Neogeo Station Preview

Neogeo Station Preview

Written by Cyril Lachel on 1/21/2011 for PS3   PSP  

Move over Virtual Console, because the PSN is finally starting to take old school gaming seriously. It wasn't long ago that fans of classic games had to settle for iffy PlayStation 1 titles, but now they have the choice between products released on the Neo Geo and TurboGrafx-16. Last month SNK Playmore unloaded the first batch of Neo Geo games, which included some of their biggest franchises -- Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown, The King of Fighters, etc. Not only do these games look great on the PlayStation 3, but they also feature online multiplayer options and other customization. Is the Neo Geo Station worth paying attention to? Find out when I review all ten of the launch titles in this week's very special Retro Round-Up!

But first, let's take a look at what I liked and disliked about the Neo Geo Station ...

The Pros: As a gamer who likes choice, I'm happy to see these Neo Geo games hit as many consoles as possible. Online modes let players challenge their friends at a variety of first- and second-generation SNK titles, including one of the best fighting games ever made. At $9 ($7 for the PSP versions), the price is just about right. The games look great on my HDTV and are customizable enough to impress even the biggest Neo Geo junkie.

The Cons: Many of these games have already been released on the PSP on an inexpensive Anthology disc. Unlike PS1 (and the upcoming TurboGrafx-16) games, players need to buy TWO versions of the game in order to play on both the PSP and PS3. The netcode works, but it defines the term "bare bones." This batch of games isn't bad, but it's hardly the most inspired group of Neo Geo softs.


Alpha Mission II (SNK/1991)
What Is It?
It's hard to believe that I'm reviewing twelve classic games and only one of them is a 2D shoot-em-up. Alpha Mission II is your average vertical shooter, complete with familiar power-ups and an unsympathetic difficulty. This 1991 arcade game features seven stages to master and exclusive online play. Alpha Mission II allows players to power-up their ship by adding parts mid-level, making it easier to take down the powerful bosses and their weaker underlings. Fans of shooters may get a kick out of this early-generation Neo Geo title, but the PSN is home to many, MANY better 2D shoot-em-ups.

Does It Still Hold Up?
Like most 2D shooters, Alpha Mission II is a little too shallow for its own good. The gameplay is simple and the power-ups are mostly cool, but this is the type of game you can beat in one sitting and never want to play again. Thankfully the controls are responsive and the boss battles are appropriately epic.


Is It Worth The Money?
Alpha Mission II is the perfect example of what is wrong with most Neo Geo games. Here's a punishingly difficult shooter made easy thanks to unlimited continues. Unless you limit yourself, there's no reason why one can't bust through this game in under an hour. Thankfully the adventure getting to the final boss is interesting enough to warrant the ride, but I'm not sure it's worth nine dollars.


Art of Fighting (SNK/1992)
What Is It?
Released in 1992, Art of Fighting was a story-driven alternative to Street Fighter II. You play one of two characters, Ryo Sakazaki or Robert Garcia, as they battle the evil Mr. Big and retrieve Ryo's kidnapped sister, Yuri. But don't get too excited, because the original Art of Fighting is an absolutely dreadful game. At the time the game had a few things going for it, such as large detailed characters, a somewhat interesting (albeit cliche) story and a camera that zoomed in and out of the action as the characters got further apart and closer together. But with the good comes a lot of bad, such as a control system that is sluggish and frustrating. Thankfully the Art of Fighting series did improve over time, but this first installment is an absolutely dreadful game that should be avoided at all cost.

Does It Still Hold Up?
I've said it before and I'll likely say it again -- Art of Fighting is a terrible representation of this popular genre. The graphics aren't bad and the characters are well detailed, but everything falls apart the moment you're forced to play the game. Stiff controls, unresponsive characters and special moves you've seen a thousand times before, Art of Fighting is a good idea marred by poor execution.

