Publisher: Alpha (1990)
While it may play like a standard Shinobi-like side-scroller, Magician Lord far exceeds anything you'll find on the Genesis or SNES. You play the role of a projectile-shooting Magician in a big pointy hat, but you can transform into other characters as well. By combining element power-ups (earth, water, air) you can become a fire breathing "dragon warrior", a samurai, or four other mystical beings. This power-up system provides some much-needed variety to an otherwise typical platform game. Magician Lord only uses two buttons (attack and jump) which makes it very accessible and easy to play. The action involves navigating platforms in castles, caves, and forests while shooting creatures and avoiding traps. Some levels even offer multiple pathways. The characters are large, and while the game's animation has been criticized in other reviews, I didn't think it was so bad. The scenery is varied and painstakingly detailed. I had a great time playing Magician Lord, even though I was killed more times than Jason in a Friday the 13th movie. Two things make this game hard. First there are those annoying flying things that always appear when you're stuck on a ladder (you can't attack while on a ladder). Second, the bosses are crazy
tough. The first one alone took me about ten tries to defeat! Fortunately you can save your spot to a memory card. But overall I do like Magician Lord - it has a certain old-school sensibility about it. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Metal Slug 2 (CD)
Publisher: SNK (1998)
Regarded as the franchise that put Neo Geo on the map, Metal Slug is king
when it comes to gratuitous 2D side-scrolling shooting action. Unfortunately, Metal Slug cartridges typically fetch hundreds of dollars on Ebay, so most gamers will have to settle for this CD version (which doesn't come cheap either). Assuming the role of a Rambo-like cartoon character, you blast your way through hordes of soldiers and mechanical beasts while forging through war-torn streets, bustling Arabian markets, and mummy-infested tombs. With the exception of your default peashooter, weapons like shotguns and missile launchers are absolutely devastating. The action is relentless, the carnage is incredible, and an off-beat sense of humor pervades the whole affair. Should you catch a whiff of "mummy breath", you transform into a gun-toting mummy yourself. Consume too many food items and your solider becomes a slow, obese slob. Metal Slug 2 bears more than a passing resemblance to Metal Slug X
(Playstation, 2001), and I'm a bit irked at how soldiers splatter white "blood" when shot (at least in this American version). The censorship seems all the more absurd when you consider all of the flying body parts. Metal Slug 2's eye candy is substantial, but it does tax processor at times, resulting in occasional slowdown. Load times also disrupt the action periodically, although they're not especially long. Humorous voices effects and a dramatic musical score accentuate the outstanding audio. Metal Slug 2 offers five continues which I found to be reasonable for the default skill level. You'd expect the two-player simultaneous mode to be even more fun, but it's really not due to the aforementioned slowdown and general on-screen confusion. The cartridge is not worth breaking your piggy bank for, but if you can obtain the CD for a reasonable price, Metal Slug 2's brand of nonstop mayhem will definitely not let you down. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (1992)
Here's another second-rate, side-scrolling beat-em-up along the same lines as Burning Fight. For some reason SNK could never seem to get these kind of games quite right. They inexplicably went out of their way to keep the action overly simple, limiting the controls to two buttons. As a result, the gameplay feels repetitive and lacks technique. One button is used to punch and the other to jump. You can press both to jump-kick, and hold A for a charge attack. There are no holds, throws, weapons, or interactive scenery, and that's a shame. You spend most of the game just tapping the punch button. Mutation Nation is set in a city of the future crawling with mutated beasts. The designers got pretty creative with some of these creatures, including squid-heads, plant people, horned dogs, and thugs that sprout bat heads. The four-armed woman reminded me of the Mortal Kombat character Shiva. Stage locations include city streets, a museum, a seaport, moving flatbed trucks, and even a dance club. The multi-layered backgrounds are nicely drawn and interesting to look at. The game supports two-player simultaneous action, and you can't harm each other, which is always preferable. Player two is a black guy with a flattop and stripes on the side of his head - quite fashionable for 1992. Three continues are provided. It doesn't appear that SNK put a lot of effort into Mutation Nation. For example, when you walk up to a door at the end of a stage, it shatters without even being touched. Mutation Nation is not a terrible game, but it's awfully shallow and very forgettable. Even my wife, a huge Streets of Rage fan, thought this was awfully primitive. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (1990)
This early Neo Geo title delivers some serious two player shooting satisfaction. You view the action from behind your soldier, blasting enemy troops, tanks, helicopters, boats, and anything else that comes into view. You can even level entire buildings and topple huge bosses. The A button is used to fire your machine gun, B throws grenades, and C is used to run sideways. Running is not only useful for evading incoming fire, but also to grab power ups that rain down around you. A variety of backdrops and enemies keep the action fresh, and there's even an occasional hostage to save. NAM offers a limited number of continues, so you won't finish it in one sitting. If I have one complaint, it's that the action tends to get very difficult very fast. The graphics aren't the best you'll see on the Neo Geo, but the tremendous destruction is quite satisfying. A memory card can be used to save your place. Fun to play and fairly inexpensive, NAM 1975 is highly recommended. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Neo DriftOut (CD)
Publisher: Visco (1996)
It's best known for shooters and fighting games, but the Neo Geo also offers a sweet trio of overhead racers. Just as Overtop (1996) improved on Thrash Rally (1991), Neo DriftOut sets the bar even higher. Or so it would seem!
