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FGC #420 SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy

Yay Gals!I’m not upset. I’m just disappointed.

Previously in what passes for reality: SNK once supported the Neo Geo Pocket Color, and it featured an adorable game titled SNK Gals’ Fighters. It was a fun, though shallow, fighting game made for a system that could only sustain vaguely Gameboy-esque graphics and a whole two action buttons. Despite the obvious handicaps, SNK Gals’ Fighters was an enjoyable, portable title that was downright ideal for short trips or sudden spurts of gaming while watching Xena: Warrior Princess.

SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy cannot make the same claim.

There were issues right from the start. Right at the initial announcement, we had Mai dressed in a combination bikini/cow costume. This was an ominous portent! Mai has been compared to a cow on many occasions before, because (get ready for a real knee slapper here) cows are known for their utters, and Mai is known for her boobs. Ha! Funny joke! Everybody laughs (at women with large breasts). And, let’s face it, aside from fetishist satisfiers or extremely self-confident cosplay fans, no woman on Earth is ever going to voluntarily wear a “cow bikini”. Why invite the comparison? It’s like wearing a Sonic the Hedgehog shirt to a sane people convention (NormalCon ’19 still has tickets available). But don’t worry! The early trailers quickly established that these women were kidnapped (!) and forced to fight in ridiculous outfits (!) for the benefit of an unseen, male kidnapper (!). Rape dungeon! The entire plot of this game was immediately established as “takes place in a rape dungeon”. Holy cow bikini, SNK, that is not a good look.

FIGHT!And, unfortunately, this title is all about good looks. The plot did not improve after the initial trailers: Kukri (aka “The Sand Guy” introduced in King of Fighters 14) created a pocket dimension (as one does) where he is nigh omnipotent. Then he kidnapped a handful of women fighters, and dressed them in various fetish outfits, because… he’s a fetish freak. He… literally says that out loud. He doesn’t seem to have one particular fetish (this ain’t King of Catgirls), but the general theme for the outfits appears to be some level of embarrassment/shame. “Pure and good” Nakoruru is dressed as some manner of anime vampiress, and space pirate Love Heart is stuck in a (sexy) police uniform. And, yes, half the fun with most of these costumes is “wow, conservative girl is now dressed as a total slut! Whatta twist!” … Except, guys? This is already a fighting game franchise. We’ve already got a freaking samba dancing kick boxer that has never worn a shirt. Sticking these characters that are already just one degree away from being walking fetishes in fetish gear isn’t exactly the furthest bridge to cross. But, hey, now the women are wearing these costumes distinctly because they don’t want to! And that’s a selling point, apparently! Please enjoy the femme fatale dressed as a school girl. She’s two fetishes, now! Maybe three!

Oh, and every character has three different costumes (available for purchase with [thankfully in-game] credits), and various accessories available in “let’s play dress-up mode”. So you can metaphorically assume the role of the kidnapping misogynist at the core of this tale! Yay!

But it doesn’t matter if the gameplay is fun, right? Surely the company that has been producing fighting games since before Street Fighter 2 knows a thing or two about making a decent fighter, unfortunate implications of presentation aside. Heck, King of Fighters 14 was a distinct step-up for that franchise, so of course its faux-sequel is going to kick some butt (that is probably wearing bloomers to satisfy some other fetish). That’s just basic math!

Unfortunately, King of Fighters 14 might be the biggest problem.

Say cheese!Of the default roster of characters in SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy (aka not including the DLC), only one fighter did not appear in King of Fighters 14. In fact, a healthy number of fighters in this title premiered in King of Fighters 14. So, of the many, many women in the SNK universe, 92% of the cast could be found in the previous fighting game. And that would be fine… if everything about this title didn’t feel like a downgrade from its predecessor. King of Fighters 14 was a traditional 2-D fighting game with old-fashioned button motions and general playstyles. SNK Heroines attempts to go the Smash Bros. route, and simplifies everything to two attack buttons, a throw button, and a “special” button that offers different special movies depending on simple directional inputs. A neutral special might be a fireball, while forward plus special is a rushing kick. That could work! But… with the limited controls, nearly every character feels severely limited compared to their KoF14 versions. How limited? Well, you can’t even duck. You can crouch in King of Fighters, but I guess bendable knees weren’t in the budget for these queens.

