Category Archives: Neo Geo Reviews

Crossed Swords II Review

Crosswed Swords II ReviewCrossed Swords II (Available on Neo Geo MVS, AES, and CD)
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Action
Publisher: SNK
Developer: ADK
Release Date: May 2nd, 1995 (Original CD version), August 28th, 2015 (AES and MVS versions)

Parent Talk: This is an independent release of a Neo Geo game from 1995 that has been converted from the Neo Geo CD to the Neo Geo MVS and AES. It features a wire-frame character facing off against countless mystical enemies. While there are depictions of violence and blood, it really isn’t damaging for children to play the game. In fact this is exactly the sort of game I would have played in the arcades when I was younger, and I turned out just fine…ok that’s debatable, but honestly it’s perfectly suitable for E10+, even though the ESRB didn’t rate the game.

Plays Like: If you’ve played the original Crossed Swords you know what to expect, and if not, why haven’t you? Players take on the role of a knight, a warrior, or a ninja and make their way through multiple levels of non-stop combat. Combat is special in that you have to defend and attack whenever your enemy has an opening. It’s a very defensive style game, which makes it highly addicting. There are multiple paths to take, and a progression system wrapped around an in-game shop where you can level up, purchase upgrades, and more.

Review Basis: Completed the game multiple times, and tried every possible route.

Crossed Swords II highlights just how amazing the Neo Geo community really is. The game was originally released exclusively on the Neo Geo CD, however has since been converted to the AES and MVS formats. The conversion was handled by the main man behind the infamous Neo Geo UniBIOS, Razoola. Together with Jeff Kurtz from NeoBitz, they converted the CD exclusive over to the MVS and AES in style. Let’s find out how it all turned out.

CS1The Great:

Not only is the conversion spot on, but thanks to NeoBitz’s involvement, the two released a full MVS kit including artwork, dip switch settings, and a mini marquee, as well as a full AES release including a Shockbox. This is exactly why the community is so incredible, because fine folks are willing to go the extra mile. The quality is absolutely top notch, and you would have no idea wasn’t an original cart from back in the day because of the sheer quality of the product. They both need to be commended for a job well done.

Instead of just converting the game over to the MVS/AES, Razoola did something extra, he fixed graphical and audio bugs, game glitches, and even some translational problems. In short, he went all out. While I don’t have access to a full list of improvements, he did specify that 33 Sound FX were added, and 53 Graphical fixes were made. I should mention that the original CD-soundtrack to Crossed Swords II was not transferred over, instead the music was ripped from the original version of Crossed Swords.

CS2The Good:

  • The storyline in Crossed Swords II is minimalistic, but gets the job done. Essentially the main baddie from the original game returns to wreak havoc on the country, and only you can stop him. Ok sure it’s nothing original, but it gives some context as to why you’re fighting all of these enemies.
  • Multiple playable characters! Unlike the original game you now access to the original knight, a female warrior, and a ninja. Each character has different stats, with the knight having the strongest physical attacks, and the highest defense stats, but also low magic and the lowest speed. That means his recovery isn’t great either. The female warrior has low attack and defense, but the highest speed and magic attacks, making her play style quite different. Finally the ninja has balanced speed, attack, and defense, but the lowest magic attack skills.
  • Multiplayer is vastly superior to the original game. This time each player has full access to the entire screen. In the original one player was stuck on the left portion of the screen, and the other player the right portion. Now both players can gang up on enemies, or quickly dash to the other side of the screen.

AES+ Jumping and dashing are fantastic additions. Both are extremely useful techniques to master early on. With the proper weapon a jump attack can be devastating to your enemy. The dash allows you to quickly cover ground, or get out of your enemy’s line of fire. You can also dash in at an enemy, strike, and then dash out.

  • The core gameplay is utterly fantastic. Enemies block repeatedly forcing you to wait for an opening before you attack. You have access to magical attacks and traditional attacks, but when coupled with the new jump and dash moves, you feel just powerful enough for the task at hand. Make no mistake about it, it’s not just the enemies that defend, you have to do the same as well if you want to survive. This defensive style gameplay is addictive and forces you to stay on your toes.
  • Branching paths extend replay value. Much like the original, you can select multiple paths to take, which change which bosses you will fight, and how you will progress through the game. You’ll have to play at least twice in order to get a true sense of what the game has to offer. There are also two different gameplay modes, one is the main story, and the second is a boss battle mode where you can challenge any of the bosses to learn their strategies, which also enhance the replay value.
  • MVS+ You can purchase new items and equipment from shops. That means you can save up and purchase that sword you’ve been eying, replenish your health and magic attacks, or even level up. That’s right, you level up at the shops, which adds an interesting elements of strategy to the game because you need to balance whether to improve your gear, or your vitality.

    • The graphics for the most part look very similar to those in the first game. There are a lot of recycled enemies with simple color palette swaps, but the sprites are massive, and feature great animations and color. The backgrounds also look very detailed and nice. The sound effects are fantastic, and the music, while taken from the original Crossed Swords, fits perfectly within the game.

    CS3The Lowdown:

    Crossed Swords II is an extremely fun game in its own right, and it is absolutely amazing being able to play this in a Neo cab, or on your home TV via the AES. Razoola and NeoBitz did two runs of the MVS version, and one run of the AES version, and sadly they’re completely sold out meaning if you like what you see in the video review, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Maybe one day the game will be reprinted again, otherwise you may have to resort to purchasing it from the second hand market and good luck with that as prices will most likely be astronomically high. I tip my hat off to Razoola and Jeff for a job well done. This is hands down one of the best videogame products released in 2015.

