stretch. Placing in the top three advances you to the next race, and each contest is unique in terms of track length and shape. Triumphant music and colorful victory screens do a great job of conveying the pomp and circumstance of the sport. Stakes Winner is a real conundrum of a game. I could never fully grasp the controls or strategy, yet I never get tired of trying to figure it out. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Normal
Our high score: SLN 580K
1 or 2 players
Stakes Winner 2 (MVS)
Publisher: Saurus (1996)
The original Stakes Winner was a unique horse-racing title that won me over with its arcade graphics and challenging gameplay. This sequel is much easier but a lot less compelling. In the original game I was lucky to win three straight races, but I can play Stakes Winner 2 almost indefinitely
. The sights and sounds of the game haven't changed much. The horses look slightly less cartoonish, but the tracks and viewing angles look pretty much the same. The soundtrack is basically remixed versions of the songs from the first game. The controls have been tweaked a bit, and a third button was added to kick in some extra energy down the stretch. Although the steering controls are inexact around the turns, you have pretty good control over the speed of your horse. Unfortunately, one serious problem from the first game has returned with a vengeance!
Cheap icons appear on the track at certain intervals, and more often than not they determine the outcome of the race. You may have paced yourself perfectly and jockeyed for position with precision, only to find yourself languishing in last place after running into a "paralyze" icon. These icons appear so suddenly that there's no time to avoid them, much less decide if you want them. Your best bet is to anticipate where the icons will appear on the track and try to avoid those spots. One thing I like about Stakes Winner 2 is the ability to select between U.S. or European tracks. The U.S. selection includes Belmont Park, Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, and Pimlico in Baltimore. Between races you can purchase items from a store, including special moves that require special joystick manipulations (horse racing meets Street Fighter 2!) There are also four training "bonus" stages including one where you navigate through a swimming pool. I can appreciate the fact that Stake Winner 2 has more depth that the first game, but the low difficulty makes its racing much less satisfying. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Normal w/ cnts
Our high score: 1.5m
1 or 2 players
Publisher: SNK (1994)
Here's an awesome Neo Geo game you won't have to pay a fortune for. A 3-on-3 arcade-style basketball game, Street Hoop is cheap and readily available on CD. If you're familiar with Arch Rivals or NBA Jam, you'll feel right at home with Street Hoop. It's better looking than NBA Jam, with larger, more detailed players and animated urban backgrounds. The action is fast and furious, with flying elbows, backboard-bending jams, and even some trash talking. The simple, two-button control scheme is sweet, and there are no fouls or goal tending to slow things down. I especially love how you can knock down defenders while slamming a dunk. Unlike other sports games which drag on for too long, Street Hoop contests are surprisingly short. As a matter of fact, this is the first sports game that my friends complained about being too
short! The thumping hip-hop music is outstanding, and my friend Scott can't stop singing "Standin' on the black top pickin' our teams". One weak link is the announcer, who yells nonsense like "dunk shot!" and "upset!" at inappropriate times. The game takes a while to load initially, but once it's running, there are minimal pauses in the action. Street Hoop delivers pure arcade fun, and it's an under-rated title in the Neo Geo library. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Strikers 1945 Plus (MVS)
Publisher: Psikyo (1999)
This is one of those "twitch shooters" the Neo Geo is known for - and it's a good one. Strikers 1945 Plus maintains a heightened level of rapid-fire mayhem without the slow-down associated with many vertical shooters. The intro features a jaw-dropping digitized sequence of six planes flying over a mountain landscape. The actual game maintains a similar level of realism, with nearly photo-realistic scenery and fantastic explosions. You select between one of six WWII-era planes loaded to the hilt with weapons. As you fly over railroads, harbors, and snow-covered fortresses you're confronted with waves of planes and tanks. Your cannons administer a world of hurt and frequent power-ups let you unleash a torrent of missiles. Holding in the fire button allows you to deploy a special weapon such as a magnetic field that slowly crawls up the screen while leaving devastation in its wake. You'll face waves of criss-crossing bullets but they move slowly so