In late 2007 the Wii’s Virtual Console service started getting Neo Geo titles. By the time the Wii died, over 50 of the beauties were available to buy.
While (at the time of writing) the Switch has yet to get a Virtual Console of its own, that doesn’t mean you can’t still get stuck into some retro goodness.
Enter the brilliantly-named Hamster Corporation, a Tokyo-based studio which has acquired the rights to a bunch of Neo Geo games.
The ACA Neo Geo series (I’ve no clue what ACA stands for) is a bunch of standalone eShop releases, each offering a different Neo Geo game.
Interestingly, whereas previous Neo Geo re-releases have been based on the home console versions of the games, these ones are based on the arcade versions. If you’re confused, I’ll explain in a second.
Since it looks like Hamster plans to release a bunch of these, rather than giving each its own individual review and flooding the site with them I’m going to cover them all in this one article.
As Hamster continues to release more Neo Geo games, I’ll update this article so you have a full guide to everything that’s available on one handy page.
Before we get to the games though, a history lesson first.
What in the fresh hell is a Neo Geo?
Because the Neo Geo is a retro system from the ‘90s which barely registered in the UK, there’s a good chance some of the younger bucks reading this article aren’t familiar with it.
With that in mind, let me give you a quick rundown of how it worked before we get to the games. If you’re already a Neo Geo expert, head down to the next section, entitled ‘The ACA emulator’. Everyone else, buckle up.
The Neo Geo, released in 1990, was actually two different systems: the Neo Geo MVS and the Neo Geo AES.
The MVS (Multi Video System) was an arcade system that let arcade owners put six different game cartridges into a single cabinet. Because owners didn’t have to buy another five cabinets, it saved them money and came in useful in smaller arcades.
More interesting, though, was the Neo Geo AES (Advanced Entertainment System). This was a home version of the MVS and actually had exactly the same specs as the arcade system, something unheard of at the time.
The idea was that players could finally get the full arcade experience at home, using the same cartridges that arcade owners were putting in their cabinets. This resulted in incredible looking games for the time, far and above anything on other home systems.
Because it cost a fucking bomb, mate.
The Neo Geo launched at $649, and that was 27 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, were it released today you’d be talking $1,209. And when you’ve got to put a comma in the price of your console, that means it’s bloody expensive.
Meanwhile, each individual game cost $199 ($369 in today’s money). And you thought £60 for Breath Of The Wild was a bit steep.
Essentially, then, how much the Neo Geo impacted on your gaming life tended to rely on where you played your games.
If you were a regular arcade-goer the likes of The King Of Fighters, Metal Slug and (in Britain at least) Super Sidekicks were common sights, the money-saving MVS a popular option among arcade owners.
If you tended to play your games at home, though, chances are the Neo Geo never entered your life unless you had a rich pal who you thought was a bit of a dick but pretended to like so you could go to his mansion for the odd game of Fatal Fury.
And now here we are, more than two decades later, with the ability to download Neo Geo games for £6.29 / $7.99, a mere 4% of their original cost. Now you can finally tell Richie Rich that you never actually liked him, and that his mum was a snooty bastard too.
The ACA emulator
Exciting times, then, but ‘twould all go to balls if there were issues with the emulation, so how does Hamster’s software hold up?
Pretty well, actually. Each of the games launches with a menu asking whether you want to play the Japanese or English versions of each game, a High Score mode (in which you only get one credit) or a special Caravan Mode.
This gives you a set time to score as many points as possible, and then see where you rank in an online leaderboard.
These features are present and identical for every game, but the ‘one size fits all’ method is a little awkward. While Caravan Mode is brilliant for shooters for example, having it for fighting games feels odd.
The emulation itself is pretty much spot on. Frame rates are smooth and arcade-perfect, and there’s a selection of filters to make it look as ‘authentic’ as your taste allows.
While you can play the game with no filter, giving you the untouched game image, this wasn’t actually how games looked back in the day.
Instead, the default filter is my preference: it adds a very light smoothing effect which essentially blurs the raw image’s jagged pixels to imitate the blur of an old standard-def TV.