The game is played over six tracks that include a scenic European raceway, a dusty African course, and a track completely encrusted with snow and ice. The roads twist and turn every which way, but the controls are up to the task. It's amazing
how well these cars handle with a digital joystick. Power-slides feel second nature, and an auto-straighten feature prevents you from having to make slight adjustments on straight-aways. Once you get a feel for it, you'll be playing the game like a violin. Hazards like barrels and puddles just slow you down slightly, but hit a boulder and you may end up facing the wrong direction (gah!). There are no laps; you just race to the finish line. Prompts on the screen indicate upcoming turns and also clue you in on alternate routes. There are other cars but you're really just racing against the clock. Hit a car from behind and it's quickly pushed out of your way. DriftOut's graphics make fine use of scaling to zoom in on straight-aways and zoom out for wide turns. The tight camera reveals a highly detailed car, but it prevents you from viewing the scenery. In fact, you probably won't notice any
scenery during the course of a race. Reach the finish before time expires and you advance to the next track. If you don't make it, the game still lets you finish out your run. A jazzy musical score plays throughout, but that commentator is a real drama queen. You'll bump against another car and he'll exclaim, "OH MY GOD!!
" There are unlimited continues and your combined times make up your score. One area where Neo DriftOut is sorely lacking is the replay department. Once I finally beat the final Great Britain track (after about a dozen tries), I felt like I had seen all the game had to offer. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Normal
Our high score: 7'49"08
Nightmare in the Dark (MVS)
Publisher: Eleven AM (2000)
This obscure platformer blends old-school arcade action with a scary Halloween theme. I dream
of games like this! You play a cloaked crypt keeper trying to keep undead denizens at bay. Each macabre stage features a unique platform configuration crawling with zombies, skeletons, hunchbacks, and ghosts. The monsters are animated in a comical manner, and musical score is very whimsical as well. You defeat enemies by throwing fireballs at them in a rapid-fire manner. Eventually they become engulfed in flames, allowing you to drag them around and hurl them at other creeps. It's strategic and satisfying - not unlike bowling. Clearing a stage causes bonus items to spring forth, and it's fun to snatch them up and rack up crazy bonus points. Every five stages you'll encounter an oversized boss, including a ground-pounding Frankenstein monster. Nightmare in the Dark's colorful backgrounds depict a series of shadowy graveyard scenes, and they add a lot of ambiance. If the game has a weakness, it's the audio. The sound effects are sparse and the soundtrack's upbeat vibe would be better suited to a dance party. The two-player mode is badly flawed, as it's bogged down by some of the worst slow-down I've ever witnessed. As a one-player title however Nightmare in the Dark is spooky fun and a great title to have on hand during the Fall months. Note: While playing this MVS cartridge on my AES converter I noticed some minor graphical glitches, but they did not affect the gameplay. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 487,500
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Alpha (1990)
Many years ago, before they had bad voice acting in video games, there was equally poor text dialogue. Check out this riveting exchange between the two heroes of Ninja Combat: "That's the Ninja Tower isn't it?" "It's like a fortress isn't it?" "It looks more like a small hut to me!" "Let's go Joe!" "I'm ready pal!" If you think that was bad, wait until you play the game. This side-scrolling fighter tries to be a glorified Double Dragon, but it's just awful. The characters are large but cartoonish-looking and the backgrounds are woefully uninteresting. And why in the world are these ninjas wearing such loud, colorful clothes? They look idiotic! The default attack is throwing stars, but there are plenty of weapons lying around like nun-chucks, maces, and axes. Too bad they always get knocked out of your hand before you get a chance to use them! Fortunately there are also magic and running attacks at your disposal. Your foes are an odd mix of ninja warriors, cheerleader girls, and mini-werewolves (now available in bite size!). With so many thugs coming out of the woodwork, it's hard to tell what the heck's going on! You'll take more cheap hits than you can see coming, and although some of the bosses look really cool, they require an inordinate number of hits to destroy (a thousand I think). You can choose a new fighter before each stage, and when you defeat certain foes, they are added to your list of playable characters. While it's nice to have more characters, it's frustrating that these new fighters can't pick up and use weapons (for no reason I can surmise). Another thing I don't appreciate is having to face the same bosses over and over, three or four times. Enough already! The quality of the sound effects in Ninja Combat is also terrible, with muffled grunts and girls who scream "Help! Help!" nonstop. As aggravating as the one player mode is, the two-player mode is even more chaotic and senseless. Oh, and I'm not a big fan of unlimited continues - I think they pretty much suck. And Ninja Combat is one game where you'll be SORRY to have more continues! © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Ninja Commando (CD)
