Monday, 28 May 2012

Max 330 Mega Chapter 1 - Finger food Ud 29/05/12

*I forgot about a few so I'm now happy this is a definitive list.  Also, a bit of tidying up has also taken place.*

Welcome to the first chapter of my Neo Geo games round up.

We begin with a double hit combo of puzzle and sports as this will my least exhaustive feature but even so, I’ll probably still be slightly out of breath…

I am feeling puzzled right now, so I’ll open up with these.

There’s not many and they’re literally about a load of balls.

In no particular order of release (used to this now right?), let’s go.

Puzzled (what a brilliant name) is a Tetris style game but instead you’re riding a hot air balloon in a tower but the primary objective is to destroy pesky bricks.

These blocks surrounded your balloon and must be destroyed by using the blocks that fell.

There is some kind of gauge you could charge to unleash a devastating energy blast for a different, but was ultimately the same outcome as the traditional way.

You die when time defeats you or blocks pile too high.

I’m fairly sure there was a platform element too which mixed it up nicely so it was playable, 2P and a variation on Tetris so can’t complain.

This is the one everybody knows but it did have an awful aka tag as Super Bust a Move.

It’s Puzzle Bobble and its concept couldn’t be much simpler or classic.  I can’t knock Tetris at all as that’ll always be the ultimate block destroyer but even so, this looked a lot better.

Starring Bub and Bob, those bubble blowing cuties would forget about all those problems with platforms, baddies and drinking washing up liquid.  This sees them firing off bubbles well balls really (with classic enemies already encased) to destroy an entire set of them.

You did this by angling a pointer and fire, random colours would appear and you had to get a line of three of more to cause maximum damage.  Every so often, the ceiling would the balls down and that meant extra pressure.  If any reached your line, you’re dead.

You could destroy a large amount, depending on their position.

The balls could be bounced off the walls to encourage expert aiming for those hard to reach rows and target practice is essential.

Endless 2P action, addictive gameplay and it starred Bub and Bob – I needn’t say much more.

The 2P game was designed to annoy your opponent as depending how good you were, the aim was to transfer your balls to their side and with practice that usually guaranteed a victory.

This was first and last Puzzle Bobble game on Neo Geo and I believe this was the system in which it made its debut – awesome.

The game could be pretty easy but score junkies would always return for more.

There would be so many sequels on countless other formats, but apart from prettier graphics, they’re the same games.

Puzzle De Pon is a Puzzle Bobble hybrid from Visco.  It’s the same idea - shoot coloured balls, get a line of coloured balls, they'd explode and repeat etc etc.

It did however have a slight variation as in you had to destroy balls around a sign and/or symbol.  Once done, it's time to move on to give the next symbol some breathing space.

Nothing outstanding but it was very playable.  Time was again the enemy and it did get tricky later on.

This did have a sequel a few years later but was largely unchanged as it just had different stages.

Magical Drop was a series of puzzle games from Data East (before they went bankrupt) and were pretty good fun.  Again, not really too much different from Puzzle Bobble but at least this cheetah attempted to change its spots.

The Neo had two of these games, MD 2 and 3.

They started off promisingly as it had a nice cutesy style intro feat the main chars.

For a change, to get those troublesome balls, you controlled a clown who fired a knife to grab them.  Once got, you pulled and threw them back to pop.

You could choose from more than five different chars (if it made a difference I don’t know) and then it’s time to burst some balls.  Each was named after Tarot cards and which clown was better – you decide.

Chain attacks could be used and as usual, three is a magic number.  You could destroy rows horizontally and vertically and instead of destroying them all, you had to bombard the other player until his/her line was breached.

Ice bricks that were only destructible if balls adjacent were taken care of.  Item balloons could be burst which would ensure that all balls of that item’s colour would burst.

The in-game graphics were nice as you had full screen chars animated to keep things visually interesting who reacted accordingly to the situation in tow.

Getting squashed by a load of balls was the way to die ‘again’.