If you want to go further there are options to play with scan lines or – if you’re a bit of a maniac – scan lines and a horizontal ‘video’ line slowly travelling up the screen. While nifty, though, I reckon this is a bit overkill.
Since these are the MVS arcade versions of the games rather than the AES home ones, you also get access to the ‘dip switches’: the different options which let arcade owners set difficulty level, choose when players get extra lives, toggle whether some games have blood and so on.
And, naturally, every game lets you play in two-player mode with each player brandishing their own JoyCon.
“But the games, Chris”, you anxiously wail. “The fucking GAMES.”
Okay, okay, let’s get to it.
These games are listed in alphabetical order, not release order.
Along with each mini-review, I’ve also recorded little montages of gameplay footage so you can get a better taste of how each game looks. These are proper 1080p and 60fps videos with no commentary, because nobody likes clicking a YouTube video and hearing “hey guys”.
Hamster will be releasing more Neo Geo games for the Switch in the coming weeks and months. Every time a new one is released I’ll update this article with a review. For example, even on the day I wrote this The King Of Fighters ’94 was added to the EU eShop, so expect a review of that in a couple of days.
Here’s the update log:
• 16 March 2017 – created article, added the first six games (The King Of Fighters 98, Metal Slug 3, NAM-1975, Shock Troopers, Waku Waku 7, World Heroes Perfect)
The King Of Fighters 98
The fifth game in SNK’s much-loved King Of Fighters series is believed by many to be the best of the bunch.
Like other games in the franchise, it has you making a team of three fighters and pitting them against a series of other teams in order to become the baddest motherfuckers in all of Fightingtown. Which is a place I just made up.
With 38 characters to choose from the number of possible teams you can make is ridiculous (8,436 to be exact), so it’ll take you a hell of a long time to master every fighter and figure out your preferred team.
I discovered one really annoying bug and it isn’t clear yet if it’s a constant thing: in Hamster’s other ACA Neo Geo games, if you have a high score when you die a message comes up asking if you want to upload it to the online rankings. All well and good.
However, as I played through KOF 98’s solo mode, when I reached the second last fight I got the message during the actual scrap. It turns out it wasn’t waiting until I died, it was asking me right away mid-game if I wanted to upload my score, and the same pop-up appeared every single time I landed a hit on my opponent (further increasing my score).
If this is a constant thing it’s literally a game-breaker, but I haven’t seen anyone else mention it yet so it may have just been an odd bug. I’ll investigate further and edit this review accordingly but until then be wary. It’s a shame, because of all the Neo-Geo fighting games currently available on Switch this is easily the best.
Metal Slug 3
Even though the Neo Geo MVS and AES launched in 1990, SNK continued supporting it for well over a decade.
Metal Slug 3 was released in 2000, and it wasn’t even the last in the series to come to the Neo Geo: sequels followed in 2002 and 2003.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, Metal Slug is a run-and-gun series best known for its punishing difficulty and fantastic animation.
The third game is a prime example of this: you’re guaranteed to churn through the continues but you’ll be treated to a visual delight while you do.
This was the first game in the series to offer branching paths, allowing for multiple playthroughs. Do you cross the bridge in the first level or head under it, find the submarine and head to an underwater stage? ANSWER ME.
For all its glory, Metal Slug 3 did push the then-aging Neo Geo hardware to its limits. There’s a fair bit of slowdown during particularly hectic scenes, and as you can see in the video above the smooth 60fps frame rate in most other Neo Geo games is absent here.
It’s still a fun shooter though, and slashing your way through enemies is still satisfying.
It’s somewhat fitting that this was one of the first Neo Geo games released on the Switch, because it was actually the first ever Neo Geo game.
Released in April 1990, it’s a shooter based on the last few weeks of the Vietnam War (albeit a fictionalised account of it).
It’s got an interesting gameplay mechanic which has been underused over the years: while you move your cursor on the screen to shoot enemies, you also have to move your character along the bottom to avoid enemy bullets.
This sort of makes it feel like a cross between a lightgun shooter and a vertical shoot ‘em up, and you need to keep your wits about you as you switch (ahem) between firing and dodging.