Publisher: ADK (1992)
Sometimes you need more than a garden-variety ninja. Sometimes you need a ninja specially trained as a commando who can also fire magic missiles from his hands. Ninja Commando attempts to fill that void. Actually, this plays more like a vertical shooter than your typical soldier-on-the-rampage game. As you journey through wilderness areas and well-fortified palaces, you'll unleash a torrent of missiles and lay waste to enemy soldiers and monsters foolish enough to stand in your way. With firepower this intense, the two-player simultaneous mode is almost ridiculous. Still, those who enjoy non-stop shooting and massive explosions will be enthralled. In addition to tapping the fire button like a madman, you can hit a somersault button to elude danger. A third button unleashes "ninja magic", inflicting heavy damage to everything on the screen. The bosses are mammoth, and I especially love the giant caveman who actually hurls his own henchmen at you! The death sequences are pretty lame however, as the bosses turn to static before fire engulfs the entire screen (huh?). In general the graphics are colorful and fun, with time-traveling stages that run the gamut from ancient Japan (samurai!) to prehistoric times (dinosaurs!) to ancient Egypt (mummies!). Hilarious cut-scenes depict an evil villain who bears a startling resemblance to Jon Voight. You'll also be treated to incomprehensible prose like, "You have defended the history from enemy" and "I have a feeling like something is going to happen." The weak audio tends to use the same "bleah!" sound effect for each slayed foe, and the musical score is equally forgettable. Unlimited continues are available, but if you want a real challenge, you should play on "easy" and forgo the continues. Ninja Commando has a certain disposable quality about it, but once you start blasting away, it can be mesmerizing. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: ADK (1996)
I enjoy overhead racing games, and Overtop may be the king
of them. Games with tilted perspectives are nothing new, but few have the camera pulled in this
close. The cars and scenery are so rich with detail, they look almost digitized
. Overtop makes Thrash Rally
(Neo Geo, 1991) look like 16-bit material. Instead of offering a series of tracks, there's one long course that winds through villages, deserts, snowy ridges, resorts, and ends in a city park. I like this format. There tend to be a lot of straightaways which lend themselves to high speeds and power slides. You can select between several vehicles, and that red Ferrari looks pretty sweet until you realize how much of the track is off-road. The controls are responsive and it's easy to stay on the road. Pressing the brake lets you turn on a dime, and it never takes long to get back up to speed. You leave the starting line with three other vehicles, but your real opponent is the clock. The diverse scenery looks great - what you can see of it. Since the camera is pulled in tight you only get a modest sense of your surroundings. Destructible items on the side of the track include pylons, hay bales, and exploding barrels. After each track segment you reach a checkpoint and additional time is added ("Let's Go Next Stage!"). The track layout is always the same, but you'll stumble upon shortcuts and alternate routes. It's even possible to drive off a pier and putt-putt through the water, although not recommended. Your goal is to complete the track in the shortest time, but simply reaching the end before time expires is nearly impossible in normal mode. Overtop doesn't break new ground but it does elevate overhead racing to a new level with its tight controls and sweet eye candy. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Easy
Our high score: 4:30:34
Power Spikes II (CD)
Publisher: Video System (1994)
Wow, I never imagined a Neo Geo game could be as monumentally bad
as this is! Power Spikes II is practically an insult
