Tag Archives: neo geo

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

FGC #336 World Heroes Anthology

I love you, Willow ValleyHere’s another reason we’re stupid.

So there’s this anime I’m about to spoil, and it’s called Fate/Stay Night. I’m not going to be bothered to figure out the exact origins of this franchise, but I’m moderately certain it’s some kind of Japanese light porno that digivolved into a version of Pokémon. The “original” plot is that there is The Holy Grail War, and in order to reduce the body count of another Crusade, seven Pokémon Trainers each get one main warrior, and said warriors fight it out. In the anime (one of them, but I think I’m talking about the first one) this means a well-meaning, nondescript boy winds up with a female warrior at his beck and call, inadvertently gains a tsundere rival/ally in the war itself, and somehow eventually accumulates a few other walking fetishes for his harem. Did you guess one of his opponents-turned-allies would be a “younger sister” archetype? Good job, you’ve watched an anime before!

Fate/Stay Night’s obvious thighs fetish aside, it seems the most lasting item to come out of that series is its appropriation of historical and mythical characters. The concept for this Holy Grail War is that the warriors are drawn from across antiquity and fiction, and you can wind up with an epic battle where Hercules has to fight Ozymandias while Cu Chulainn eats a hotdog. And, of course, the big “mystery” of the initial Fate/Stay Night story is the identity of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman that is aiding our protagonist. Eventually, it is discovered that she is the one and only King Arthur (star of Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and all the myths got it wrong, “he” was a “she” all along, and just taped down her prodigious chest because medieval peasants weren’t so great about listening to ladies who studied the blade. This is meant to be a revelation, because it recontextualizes history (“history”), and adds a certain gravitas to this story about occasionally peeping on Queen Arthur bathing. Also, it allows the Once and Future Queen to have massive depression over the current state of Camelot (which I believe has become some manner of theme park), and a sad protagonist is always a sign of a for-real serious story for adults.

Is this Fate?For reasons that I can’t completely understand (are there a lot of people out there that just really want to boink King Arthur?) Fate/Stay Night has been a very successful series. It has amassed a huge number of spin-offs and auxiliary material, and I somehow bought two of the artbooks because it’s not yet illegal to be drunk and access Amazon.com. And, through all of the Fate/Stay material, there continues to be this delightful inclination toward harvesting history for a cheap bit of seriousness. That’s not just any dark knight, that’s Lancelot! Who’s that lion-headed muscle man? It’s Thomas Edison! And when we need a whole new version of our most popular heroine, we’ll say she’s Nero this time. We can always find another male leader to be reimagined as a busty blonde. We can keep this series going forever!

And it works every. Single. Time.

Now, I’m not saying that the Fate/Stay Night franchise is some kind of unrelenting cultural juggernaut the likes of Young Sheldon and its associated ancillary material; no, what I’m saying is that, if you pay the tiniest bit of attention to the Fate/Stay Night franchise (and maybe properly call it the “Type Moon Universe” or something), you will be tricked every single time they release a “new” character. It’s really simple: they marry a random anime trope (let’s say J-Pop idol) to a random mythical/historical character (gonna go with… Elizabeth Bathory) and then marvel as the audience says, “Hey! I know that name! Neat!” It’s not like it pushes systems, but every time it happens, there’s that twinge of recognition, that indescribable feeling of knowing what you’re looking at, and, inevitably, it somehow enhances the experience. This isn’t Original Character #4,371, this is freakin’ Marilith! I saw her in Final Fantasy! Kinda!

And, while I may be fairly immune to the charms of Fate/Stay Night, I was young once. And, for that reason, I can never find fault in World Heroes.

Axe me no questions, I'll cut you no liesActually, let me amend that statement: I can absolutely see how World Heroes was not a very good Street Fighter 2 clone. The inadequate attack options lead to very limited fights, the final boss is Shang Tsung without a Goro, and the “danger” levels are a gimmick for gimmick’s sake. World Heroes 2 added more characters to the roster, but was otherwise more of the same (give or take the “seesaw” battles that take absolutely forever). World Heroes 2 Jet was just the Turbo edition, and World Heroes Perfect was finally a rival for Street Fighter 2 when we had already moved on to Street Fighter Alpha. World Heroes was always a step behind, and never any better than the myriad of other wannabe fighters available at the time.