 
Is It Worth The Money?
Of the four fighting games released in this first wave of Neo Geo classics, Art of Fighting should be last on your list. Much like Fatal Fury, it took Art of Fighting a few installments before coming into its own. Not even the online multiplayer mode is enough to make this stinker worth picking up. The only good thing about this release is that it gives me hope that we'll eventually see Art of Fighting 3 on the PlayStation 3 and PSP. Until that day comes, you can go ahead and ignore this mediocre franchise.

Baseball Stars Professional (SNK/1991)
What Is It?
SNK did more than make fighting games and Metal Slug sequels; it also published a number of cartoony sports games. On the NES, Baseball Stars was a fully-featured baseball game. It offered customizable teams, cool role-playing elements and pretty much anything else you would want from a 1989 sports game. Unfortunately, in coming to the Neo Geo, Baseball Stars traded deep gameplay for flashy graphics. As a result we have an arcade-y baseball game that isn't much fun to play.

Does It Still Hold Up?
It's impossible to compare Baseball Stars Professional to a modern day sports simulator, but that doesn't give this game the right to get the basics wrong. As an offensive player, Baseball Stars Professional shines. However, the moment you have to field a long ball, the game basically gives up. The ball moves too fast for players to get into position, often leading to the computer scoring runs on easy plays. There are other minor problems (lack of stadiums, repetitive animations, etc.), but none of that matters when half the game is broken.


Is It Worth The Money?
It's possible to have a good time playing Baseball Stars Professional, but that depends entirely on how many real people you know. Against the computer this is one of the Neo Geo's worst games, but it manages to be lot more fun with a second person. For one thing, the broken defense slices both ways, making for some high scoring (and inadvertently hilarious) games. Given the disappointing single-player experience and the fact that there are better baseball games on the Neo Geo (not to mention the PlayStation 3 and PSP), I have hard time recommending Baseball Stars Professional.


Fatal Fury (SNK/1991)
What Is It?
Long before Samurai Shodown, The King of Fighters, Last Blade, Art of Fighting and the dizzying amount of other 2D fighting games, there was Fatal Fury. This was the Neo Geo's very first fighter, released into the wild to compete with the incredibly popular Street Fighter II. You choose one of three players (Joe Higashi and the Bogard brothers, Andy and Terry), martial artists looking to clean the streets in South Town. This is also the game that introduces the King of Fighters tournament, a key story element that would be later spun off into its own series. Chances are you've played this game, seeing as SNK has repackaged this game on at least seven different game consoles.

Does It Still Hold Up?
Despite my negative review, there's a lot to admire about the original Fatal Fury. The game does a good job of differentiating itself from the competition by allowing players to jump in and out of the screen to avoid enemy attacks. What's more, the backgrounds change from one round to the next, giving you something new to look at as the battles progress. It's a shame that these forward thinking ideas were wasted in this bad playing game. Fatal Fury has everything but the execution going for it.


Is It Worth The Money?
It's like clockwork: Whenever SNK decides to port Neo Geo games to a new platform; they go straight for the Fatal Fury. They did the same thing on the Virtual Console and Xbox Live Arcade, so it shouldn't surprise anybody that Fatal Fury is one of the first games released on PSN's Neo Geo Station. If there's one thing I've learned from playing Fatal Fury so many times, it's that this 2D fighter is not a very good game. The controls are sluggish and the character selection is limited. There's an argument to be made that the Super NES and Genesis ports were superior, if only because they added extra characters to the two-player mode. There are great Fatal Fury games worth buying ... just not this mediocre first installment.


League Bowling (SNK/1991)
What Is It?
Back before we had motion controls, people used game controls to go virtual bowling. That's right, I'm talking about the same game control they used to play 2D shooters and fighting games. It may not look like much, but League Bowling is an incredibly addictive multiplayer bowling game specifically designed for the arcade. Don't expect deep game modes or drawn-out matches, because this 24-bit sports game is fast-paced and over in the blink of an eye. The game packs just enough skill to keep things interesting, which is just about all you can ask for from an arcade bowling game.

