FGC #369 Ninja Master’s

NINJA!This is my greatest gaming regret.

As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, I own a lot of videogames. Every single entry in the FGC is related to a game I actually own (physically, if at all possible), and I’m not afraid to say that… maybe I have a problem. My “gaming room” is wall-to-wall plastic knickknacks, and, assuming the amiibo army doesn’t expand beyond its nation’s borders, that is unlikely to change. I am physically incapable of “trading in” an old, no-longer-played videogame, and if that means that one day they shall find me buried beneath a stack of lousy Simpsons merchandise, so be it. I chose the game life, and I know how it ends.

But, looming death aside, I regret very few purchases. The (not) secret mission statement of this blog is that every game, good or bad, has a story. It doesn’t matter if it’s Super Mario or Lollipop Chainsaw, every videogame has some kind of message at its core… even if that message is simply “please go to the mall”. It’s very rare that I buy a terrible game for a significant amount of dough (one way or another, the “Make my Videos” of my collection were generally purchased for less than the price of a gallon of bleach), and, even when that does inevitably happen, at least I get a cool story out of the deal. I have measured my life in plastic cartridges, and my library being my library is worth more than any copy of Little Samson (according to current ebay values).

And all that said? The Neo Geo X sucks, and I want it out of my life.

The Neo Geo X should have been a thing of beauty. It was the Switch before we had the Switch! Take a look…

Look at that sucker

The Neo Geo X was basically a portable system that played Neo Geo games, but it also could dock, and then output HDMI straight into your increasingly intimidating gigantic television. And it was released with a colossal arcade stick! And 20 preloaded games! You didn’t have to switch cartridges to get your Geo on! It could be the ideal portable system with an excellent mini library, and then plug into your television for two player fun times! And the preloaded library was pretty robust, too, with King of Fighters ’95, King of the Monsters, Metal Slug, and World Heroes Perfect! Add in a few random forgotten gems (or “forgotten gems”), and the Neo Geo X looked like a pretty good get for $200 (which, reminder, would be less than the cost of a whole four contemporary games in 2012).

And, from a personal perspective, I was excited about the Neo Geo X. I never owned a Neo Geo, and, by the time I had enough scratch to afford such an expense, nearly every worthwhile Neo Geo title had already been released on more accessible consoles. In fact, when you look at the Fatal Fury Archives, Metal Slug Anthologies, and even some of the random games popping up on assorted collections, it seemed like the waiting game was the right way to do it. Why waste time switching expensive cartridges when every last game is on one disc on a system you were going to play anyway? The Neo Geo X seemed like a godsend for this kind of thinking, because I still have to own a Neo Geo, right? It should be represented somewhere in my Hall of Gaming, and the NGX would scratch that itch and be a pretty great system besides. Portable World Hero times! Metal Slug anywhere I want! And big, chunky arcade sticks for couch multiplayer! Bring the arcade experience home!

So I brought the Neo Geo X home, and… it sucked. It sucked a lot.

Look at these nerdsI’m not sure what I expected (yes I am, see the previous paragraph), but the Neo Geo X landed with a wet thud on my gaming carpet (this isn’t a metaphor). I guess I somehow thought this emulated Neo Geo experience would be… improved (? Somehow?) over my previous Neo Geo encounters, but, nope, that’s plain ol’ Metal Slug on my TV again, same as last time. And portable World Heroes is fun an’ all, but it’s just as limited as any fighting game from 1995 (yeesh) is going to be in 2012.

And, come to think of it, that’s exactly why the Neo Geo X was terrible: it was a 2012 system limited to 90’s tech.

To be clear, this isn’t about a retro system hosting retro games. I love retro games (source: this entire blog). No, the problem here was Ninja Master’s, the bonus game that was released with the Neo Geo X at launch. The Neo Geo X came preloaded with its own assortment of games, and Ninja Master’s was additionally included on a SD card “cartridge”. Slide in the card, and you’ve got 21 games! Woo! Presumably, future Neo Geo Xs would not have this extra game included, and let us all revel in our early adopter bounty. Nothing like an extra fighting game for fightin’!

Except… Ninja Master’s really was just an SD card with a game on there. The Neo Geo X could not accept old Neo Geo Cartridges or CDs, and expansions were limited to a chunk of physical media that was probably best known for living in your digital camera. The Neo Geo X did not have a network jack or a wireless receiver. Online play was out of the question, but, more importantly, you were never going to download new (old) games to the system. Any expansions for the system were going to be tied to SD cards for the rest of forever, and, thus, juggling “cartridges” would be the norm. To state a now obvious flaw, because the system launched with only Metal Slug (1), you were never going to have a portable Neo Geo that allowed for rapidly flipping through all the Metal Slug adventures. It was impossible. The system couldn’t handle something so basic, it had appeared on the PSP three years prior.