And I don’t think I’ve ever loved a fighting game franchise more.

I’ve always said that a fighting game lives or dies by its roster. Street Fighter knows the score on this one, and it’s also the flawless reason that Tekken keeps adding magical idols and hulking robots to its cast. On the other side of the coin you have the likes of Virtua Fighter, which is an excellent game fundamentally, but contains a roster so boring I’m struggling to stay awake to finish this sentence. World Heroes is firmly in the Street Fighter camp (up to and including Ken and Ryu “but ninjas!” as the main characters), and, while there are a few duds (hello, Bruce Lee Clone #261), this is a game that absolutely plumbs the depths of history to produce an interesting roster. Rasputin the mad (and loving) monk! Ganghis Kahn! And, yes, even a precursor to Fate/Stay Night’s blonde swordswoman, an expy of Joan of Arc named Jane. All the numbers have been filed off these “famous” fighters (which explains how Hulk Hogan snuck into the ring), but it’s pretty clear that the “C” in “C. Kidd” doesn’t stand for “Carl”.

NEO DIO!And damned if this “historical” roster didn’t work on me. Look! It’s Jack the Ripper! I know who that is! I saw that guy on Babylon 5! Let’s pump a few quarters into this one! And I couldn’t have been the only one, as the “weak” World Heroes gameplay did wind up producing a pile of sequels (and I swear I saw World Heroes on more Neo Geos than I ever saw Metal Slug). World Heroes might not have survived past the fighting game fad of the late 90’s, but it fared a lot better than Primal Rage. Eat it, Saturday Night Slam Masters!

But, like it or not, the fleeting success of World Heroes is another sign that we’re dumb. We’re suckers for recognition, and whether it’s a reality TV show host running for president or a medieval woman with a sword, we seem to gravitate toward the familiar. A significant variation on King Arthur or a slight variation on Joan of Arc, it doesn’t matter, just so long as that proverbial part of our monkey brain lights up in acknowledgment. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be familiar.

Though I suppose familiar can be good, too. You know, when it involves a dude in a tiki mask demolishing a Viking. That’s always going to be a fun time.

FGC #336 World Heroes Anthology

  • System: Playstation 2 for the anthology, but the original World Heroes games appeared on the Neo Geo. And it hopped over to Super Nintendo, like, once. Maybe there was a brief stop on Saturn, too.
  • Number of players: Two is the number of fighters, and the number of fighters shall be two.
  • Localization Fun: It’s SNK, so it’s time for your daily recommended engrish.

    PUNCH!

    So close!

  • Problematic Like: Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room: this game features a robotic Nazi. They don’t try to hide it! His bio says that he was built for World War 2, he’s wearing basically a Nazi uniform, and he’s from Germany, with a profession listed as “soldier”. However, despite there being a Nazi in the roster, there’s no reason you have to be the Nazi, and you’re welcome to punch the Nazi all you want. So, you know, that’s an option.
  • What’s in a name: The man who creates the time machine that fuels this tournament is… Doctor Brown. Doc Brown. Who built a time machine. Huh. Later games did revise his name to be the slightly less conspicuous Dr. Brown Sugar.
  • Other Plagiarism: Along with the mecha Nazi, we’ve got some holdovers from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure here, complete with a final boss named Dio (who is, incidentally, basically a stand). If this bullet point doesn’t makes sense to you, please see your nearest anime nerd.
  • Why can’t we be friends: Now we take a moment to acknowledge the rad dancing happening in the background of the World Heroes 2 America stage.

    Rock it!

    Keep on rockin’, guys!

  • Did you know? A World Heroes release was planned for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, but that system flopped so badly, it brought down every franchise with it. Oops!
  • Would I play again: I have incredible nostalgia for this title, so almost certainly. Can’t say no to some of my addictions.

What’s next? Random ROB is letting me play another recent game… Cuphead: Don’t Deal with the Devil! Let’s get ready to smash some Made in America china! Please look forward to it!

DBZ fighter?

FGC #257 Waku Waku 7

SUPER WAKU FIGHTING TIMEI love a good knock-off.