Does It Still Hold Up?
The gameplay is simple, but there is some actual skill involved. Even though League Bowling is an easy game to pick up and learn, it rewards gamers who take the time to learn the mechanics. Best of all, the multiplayer support should give players enough incentive to master the game. Just don't go hunting for random matches, so far the online servers are a ghost town.


Is It Worth The Money?
Bowling is not the first thing most people think of when reminiscing about the Neo Geo, but League Bowling still remains one of my favorite first-generation titles. This PlayStation 3 version is even better, thanks to the game's built-in online option. These days it's rare to not have to throw out my arm while playing a bowling game, but this game allows me to use a control AND play against friends online. Don't be fooled by the simplicity of the sport, League Bowling is a must-buy!

Magician Lord (SNK/1991)
What Is It?
Magician Lord is a 2D side-scrolling action game that was one of the Neo Geo's very first pack-in games. This early generation 24-bitter tells the story of a wizard on a mission to save his battered homeland. Along the way he'll be forced to contend with a series of large bosses and weird environments. Thankfully our hero has an ace up his, um, cloak -- he can change forms. By picking up orbs the magician will turn into everything from a dragon warrior to a samurai warrior. Only when he's mastered these forms will the Magician Lord be able to take down the evil wizard Gal Agiese once and for all.

Does It Still Hold Up?
At its release, Magician Lord was showered with praise from the enthusiast press. Everybody loved the graphics, huge bosses and exciting new worlds to traverse. I have a hunch none of those people would stand by those wildly misguided opinions. The gameplay is a bit stiff and the level designs are horrible, but at least the visual touches still look good. Magician Lord is a little rough around the edges compared to modern games, but it manages to hold up.


Is It Worth The Money?
Magician Lord is the perfect example of why a blanket price point is a bad idea. At $5, I would say this is the game to get. However, this is not an easy decision at almost twice the price. There's no reason this first-generation Neo Geo game should cost the same price as the online-enabled Samurai Shodown. I still say Magician Lord is worth playing, but I'm not sold on the price.


Metal Slug (SNK/1996)

What Is It?
Do you like Contra and Gunstar Heroes? Than chances are you've played at least one of the Metal Slug games. This is one of SNK's most popular franchises; still going strong all these years later (Metal Slug XX was released this year). With its beautiful hand-drawn pixel graphics and over-the-top levels, Metal Slug has never been one to disappoint. Now you and a friend can experience this action-packed original, complete with online play and customizable controls.

Does It Still Hold Up?
For everything that I love about Metal Slug, there's something I can't stand. I certainly love the graphics and animation, but wish that I could shoot in a diagonal. I also wish the vehicles were more important to the level designs. Thankfully the game looks great and is a blast with a second person. Metal Slug may not be the action classic that Contra was, but it definitely holds up.


Is It Worth The Money?
Metal Slug is a great game that every gamer should play. But that's not enough for me to recommend this version. This is the first time while reviewing these Neo Geo Station games where I've felt conflicted. On one hand, I love Metal Slug and like the idea of playing it online with friends. But why pay almost ten dollars for this version when you can get the (almost) complete Metal Slug Anthology for practically the same price? Besides, this series has always worked best when you have a friend sitting right next to you. There's no denying the quality of the game, but the price could use some work.


Samurai Shodown (SNK/1993)
What Is It?
Samurai Shodown is one of SNK's best franchises, and it's easy to see why. While The King of Fighters and Fatal Fury focus on hand-to-hand combat, I've always been partial to Samurai Shodown's weapon-based brawls. This 1993 original features more than a dozen characters to choose from, online play and some truly spectacular backgrounds. Playing Samurai Shodown was the first time I realized that SNK might have a solid grasp on fighting games, a genre they would later milk to an inch of its life. But ignore all of the disappointing sequels and spin-offs, Samurai Shodown is a true masterpiece that should be at the top of your Neo Geo Station list.