    World Exclusive: Knight’s Chance Review

    Knight's ChanceKnight’s Chance (Available exclusively on the Neo Geo MVS)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Gambling/Card
    Publisher: NeoBitz
    Developer: NeoBitz
    Release Date: April 29th, 2014
    MEG Count: 132

    Parent Talk: Knight’s Chance is a game for absolutely everyone. It’s a compilation title containing four classic casino gambling games, but set within a medieval fantasy setting. While there are skeletons and dark images, children ten and up shouldn’t have any problems with the content. The rules of the various games will likely be too complex for anyone under ten as well.

    Plays Like: In essence the four games mimic a flip card memorization game, poker, blackjack, and a dice roiling game. That’s pretty much it, nothing more complex than that.

    Review Basis: Spent over five hours playing through the various games, taking turns with a friend of mine. Needless to say, I think I’m more than qualified to give the game a recommendation or not.

    Knight’s Chance is literally a one-of-a-kind game. It is the only game on the Neo Geo MVS platform that features four gambling games. For those that don’t know, the MVS was officially discontinued in 2004 by SNK Playmore. As such the only new games that get released are indie releases, and that means passion. Everyone who works on exclusive games for retro consoles has more dedication and passion for the craft than almost anyone else in the industry. These people aren’t doing this for millions of dollars, but instead for the pure pleasure of giving the community something new to play, and hey if they can make a few bucks at the same time, why not. So the $300 question is, is Knight’s Chance worth your hard-earned money for lifelong Neo Geo MVS fans and collectors?

    Knight's Chance1The Great:

    Dragon’s Hollow – This card game has you placing your bet, and then being dealt five cards. What you want to do is essentially get a good poker hand, so have a flush, straight, etc. You have to have a minimum of a pair of Jacks in order to score any points. This one is entirely luck based, as you can only get new cards once before the call happens. Play your hand wise and perhaps luck will be on your side, or if you’re anything like me, you’ll never be able to crack the top scores.

    Cursed Mynd – Test your memory with a really unique tile game that challenges you to continuously select the correct icons from covered tiles. When the game starts you’re shown the entire board, but then all the icons turn around and you have to match like-icons for an increased multiplier. The six by five grid also includes a Seeing Eye gem which will grant you another chance to see the entire board. This is one of the best games in the compilation because it really challenges you to pay attention and memorize where all the icons are located.

    Mystic Dice – This luck-based game is really unique and challenging! You have ten turns to get the highest possible score. To do that you have to roll six dice, and based on what you roll, keep whatever dice grant you the highest points. That might be two ones, three sixes, etc. Whatever you don’t want to keep you can roll again, however depending on how many dice you have left there’s a very good chance you might forfeit your turn and therefore lose all the points you had scored on the previous roll. So there’s always this give and take between keeping your first roll’s points, and trying your luck for more points on the second or third roll. You have ten turns after all so there’s lots of opportunity to play it safe and take chances.

    Demon’s Hold – Blackjack, that’s what this one is, simple as that. You place your bet before the round begins and then try to beat the computer to 21. Every hand you win nets you points for your high score, and earns you more cash.

    All four games are very fun to play, but I think the dice game is my personal favorite because you always want to push your luck and do one more roll, which could screw you over completely. I love gambling games like that.

    Knight's Chance2The Good:

    + The visuals are fantastic. I love the splash screen intro, which shows a Knight on a horse and a wizard about to face off against one another. The sprites in the game are nice and detailed, which is especially true for the backgrounds. The animations are spot on, and there are some nice special effects throughout. It’s all the little touches that I loved like the Dragon breathing fire in Dragon’s Hollow, or the way the hand animates in Mystic Dice. The Game Over swirl effect after each game also highlight the polish that went into the development of this game.

    + Surprisingly there are lots of voice samples that come off clean and loud in Demon’s Hold, and they don’t repeat very often. I didn’t expect that whatsoever. The rest of the sound effects also come across perfectly, and the ambient noises enhance the setting. This really feels like a fantasy-based videogame.

    + The soundtrack mostly takes a back seat to the sound effects, but that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. The track that plays during Mystic Dice, for example, is fantastic, but the others also feel perfectly in place in a fantasy-based game.

    Knight's Chance3The So-So:

    +/- One of the only portions of the game that I found a little annoying was that you have to sit through the High Score screen before you get to the Game Over screen. It would have been nice to have been able to skip that and go straight to the Game Over screen so I could jump back into the action. It’s only a minor gripe though.

    Knight's Chance4The Lowdown:

    If you enjoy casino games, gambling or card games, Knight’s Chance features four truly excellent takes on some classic games. Each is a game of chance vs skill. While it’s true that Neo Geo MVS games are extremely expensive compared to your typical console release, the truth of the matter is that the level of polish and dedication that went into this release is evident in that it feels like you’re playing an authentic SNK game that just so happens to have been found in 2014. That’s an incredible feeling, and I encourage all Neo Geo fans to go support NeoBitz because thanks to their efforts the Neo Geo lives on.

    Final Score: 9.3/10

    Metal Slug Review

    Metal SlugMetal Slug (Available on Neo Geo MVS/AES/CD)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Run and gun shooter
    Publisher: SNK
    Developer: Nazca Corporation
    Release Date: April 18th, 1996
    Meg Count: 193 Megs

    Parent Talk: Metal Slug has been rated T for teen by the Entertainment Software Rating Board because of violence and blood.  The default blood color is white when you play in US mode, but you can switch that via the Soft dip settings in Test Mode.  Regardless of the blood color, the death animations can be a little much for young children.  Enemies get impaled, burnt alive, explode, etc, however the animations are often humorous more so than they are grotesque.