there's always an escape route. Just hang back and try to maintain your composure. Strikers does get a little insane in the later stages, so you'll want to save a few bombs to use as a defensive mechanism. I'm glad unlimited continues are available, because otherwise I would have never seen the end of the game. Another neat feature is how you start on a different stage depending on which plane you select. Strikers is a blast to play but don't expect much variety. The static scenery is somewhat bland and enemies are mainly limited to planes and tanks. Pretty much every boss is a flying robot that emerges from the rubble of an oversized vehicle. The military-style music is appropriate but not particularly memorable. Some may find Strikers 1945 a bit repetitious, but if you like arcade shooters this one really hits the sweet spot. Note: I played this using an MVS converter. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 137,500
1 or 2 players
Super Baseball 2020
Publisher: SNK (1991)
Oh yeah! This is what Neo Geo gaming is all about! Unlike real baseball (which sucks), this futuristic take on the sport is fast, fun, and unpredictable. The graphics are sensational, with humorously animated robots and a spectacular stadium loaded with electronic gadgets and TV monitors. There's a "foul zone" behind home plate and a "home run zone" behind center field, but everywhere else is fair play! When a ball enters the stands, its rolls down onto the field, still alive! There are even "jump zones" that let your fielders leap high into the air to snag would-be homers. I just wish there were more opportunities to use these things! The field contains a number of hazards as well. The first time the game announced it was "setting crackers" between innings, I thought it was complaining about white people, but then I realized that "crackers" are really mines. As the game progresses, more and more of these mines are scattered around the field. Like SNK's excellent Baseball Stars line of games, the pitching and batting controls are easy and intuitive. The computer positions you fielders automatically, which is good because it's hard to track them when the ball is hit to the outfield. Fielding is the main flaw of Super Baseball 2020 - it's tough and judging fly balls is nearly impossible. Super Baseball 2020 is ideal for people with short attention spans, because the action never lets up. Close plays at the bases are enhanced by cool close-up cut scenes. The teams are a collection of men, women and robots, and you can "power-up" players with money you accumulate during the game, which adds a nice element of strategy. The CPU opponent is pretty slick, especially on the base paths, but Super Baseball 2020 is best played against a friend. This is the perfect antidote to gamers who can't stomach realistic baseball games. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Super Sidekicks 2
Publisher: SNK (1994)
Super Sidekicks 2 (SS2) is one of the most exciting soccer games ever. Want proof? Just look at scoreboard with the word "EXCITING" plastered over it in huge, colorful letters! The non-stop action is viewed from a raised angle on the sideline, and the games are short but sweet. The players are huge, and so detailed they almost look digitized. On offense, you can shoot, pass low, or pass high. Since your view of the field is somewhat narrow, your passes are usually "blind", but fortunately there's usually a teammate present to receive the ball. Shooting requires being quick on the trigger, as flashing prompts indicate the best opportunities to score. For exceptionally well-timed shots, the game cuts to a first-person perspective that lets you aim precisely, and it looks astonishingly good. On defense you can bump your opponent, slide tackle, or switch players. Selecting the correct player can be tricky however, and I hate how you relinquish control of your defender after a missed steal attempt. Once the ball gets in the vicinity of the goal, things really get crazy as you pound buttons in anticipation of rebound opportunities. The amazing digitized crowd chants rock
the stadium, adding to the sense of urgency. Goals and penalties are accompanied by brief cut scenes of players celebrating or complaining to referees. A few of these are unintentionally hilarious, like the one with the goalie continually pounding his fist into the ground. Easy to play and never boring, you don't need to be a soccer fan to enjoy Super Sidekicks 2. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Super Sidekicks 3: The Next Glory
Publisher: SNK (1995)
I don't know what the awkwardly-translated "next glory" is supposed to mean, but Super Sidekicks 3 (SS3) is pure arcade bliss. While not a giant leap from its predecessor, SS3 does address some key flaws. For one thing, the Neo Geo's scaling capabilities are put to good use as the camera automatically zooms in and out, providing a broad view of the field when you really need it. Unlike Sidekicks 2, you can actually see