If, at this point, you are suspecting that this whole game might be a callous cash-grab and an excuse to reuse character models from another, more fully-realized game, then congratulations, and welcome to the SNK Board of Dudes that Produce Shitty Fighting Games. Please pick up your complimentary Lady Terry Bogard hat at your earliest convenience.

Get 'erBut the absolute worst thing about this whole experience? SNK got it so right over a decade ago, and now, right on schedule, it seems everything great about SNK Gals’ Fighters got flipped on its head (which probably now has to wear cat ears). The interesting “dream crushing” finishers of SNKGF were transformed into required “finishing moves” that are boring as hell. The simplified controls of the NGP feel incredibly lacking on a modern controller. All “cute” super-deformed spritework has been replaced with glamorous models that have inescapably been designed to focus on a few key parts of a woman’s anatomy. And the delightful “everyone is fighting to earn a magical wish” plot has been replaced with “battle to escape a man’s private rape dimension”. That… puts a bit of a damper on things.

But… I knew to expect all of this. So why should I be mad?

From the moment this game was conceived, SNK had a choice: create a fighting game with cheesecake, or create a fighting game around cheesecake. Let’s not kid ourselves: there was never, ever going to be an SNK all-women fighting game that wasn’t lousy with fanservice and opportunities to ogle the cast. That’s inevitable! But rather than make a decent game that incidentally included new and interesting jiggle physics, SNK went for a lazy title that was literally all about fetishizing its female fighters. There could have been some genuine creativity on display here, but all resources were diverted toward creating new and exciting reasons for a pachislot heroine to dress as Little Bo Peep.

Do better, SNK. I’m only frustrated because I know you can.

FGC #420 SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy

  • System: I somehow had it in my head that this was a Switch exclusive, but it’s also apparently available for the Playstation 4. Which is a system that also hosts King of Fighters 14. Hm.
  • Number of players: You will never ever play this game with another human being. But, conceptually, two players makes sense.
  • What is even happening?Say Something Nice: The story mode adapting to your chosen duo is always nice. And, when you consider how awful this story happens to be, I think that’s the nicest thing I can say about the plot.
  • Fashion Faux pas: Shermie is the only character with a default costume that is not an overt fetish. She’s also the only “newcomer” that did not appear in King of Fighters 14. While you might be able to claim all Shermie resources went to just getting the poor, dead gal on the roster, I’m going to point out that King of Fighter’s canonically bustiest character probably didn’t need another fetish heaped upon her.
  • Too Old for this @$^&: I would like to see King on the roster, but… she does not deserve this kind of abuse. She’s too classy for this nonsense.
  • Let’s talk about Terry: So Terry is magically a woman now. This is an amusing way to fit a series mainstay into this all women fighter, but they should have chosen literally any other character for this role (Kyo?) as King of Fighters 14’s Alice is already “Terry, but a woman” in all but actual genetics. Besides, what we really need is a gender-swapped Chang Koehan.
  • Favorite Character: Sylvie Paula Paula might have been initially designed for King of Fighters 14 as some kind of lame idol parody, but she gets my vote here because she immediately identifies the “secret” villain of the story, and announces that she is already tired of this garbage before even her first match. You and me both, sister.
  • Did you know? Blue Mary isn’t in this game. Nor is noted pirate Bonne Jenet. This is a travesty.
  • Would I play again: Maybe for thirty seconds as a novelty, but there are so many other, better fighting games out there. Let’s leave this rape dungeon behind.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Saints Row 4! Dammit, ROB! You could have chosen that title for #420, and it would have made perfect sense! Now it’s all wrong! Stupid robot! Whatever. Time to be president of the universe. Please look forward to it!