    Plays Like: Have you played Contra before?  Ok now imagine the world to be far more animated and alive, with tons of little touches everywhere from unique death animations, to obscure background details.  This was one of the games that showed 2D still had a lot to prove in 1996, while the rest of the industry was moving towards 3D polygons.

    Review Basis: This is one game I’ve completed dozens of times in the arcade, and through the various home ports.  Whenever I used to see the ‘ol big red cabinet I’d stop by to see if Metal Slug was installed.  If it was, I’d gladly spend a few bucks on the game before moving on to something else.  There’s just something special about this game that has always brought me back for more.

    Ports: Metal Slug has been released on a wide assortment of platforms from the PlayStation 2 to the Wii, PSP, Vita, and many, many more.  If you’d like to play the game, check and see if it has been ported to your home or portable system of choice.  For this review, I’m tackling the original MVS version.

    Price Check: Metal Slug on the AES is one of the most sought after games on the system, but only a few copies were ever made.  As such it commands insanely high prices, often in the thousands.  Thankfully the MVS and CD versions are significantly cheaper.  It’s not uncommon to see the MVS version selling for $40 USD or so.

    Metal Slug is one of those games that holds a very special place in my heart.  It was released in 1996, towards the end of the arcade scene’s popularity in North America.  At this point in time developers were moving away from 2D for the next big thing, 3D.  Games like Daytona USA and Virtua Fighter were making a killing in the arcades.  In 1994, a small team from within Irem broke free to form Nazca Corporation.  Information about this team is scarce because after they made Neo Turf Masters and Metal Slug they apparently were absorbed into SNK itself.  The only concrete info we have is that this original team worked on the first three Metal Slug games before being disbanded during SNK’s bankruptcy.  Whatever the case may be Nazca created one of the very best Neo Geo releases of all time, and were highly successful in showing that 2D still had a lot left to offer.

    Metal Slug1The Great:

    Humor and action never felt so good.  Contra was a phenomenal game and lead to a wealth of clones.  None were able to ever match its brilliance, that is until Metal Slug came along.  Nazca took what they had done before on other run and gun style games, and added something very unique, humor.  Everything about Metal Slug is over-the-top and ridiculous.  It was like going to see a cheesy b-movie that knew it was cheesy.  Aren’t those the best types of b-movies?  Vehicles are able to jump, enemies make the most ridiculous faces when they got shot, and background animations are hilarious.  I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled onto two unsuspecting enemies just standing around talking to one another, and when I shot one of them the other one ran away screaming.  Classic stuff.  The gameplay is also extremely fun and challenging without ever coming across as cheap.  You have access to a wide assortment of powerful weapons like the flamethrower, heavy machine gun, and rocket launcher.  There are also grenades, which help for those particularly tough spots or boss battles.  There’s even the Super Vehicle 001, or special terrain tank known as a Metal Slug which makes you feel like a total bad ass.  Don’t feel like shooting, use your knife to get up close and personal.  This mix of humor, and excellent gameplay are what helped make this game so special, and why after 18 years it remains a fantastic game to play.

    Metal Slug2The Good:

    + While there’s not much of a plot, what’s there is classic.  General Morden has ceased control of the world’s governments, acquired the new mobile super vehicle called the Metal Slug, and is wreaking havoc.  Cpt. Marco Rossi and Lt. Tarma Roving of the Peregrine Falcon Strike Force are sent in to stop him by any means necessary.

    + Collateral damage is one of the game’s highlights.  Not only are the environments highly destructible, but it’s often necessary to blow everything up in order to gain power-ups and free prisoners of war, which also drop power-ups, or point bonuses.

    + Six diverse levels that get progressively more difficult as you advance.

    + One cannot talk about Metal Slug without talking about the superb audio visual presentation.  The graphics were ahead of their time for 1996.  At this point in time pre-rendered graphics had hit the scene with games like Donkey Kong Country, and it was so nice to see SNK stick to their guns and produce a full-on sprite-based 2D action game.  Little details such as seeing Marco’s breath, all the various death animations, and so much more put this ahead of the pack.  Don’t even get me started on those awesome boss battles.  The sound effects were also extremely well done, especially all the voice samples and screams.  The music was fitting, and the soundtrack contains many memorable themes.

    + Co-op makes everything better.  While we’re all spoiled by online coop today, nothing will ever quite match having another person beside you cursing and swearing as you make your way through the various levels.

    Metal Slug3The So-So:

    +/- There are periods where slowdown occurs although it’s more than manageable.

    +/- Yet another SNK run and gun shooter without having the ability to shoot diagonally.  This was a trademark of SNK and makes the game more difficult than it should be.  Thankfully when you find yourself a Slug you can shoot in 360 degrees.  The same is true for the machine gun turret on the final stage’s barge.

    Metal Slug4The Lowdown:

    Metal Slug is a quintessential Neo Geo game.  For many fans it’s just as important to the platform as The King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, and a number of other fighters.  Personally, this is the one game that showed me what the Neo Geo was all about.  It was about taking chances, doing things others had done before but tweaking them in such a way to make them feel original and unique.  Metal Slug was just the beginning of SNK’s premiere run and gun series, and where they would go from here was just as over-the-top and crazy as this game.  Metal Slug remains a game you can pick up and play at a moment’s notice, and if you invite a buddy over, watch as the time flies by.  If, like me, you own the entire series, playing them back-to-back is even more intense.