who you're passing to much of the time. I also like how you no longer lose control of your defender after an unsuccessful steal attempt. There are plenty of unintentionally hilarious cut-scenes, including a few that border on homoerotic
. When two teammates are shown leaping towards each other, armed out-stretched and mouths open, it looks like they're about to make out
! In another scene, a player appears to be performing an obscene act
on the referee! Oh well, at least these provide for some good comic relief. Whether challenging a friend or competing against a field of CPU contenders, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining soccer title than Super Sidekicks 3. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (1990)
Super Spy is a first-person fighter similar to Crossed Swords, but it offers a modern spy scenario instead of medieval sword combat. Like Crossed Swords, the graphics are pleasing to the eye and the gameplay is immediately accessible and fun. Gameplay consists of a series of battles that occur as you move from room to room in a hijacked scientific facility. The first-person viewpoint is quite effective in battle, allowing you to punch, kick, stab, or shoot the villains that approach. These miscreants include ninjas, mad scientists, and huge musclemen. Judging by the sheer size of these characters, it's evident that no other console of the early-90's could have handled a game like this. Dodging and blocking allow you to avoid attacks and set up for counters. When you have ammo (always in short supply), shooting enemies is terrific fun, and you can explode barrels, rupture pipes, and break windows in the process. You'll also encounter friendly scientists who offer info, weapons, or health. Unfortunately, Super Spy is largely a one-trick pony with no scoring and unlimited continues, and the action gets awfully repetitious. It's quite original and worth playing thru once, but after that you probably won't want to look at it again for a long time. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Alpha Denshi (1991)
It may not look spectacular, but Thrash Rally offers a nice change of pace from the one-on-one fighters that dominate the system. At its core, this is a simple overhead racer in the spirit of Auto Racing
(Intellivision, 1980). The screen scrolls every which way as you adjust your direction to keep your car on the road. The cars are tiny, and the low-resolution visuals look like something from the Genesis. In addition to a selection of cars, you can drive a motorcycle, dune buggy, or a truck. The courses wind both on and off-road, and they tend to be ideal in length (read: short). You'll cruise through a number of scenic locations including Italy, Finland, and Kenya. It's fun to peel through shallow streams and jump over sand dunes. The screen zooms out a bit when you "catch air", giving the game a slight Bump N Jump (1982) flavor. You'll be tempted to slow down and gawk at the colorful scenery, but there's no time for that. There are plenty of cars on the road, but the weird collision detection will have you running over
more cars than you bump into. This glitch inadvertently makes the game more fun because it's easier to maintain your momentum. The controls take a while to get used to, and even on straightaways you'll find yourself making constant slight adjustments. Thrash Rally includes two modes: World Rally and Paris Dakar Rally. I became obsessed with the Dakar Rally which is one long track that's tough to finish before the timer expires. When I finally made it, there was exactly zero seconds
remaining! Thrash Rally may not be a showcase title for the Neo Geo, but it's certainly no slouch in the fun department. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Dakar
Our high score: 3'17"58
Publisher: SNK (1994)
I was hoping for a poor-man's Metal Slug, but Top Hunter is a different type of game. This whimsical side-scroller emphasizes hand-to-hand combat and features gorgeous arcade graphics. Your main attacks are punches and throws, but occasionally you'll find weapons and even commandeer robots. Grabbing and throwing bad guys might sound like fun, but once you use a gun in this game, you realize Top Hunter would have been much
more fun as a straight shooter. The screen has a foreground and background layer, and the C button lets you jump between them. The interactive scenery is rich with detail, but it can be hard to tell if an object is in the foreground or background. You and a friend can join forces to kick butt side by side, but as you might guess, the two-player action only adds to the confusion. The three lengthy stages are set in forest, fire, and ice environments. Each stage has a few lever mechanisms that activate traps or expose new areas. The best part of Top Hunter is definitely the graphics. Despite the cartoonish look of the characters, some of the huge monstrosities you encounter are truly astonishing in both size and detail (the giant snow monster in the ice stage comes to mind). Top Hunter has unlimited continues, but they can totally ruin the challenge and fun factor. If you have the discipline to limit your continues (or not use them), Top Hunter can be a good time. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (1990)