The next game was practically the same but had a far greater char roster (again based on Tarot cards).

Just in case you’re thinking where’s the first Magical Drop well that appeared on the SNES.

There would be other MD games and after Data East went bust, MD games continued to be churned out for the Playstation.  The final game on SNK hardware was for the Neo Geo Pocket, Magical Drop Pocket.

So summing up, nice games but it really was starting to show that there wasn't much more you could do with practically the same game as previous efforts.  Okay, it did have slight variations but inventing radical innovations was getting more stretched than Dhalsim's limbs

They were like Carry On films as they had virtually the same script but made minor tweaks with chars and events.

The most striking difference was giving a new coat of paint to the graphics.

That’s all folks as I reckon that’s all of them.  While there’s not much to complain about, (apart from the amount of them) Magical Drop(s) and Puzzle Bobble were the best.

Sport now and there’s more of these (but that isn’t saying much) so I’m hopping to it quicker than a hare late for a hot date.

How can exercise be pleasurable when all it does is tire you out and make you ache like a bastard the next day?

Well, no pain no gain and pain is so close to pleasure.

Whatever, I don’t quite understand such activities.

These started to demonstrate why the Neo Geo was an arcade machine as most featured larger than life graphics and many were more colourful than a rainbow.

So all change, the whistle’s been blown and it commences.

We strike off with League Bowling.

Fairly obviously, this was not lawn bowling and like in reality, limited but very good fun.

Fairly standard stuff here, you lined up a shot, chucked the over-sized holed bullock down a lane and hoped to topple as many pins as possible.

Spin and power could be added at your leisure and colourful arcade graphics and animation was at a premium.

I don’t suppose there was much more that could’ve been done when taking on the premise of ten-pin bowling but maybe more variety.

Personally, I’d rather play a frame of snooker.

One thing that SNK could do is make a rather decent set of games based upon guys thwacking a ball, running to a base, hoping that another soft lad thwacks the next ball, until eventually it’d come full circle and hoorah.

Silly boy’s rounders and all that.

So we start our round-up of near American religion with Super Baseball 2020.

Well with a title like that, it was either made in the evening; or it was set in the future.

For the purposes of humour, it was the latter.

As this was futuristic, robots with boosters and throwing shit out of the reality window, men and women featured.

There’s all the usual baseball elements, pitchers, fielders, home runs etc, but there are some added extras.

Players can be powered up and even blow up.  Kaboom tends to happen when robots run out power and/or have been put through the mill.  Forcing them to do a bit of legwork, diving or they getting hit tends to push their self-destruct button.

Powering up is what made this unique from games of a similar ilk.

You earn and lose money during a game and were rewarded or penalised depending on if you failed or achieved.

Strike outs, being caught, single runs, doubles, home runs were examples of what could happen and it went on.

It’s a bright idea to use your hard earned lolly during a game as you can’t carry it over.

You could power up your chars at any point during a game which included pitching, hitting and fielding to add a timely boost to your weary team.

All were split into categories (A-C) and as you’d expect, the more umph to that upgrade, the deeper the hold in your pocket had to be.

I’ve no idea if I ever completed it but I do remember it had some unfair fucking problems.

The computer half controlled the fielding so they’d usually do something you didn’t want them to.  Home runs were sometimes easy to achieve and players’ positions cannot be changed unless they’re replaced.

It was decent but some notable problems meant it was far from perfect.

Baseball Stars had two field outings on the Neo Geo but before that, the first game came out in 1989 for the NES.

Its Create and Edit Team features became the future standard for most sports games.

So Baseball Stars Professional was not just one of the first sport games for the Neo, it was also one of its very first games.

You could say it was a fairly lazy effort by SNK as it was basically the NES game but with obviously improved graphics.

Teams ran into double figures and for whatever reasons, they couldn’t be edited. 

So as this was normal baseball, nothing interesting such as 2020 but still a good pitch.

Its official sequel was so much better, both in graphics and gameplay.