    Final Score: 9/10

    Strikers 1945 Plus Review

    StrikersStrikers 1945 Plus (Available on the Neo Geo MVS & PSP)
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
    Publisher: SNK
    Developer: PSiKYO
    MVS Release Date: 1999
    PSP Release Date: July 30th, 2009
    Meg Count: 684 Megs

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rated the PSP version of the game E for everyone and only listed violence as the parental warning.  This is a wartime shmup so yeah, there’s lots and lots of explosions and violence, but nothing is ultra-realistic so parents really shouldn’t have much to worry about.

    Plays Like: It plays like PSiKYO’s other games in the Strikers series.  You select one of a wide variety of WW II era planes and go to town on anything that moves.

    Review Basis: Finished all eight levels by using dozens of credits.

    Strikers 1945 Plus is the only game PSiKYO ever released on the Neo Geo MVS.  It’s actually a remake of Strikers 1945 II, which was ported over to the PlayStation and SEGA Saturn in 1997.  The major difference with this version is that it’s played on a horizontal screen instead of a vertical one, even though it remains a vertical scrolling shmup.  It’s also extremely difficult, but therein lies the charm of the genre.  This is for the hardcore only!

    The Great:

    Variety is the name of the game.  Not only are there six selectable aircrafts, but there’s also a seventh that pops up if you select the randomizer.  Each craft has its own particular strengths and weaknesses, and the game itself cycles through the first four levels randomly, meaning the game always feels different every time you come back to it.  The last four stages play out in a certain order, but the variety in the early portions along with the different aircrafts help make the whole game feel special each time you grab hold of the arcade stick.

    Strikers4The Good:

    + Rock solid gameplay.  Each aircraft has a basic shot, which fires directly in front of the craft, but it’s the Super Shot that makes each plane really special.  In order to gain a Super Shot you have to destroy enemies with your basic shot first.  After the Super meter fills up, it’s time to unleash hell, which is done by pressing and holding down the A button.  From there you fire your Super Shot, and depending on which craft you’re in you’ll either fire a massive laser, a defensive barrier, or something else.  The more powerful the Super Shot the longer it takes to charge, so there’s a lot of strategy here when it comes to selecting the right plane to use.

    + Bombs work interestingly here.  Instead of destroying everything on-screen they act as more of a defensive shield-like move.  Each plane has its own unique move, but typically a large aircraft will fly out in front of your plane for a short period of time, which absorbs enemy bullets for a very short period of time.

    + Plenty of awesome power-ups to make you a force to be reckoned with.

    + Tons of replay value because of the random nature of the first four levels, and the fact there are so many different planes to choose from.

    + The audio is fantastic.  The game features a great soundtrack, and wonderful sound effects, as all arcade games should.

    Strikers2The Bad:

    – The visuals do leave a lot to be desired.  They’re very dark, and for the most part lack the high quality most people have come to expect from other MVS releases.  They’re not ugly, but they just don’t have the same sort of life to them as you’d expect.  Thankfully the bullets are easy to spot because they’re bright blue and pink, whereas everything else is made up of dark greens and browns for the most part.

    – Dull level design.  While the graphics aren’t anything special, the level design itself is extremely basic.  Each of the game’s eight stages all feel extremely similar to each other.

    The Ugly:

    Much like other MVS exclusives, this bad boy isn’t cheap.  It often sells for over $100, but typically doesn’t venture too far north of that price unless you’re looking for a full kit, in which case you can expect to pay multiple hundreds for it.

    Strikers1The Lowdown:

    If you’re looking for a fun, but extremely challenging shmup on the Neo Geo, look no further than Strikers 1945 Plus.  While not a technical showpiece for the MVS platform, it is extremely fun and has enormous amounts of replay value thanks to the large number of playable aircrafts.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Prehistoric Isle 2 Review

    PH2Prehistoric Isle 2 (Available exclusively on Neo Geo MVS)
    ESRB Rating: NA
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
    Publisher: SNK
    Developer: Yumekobo
    Release Date: September 27th, 1999
    Meg Count: 478 Megs

    Parent Talk: While the ESRB never rated Prehistoric Isle 2, it’s safe to say this one would have earned a T rating if only because you’re killing millions of dinosaurs, and if you play the game in Japanese mode the dinosaurs don’t explode into fireballs, they explode into pools of blood.

    Plays Like: Prehistoric Isle 2 is a shoot ‘em up, which features different gameplay mechanics compared to its predecessor, Prehistoric Isle in 1930 from 1989.  While still a shmup, the gameplay now has you rescuing humans in order to earn bonus power-ups, and the setting has also been completely changed.  Compared to many shmups of the time, this one is about easy-to-average in terms of difficulty.

    Review Basis: Finished the game using more than a few credits.

    Prehistoric Isle 2 is complete madness.  You pick one of two available helicopters, and blast your way through six increasingly difficult stages.  The only thing in your way are dinosaurs, which just so happen to have the ability to breath fire, shoot lasers, and want nothing more than to see you perish!  It’s completely insane, and that’s what makes it so bloody great!  It doesn’t hurt any that the game was developed by the same people who made the excellent Blazing Star and Pulstar so you know you’re in for a good time.  If you have access to a Neo Geo MVS, be it consolized or the arcade cabinet itself, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

    The Great:

    Two games in one!  Since this is an MVS exclusive, be sure to add the UniBios to your MVS motherboard.  It’s worth it for many reasons, but for this particular game the UniBios unlocks two radically different versions of the game.  The Japanese and North American versions of the game are exactly the same for the MVS mode, however when you switch the setting to AES mode, there’s one major difference between the two regions.  The US mode plays exactly like the MVS mode, but the Japanese mode is completely different.  In US AES/MVS and Japan MVS modes your helicopter can withstand one enemy shot before exploding.  The Japanese AES mode however ditches that setup and gives players a health gauge.  This is extremely unique and dramatically alters the difficulty of the game as you can get hit a total of six times before dying, although you only have one life before you have to use a continue.  The thing is you can regain health as the stage continues, making this mode feel almost like an entirely different game compared to the others.  I’ve included gameplay of both modes in the video review to highlight this fact.