Top Players would be a respectable golf game on most platforms, but on the Neo Geo this is just not cutting it. You can tell this was an early title from the opening cut-scene with its low-resolution scenery and cartoonish golfers. Two fictional courses are available, each with an imaginative set of holes that allow for multiple approaches. Too bad you never get a decent view! The user interface is a nightmare. Selecting the "course" button lets you toggle between several views of the course, one more unhelpful than the next. The one-press swing meter doesn't really make much sense with the fade and draw areas near the top of the meter. You won't know the distance to the pin unless you ask your "caddy" who looks more like a bubbly 12-year-old girl. When consulted, she exclaims "Take my advice - if you dare!
Or make your own choice! It's up to you!!
. When you hit the ball it looks as big as a softball flying through the air. Sometimes it only travels half the distance for no apparent reason. The graphics are cheesy and the water looks heinous. The best aspect of the game is its relaxing piano music, which sounds like something out of a Peanuts cartoon. Top Players Golf is playable once you get a feel for it, but you tend to expect more from a Neo Geo sports game. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Treasure of the Caribbean (CD)
Publisher: NCI-Le Cortext (2011)
This late-release Neo Geo CD title is a hidden gem. I've played my share of puzzle games and thought I'd seen every variation imaginable. I was wrong. Treasure of the Caribbean has an intriguing twist along with an appealing swashbuckling theme. You select from a group of vaguely pirate-like characters, each equipped with a unique power-up. Two players (or one with CPU) play simultaneously, stacking pairs of oddly-shaped objects. What the hell are
those things anyway? The columns are staggered a bit so you can't get clean rows across. That turns out to be a good thing, as it makes it much easier to get four continuous objects of the same color to explode. You can even create a group of objects that snake through the entire wall. Chain reactions send "ghosts" over to your opponent, causing gravestones to fall and muck up his business in a big way. Sometimes you'll have a massive number of these gravestones dropped on your side, but don't fret. Treasures of the Caribbean is actually more fun when your back is against the wall. And don't forget to use your one-time special attack, which lets you turn the tables in a hurry. The controls are terrific but it's kind of cheap how you can rotate a piece in place indefinitely. What's to keep you from doing that for the entire game? The music a mixed bag. For every song with a swashbuckling vibe, there's one that sounds more like a nursery rhyme. The pirate theme could have been better utilized, but Treasure of the Caribbean is still more enjoyable than I expected. If you own a Neo Geo CD, this is a worthy addition to the collection. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 31,903
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Sammy (1992)
The Neo Geo is not technically
capable of rendering real 3D graphics, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell when you witness Viewpoint's amazing textured visuals. As you fly a ship diagonally up a canal, cannons rise up from the ground, metallic creatures emerge from the sides, and floor tiles "flip" to create a dynamic obstacle course. I was pretty blown away by Viewpoint - until I remembered that its spiritual predecessor, Zaxxon, was released ten years
prior! One fundamental difference is that how you don't need to worry about adjusting your altitude in Viewpoint because your ship always floats just over the surface. Each canal features a dazzling array of robotic creatures including slinkies, land fish, spinning turtles, laser-shooting flowers, and giant crabs. The animation is smooth, and while slowdown does creep in occasionally, it's hardly a detriment. You can tap a button to fire rapidly, or hold it in to unleash a charged shot. Side-cannons triple your firepower and pressing B unleashes one of several special weapons. In this case, these weapons really are
