Review: NEOGEO Station (PSN)

In celebration of the NEOGEO’s 20th Anniversary, SNK has launched the”NEOGEO Station” on PSN for the PS3 and PSP. The “station” launched with 10 games from a variety of genres and according to SNK, the selection of titles will continue to grow in 2011.

Since a lot of these games have appeared on many of Sega’s home consoles we felt it was our civic duty to do some reviewing to them. Just click the “more” button and enjoy the delectable (am I using this correctly?) fruits of our labor.

Alpha Mission II – Matthew Jay

There’s not a lot to say about Alpha Mission II, mainly because there’s not a lot to it. The game looks gorgeous but doesn’t offer much as far as shmups go. Slow, fairly simple gameplay and unimaginative bosses and level design make AMII kind of a disappointment in the days where Ikaruga is right there on XBLA. Even on the PSN with the Gundemonium collection there are plenty of options that are more worth your buck. Skip it.

Art of FightingBrett Hatfield

This one started out fine at first, and I was really enjoying the faster pacing of it compared to FF, but it fell into the same trappings that KOF ’94 did. The ridiculously repetitive and cheap AI that will chaingank you to oblivion just doesn’t do it for me at all. If I’m completely honest, I didn’t even finish the game because of it. I got to stage 7 before I felt I’d tortured myself enough and decided to take my ball and go home. I realize that being ridiculously difficult is a part of SNK’s charm, but this is not one of those charming times. It’s instead turned this game into a Don’t Get for me.

Baseball Stars Professional – Alexander Sargeant

This is a lot more impressive as a title, for a lot of reasons. Namely, it’s simultaneous multi-player where you’re both actually doing different things. The AI is kind of a bastard, but with another person it definitely has a certain charm. It’s a neat little recreation of baseball, offering a bunch of fake stereotypical teams which actually have a variety of different abilities. Some are better at catching where as others are goofy batsman that excel at sprinting for base to base. (It’s at this point I have to mention I’ve never played Baseball, only the equivalent of ‘Rounders’, so my terminology might be a bit weird).

Fatal Fury – Brett Hatfield

It’s really tough for me to go back to something like this, that only uses three buttons total and moves kinda sluggishly, after playing something like BlazBlue. But actually, my time with this one was far less disappointing than with KOF ’94.  It’s definitely not the best game I’ve played, and if you’re like me and play a ton of newer fighters, muscle memory will screw you over like whoa, but aside from that, no real problems to report with it. Once you get used to the slower pace and the far far simpler button layout, it’s pretty fun actually. Also, it oozes of 90s cheese (including the Big Bad saying such badass lines as “HOLY COW!” when you meet him), so if you’re into that sorta thing, you can’t go wrong. I don’t think it’s worth 9 bucks, BUT, I will tag it with a Get It. Just wait til it goes on sale.

King of Fighters ’94 – Brett Hatfield

I’m actually really disappointed in how this one held up. I guess compared to it’s main “early 90s 2D fighter re-release” competition, Super Street Fighter II HD Remix, it’s a better deal, being seven bucks cheaper and a much better game on the surface. But on its own, it’s just not that great. The AI isn’t the best, and at points becomes repetitive and cheaper than the final boss (Not an exaggeration. I had more trouble fighting Kim Kaphwan than I did Rugal), which is certainly no good. But really killing it is the price point. It’s $8.99. Now, let’s think about this for a sec: you can get this game, with a not-so-good AI and a comparatively small roster, or for 3 bucks less, you can get the best game in the series, in my opinion, King of Fighters ’99. Given that choice, unless you’re a series completest or just wanna play an old KOF game online (which I admittedly did not test out, being someone who hates playing fighting games online with random people), I just don’t see a reason to take this over that. Don’t Get It.

League Bowling – Alexander Sargeant

Overall, this actually isn’t quite as awkward as I was expecting it to be. Bowling games haven’t traditionally been that involving, but the Wii helped create the definitive experience simply through the addition of motion controls. The reason for this is simple, as it’s a hell of a lot easier to bowl the exact same way each time when it’s just a matter of hitting the button at the right time to aim your shot.

Magician Lord – Matthew Jay

I’m pretty much going to repeat what I said about Alpha Mission II but replace ‘shooter’ with ‘action platformer.’ While switching between a wizard, dragon warrior and ninja is fun it doesn’t really change much other than what your projectiles look like. The game almost plays like a Castlevania or Ghouls n’ Ghosts but with much less to do and much slower. The PSN already offers Symphony of the Night for 10 bucks as well as many games that have similar gameplay and themes like Trine and Earthworm Jim HD. Magician Lord also gets a pass from me.

Metal Slug – Matthew Jay

Who doesn’t love Metal Slug? Of course you all do but that probably means you’ve played it plenty of times before and this version is not very different from the others you’ve played. In fact, it’s exactly the same but with one major addition, online multi-player. The multi works fine but doesn’t support voice chat, which can be annoying online. It’s also not drop in/drop out so if your teammate wants to stop playing, Game Over. If you haven’t played Metal Slug before or want to play it online, then check this version out. If not, there’s nothing we haven’t seen before but it’s still a very solid arcade game.