    PI2_4The Good:

    + The core gameplay is very fun.  You have a basic shot which you can hold down to spread your bullets in multiple directions, and a power shot, which is the game’s equivalent of a bomb, although it doesn’t clear all the enemies on the screen.  Each of the two helicopters has its own unique power shot.  A screen clearing bomb is available, but only from rescued humans.

    + There are two helicopters to choose from and the biggest difference between the two is the way in which they shoot their primary weapon.  The blue helicopter fires directly in front, while the green one has a spread shot.  Both copters have access to a wide array of power-ups like missiles and being able to level up their primary weapon up to level five.

    + Rescuing stranded humans not only acts as a score bonus, but is the only way to access powerful power-ups.  Think Metal Slug, and you’ll understand how the humans work.  Certain sections of each stage also require you to stand your ground and defend the humans while they make their way to safety.

    + This is one game where you’ll want a friend to join in.  Playing this madness together is an absolute blast!

    + Challenging without being cheap.

    + Fast-paced and responsive.  For a game that features pre-rendered graphics it’s surprisingly smooth.  If you die in this game it’s your fault, and not because of sluggish gameplay.  While there are areas where slowdown is present, it actually helps because your ship never seems to suffer as much as the dinos do.

    + While some detest pre-rendered graphics, I personally find they look outstanding here.  Backgrounds in particular look great with multiple layers of scaling, and just an overall layer of polish rarely found in games of this nature.  There are a wide array of dinosaurs present and they look super sharp.  Some of the special effects, like the intro 3D effect, are pretty incredible for a game on hardware from January 1990.  Then there are the little touches, like the way humans slowly move away from incoming dinosaurs and things like that.  A lot of love was put into developing this game, and it shows.

    + So over the top it’s ridiculous and that’s what makes it so charming.  Typically games like this are frowned upon because killing animals, even if they are special laser powered dinos, just isn’t something people do.  For whatever reason the wacky nature of the game is what makes it so damn appealing.

    + US mode makes the dinosaurs explode into fireballs when they’re killed, whereas the Japanese mode makes them explode into pools of blood, so depending on your tolerance, you might want to play in one mode over the other.

    PI2_3The So-So:

    +/- The music and sound effects are fantastic, but the scream all the dinosaurs make when they’re killed can get a little annoying.  Thankfully the music is louder than the sound effects so I really didn’t notice it, however my significant other sure did, so be warned.

    The Bad:

    – Boss battles are disappointing because they’re too easy.  Some of the stages put up a real fight, but then you get to the stage’s end boss and plow through them.

    The Ugly:

    Given Prehistoric Isle 2 was only ever released on the MVS, and just so happens to be a riot to play, it’s extremely expensive and hard to find.  Copies typically go for several hundred dollars on eBay, and given this is an MVS game, bootlegs are always a concern.  The last thing you want to do is pay $400 for the game only to discover it’s a $4 bootleg.

    PI2_2The Lowdown:

    While it might be pricey to get yourself a legit copy, it’s well worth it for the excitement and fun you’ll have, particularly if you bring a friend along for the ride.  SNK’s timeless arcade system may be remembered most for its incredible line-up of fighters, but titles like this show there was a lot more to the platform than most people ever realized.  This is one you really have to play.  It’s amazing!

    Final Score: 9.2/10


    Magician Lord Review

    Magician LordMagician Lord (Available on Neo Geo MVS, AES, and CD)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: SNK
    Developer: Alpha Denshi
    Release Date: April 26th, 1990

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Magician Lord T for teen because of animated violence and blood.  You play as a wizard that shoot projectiles at enemies.  Enemies can be somewhat graphic, such as floating skulls, peeling flesh and that sort of thing.  Very young kids might get frightened.

    Plays Like: Like most action platforms from the early nineties you have the ability to jump, and shoot in several directions.  The twist with Magician Lord is that you can find transformation orbs which grant new powers, and abilities.  If you’re looking for a series that it most closely resembles I’d have to go with Ghouls ‘n Ghosts.  You can expect an intense challenge, but it’s also a highly rewarding experience.

    Review Basis: This is a game I used to play all the time in the arcades.  While I may have always sucked at it, for one reason or another it always pulled me back because of the cool looking main character.  I finished the game in the arcades by plunking in tons of quarters during one of my birthdays.  I still remember it because I spent a bloody fortune on this machine.  Needless to say, if you get easily aggravated stay very far away from this one.

    Magician Lord was both a launch title for the MVS arcade system and the AES home console.  It has been released on a variety of digital formats including the Virtual Console on the Wii, and the Neo Geo Station on the PlayStation Network.  It was also included in SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 for the Wii, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable.  Needless to say, if you want to play Magician Lord, there are quite a few options available to you.  I decided to go all the way back to the original MVS cart, so this review is based on that version, and the video review was done by capturing footage from the MVS cart.