... What?

FGC #399 Pocket Tennis Color

TENNIS!It’s kind of amazing when a videogame helps you to learn something about yourself.

I am not a sports guy. I am not one to stand around and tell people playing sports that they’re stupid for doing so (this is a lie), nor am I the type of person to judge someone for spending their Sunday afternoon watching spandex clad beef monsters smash into each other (this is a more obvious lie). For years, I was just under the impression that I never really gained the “sports gene”, and things like ball-watching would never appeal to me. After all, I fit the profile, right? I’ve been playing videogames practically as long as I’ve had thumbs, I’m clearly on the more “intellectual/please don’t take my glasses” end of the spectrum, and, obviously, I have roughly the same muscle mass as a newborn. I’m a nerd, okay? I know it, you know it, Tansit know it, and I’m pretty sure my fashion sense lets everybody else know it. Sports are not my bag, and that’s the way it was always meant to be.

And it’s here that I’ll note that my father has always been disappointed in that fact.

To be absolutely clear, I have a wonderful relationship with my father. Particularly now that we’re both adults, we can sit down, talk, and, if either of us would actually drink, we would be like two friends having a beer. And, honestly, it feels like bragging to say such a thing, but I feel like my dad “gets me”. We have generally similar personality types, we have compatible interests in a lot of media, and we are very analogous when you compare our average sense of humor. Actually, that last bit probably isn’t an accident (or genetic), as my father exposed me to a lot of his own favorite movies when I was a kid. When you spend a decade laughing at the same things, you’re probably going to reserve those chuckles for the same situations.

SPIKE ITSo, not unlike my exposure to “his” favorite movies, my father tried to expose me to his favorite sports. I’m almost certain my dad was never a football or baseball “star”, but he certainly played those sports as a kid/teenager, and one would suppose he thought I would have a fun time experiencing these same childhood joys. I did not. And, to my father’s credit, he never “made me” join the local sports team or whatever, as, I’m pretty sure by the time I had dropped out of soccer at the age of seven, my dad knew Sports Son was dead and buried. But this isn’t to say my dear ol’ dad never again tried to get me off the couch. Oh no, I certainly wound up with him in the backyard playing any number of “one on one” type sports.

My father, analytical man that he is, was able to identify my “problems” from a young age. First of all, I seem to be naturally ambidextrous. Or that’s just a lie to make me feel better. It would likely be accurate to say that I have zero arm coordination, and thus flail around like a quaking pot of spaghetti whenever a ball or similar object ventures into my periphery. This, obviously, made simple games like Catch exhausting trials for both of us. And, because I could never settle on a side, golf (or at least mini golf) was difficult to practice (which was a real shame, as I seem to live in the mini golf capital of the East Coast). And, beyond that, I have terrible depth perception. This has been a problem identified by my optometrist since I was roughly five, and, yes, it may have meant I took a few footballs to the face for no good reason. They looked further away! Combine these two inexorable parts of my own physical prowess, and you can maybe understand why, despite trying at least once weekly, my father quickly became frustrated with my sports aptitude. Or maybe he was just frustrated because, after far too many basketballs to the face, my nose really wasn’t supposed to bend that way…

OOG LIKE TENNISBut there was one game where I excelled: bad mitten. Wait… it’s called badminton? Weird. Anyway, my father picked up a pair of badminton rackets and a tube of birdies one day, we gave it a shot, and surprisingly, I was good at it! Okay, “good” might be a bit of an overstatement, but I didn’t suffer any grievous injuries during our first game, and that was an excellent start. As time went by, our Sunday afternoon badminton games became something I actually looked forward to. We didn’t have a net, and neither of us were ever going to be anywhere near pro level, but we had fun, and it was… easy. A badminton birdie (does that have some kind of real sports name?) isn’t going to take out my cheekbones, so I didn’t have to tense up every time the “ball” got close, and the racket sort of forced me to use one hand with some kind of consistency. Somehow, it all came together, and we were able to enjoy our weekly badminton volleys.