special. The best is the "wall of flames" which marches up the screen and consumes everything in its path. It's probably the most effective and satisfying weapon I've ever used! The swarming homing missiles are also a visual treat. Some stages have interactive elements such as levers you need to shoot to open gates. Hazards can rise up from out of the ground and strike you from beneath, and they can seem pretty cheap if you aren't expecting them. In some sections medium-sized characters will linger around for too long, sometimes impervious to attack. Losing a ship sometimes means you'll need to repeat a long, tedious stretch, and that really sucks. This is a very difficult game, so there's no shame in playing the easy mode. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of beats with a few hip-hop samples tossed in. Viewpoint is a real Neo Geo standard that helped defined the system, so it's a fine addition to the collection if you can afford it. And despite its age, it's still more imaginative and visually appealing than most modern shooters. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Easy
Our high score: 57,470
1 or 2 players
Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer (CD)
Publisher: Technos (1995)
This bizarre one-on-one fighter would be commendable on most systems, but for a system like the Neo Geo stocked with so many great fighters, this is just plain mediocre. The characters are completely over-the-top, bringing to mind the shape-shifting freaks of Darkstalkers. There's a guy with bat wings, a four-armed robot, a magician, a Captain America look-alike, and two scantily clad, long-legged females. The boss is a man and woman fused together to form one awesome warrior. Gowcaizer appears to use the same engine as Art of Fighting, with huge characters and a camera that zooms in and out. The controls are more like Fatal Fury, with two punch and two kick buttons. All the characters have crazy special attacks, many of which defy proper description. While some of these are somewhat amusing, they tend to make the fights overly chaotic and loaded with cheap hits. Shaia, for example, can sit back and continuously pound you from a distance with her remote ball. After winning a match, you can acquire one of your opponent's special moves which is displayed on the screen. The spectacular backgrounds are probably the highlight of the game, with marvelous unconventional scenery like a burning city, the interior of a church, and a concert stage. Although Gowcaizer's gameplay doesn't stand out, its music certainly does. That's because it feature real Japanese singing
, and while it seems funny at first, eventually the horrible noise becomes unbearable. Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer isn't particularly fun to play, but it certainly is bizarre. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Data East (1994)
Every once in a while an oddball title will come out of left field and turn out to be a total blast. I picked up this Japanese CD for about 15 bucks (new), but it's probably the most intense head-to-head Neo Geo game I've ever played. Otherwise known as "Flying Power Disc", Windjammers is so simple and easy to play that you could almost consider it a glorified version of Pong. One competitor guards a goal on each side of the screen as players toss a Frisbee back and forth. Catching and returning the disc in one quick motion adds velocity, and executing Street Fighter-style "sweeps" causes the disc to curve. There are even a few "special moves", including some that set the disc on fire
. Windjammer's graphics are perfectly fine, but since the action is viewed from overhead, there's not much to see. Still, I love the court located on a bright beach, which gives the game a certain summer vibe. The other courts are more high-tech, including some with obstacles in the center that redirect the disc unpredictably. Windjammer's gameplay is fast and furious, with short but sweet 90-second matches. The electronic soundtrack has an old-school flair, and I also like the clanking sound effects of the disc bouncing off the metallic boundaries. As icing on the cake, a nifty bonus stage lets you control a dog chasing a Frisbee on a beach, jumping over sun-bathing babes in the process. My friends immediately took to Windjammers, unanimously proclaiming it to be an "A" title. My buddy Steve even called it "sponge-worthy", which is quite the accolade. Windjammers has remained under the radar for a long time, but I think it's about time for a coming-out party. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Alpha Denshi (1992)
This game's intro features some unidentified man saying "You came at the right time. Use the time machine to go all over the world. Where the strong people are. I pray for a healthy battle." What the heck is a healthy battle? World Heroes is one of several quality 2D fighting series to grace the Neo Geo. Its innovative controls utilize only three buttons: punch, kick, and throw. Tapping a button initiates a quick hit and holding it down unleashes a stronger attack. The two main characters, Hanzo and Fuuma, are remarkably similar to Ken and Ryu of Street Fighter II
(SNES, 1992). When Hanzo throws a projectile it sounds like he's yelling "I screwed up!