    ML3The Great:

    Even after so many years the game still looks great.  The large sprites are nicely detailed, the enemies look fantastic, and the scaling is wonderful.  The MVS hardware was touted for its great use of scaling and this game often makes use of two or three layers of scaling.  The audio is awesome.  The first level theme is one of my favorite, most likely because I heard it a million times when I used to play this game at the arcades.  All the music is memorable and catchy, which is exactly what you want from an arcade game.  I guess I should also mention the voice acting which is…well…it’s something alright.  Let’s leave it at that.

    ML1The Good:

    + Similar to Ghouls ‘n Ghosts gameplay features non-stop action, and some platforming elements thrown in for good measure.  Players take on the role of Elta who shoots a small sickle projectile in four directions, left, right, up, and down (while you’re in the air).  He can also find special power-ups which grant him the ability to transform into powerful beings including the Dragon, Waterman, Poseidon, Shinobi, Samurai and Raizin.  Each has unique abilities, but you don’t stay in these transformations for long as getting hit only a few times reverts you back to the standard magician form.

    ML4The So-So:

    – Some of the level design hasn’t aged quite so well.  Hidden traps and danger zones are all over the place making your first time through stages a task in frustration.  Keep in mind the game was designed to eat quarters, and it does a very good job of that.

    +/- The controls work well, but can occasionally feel a little too ridged, preventing you from dodging an incoming attack, for example.

    ML2The Ugly:

    Magician Lord is a very challenging game, often veering on the cheap side.  If you don’t finish a level quick enough an invincible enemy will hunt you down.  Often enemies will simply appear out of nowhere shooting projectiles at you, and unless you knew they were there ahead of time it’s almost impossible to dodge their attacks.  The only real way to finish this game is to die a billion times and memorize each and every enemy spawn point.  Good luck!

    ML5The Lowdown:

    Being one of the very first Neo Geo games I ever played Magician Lord will always hold a special place in my heart.  It’s also a great example of the power of the MVS hardware.  Certain aspects haven’t aged quite as well as some of Magician Lord’s contemporaries, but overall it’s still a very good title to check out on any platform you might have access to.  For arcade enthusiasts, if you can find the cart for a good price I say go for it!

    Final Score: 7/10

    Kizuna Encounter: Super Tag Battle Review

    KEKizuna Encounter: Super Tag Battle (Available Exclusively on Neo Geo MVS, and AES)
    ESRB Rating: NA
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Fighting
    Publisher: SNK
    Developer: SNK
    Release Date: November 7th, 1996

    There’s a debate amongst hardcore fighting game fans that challenge which came first, Kizuna Encounter or X-Men vs. Street Fighter.  Why it even matters is because whichever came first would be credited as being the original creator of the tag team sub-genre.  Release dates for arcade games are almost always estimates, but most people believe the first to the scene was XvSF.  In the end it’s all semantics because both games were in development at the same time, and both brought something very unique to the scene.  While X-Men vs. Street Fighter would go on to spawn a multi-million selling franchise, Kizuna Encounter would end up being the last entry in a short-lived series.  That doesn’t make it any less special though.

    When I received the Mega Pack Volume 1 for my Neo Geo X I was surprised to learn of this game.  I was a big arcade fan back in the day, and yet had never heard of this one before.  Knowing the X was nothing more than an emulation box, I knew I would have to hunt down an original cart for my MVS collection, and boy am I happy I did.  This is one fantastic fighter!

    KE1The Great:

    During the mid-nineties 2D fighting games were starting to lose ground to 3D fighters.  Companies like SNK and Capcom were looking for ways to spice things up, and decided to borrow a gameplay element from professional wrestling, namely the tag team match.  Thus, the tag team sub-genre of fighting games was created.  Instead of allowing you to tag your partner whenever you wanted, Kizuna Encounter featured painted areas on the ground.  These areas identified where characters could tag in their partner.  This one element adds so much strategy to the fights as you’re constantly trying to keep your opponent from staying within their tag border.  On top of that, your partner character who isn’t fighting slowly regains health the longer they’re resting.  This system makes fights so much more interesting.

    KE2The Good:

    + Gone is the two-line battle system from Savage Reign, replaced instead by a much simpler and yet more diverse combo system.  Players now have a weak and heavy attack that’s easy to perform by using the joystick instead of holding the button down for an extended period of time.  Forward and attack is your heavy, just attack is your weak.  Simple as that.  D is your tag button, and then add a multitude of special moves for a really fun fighting system.

    + Dodge and sway moves are easy to execute and extremely useful.  Pressing A and B together causes your character to doge an attack, and pressing forward with A and B together performs a dash away from your opponent, which is especially useful if you’re stuck in a corner.

    + While many character sprites from Savage Reign return, the graphics have been overhauled overall.  Animations are smoother, and stages themselves look much more detailed.  This was also one of the first games to use stage intros.  Some feature birds flying into the screen, while others highlight an elevator and as the doors open the fight begins.  Even little details like your character who isn’t fighting changes their stance as they slowly replenish health.  This is what SNK is known for, and it goes a long way in helping to make Kizuna Encounter feel special.

    + Depending on which version of the game you play there’s even a co-op mode, which is really fun.  Grab a buddy and play through the game, and if things get annoying, switch to competitive and beat the snot out of one another.

    The So-So:

    +/- The music is much better than what was featured in Savage Reign, but the sound effects and voice samples aren’t anything to write home about.

    The Bad:

    – By far the worse aspect of Kizuna Encounter is the way in which once one character is beaten the match ends.  That sucks.  It would have been awesome to have the second character continue on with the fight.  Thankfully the characters have two life bars, but it still would have been better to have your second character playable after the first is defeated.