Baseball Stars 2 featured two different leagues (Exciting and Fighting) and had nearly 2020 teams, err 20 teams.

Everything was so much more balanced and that editing and power up feature was consistently fine tuned.

Improvements saw your char grow stronger and their weapon or bat increase in size.

We’re not talking penis enlargement here.

It was a lot more like 2020 in its gameplay mechanics.

All games boasted great sound, visuals and animation.  What most impressed me was the huge close-up char graphics and comical speech.

A pitcher purposely aiming for a hitter would usually result in a smack to the chops.

"It must hurt, I wonder if he's alright." 

I can’t really say much more as baseball is a sport I have little interest in.

But like they say, playing something is sometimes a lot better than watching it.

Having said that and despite their faults, they did play a very good game of rounders and I don’t suppose you could do much better on any other format.

Baseball Stars 2 was definitely the best but again, it did have faults that would make a novice tennis player blush.

The worst being smacking a ball and watching it fall into the grateful hands of a fielder w/o being able to do fuck all about it.

1993 and we have the only wrestling game on the Neo and that was 3 Count Bout.

As it was an SNK game, this shyed away from traditional shit and die-hard fanatics of the ridiculous would be really disappointed as this was probably even more stupid than the staged fakery of The Undertaker and Giant Haystacks et al.

That doesn’t mean that it was any less entertaining though.

There were about 10 chars, each with their own special moves (yes very realistic ones such as poison gas clouds).

You could punch, kick, special move and grapple your opponents into submission.  Arenas consisted of standard rings to the streets.  Objects or more appropriately weapons were at hand to dish out necessary punishment.

Char names were amusing with bruisers included Blubber Man, Master Barnes and Gochack Bigbomb.

The Gandhara had a look of Joe Higashi and Blues wore Raiden’s mask.

Ring outs could be deadly as once left, you only had about 20 seconds to get the hell back in.

Char introductions were suitably OTT as the MC sang your praises and the crowd roared you on in excitement.

The graphics were often excellent and the sound always impressing.  It played well too meaning that even though you had little choice of this type of game on the Neo, your only choice would guarantee a good game.

Football Frenzy and it proved that SNK covered most sporting ground as this was American Football.

I never played it much but of course it had that SNK sparkle w/o the need for Mr Sheen.

Choosing formation tactics was essential, as was player tantrums on achieving First and future Downs.

Huge graphics, endless speech and played decent too.

You were greeted to a insane celebration screen upon achieving a touchdown that only SNK could.

For anybody who understood and cared about this sort of football, I don’t even think John Madden would stamp his feet with this effort as it certainly had authentic looking rules and formations.

Goal Goal Goal, Goal, Goal and it’s a Goal.  Whoah, what a great fucking goal, with that goal, he’s only won it for them.  They’ll be talking about ‘that’ goal for years to come as it was a superb goal.

I could go on forever but Visco came up with Goal Goal Goal - what an idiotic title.

About 30 teams and was an mediocre stab at the beautiful game.

You could charge your shot and/or pass the ball to your talentless tits and largely, you caught the goalies in inspired form.

Whatever, it would always be overshadowed and outdone by Sidekicks – more later.

Soccer Brawl sounds like a violent game of football but really, just 2020 in football boots.

Only this time, all the players were human with power armour.

Yeah, I think that’s the best way of putting it.

Power shots, passing and small arenas was the order of the day here.

It did have some nice touches such as the keeper boosting when diving and leaving spark trails when saving striking attempts.

Other touches included players being literally knocked over and left smoking by power shots.

Normal football rules applied so ensured a fun experience.

Be warned though, it had about as much lasting appeal as an annoying girlfriend.

Riding Hero was one of the most unusual sporting games or even games for the Neo as it tried (very slightly) to be a simulation and not an arcade game.

Don't read to much into that though....

You could sleep to recover energy and tune up your bike as this would be SNK’s Super Hang On, with some huge differences.