There is a fine line in any medium between original and IP theft. What’s the difference between Superman and Captain Marvel/Shazam? Well, one is an alien from another planet with strengths granted by his alien biology, and the other is a little kid with magical powers that allow him to instantly transform into an adult with super speed and muscles. But both Superman and Captain Marvel can fly, fight, and wear a cape, so, uh, guess they’re legally the same dude. Meanwhile, King Kong and Donkey Kong, both giant guerillas that climbed towers after kidnapping blonde damsels, are totally different ape creatures, so don’t even try to claim they’re remotely the same. When you look at history, you see the only difference between an “original character” becoming successful or being devoured by a rival corporate entity is a good lawyer or two, so let’s stop pretending there is some gigantic gulf between Midnighter, Batman, and your Sonic the Hedgehog fan character (do not steal) Bruce the Bathog.

And knock-offs are important in videogames, too. Got a great idea for a magical girl game, but don’t feel like roughing out your own ideas on gameplay? Well, how about you just copy Mega Man wholesale, and call it a day. But don’t tell Astro Boy, he’s still trying to get a hold of that thieving Dr. Light. Got a brave new mascot that happens to be a bobcat that runs fast? I’ve got an idea! This all traces back to the Atari, too, the system that hosted a number of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong clones. And, again, Donkey Kong “himself” was accused of being nothing more than IP-theft at his inception. Videogames are bootlegging all the way down!

OuchBut, as ever, there are degrees of plagiarism in videogames. SoulCalibur may have imported Harley Quinn into medieval times, but… there are enough of the edges filed off, right? It’s still an almost wholly unique fighting game with weapons. On the other side of the coin, you have something like Fighter’s History, which (kinda) has unique characters, but their movements and play styles are almost exactly copied from Street Fighter 2. So, which is worse? Copying gameplay or copying characters? Is SoulCalibur “better” because its IP theft isn’t as blatant? Or should we be nicer to Fighter’s History, a game that at least had the good sense to include Karnov, who hails from a surprisingly original action game?

But when you consider which franchise is a franchise, and which is forgotten by all but the most esoteric blogs, well, maybe that means the only question should be, “but is it fun?”

Waku Waku 7 is a fun fighting game. I first discovered the game through filthy emulation back at the turn of the 21st Century, but Waku Waku 7 was formally released for the Neo Geo in ’96 or so. It was also released for the Sega Saturn… but only in Japan. Boo. Regardless, my buddy Matt and I played this game roughly 7,000 times, because it was one of the best fighting games available at the time. Okay, it was no Marvel vs. Capcom, but it could also be played on a crappy little laptop, so it was the closest we were going to get to a decent portable fighter. And by “portable”, I mean, “we’re stuck at your mom’s house for the next hour, what do you want to do?” It’s amazing how much being a poor college student is like being six…

Here they areWhere was I? Oh yeah, Waku Waku 7. It’s a 2-D fighting game, and it’s pretty much like Street Fighter 2 or King of Fighters or generally any of those games. In fact, given the Neo Geo hardware, it’s a lot like King of Fighters or Fatal Fury, and that fact might be influenced a little by how Rai Bakuoh, the “genki” teenage hero of Waku Waku 7, is a living parody of a character from Psycho Soldier/KoF and has all the same special moves as FF’s Terry Bogard. Then again, maybe Waku Waku 7 is more like Darkstalkers, as Mauru plays a lot like Sasquatch, and just happens to look a lot like (My Neighbor) Totoro. Or should I have just stuck with Street Fighter 2? Bonus-Kun is a deliberate parody of Ryu, right down to his red bandana and spinning hurricane kick. He just happens to be, ya know, a literal punching bag.

Maybe we should investigate that “parody” thing a little further. The full cast of Waku Waku 7 features seven distinct characters (oh, I just got that), but glancing at the character select screen, you’d be forgiven for assuming this is some manner of 90’s (pre-Neon Genesis Evangelion) anime reunion. Tesse is a mechanical battle maid that directly recalls Mahoromatic/Mahoro. Slash is a sword-wielding elf straight out of Record of Lodoss War, or maybe just Magic Emperor Ghaleon in glasses. Politank-Z is some bizarre mix of “chibi manga” like Dr. Slump and Dominion Tank Police… and he can’t get enough of that Cookie Crisp. Dandy-J is the most “Western” character, because his origins apparently involve Indiana Jones and JoJo(‘s Bizarre Adventure) conceiving a love child. Arina, the begoggled bunny girl, seems like the most original character, but that’s only because “a bunny girl wearing goggles” is an oddly established anime trope. It’s like saying there’s an elf in a Tolkien fantasy, or a tech-savvy support character in a Berlanti show.