to this system. If this is the sequel, the first Power Spikes must have been an absolute abomination! The main problem here is that the game is played completely on a 2D plane - that's no way to play volleyball. You control one of five small players on your side of the net. Actually, it's difficult to determine how many players there are, since they all look identical and tend to bunch up in front of the net. The gameplay is atrocious, with volleys that always seem to fall into the same predictable pattern. An arrow indicates where the ball will land, so you simply position your player on the arrow. Timing the spikes is easy, since the ball and players tend to move in slow motion. The effectiveness of your spike depends largely on the random occurrence that your opponent is knocked down by the force of your hit. Upon scoring a point, players on the scoring team gallivant around like a bunch of idiots. Power Spikes II allows you to choose between men's teams, women's teams, and the obligatory (for the Neo Geo) high-tech "robot" teams. The crowds in the background looks nice, but serve no purpose besides filling the screen. Lacking even the most basic playability, this is easily one of the worst Neo Geo titles ever conceived. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Prehistoric Isle 2 (MVS)
Publisher: Yumekobo (1999)
While perusing a list of Neo Geo games on a web site "Prehistoric Isle 2" caught my eye. A quick search led me to some footage of this game which absolutely blew me away. It's a rapid-fire shooter that pits helicopters against dinosaurs - a match made in heaven! With giant, angry reptiles on the rampage in urban and tropical locations, it's just like Jurassic Park - only without the bratty kids. The opening stage is set in a city at night, and some of the scenery looks nearly photo-realistic
. The rotating point-of-view effects produce a harrowing perspective far beyond what I thought the system was capable of. I was intent on aquiring this game, but discovered it was only available as an MVS cartridge (designed for the Neo Geo arcade machines). After a little digging I discovered that a MVS-to-AES converter was available. It was pricey as hell, but it opened up a whole new realm of Neo Geo MVS games for me to collect and review. Eventually I landed my own copy of Prehistoric Isle 2, and the gameplay did not disappoint. The rapid-fire shooting action is intense and the crumbling scenery makes for a wild ride. You often have the opportunity to pick up waving human survivors, and this adds some humor and creates a nice risk-versus-reward dynamic. The later stages aren't as spectacular as the city, but the ruins, forests, and volcanoes are still easy on the eyes. I should also mention that this game is very educational. Did you know that dinosaurs could fire missiles
? Also, when defeated, they tend to explode into a fireball! I love science. I'm really glad I didn't live in prehistoric times because dinosaurs made a lot of loud screeching noises which would have irritated me to no end. Prehistoric Isle 2 has flown low on the radar over the years, but with its fast action and amazing eye candy, it's probably my favorite Neo Geo shooter. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Normal
Our high score: 2,087,500
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Aicom (1995)
This awesome shooter is one of those "holy grail" titles that'll cost you an arm and a leg just to get it on CD. But it may be worth the investment, because Pulstar is possibly the Neo Geo's most challenging and graphically impressive shooter. Its fascinating stages take you through mechanical space stations, slimy underworlds, and fiery planet surfaces, and each is meticulously detailed. The quality of the explosions is incredible - far beyond anything I've seen in other Neo Geo shooters. Some of the monsters that crawl across the screen are nearly photo-realistic, and the bosses are a joy to behold. The first boss is a slimy little octopus-like creature that surrounds itself with metal debris, and then morphs the whole thing into a giant killer machine - wow. Besides its top-notch visuals, Pulstar's other claim to fame is its difficulty. The word "insurmountable" comes to mind. The Video Game Critic doesn't usually like his games this hard, but at least you can choose to start on any of the first four stages. There are unlimited continues, and you don't have to restart a stage from the very beginning when you continue, thank goodness. The control scheme is quite unique. Simply tapping the fire button is not enough to kill most enemies, but you can hold it to "charge" you shots. A second option is to tap the fire button super-fast, which increases the range and intensity of your shots. Although this can be hard on your wrist, certain power-ups seem to make this easier. Pulstar's audio is also noteworthy. The music is has a soothing, new age sound that's a nice break from the standard fare, and the crystal clear sound effects really grabbed my attention. Each stage is introduced with a full motion video (FMV) clip, but these 3D-rendered cut scenes are hardly impressive by today's standards and definitely not worth the load time, so turn them off using the options menu. The option menu also lets you select from one of eight skill levels. Despite its difficult nature, Pulstar is an awesome shooter. Its graphics and sound really elevate the Neo Geo to the next level. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players (alternating)