Most importantly, Super Hang On was fun and this clearly wasn’t.  If SNK wanted to achieve supreme boredom, they succeeded expertly with this appalling suffering of the mind.

It’s just so unlike SNK as it was boring, had fairly terrible graphics and was about as much fun as piercing your tongue with a carving knife.

Understand this SNK, no I don’t want to Listen/Talk or Tune Up my fucking bike because I’ve retired due to the monotony of this piece of shit.

Jones, you can stick your Bike Shop up your irritating arse because after seeing your ugly face for the zillionth time, I’ve got a hot and horny date with a hangman’s noose.

Repetitive and soul-destroying – probably the worst Neo game ever.  Well there is…. [saved for later].

Even SNK can make chaos and what a mesmerizing experience (of torment).

Thankfully we can get back to SNK not making shitstorms with the ultimate arcade football series.

I haven't forgotten Virtua Striker as that can take a back seat.

Like it or lump it EA and Konami, Super Sidekicks is a classic footballing franchise.  It will be little known amongst casual gamers but amongst others, it’s achieved cult status.

Don’t expect realism, licensed players, stat bombardment or fussy formation management.

Do expect pure and simple pick up and play arcade action, together with throwing the preposterous onto the pitch.

Trust me, if this really was the beautiful game, I’m Mary Poppins and Joey Barton is a wonderful, caring, beautiful and misunderstood human being.

In case you haven’t worked it out, swipes are swung at EA (FIFA) and Konami (Pro Evolution Soccer).

The feats achieved in this would make Eric Cantona proud (yer' know, his famous karate kick).

It didn’t look to promising as the first effort wasn’t particularly good and even below par to Soccer Brawl.  I don’t think Brawl was particularly bad but I expected more.

This was mainly due to gaffes such as the long kick (more often than not, leading to throw-ins) and a generously sized goal.

The sequel was dubbed The World Championship and ironed out many of the original’s faults with being able to switch between players during play and a smaller goal, hence much more fun to play.

Other enhancements included an increased roster of teams (48) split into six regions. 
Amongst these, new teams have laced their boots.

Before the proper game kicked off, you had to negotiate your way a regional qualifying round final match.  Then the World Cup starts and you fought it out in round robin matches.

After the formalities, quarters, semi and the final followed.

If any game ended in a draw, the options exist of a replay, golden goal or penalty shoot-out in deciding the outcome.

Everything was so much better than before and most importantly, gameplay was substantially improved.

Before it even started, the brief intro teased you with the fantastic penalty shoot out and then a very famous shock would follow – the 100 mega shock.

IMHO, how penalties were portrayed is among the best I’ve seen in a football game (at least in looks) and I don’t think this was ever done in another type of footie game (arcade or sim).

During the lottery, your char was portrayed by huge legs, a realistic distance to goal and the keeper waiting nervously for the player to strike.

Admittedly, it didn’t play as good as it looked.

While in the original, the pitch was entirely 2D, not such worries here as from now on, it had a pseudo 3D effect and the OTT goal celebrations really exploded into life.

The third game was when it really got good and boosted the team roster to a huge 64 teams.

The intro first saw the countries launched into the overhead pitch, a giant football cleared the screen and a scrolling graphic saw various players and amusingly, coaches and/or managers with odd facial expressions while some geezer was kissing the Jules Rimet trophy.

Just before that, there was some elderly guy wearing a rosette.

Who the fuck was this guy and more importantly, what was this oaf doing there?

Shortly after, we knew that this was The Next Glory.

Choosing your group and team also displayed which formation that team adopted.  You could choose your preferred power up and then your tourney.

As before, you had to qualify before the business end got going.

Screen scaling was used to nice effect (which was earlier saw in Art of Fighting and Samurai Shodown) and ‘Kick off’.

It was the first time a player was named when scoring and featured new celebrations.

As SNK had no licence, all the names were made up and it was common that the same goalscorer was credited with that goal, even though it was scored by a totally different sprite and/or player.  To go with this, the names were also totally random.