Does It Still Hold Up?
The action is a little slow (especially compared to recent fighters), but Samurai Shodown still controls well. This is a series that has always felt a little different from the competition, so fight fans expecting this game to play like Street Fighter II will be disappointed. The game also manages to hold up in the visual department, thanks in large part to the beautiful hand drawn backgrounds. The characters look fantastic and everything animates wonderfully. Even if it's not the best game in the series, Samurai Showdown can still impress.


Is It Worth The Money?
If you're going to buy one Neo Geo fighting game this week, make sure it's Samurai Shodown. While I would argue that the sequel is a stronger game, playing this online is a great way to waste some time while we wait for the next batch of Neo Geo softs. The gameplay is slow (especially compared to The King of Fighters '94), but it's deliberate and well-paced. I was also struck by how pretty it is, even after all these years. It's a shame SNK to make a sequel as compelling as this first game.
Super Sidekicks (SNK/1993)
What Is It?
It's a soccer game. Wait ... don't stop reading just yet. I know this country doesn't care for soccer, but Super Sidekicks may be enough to change your mind. Players are treated to a tournament bracket that has them playing against some of the best soccer countries in the world (Germany, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, etc.). If they can keep their winning streak alive, they'll be able to participate in the very cool sounding (but fake) SNK Cup. Not interested in going for the gold? For the first time ever, Super Sidekicks allows player to go head to head against their friends around the world in an exclusive online mode. It may not be enough to make you buy tickets for the next World Cup, but it's hard to resist the charm of Super Sidekicks.

Does It Still Hold Up?
The game could use a few more moves and animation, but these were the kinds of things added to the sequels. Seeing as this is SNK's first soccer game, I'm willing to cut them a little slack. Plus, most players will be too busy having a great time to worry about one or two minor inconveniences.


Is It Worth The Money?
Not being a fan of soccer, I was worried that I would have a miserable time playing Super Sidekicks. It turns out I was wrong, because this early-generation Neo Geo game is one of the very best sports games on the PSN. It's not complicated, but the action is consistently fast and the controls work well for this type of arcade sports game. Don't go in expecting real teams or anything licensed, because this is a bare-bones release through and through. But what it lacks in depth, it more than makes up for with fun gameplay and online multiplayer support.


The King of Fighters '94 (SNK/1994)
What Is It?
This 1994 release marks the first time SNK brought all of their popular fighting games (except for Samurai Shodown) together. The King of Fighters franchise has spawned a staggering twelve sequels, several 3D spin-offs and a live-action movie. The game comes packaged with eight teams of three, offering 24 characters from a number of SNK properties (including Art of Fighting ane Ikari Warriors). Unlike Marvel vs. Capcom and other team-based fighters, The King of Fighters is not a tag-team match. Instead the player is forced to stick with the same character until he or she is knocked out. Restrictive rules aside, this Neo Geo Station release features much-needed online play and enough characters to keep players busy until The King of Fighters '95 is eventually released.

Does It Still Hold Up?
I like the way the game controls and all of the changes they made from the Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury titles. However, I don't like being locked into one of eight teams. Future King of Fighters allowed players to mix and match their teams, creating the ultimate (and often unbalanced) three-person fighting machine. Even with this minor complaint, the game does hold up against the three other SNK fighting games released this week.


Is It Worth The Money?
If you're looking for a 2D fighting game that has nothing to do with samurais and swords, then look no further than The King of Fighters. This is not a perfect fighting game by any means, but it's a solid 2D fighter with welcome online support. Even though I am used to future releases ('98 and '99 are among my favorites), I managed to have a lot of fun reliving SNK's first stab at the megamix. Much like Samurai Shodown, it's worth buying this game for the online support while we wait for the other releases to show up. It's not great, but definitely worth recommending.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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About Author

It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.
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