Samurai Shodown – Kris Knigge

Chances are, if you spent time in any US arcade in the nineties, you saw at least one Samurai Shodown cabinet. It’s the kind of franchise that you occasionally hear spoken of fondly by the same sort of people who remember Eternal Champions and the days when the title “Mortal Kombat” inspired gasps of awe rather than groans of disappointment. For Neo Geo Station’s launch, SNK decided to release the original Samurai Shodown, and I was intrigued to see what compelled people to forgive the game’s grievous spelling error.

Well, quite frankly, I ended up disliking Samurai Shodown. The game’s designed around carefully reading your opponent and effectively utilizing your normal techniques to take them down. While I was intrigued to do so, I found that the stringent input requirements and slower pace weren’t nearly as fun as the semi-speed-freak rushdown chaos of SNK’s King of Fighters series. This unfortunately made the game feel more than a little dated to my untrained eyes (fingers? Whatever).

Despite my distaste for the game, I really want to like it. There’s a lot of really cool sprite work going on (mindblowing for 1993), destructible environments that react to your slashes, beautiful animation in the backgrounds, and fantastic music. The port’s great too. It’s nice to be able to put arcade cabinet-esque scanlines in the screen, since it really makes the sprite work pop. It’s also cool to change from the English to Japanese version of the game and back again.

Sadly, I don’t feel comfortable definitively stating how the online was, since I rarely found anyone to play with… The few matches I played felt okay, but I’m hardly an expert on SamSho.

Samurai Shodown is hard to rate. While I’m aware it’s a classic, beautiful, technically impressive, and a game that requires a great deal of finesse, I personally didn’t enjoy it. Simply due to historical significance, a devoted following, and the fact that it’s probably the best fighter on Neo Geo Station at the moment (Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and KoF 94 SNK? Really?), I’m going to give it an incredibly, incredibly hesitant Get It.

Overall I like the concept and options behind Neo Geo Station, but I’d much rather have more modern games available. It would be fantastic if various forgotten Neo Geo titles like Waku Waku 7, Atlus’s Shin Gouketsuji Ichizoku: Matrimelee, and even SNK’s own Last Blade titles could be revived. However, it seems like SNK’s just rereleasing titles they’ve rereleased time and time again so far, with a few bizarre and underwhelming choices. There’s a lot of potential here, and I’d love to See SNK act on it.

Super Sidekicks – Alexander Sargeant

Fun story, I actually rediscovered this game the first time when I was looking for a shmup on MAME and came across a game by this name. I don’t  know why I thought Sidekicks have anything to do with shmups, but it’s not immediately apparent what they have to do with Football (Soccer I mean) either. This is easily my favourite of the bunch, as it has the bonus of being fairly attractive as well as having some interesting mechanics that were missing from say League Bowling. You start off picking your team, who comically have portraits reminiscent of Street Fighter, and you’re matched up with opposing teams in either a VS Mode, Exhibition or Championship. Think of them as your fighting game ‘Arcade Mode’ ‘VS Human’ ‘VS CPU’ options.

Final Thoughts Alexander Sargeant

I love the idea of this. I love all the region options and tweaks you can make. I love the ridiculous engrish splash screen that shouts THE 100 MEGA SHOCK! which fills in as you buy more and more Neo Geo Station games. Unfortunately, I just don’t get why they started here. Sure, KOF ’94, Metal Slug and Samurai Showdown make sense, but why Super Sidekicks 1? There are three sequels, each better than the last. That might not matter so much if it wasn’t for the price, but paying £7 for only the first of four Super Sidekicks is asking an awful lot, especially if they’re going to release the 4th one eventually in which case I would usually just wait it out. I am absolutely sold on the concept, and I will certainly think it over on each and every game that’s released from now on, but I’m almost tempted to save my money for the games that I really do want, in the faint hope that they’ll get to releasing them as soon as possible.

Getting Last Blade 1/2 on this system, especially with online play would be incredible additions to the PS3 library, but offering League Bowling at the same price as Metal Slug isn’t something I can endorse easily, if at all.

Final ThoughtsMatthew Jay

I’m all for preserving the arcade experience but there are a couple things SNK could have done to make this venture a little more playable. I can’t tell if plopping direct ports onto the PSN was an effort to keep the games more like the original or just laziness. For instance, each game will tell you what the controls are but they still display the original NEO GEO control layout. It would have been nice for it to show me a PS3 controller so I didn’t have to futz around with the controls at the beginning of the game top figure out what does what.

At the same time there are a few features that kind of ruin the arcade experience. Adding save states and a pause feature take away any threat the original games had. Maybe some kind of unlockable credit system like the NEO GEO Pocket Color Metal Slug games had would have been interesting. Or Sony could release some kind of quarter slot peripheral for the PS3. Seems like something they’d do.

The other features like the video recorder just seem like fluff inserted to make the customer feel better about paying money for these games yet again. One crediting Metal Slug is pretty impressive but do you really need video proof of it on your PS3 harddrive? Some of that time and effort could have been spent on adding a real widescreen feature. Oh and I guess if you want to you can turn on pixel smoothing to make the games look “better.” EEEEEEEEEWWWWWW!

I hope the second wave of NEO GEO games is a little more polished and will give us a better choice. Out of this whole launch series I was interested in maybe two or three games.