Thank you SNK for sending us this game collection to review!
I love game collections. Yes, that may seem somewhat obvious, but it is very rare that a game collection would not have something good inside, or contain some hidden gems. It’s even better when virtually all of them aren’t hidden – they’re gems.
This is a selection of SNK's new line of Neo Geo Pocket Color re-releases on Nintendo Switch. Six of the ten games included in this collection were already released on the eShop, in the form of standalone releases. They are all 2D, side-by-side fighting games. They are generally of high quality, though SNK vs. Capcom is a particular highlight. The other four games are quite a bit different – and I’m thrilled that they included a variety of genres. The full list of games is below, with links to our reviews where we have them:
- SNK GALS' FIGHTERS
- SAMURAI SHODOWN! 2
- KING OF FIGHTERS R-2
- THE LAST BLADE: Beyond the Destiny
- FATAL FURY FIRST CONTACT
- SNK VS. CAPCOM: THE MATCH OF THE MILLENNIUM
- METAL SLUG 1ST MISSION
- METAL SLUG 2ND MISSION
- DARK ARMS: Beast Buster 1999
- BIG TOURNAMENT GOLF
Unlike the standalone releases, this one has a few notable extras. For one thing, you can see the original boxes and cartridges rendered in front of you, which is a nice touch. Another nice bonus is that you can change what platform you play the games on - rather than just the default Neo Geo Pocket Color, you can choose the original black & white Neo Geo Pocket, or the latest 'New Color'. I'm not certain what differences the New Color offers, as I didn't notice any, but some games have not just graphical, but also subtle game play or cut scene changes when played on an original black & white Pocket versus their color versions. Another nice bonus is that you can play the English or Japanese versions if you choose. That is also unique to this collection.
I also love that they implemented multiplayer for each game that supports it. Some games include versus, which allows you to play against another single person in the room with you (local), and it also includes the fantastic side-by-side mode that the other Neo Geo Pocket Selection Switch ports have; namely each side of the Switch controls one character, while you share the screen. This way, you can even enjoy multiplayer on a Switch Lite! It's really neat.
As for the games themselves, the fighting game entries are solid, and fans of the genre will enjoy them. The graphics and sound are limited as you might expect, and with only two action buttons, the designers implemented a long-press system in order to differentiate between weak and strong attacks. The graphics are all chibi-style, with short, deformed, and cute versions of each character.
Several of the games share characters; for example, the crossover games (SNK Gals' Fighters and SNK vs. Capcom) share characters not only with each other, but the games they borrow from. While both are chibi, Haohmaru from Samurai Shodown! 2 and SNK vs. Capcom do look (and act) quite different, while the girls from SNK Gals' Fighters tend to be faster and more over the top with their attacks than in other games. And from a historical perspective, some of these games are firsts; SNK Gals' Fighters is the first all-girls SNK game (they came out with others later), and SNK vs. Capcom is the first fighter of the several crossover games between the two companies.
Since I haven't reviewed three of the fighters, my initial impressions are that they are just as solid as the ones I did review for the most part, though SNK vs. Capcom still stands above the rest in my opinion. King of Fighters R-2 and Samurai Shodown! 2 both are solid entries in their respective series, and Samurai Shodown technically has a story of some kind (not all fighters spend the time to develop one). As mentioned before, I was quite surprised how different Hoahmaru acted in his game versus the crossover; the action is quite a bit slower overall in Samurai Shodown! 2. SNK Gals' Fighters is as silly as you'd expect, with crazy attacks for some of the girls that can come from almost anywhere. King of Fighters R-2 seemed to be a more grounded affair in comparison.
The real highlights of this collection are the new games included not otherwise available on Nintendo Switch. These include Big Tournament Golf, Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999, and Metal Slug 1st and 2nd Mission. Given SNK's generally heavy focus on side-by-side fighters, this variety is quite welcome.
Big Tournament Golf is a fairly straightforward golf game, very much in the vein of classics like NES Golf. Golf games were also fairly popular in the arcades during this time, and the full Neo Geo has a version of Big Tournament Golf that was released back in 1996, that is likely a better (or at least prettier) version of this game. Here, you can choose one of six different golfers, with various stats that represent their differences, and three different courses to play on. Japan, U.S.A., and Germany are represented here, with a course available from each country. Once you start, you choose the club to use, which direction to hit it in, and you then have a timing-based meter where you choose how much power and how high or low into the ball you hit it. It's relatively simple, and a decent way to pass the time, especially if you enjoy golf.
Dark Arms: Beast Busters 1999 is probably the most unusual of all of the bunch, as it's a sequel to a pre-Neo Geo gun game, which is an arcade format where you aim your gun towards the screen and shoot things that appear. The original is included in another game collection I reviewed, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection. However, unlike that game, this one is actually an action RPG.
To be fair to Dark Arms, I have not given this game enough time to really understand everything about it; I played it for an hour or so, and these are my initial first impressions.
To start, you make a deal with some demon-like creature that offers you power. You accept that offer, and he offers you a weapon called the Catcher. With this, you can shoot enemies and collect their souls. These, along with item drops (usually food) are used to then upgrade your weapons by spending the souls and food you picked up to improve them. If you kill an enemy with your weapons outside of the (rather weak) Catcher, you don't gain their soul, so switching between any weapons you have equipped (I believe up to four, though I never got that many myself) is important, as each has a power meter that must recharge if you use them too many times. I understand that weapon variety becomes quite interesting, though I didn't get to see too many. Each level has a variety of enemies, many of which are beasts or undead, like zombies. The levels can be quite labyrinthine as well, with multiple doors scattered throughout.