OwieSo all the characters are varying degrees of outright IP theft (there has never been a person that didn’t start this game by asking, “What’s Totoro doing here?”), but what about the game plot itself? Well, there are seven magical orbs, and, if you catch ‘em all, a magical being will be summoned to grant a wish. I want to say I’ve heard that one before. Most of the characters are fireball motions and dragon punches, so the gameplay is “borrowed” as well. And it’s not even like there’s a difference in the bells and whistles between this and every 90’s fighting game ever. Profile screen during the attract mode? Check. Win/lose quotes after every match? Check. And the ol’ ending “cinema” of two or three screens with some goofy dialogue? You better believe that’s a check. Seen it all before, Waku Waku 7!

But it’s still fun, and that’s because it’s a rip-off.

King of Fighters is fun, but to the inexperienced, neophyte fighting fan, well, who are these guys? Dude with the weird pants hates the guy with the fire fist? Okay? That’s neat, but why is there a dwarf version of Freddy Kruger bouncing around? Street Fighter 2 is supposedly as iconic as it gets, but good luck getting someone new excited about Street Fighter 3 (“Why is that guy in the speedo two different colors?”) Tekken is full of bland shirtless dudes, and SoulCalibur is all about its heroines’…. assets. And we’re even ignoring the host of over 90’s fighting games that barely got past one version. Remember Weaponlord? It was like if Todd McFarlane made… never mind, it doesn’t matter. It never mattered. Point is that, whether it’s acknowledged by “the scene” or not, there is a barrier of entry to most fighting games, and, suffice it to say, it’s one that Marvel vs. Capcom doesn’t have to deal with. Everybody recognizes Spider-Man.

So proudAnd everybody recognizes Totoro, too… even if it’s not Totoro. Waku Waku 7 is guileless. Its characters are obvious archetypes (if not outright plagiarism), the gameplay is four buttons and simple special motions. The plot is funny, though it doesn’t fall all over itself to be another Clayfighter. It’s a fraud, but that deception makes it accessible. Like a pair of faux-Oakleys you can pick up for ten bucks to impress your crush so she’ll maybe say yes to prom (it works! I swear!), Waku Waku 7 is a fine knock-off.

Waku Waku 7 is not original in any way, and, sometimes, that’s just fine.

FGC #257 Waku Waku 7

  • System: Neo-Geo in likely impossible to find quantities, and a Saturn version that only appears in Japan. But now it’s available for Switch! Hooray! This is the first Switch game reviewed on this site! Technically!
  • Number of players: Two anime fighters.
  • Favorite Character: I’m going to go with Arina, the bunny girl. She’s basically the game’s Ryu in special moves and general narrative, but what’s important is that she’s rocking the goggles. Actually, there are two different characters with goggles on the roster… so maybe that’s the entire reason I like the game? Hm.
  • Don't look him in the eyeAn ending: The final boss is an unspeakable black void of horror named… Fernandez. In Japan, he is known as Fernandeath. That sounds slightly more threatening.
  • Land of the rising fun: The Switch version allows the player to choose between Japanese and American versions of the game. Having played through both, aside from a few names, I think the only difference is that the Japanese version gets character profiles that nobody felt like translating. Boo, cheap localization.
  • Did you know? Bonus-Kun, the Ryu-wannabe, premiered in Sunsoft’s earlier fighting game, Galaxy Fight: Universal Warriors. I want to say that game is even more obscure than Waku Waku 7… so it should probably have a Switch release next week.
  • Would I play again: Most certainly. Having it as a downloaded title on a portable system does a lot for replayability, particularly at the start of a system’s lifespan. Politank Z will ride again!

What’s next? I kind of like that there has been a number theme matching the FGC entries all this week. Pac-Man 256 for 256, Waku Waku 7 for 257… I mean, it was an accident… but still! Let me see if I can dig up a game involving an eight, and then we’ll get back to true randomness next week. Please look forward to it!

So wrong