As the first Neo Geo game it’s also the least visually impressive: compared to other Hamster-released games like Shock Troopers and Metal Slug 3 it’s clear this is an older title.
It’s still half-decent though, and has a couple of moments that’ll raise a smile, from the clear Full Metal Jacket ‘influences’ and ropey cutscenes to the seemingly helpless female hostages who suddenly pull out machine guns when you rescue them and fight alongside you.
If you get it though, be prepared for a moment of bullshit: although the game has infinite continues, when you get to the stupidly hard final boss it suddenly stops letting you continue, meaning completing the game is obscenely difficult.
Metal Slug may be the most famous Neo Geo shooter but I’d argue that Shock Troopers is a better game.
It’s an eight-way shooter in which you make a troop of soldiers fight their way through a terrorist group called the Bloody Scorpions to rescue a scientist and his granddaughter.
There are three distinct routes to choose from (mountain, jungle or valley), each with six stages, which essentially means you can play through the game three times with completely different levels.
You’ll want to as well, because pumping your machine gun, heavy gun and flamethrower through enemies is brilliant fun and the death animations are excellent.
The action is constant in this one, but it doesn’t feel quite as ‘cheap’ as other arcade shooters and you can get reasonably far with a single credit.
If you’re just looking for mindless action which is also great fun with two players, this is a strong choice.
Waku Waku 7
Don’t worry. If you’re wondering about the other six Waku Waku games, they don’t exist.
Instead, the ‘7’ in the title refers to seven legendary balls, each held by one of the game’s fighters. The aim is to kick everyone’s dick in and get all seven balls, at which point your character’s greatest wish will be granted.
What we have here is a parody fighting game, in which each of the seven characters is spoofing a well-known character from Japanese culture.
There’s a big tank (with a groin cannon) based on the tanks from the Dominion manga, a treasure hunter based on a cross between Indiana Jones and the titular character from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and a bunny girl who looks like she’s straight out of any shōjo anime you’d care to mention.
Best of all, there’s a giant animal based on Totoro, accompanied by a lost girl: at one point he’s told to stop kidnapping children.
As far as its fighting mechanics go, it’s a slightly odd one. There are a lot of features here which aren’t commonplace in other fighters, like the ability to wall jump as you’re sent flying from an attack, or the ability to hit an opponent while you’re getting up.
With only seven characters to choose from the roster here is a bit small, and there’s a chance that once the novelty of a comedy fighter wears off you might be left wanting a bit more.
I enjoyed it, but I don’t see myself playing it a couple of months from now.
World Heroes Perfect
As far as fighting game storylines go, World Heroes has a belter.
A professor called Doc Brown (not that one) creates a time machine, and decides to use it to see which of history’s greatest fighters is the best.
It’s basically what Bill & Ted would have been like if instead of Joan Of Arc playing a guitar solo she ripped Napoleon’s fucking lungs out.
World Heroes Perfect is the fourth game in the series and features 16 playable characters, most of whom are based on real-life historical figures.
You’ve got legendary Japanese ninja Hattori Hanzo and his real-life assassin Fuma Kotaro (who are basically this game’s Ryu and Ken), as well as fighters based on the likes of Rasputin, Bruce Lee, Genghis Khan, Hulk Hogan(!), Jack The Ripper, Captain Kidd and the aforementioned Miss Of Arc.
On the surface World Heroes Perfect is a fairly standard Street Fighter clone, but there are some interesting gimmicks, like the fact that every character has a unique special ability – catching projectiles, countering while blocking, faking specials move and so on – when you press three attack buttons together.
It’s got a depth to it, then, and while it isn’t the best Neo Geo fighting game available on Switch it’s currently the most ‘traditional’ if you’re more familiar with the Street Fighter series and want the closest alternative.
The ACA Neo Geo games are available now on the Switch eShop, priced £6.29 / $7.99 each.
Some of these reviews were made possible via review codes given to me by a PR, others were purchased myself from the eShop. The content of my reviews and the opinions therein are in no way influenced by the methods used to acquire each game.
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