Get 'emThe Neo Geo X seemed like a great idea at its conception, but it was outdated before it got out of the box. We take it for granted, but the face of gaming, and the scope of what is possible, has changed dramatically over the last few years. A system that never updates? It sounds nice from a “I just want to play my games right now” perspective, but it also means what you bought is what you’ve got, forever, and that the average Neo Geo X is no better than one of those portable Sega emulators you’d find at the supermarket. The Neo Geo X was priced like a big boy system, but it had all the support of an Atari 60-in-one controller. And those NGX arcade controllers were cool, but they were wired, and wired controllers are sooo Playstation 1, not Playstation Fun. Yes, this was a retro system from top to bottom, but it was retro in the worst way.

So, with no future (and Mark of the Wolves being the only must-have game that was eventually released on cartridge), the Neo Geo X was plunked into a drawer the absolute first moment I needed more shelf space. It was conceivable that I’d want to play it again, but literally every game I wanted to play on that system was available faster and easier on other platforms. And on systems with wireless controllers! And save states! And other quality of life improvements that are so ingrained in modern gaming, I can’t even name them all. All those contemporary features are completely natural now, while the Neo Geo X is archaic. And the problem was not that the Neo Geo X was outdated, it’s that it was outdated from the moment it was released.

In time, Nintendo would prove “how you do it” with the NES and SNES Classics. They might not be portable, but their crisp emulation and amazing libraries proved that you could release a retro system that people would want (nay, demand), and you could do it at a price point that doesn’t attempt to compete with the “real” systems. And while my SNES Classic is never going to see as much play as my original SNES, it’s certainly going to see more use than the Neo Geo X, because it at least tried to understand the gamers of the age. The Neo Geo X? It didn’t even try, and I’ll always feel like a sucker for ever being excited about that useless lump of plastic.

The Neo Geo X is my biggest gaming regret.

FGC #369 Ninja Master’s

  • System: Neo Geo and Neo Geo X. It also appeared on the Playstation 2 and Playstation 4 as part of collections. But you ever hear about the Neo Geo X? It’s this system that…
  • Number of Players: Two simultaneous Ninja Masters in Ninja Master’s.
  • Kid Yin?Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Ninja Master’s is a pretty basic SNK fighting game. Its themes and general style are reminiscent of Samurai Shodown, but it allows the player to choose whether to wield a weapon or not. Oh, and you can lose your weapon, too. Come to think of it, it’s kind of like an early, 2-D Soul Edge. Other than that, it’s almost entirely forgettable, and the fact that it was used as a “bonus” to promote a new (old) system is a little peculiar.
  • What’s in a name: The technical, full title is Ninja Master’s: Haō Ninpō Chō, which roughly translates to something about a ninja master having the sacred Jedi texts or whatever. What’s important is that the American version very deliberately cuts it to simply Ninja Master’s, which gives the impression that no one at SNK understands how apostrophes work.
  • Favorite Character: Unzen is a hulking (seriously, he looks like The Hulk) Buddhist monk with no pupils and a giant hammer. He will crush you, and then shout random kōans at your corpse. He is everything I ever want to be.
  • Did you know? This is yet another videogame where you can fight (or fight as) Nobunaga, the Julius Caesar of 16th Century Japan. In this case, the grand unifier of Japan is possessed by a demon, so there’s an excuse for him to be the final boss beyond being the most famous dude in the roster. Well, next to Goemon, at least.
  • Would I play again: Ninja Master’s and the Neo Geo X are going back in the closet of shame with my Atari games and that keyboard for the Dreamcast. See you never, Ninja Master’s!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mighty Bomb Jack for the NES! I’m sure that’s going to be a blast! Please look forward to it!

Ouch

One Response »

  1. I’ve got to say, Ninja Master’s looks pretty nice. Detailed character portraits, smooth animations, really colorful visuals…Like, I’d mainly associated the Neo Geo with muted, kinda crappy-looking palettes (I blame KOF), but this game’s quite the looker.

    Shame to hear the Neo Geo X was so phoned-in. I had no real interest in getting one myself (I’m not THAT into fighting games), but I certainly expected better than no online support and expansions only accessible via SD card. It should’ve been a thing of beauty for Neo Geo fans.

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