    The Ugly:

    The final boss is one of the hardest, and cheapest bosses of all time.  If you can get a couple of hits in on this guy you’ve got skills.

    KE3The Lowdown:

    Whether you play the game via original Neo Geo hardware, or the Neo Geo X, Kizuna Encounter is one title fighting game fans should check out.  It’s very affordable on the MVS (under $80 usually), but is extremely expensive on the AES (usually over $600).  Regardless of how you try it, it deserves to be played if for nothing else than to see where the tag team sub-genre originated from.

    Final Score: 8.5/10     

    Savage Reign Review

    SRSavage Reign (Available exclusively on Neo Geo MVS, AES, and CD)
    ESRB Rating: NA
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Fighting
    Publisher: SNK
    Developer: SNK
    Release Date: May 25th, 1995

    Every once and a while a sequel comes out that is just so much better than the original that everyone forgets there even was an original.  Case in point, Street Fighter II.  When I was going to the arcades and SF II hit the scene, I thought I was crazy as I had never even heard of Street Fighter before, and clearly that must have been one awesome game to spawn such an incredible sequel.  Many years later when I finally had the chance to check out the TurboGrafx-16 port, I learned why no one had ever heard of Street Fighter before, because it was just awful.  Here we have Savage Reign, a game that time has forgotten.  It’s not horrible, but it’s just nothing special, a clear unoriginal product of its time.

    In 1995 the world had already seen some truly amazing fighters, such as Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Samurai Shodown, and The King of Fighters.  Savage Reign simply didn’t have enough originality to make it stand out.  Its sequel, Kizuna Encounter on the other hand, was one of the first tag-team fighters and leagues better than its predecessor in every way imaginable.

    I have the power!!!
    I have the power!!!

    The Good:

    + Simple gameplay and controls.  Tapping A or B initiates a quick jab or kick, whereas holding either button results in a heavy attack.  C activates your weapon attack, D allows you to jump to the next plain, and B and C together throws your weapon.  Mix and match these basic and familiar (Real Bout Fatal Fury) inputs with traditional special moves and you have a fairly easy to understand combat system.

    + 10 playable characters is a plus…right?

    Attacking from one plain to the next.
    Attacking from one plain to the next.

    The So-So:

    +/- The two line battle system, which allows you to leap from one plain to the next works well, but is anything but original.  1991’s Fatal Fury introduced the two-line system and by 1995 it already had stayed its welcome.  The difference this time around is there was a nice blur effect used whenever you jumped from one plain to the next, but that hardly grants any extra points.

    +/- The visuals would have been extremely impressive in 1992, but by 1995 other games on the Neo Geo hardware were smoother, crisper, and all around nicer looking.  While the sprites are nice and large, the scaling is not as smooth as it should be.  The same can be said for the animation.  Characters frequently transition from one move to the next with obvious missing frames, so movement appears choppy.  Thankfully the characters are varied and colorful, but that hardly does anything to make the package more inviting.

    Nice ball.
    Nice ball.

    The Bad:

    – Sounds effect and music are nothing special.  They feel like a low budget release, which is what I assume this game to be.  Most voice samples are not clear, and the music is usually tinny and garbled.

    Talk about goofy character designs.
    Talk about goofy character designs.

    The Lowdown:

    Savage Reign is mediocrity at its best.  Even when it was brand new it was largely forgettable, and now many years later it’s a relic time forgot.  It isn’t awful, but it isn’t anything special either.  This is one of those games you pick up for an hour or two with a friend, and almost immediately move on.  When you discover its sequel, suddenly the original has a little more relevance, but only barely.

    Final Score: 4/10

    Analogue Interactive CMVS Slim Review

    There are many ways you can get into the Neo Geo scene.  You could go the illegal route and download ROMs and experience classic arcade games on your PC or some other device with lackluster graphics and sound.  You could purchase the now defunct Neo Geo X and experience the exact same emulated software, with the same poor audio visual clarity.  Then there are the more realistic options.  You could purchase one of the Neo Geo CD systems, but unfortunately those systems are missing a lot of software released late in the life of the Neo Geo platform, and the games suffer from some seriously long load times.  A much better option would be to purchase the AES (Advanced Entertainment System), also known as the home console, but sadly the game prices are insanely expensive because so few carts were ever created.  While the system will only set you back a few hundred dollars, individual games range from $300 to $2,000.  Needless to say, unless you’ve got lots and lots of money to throw around, this isn’t the most economical option available.  So what’s an SNK fan left to do?  Surely, I’m not suggesting you purchase the Big Red MVS arcade cabinet am I?!?

    Truth be told there’s a somewhat newer option to get into the Neo Geo scene, and it has proven to be extremely successful and popular.  Some ambitious entrepreneurs have gone to great lengths to dismantle those arcade cabinets, take the single-slot MVS motherboards (originally available in single slot, duel slot, 4-slot, and 6-slot cabinets), and create a consolized version of the original arcade boards.  What you’re left with is the absolute best way to experience Neo Geo games, at an affordable price, without having to locate, repair, or store the actual arcade cabinet itself.

    Enter Analogue Interactive.  They’re not alone, however.  There are quite a few other companies out there that create consolized MVS (CMVS) systems, but theirs is the absolute best.  They make the shell out of real wood and spare no expense in delivery the most stunning gaming product you’ll ever see.  The base model is available in either Walnut, or Ash wood and retails for $649 USD.  That includes a universal AC adapter, and an A/V cable that includes composite and s-video.  Here’s an example of the Ash wood system.