Publisher: SNK (1990)
In 1990 Tetris fever swept the globe and every system worth its salt had to have the obligatory "falling blocks" game. SNK's Puzzler (Joy Joy Kid in Japan) adds a clever twist to the standard Tetris formula. The goal of each stage is to free a balloon trapped under layers of blocks, and each stage offers a new and progressively harder board configuration. I wasn't prepared for how insanely fun this game turned out to be. The visuals are modest by Neo Geo standards, but its addictive gameplay is unrelenting. I love how two people can play independently on both sides of the screen. The first time I tried this my friend Steve and I played it for hours on end. We would have probably played through the night if we didn't have to do that crazy thing called "work" (so annoying). The pacing is fast but I like how you get an extra second once a piece lands to finagle it into position. Steve made a case for an A grade, but that was the beer talking. Puzzler's difficulty doesn't ramp as gradually as it should, and that pyramid stage is an absolute killer!
The audio doesn't help matters with its looping circus music and annoying voice samples ("hurry up!"). Even so, once you become ensnared in Puzzler's deceptively simple gameplay, there is simply no escape. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: SLN 17,300
1 or 2 players
Rally Chase (CD) (Japan)
Publisher: Alpha Denshi (1991)
This is the Japanese edition of Thrash Rally; they are the same game. This overhead racer features unspectacular graphics but addictive gameplay. This CD edition requires a lengthy initial load, but after that the game plays just like the cartridge with no interruptions in the action. I couldn't discern any differences at all between the two, so if you don't want to shell out the dough for the cartridge, this is a cost-effective alternative. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (1990)
Riding Hero is an unspectacular motorcycle racer in the tradition of Pole Position. The distant backgrounds are somewhat attractive, but there's little scenery on the sides of the road. Other vehicles look large and detailed, but it's ridiculously difficult to navigate around cars and trucks! The sound effects are muffled, and the music is generic, but he controls aren't bad. Three buttons are used to accelerate, brake, and turbo. The key to winning Riding Hero is just staying on the road, but that's easier said than done. It's easy to slide off the side of the road, so don't be afraid to lean on the brake. Oddly, using turbo seems to improve
your traction! Unfortunately, the other riders like to bump you off the road, and it's especially frustrating when they bump you from behind since you can't see them coming! The World Grand Prix mode is mildly addicting, and lets you advance from one track to the next, saving between races. A separate story mode allows you to move around a town, talk to people, and earn money in races, but it didn't exactly win me over. All you do is choose an adversary and bet on each race you enter, and the text is an unintentional comedy of awkward wording and grammatical errors. The third mode is the "multi-play" mode that allows two players to compete head to head, and Riding Hero comes with the necessary link wire. It's mildly amusing, but Riding Hero is not one of the better Neo Geo titles. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (1991)
It doesn't get much love from most critics, but this side-scrolling brawler is pretty sweet if you ask me. Robo Army's familiar premise pits one or two heroes against rampaging robots in a post-apocalyptic world. Like Streets of Rage, you punch, jump, kick, and unleash special attacks. It's quite satisfying as the robots explode and debris flies all over the place. Heck, you can even pick up entire vehicles
and toss them around like beach balls. It's mindless fun, and sometimes that's the best kind. Robotic limbs can be used as clubs, and I love how certain robots will keep on walking around after losing their torsos. Certain power-ups transform you into a small armored car that lets you mow down everything in sight. The characters are about as huge as they could possibly be for a game like this, and impressive scaling is used to render incoming vehicles and transforming bosses. The bosses assume some interesting forms, like a giant yapping robotic dog constructed entirely from smashed cars. Robo Army's post-apocalyptic urban scenery isn't anything you haven't seen before, but its attention to detail is commendable. The clanking metal sound effects are terrific, and the synthesized music isn't bad either. As one of the more affordable titles for the Neo Geo, Robo Army should satisfy your appetite for destruction. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
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