" Other fighters include clones of Bruce Lee (Dragon), Joan of Arc (Janne), and Genghis Khan (J. Carn). Brocken is a dead ringer for M. Bison (also from Street Fighter II) although his limb-stretching moves are more similar to Dhalsim. Rasputin is a magician whose hands and feet become huge
when he attacks. Muscle Power (yeah, that's his actual name
) is a Hulk Hogan lookalike who excels at throw moves. The matches are a little slow and it's not unusual for the clock to run out. Still, I enjoy the deliberate pace of the game. The big, colorful fighters are nicely animated although the blinking circles beneath them do not resemble shadows. The collision detection isn't perfect and occasionally way
off. The attractive stages include a bell tower (with scampering rats), a caged city rooftop, and Mount Fuji complete with sparring monkeys!
A bonus stage lets you pulverize a large boulder until it resembles a statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In addition to the normal mode there's a death match that incorporates unwelcome hazards like electric beams and spikes. Occasionally the game will tell you you're about to engage in a "hair-splitting battle". That doesn't sound very dangerous to me. Unintentional humor notwithstanding, World Heroes is a heck of a good time. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 394,300
1 or 2 players
Publisher: ADK (1993)
The first World Heroes was a likeable but somewhat sluggish one-on-one fighter. This worthy sequel picks up the pace and adds six new fighters to the mix, bringing the total to 14. These new additions represent some of the more memorable and fanciful characters of the series. There's a huge
football player named J. Max who bulrushes opponents and throws ghostly footballs. Mudman is a masked medicine man whose wacky antics probably wouldn't be considered politically correct in this day and age. Captain Kidd is a traditional pirate, Erick is a burly Viking, and Shura is a Thai kick-boxer. Ryoko, a Japanese Judo expert, is only the second female in the series. Interesting new stages include a treasure-filled cave with a skeleton cheering from on top of a pile of coins. I love how his head rolls off his body after the match. The city street stage looks amazing with its neon lights and looming skyscrapers in the distance. Other stages of note include a majestic Asian temple, a tiki village, and a Japanese courtyard with the cherry blossoms. The controls presented on the "how to play" screen are not totally correct. The A and B buttons are still punch and kick, but C is now used for taunt. The throws are more or less automatic. One interesting new element is your ability to deflect
projectiles back toward your opponent. The action is quicker than the first game and the matches are shorter. There are some character balance issues though. With smaller fighters like Ryoko it's hard to get even close
to Erick with that big axe of his. World Heroes 2 feels rough around the edges but its new characters and fantastic backdrops really beef up the entertainment value. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 571,900
1 or 2 players
World Heroes 2 Jet
Publisher: ADK (1994)
I'm not sure what "Jet" signifies (another word for turbo?) but this game adds more razzle-dazzle to the already-impressive World Heroes 2.