    AshOne extra feature included with every CMVS is the Unibios 3.1, which works something like a GameShark from years ago.  It comes with a wide variety of cheats, options and settings you can tweak, but the most important feature of the Unibios is its ability to switch between different regions and MVS and AES modes.  Let’s say you own a Japanese version of The Last Blade.  If you want to play it in English, you can simply go into the bios, switch the mode to USA and away you go.  You can even switch it to the console version, which often adds an Options menu and more.  Needless to say, this is a really killer feature every Neo Geo fan will want.

    One question you might have is, why don’t I get a joystick with my purchase?  That’s a good question, and you can order one from Analogue Interactive for $199, but you can also use an AES or CD joystick/controller if you have any lying around, because the controller port on the system is exactly the same as the one featured on the AES and CD systems.  It’s not included with the bundle by default as that would have increased the base cost too high, and a lot of Neo Geo fans already have tons of sticks lying around.  If you’re completely new to Neo Geo, you can purchase two sticks separately, or go for the deluxe Black Label set for $1,299.  Not only does this set include two sticks along with the console, but you also get to choose between a wide range of domestic woods.  If you’ve got extra money, you could really splurge and order one from the imported wood list.  These are significantly more expensive, but look just incredible.

    Black LabelYou can also purchase additional cables (Component, RGB SCART), joystick extension cables and more from their site.  I highly recommend you also add the Virtual Memory Card for $39 because it allows you to save your high scores, seasons in sports games and more.  The RGB SCART cable is another must have as you can output in the absolute best possible picture quality.  If you have a modern HDTV, component also looks spectacular.

    The key reason why you would want to go this route over any other option is mainly because of the games.  MVS carts were made in much higher quantity than their AES counterparts and as such are extremely affordable.  Kizuna Encounter will set you back only $50 to $80 while the AES version can reach as high as $800.  Metal Slug is another one that usually sells for under $65 for the cart, and thousands on the AES.  Not only are the carts cheaper, but there are more titles released on the MVS than any other Neo Geo platform.  Incredible games like Strikers 1945 Plus and Prehistoric Isle 2 are only available on MVS, and totally worth picking up.  Naturally the exclusive titles typically fetch a higher asking price, but at least they’re not in the thousands like so many AES titles.

    In the end the Analogue Interactive CMVS Slim is a fantastic product.  It not only allows you access to the greatest library of games in the Neo Geo family, but also looks incredible.  The craftsmanship is second to none.  This thing looks gorgeous in your home entertainment system and is a bold statement that “The Future is Now!”

    Neo Geo X Hardware Review

    Normally I’d have a big written review, but I found it was much more practical to actually show you all the Neo Geo X hardware instead.  Hope you all enjoy.

    The Neo Geo X contains the following 20 games:

    3 Count Bout
    Art Of Fighting
    Alpha Mission II
    Baseball Stars II
    Cyber Lip
    Fatal Fury
    Fatal Fury Special
    The King Of Fighters ’95
    King Of The Monsters
    Last Resort
    League Bowling
    Magician Lord
    Metal Slug
    Mutation Nation
    Nam 1975
    Real Bout – Fatal Fury Special
    Samurai Shodown II
    Super Sidekicks
    World Heroes Perfect

    Cyber-Lip Review

    Cyber Lip Box Art Cyber-Lip
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Run and Gun Shooter
    Publisher: SNK
    Developer: SNK
    Release Date: 1990 (Neo Geo MVS and AES) April 21st, 1995 (Neo Geo CD) December 18th, 2012 (Neo Geo X)

    Cyber-Lip was SNK’s first entry (released before Top Hunter and Metal Slug) into the platforming shooter genre made famous by the Contra series. Most of the team from the game moved on to work on the Metal Slug series afterwards. While far from being the best in its genre, Cyber-Lip proves a decent pick-up for those nostalgic out there who want to see what some of the very early experiences in the run and gun genre are like.

    The Great:

    Playing through an old arcade game you’ve never even heard about, and realizing it’s actually quite fun.  While you probably won’t play much of it after the 30 minutes or so required to beat the game, it’s still a blast to experience, especially if you have a buddy around to play with.

    CL4The Good:

    + Fully voice-acted. Sure, it’s laughable at best, but for the 1990, this was huge. (Note: pick up the Neo Geo CD version for improved audio quality).

    + Fun power-ups. Gotta love flamethrowers in videogames. The core bots are also a must as the more you collect, the more bad ass you become. Think of them as shields which can make you near invincible after a while.

    + Tight controls. You can even execute super jumps and flips to dodge enemy fire.

    + Short levels with slightly branching paths. They’re meant to be experienced more then once, although only the hardcore will do so.

    CL2The Bad:

    – By far the worst flaw of Cyber-Lip is the fact that you can’t shoot diagonally (or down) while your foes have no problem doing so. The original Contra let you do that from day one. This really limits your options. The fact that this was released after Contra is even more unforgiving.

    – The grenade power up will become your worst enemy. The way the game works is that when you collect a power up you automatically switch to said weapon. That means that when you get a grenade, you end up dying 75% of the time because you get attacked before you realize your weapon was switched. By the time you switch back, it’s too late.

    – Extremely basic gameplay compared to other great shooters out there. This doesn’t even come close to Contra.

    CL3The Lowdown:

    While it’s a nice trip down memory lane, Cyber-Lip never came close to achieving legendary status. It’s included as a pack-in game on the Neo Geo X, but those without one shouldn’t go out of their way to experience it. Even back in the 90s it got mediocre reviews. Still, Cyber-Lip does have a certain charm to it that only retro arcade games seem to possess.

    Final Score: 6.0/10