Pocket Tennis Color reminds me of those times.

Pocket Tennis Color is a Neo Geo Pocket title from 1999. It seems to follow the SNK pocket format of a fighting game, as it has an eclectic cast of kooky characters (There’s a maid! With a frying pan instead of a racket!), interesting if entirely cosmetic backgrounds, and easy, simple gameplay that is ideal for a portable system with two buttons. In this case, the match is tennis… and it’s just tennis. There are no super moves or hyper gauges or last-minute transformations, it’s just tennis. Hit the ball, wait for your opponent to hit it back, and then repeat until you realize why Pong hasn’t hit the next gen consoles. It’s extremely simple, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s Tennis, in color, that you can play in your Neo Geo Pocket (Color). Thank you for your time.

GO FOR ITBut, in my time playing Pocket Tennis Color, I certainly had fun. In fact, I had a lot of fun just batting the ball back and forth. I wasn’t trying to win, I didn’t need to conquer a tournament or unlock the secret characters; I was just having fun playing tennis. Back and forth, back and forth, eventually someone scores, but keeping the volley going was a lot more interesting than the winner’s screen. This is by no means a high-stress, you-must-win-or-the-Earth-explodes style tennis game. This whole experience is just an amusing game between friends, and it is fun for that exact reason.

And that’s about when I realized that that’s all I want from sports.

As a masculine, ripped, and perfectly mannish man, I have a hard time admitting to such a thing without fearing some kind of reddit-based reprisal, but I’m not a very competitive guy. In fact, I’d argue that the main reason I like videogames is that they’re games, but not a competition. Bowser and I are just having fun! I don’t need that platinum trophy. And even when we get into fighting games, ostensibly “competitive” titles, I drift toward the games that are more interesting from a design/character perspective, and probably use random select a lot more than anyone would expect. No, I don’t have a “main” so I can “git gud” and “actually beat my opponents”, I just kinda like tossing gigantic fireballs all over the arena. It’s fun! Videogames are fun!

GET IT!?And that’s probably a big factor in why I like badminton and tennis (and tennis pocket games). You don’t break every five seconds to huddle up and discuss your next strategy, you don’t spend all day switching between offense and defense every other inning, and you don’t tear off your gloves and have a fist fight every time the other team calls you a hoosier; it’s just… playing. Sure, it would be nice if you win, but it is fun to bat the ball/birdie back and forth for as long as possible.

So, thank you, Pocket Tennis Color, for reminding me where I can find fun in sports. I’ll be sure to remember that for when I finish this 16-hour Netflix binge.

FGC #399 Pocket Tennis Color

  • System: Neo Geo Pocket Color. SNK is really missing a chance to put all the Neo Geo Pocket Color games on the Switch. Come on! SNK Gal Fighters is at an all-time popularity high!
  • Number of players: Two! Technically! I’ve never seen such a thing, but I’m sure it’s possible.
  • Favorite Character: It’s not unusual for an “anime character” to have bright pink hair. However, it is a little different on the NGP, where a character basically is their palette color. Thus, Lucy is the living personification of the color pink, and my favorite player.
  • Favorite Court: The desert canyon stage is pretty interesting, because the tight walls make the ball bounce everywhere. Except… that doesn’t really impact the game at all, because tennis really only cares about the first bounce… so it’s just fun to watch. See! This game is just silly.
  • GET READYDid you know? There are two unlockable characters, and one is Amiba the Amoeba. She’s a giant amoeba. That’s it! You cannot tell me she wasn’t a dummy character during production that got “promoted” because someone was bored. You can’t even see her racket!
  • Would I play again: I might play tennis again, but Pocket Tennis Color isn’t going to see much play. It’s a very limited game on a very limited system.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… NieR: Gestalt! And we’re NieR a milestone, so it’s probably going to be a little different than the usual FGC fare. Please look forward to it!

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