Two new fighters have joined the ranks. Jack is a lanky dude from London whose looks like a hybrid of Jack the Ripper and Freddy Krueger. I like the fog in his rooftop stage, but the scenery could be more detailed. Ryofu is a Chinese warrior wielding a long bladed weapon. His stage is set on a boat viewed from bow to stern. The two-player mode now gives you the strategic option of adjusting your character's attack, defense, and speed capabilities. New moves include a tricky "fake feint" which fools your opponent into thinking you're in a dizzy, vulnerable state. That's pretty cool! For the solo player there's a brand new tournament mode. This begins with a lot of pomp and circumstance as the camera pans over from the flashy outdoor arena to a nearby skyscraper, zooming in to reveal your fighter posing on a balcony! The tournament is divided into five days, each comprised of three single-round fights. The tournament stages are different from the normal game, featuring throngs of spectators in various locations. Winning two of the three fights lets you to advance to the next day. At the end of each day you're presented with a match breakdown that includes the "deciding move" for each fight. Apparently my most effective move is the "killer crotch kick". Less impressive is the new scoring system which results in numbers like 117.60. What the heck does that
mean? Jet also includes training mode, but nothing with a conventional scoring system. When it comes to pure head-to-head fighting action this game is top shelf. My friends regard World Heroes Jet as the pinnacle of the series, and they may be right. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 117.60
1 or 2 players
World Heroes Perfect (CD)
Publisher: ADK (1995)
This prompted my friend Brent to inquire "Have you ever considered doing a list of games with the most arrogant sounding names?
" World Heroes Perfect is the fourth and final installment of the exotic one-on-one fighting series. It's super rare in cartridge format, so instead of taking out a second mortgage I opted to review the economical CD version. Some Neo Geo games play fine off a CD, but not fighting games. Whenever you select a different character you initiate a whole new load process. I played Perfect with some friends as the last leg of a World Heroes marathon, and it was almost unbearable.
If games with long load times are considered "beer friendly", this one might just turn me into an alcoholic. You spend more time watching that little dog jump up and down on the load screen than playing the actual game. And when you finally play disappointment quickly sets in. In two-player mode the winner must continue to use the same character, and you always seem stuck on the same stage. The stages are poorly designed and some are downright annoying. The volcano stage looks like something on the Genesis, and the dinosaur stage is so cheesy I was expecting Barney to show up. The control scheme now uses all four buttons (two punch and two kick) which makes a lot of sense. There's also a new "hero" meter that adds some depth. The old scoring system has returned, probably because nobody could figure out the one in World Heroes Jet. The characters have been rebalanced to favor the smaller quicker characters. This wasn't a bad idea but I think they went overboard. The action is so fast that smaller characters can jump around like fleas as the large character struggle just to react. When J. Max is defeated it sounds like he's yelling "Sheeeeet!"
World Heroes Perfect is a flawed game. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but the term "Perfect" tends to do that. I found this game far more palatable on World Heroes Anthology
(PS2, 2008). © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 2,311,501
1 or 2 players
Publisher: NMK (1994)
Zed Blade is one of those pick-up-and-play side-scrolling shooters that let you unleash rapid-fire shots at large, colorful sprites. Your ship is armed with multiple weapons including a forward shot, backward shot, missiles, and bombs. Crisp explosions punctuate the action and power-ups are ubiquitous. The soundtrack is a chaotic jumble of samples and beats, but it does have a vague "Get Ready For This" vibe. You'll select between three pilots and various weapon loadouts. It's not hard to stave off the waves of jets, tanks, and mechs. They tend to materialize out of gray squares - an unique effect that's not particularly impressive. Upon snagging a power-up or two you'll be shooting projectiles in all directions with no slowdown in sight. Unleashing a bomb conjures a wall of destruction that marches across the screen. Your ship is a huge target but the slow-moving orange projectiles are pretty easy to avoid. When you reach the end of each stage the message appears "Warning - a major enemy is approaching" (hint: it's a boss). Even colossal robot joggers have little chance against your firepower. Zed Blade is accessible enough but its stages are its achilles heel. They are boring at best and annoying at worst. The opening stage offers a forgettable repetitive landscape, the second is set on gray moon, and the third is a space stage with annoying "cosmic slime" enemies. The slime is about as hard to get rid of as phlegm in the back of your throat. Zed Blade's arcade appeal is ultimately undone by its lazy, unimaginative stage designs. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
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