The pixel art takes advantage of the Neo Geo Pocket's technical limitations quite well, and the music appropriately sets the mood. I'm not a huge fan of making a deal with the devil (or similar) to gain power, but it is what it is. One incentive for unlocking and upgrading your weapons, outside of just making the game easier, is a rather simple two-player deathmatch mode, where you can use any of the weapons you've unlocked to find and hunt down the other player. It's fairly simple, but could be fun for an occasional distraction when you and a friend want to do something different.
Last but most certainly not least, we get to the biggest inclusions in this collection: Metal Slug 1st Mission and 2nd Mission. For those not familiar with this series, Metal Slug was probably SNK's most popular franchise outside of their side-by-side fighters. Here, you have a side-scrolling run and gun shooter with fantastic animations and an incredible dose of silliness on top of it all. For example, you can rescue POWs throughout the levels, and they look like street hobos, wearing little more than boxer shorts. Thankfully, if you are able to rescue them, they will drop a nice item for you.
For those not familiar with it, I suppose the easiest way to describe Metal Slug is to say it's like Contra, but silly. You are part of a military special operations group, and... well I'm sure there's a story, but these games are all about shooting the bad guys.
I started with Metal Slug 1st Mission (gotta start with the first one, right?) and I was immediately impressed. The shooting and action is both smooth and accurate, if a bit loose. Everything is animated really well, and levels have a ton of variety. Sometimes you fight on foot, and usually start out levels that way. You can then find yourself in a tank, a fighter plane, or even a submarine. Each plays and handles a bit differently, while also managing ammunition. For example, you might pick up homing missiles, but you only get a few shots. Each form you find yourself in deals with that a little differently; for example, if you have a tank, you have unlimited ammo - but when you take too much damage, you return to on foot rather than just dying, unlike the other forms you might take.
The music is catchy, and the shooting sound effects do their job. The graphics are very good considering the limitations of the source system, and do a great job. As one of SNK's most popular franchises, with new entries continuing to be released, these portable versions kept (and continue to keep) that standard up quite well.
I also played a fair amount of Metal Slug 2nd Mission, which is a direct sequel to 1st Mission. You get to play as either the male grunt from 1st Mission, or as a new female player character. I've tried it as both, and some of the power up drops seem to change slightly when you play as the girl, which for me at least, meant I could get past where I was stuck the first time I played as the guy. The story seems to be slightly different between the two characters, though I'm not sure how much the levels diverge outside of just the power up drops. I will say that this game certainly seems bigger and even better than the already great 1st Mission. With that said, there were a few notable changes that makes playing the two require a moment of adjustment.
Metal Slug 2nd Mission tries to push the Neo Geo Pocket close to its limits, which I found to have a somewhat humorous result. This is the only game on the system I've seen so far that actually has what sounds like waveform voices - when you pick up an item, the game announces that you just picked up whatever kind of gun it is. It's pretty cool! But, I also know why few Neo Geo Pocket titles utilize sounds in that way, and why you can turn off voices in the main settings menu. Why, you might ask? Because the entire game stops for a second whenever the voices start playing! I had to laugh the first time I saw this, because it's obvious that the developers pushed this game to do things the system wasn't intended to, and that's the result. Thankfully, they can be turned off if this bothers you. One other notable change from 1st Mission is that rather than switching weapons by pressing '+' (or Option on the original console), you just use that alternate weapon when pressing it directly. This certainly took some getting used to for me, and may be a great reason to map 'Option' to one of the other face buttons while playing.
Being a collection, moral concerns vary per game, and the overall score may take a dive as a result (perhaps unfairly, but that's how our scoring system works). As mentioned throughout, punching, kicking, and magic-like attacks are common. Other games you shoot your enemies until they fall over or explode. While I didn't catch where, at least one of the games features mild blood in some form. One instance of 'h*ll' was noted.
Other games feature a dark, occult-like setting, with Dark Arms being the obvious one to note here. I also didn't like how you go to a dark, demon-like creature and ask it for power, which he then grants. Some games feature girls (or creatures with a female form) wearing tight or revealing clothing, with lots of cleavage. However, given the significant limitations of the source platform, anything you could possibly see is not very detailed.
Graphically, as mentioned before, these are all Neo Geo Pocket Color games, so the graphics are going to be lacking in comparison to titles on more powerful platforms, include the Neo Geo itself. It has a low resolution screen with a limited number of colors. Character sprites are in a 'chibi' style, but otherwise look good. On the audio side, there is plenty of catchy chiptune music to go around in this collection, but the sound effects are generally lacking, which is consistent with the platform limitations given what I've seen.
Evaluating a games collection is a bit different than just checking out a single game. Is the presentation good? Are the games, or at least a plurality of them, worth playing? Is it a good value, or put another way, is it worth the dollar per game ratio? Thankfully, the answer here is an emphatic yes. The Neo Geo Pocket Selection titles were often worth their asking prices individually - and it's even more the case now, with a Volume 1 that includes not only all of the currently available standalone titles, but also several bonus games - and with some unique extras, as well. The emulation is perfect as far as I can tell, and local multiplayer, where supported, works great. If you have any interest in the Neo Geo Pocket, this is the collection to get.