No advertising too which meant SNK and other generic words such as Goal were only on the hoardings.

Ridiculous celebrations included players literally flying, the classic sliding knees, inconsolable goalies sinking to their knees into a deep depression and many more.

Stadia and pitches looked different too and it even shoved in some new perspectives when ‘Shoot’ appeared.

Speech and sound was typically emotional as the crowd got excited at the most trivial of things.

Huge chars covered the screen when fouls and free kicks were awarded and the classic penalty shoot out element returned.

The final game had a stupid title – The Ultimate 11: SNK Football Championship.  That didn’t make any sense but thankfully the game was even better than the former.

The intro was even better with a giant rotating football, digitized video footage, various other shit and a player blasting a football towards the camera to complete matters.

The presentation didn’t stop there with new and improved intros to matches, new perspectives and of course more OTT celebrations.

It had an even greedier roster of 80 teams, divided into eight regions and a new elimination tournament.

Meeting certain requirements unlocked the hidden team, SNK Superstars and this consisted of famous SNK fighting chars.

Other famous faces would also appear in the crowd.

I never saw this but I know it existed and wasn't a hoax.

Its main improvement was the charge bar which like KOF or AOF, would determine the power of a shot and if fully charged, it was virtually unblockable.

Players were meatier, more detailed with improved animation.  For the first time, players now had facial features.

Most unusually, it’s one of the few SNK games to have a sponsor, in this case - Akai.

After this, Neo Geo Cup 98: The Road to the Victory was released (in line with France 98 World Cup) even though it was after the real World Cup was over and even though it was altered to become that format, it was basically the same game as Sidekicks 3.

So really, Sidekicks 3 was re-released with a new name.

There were very small changes such as music and a new title screen but as a game, it was lazier than an unemployed sloth.

What I haven’t mentioned it the appalling and rib-tickling fouls you can commit.  I did this and I'm sure others did too, as more as fun as they were superbly cheap.

Diving, headbutting, punching, kicking, flying knees and more was all possible.

Mostly, the ref dealt a red card your troubles and the victim psyched up unless he was ‘injured’.

Ultimate 11 was the only one I had to play in the arcades as we all know how expensive and rare the AES cart is….

The rest were bought on CD and thanks to the Neo CD's hyperdrive, things took a bit longer to achieve.

So in conclusion - totally unrealistic, great fun and deserve their cult classic status.

I wonder if any FIFA or PES fan actually played these, would they be honest and be pleasantly surprised of their fun factor.

Before unlacing my muddy boots and moving on, there were two more - Pleasure Goal by Saurus and Tecmo World Soccer '96 by SNK/Tecmo.

So PG was very similar to Sidekicks but with a more cartoonish look.  It also had weather conditions which Sidekicks didn't, but on the other hand, it didn't have linesmen.

The referee was certainly a chubby customer and carried his reputation around his waist.

The Goal celebrations weren't OTT either as it followed the more traditional route, but there was varied graphic animations which panned on the stadia's big screen.

These were simple but effective and to pick on Sidekicks, the same celebrations were often repeated.

It made up the rules too as it had Kick-ins instead of Throw-ins.

Teams weren't at a premium and considering there wasn't a Pleasure Goal 2, you'd think Saurus would try and outdo SNK by making this better than all of the Sidekicks games put together.

After all, this was released in the same year as The Ultimate 11.

So while not as good as Sidekicks 4, it certainly gave it a run for its money and was a brave effort.

It featured an attractive graphic style and fast gameplay which made it a tactical substitution.

*Tecmo's effort had a great intro as after a huge char took on the field, he just had to beat the goalie and after much tension, he eventually scored.

The game itself looked about as good as the first Sidekicks so went backwards on that factor.  It played reasonable enough and used screen scaling, mainly when the goalie was called into action.

Its animation wasn't much to cheer about and had some peculiar speech.  There was a nod towards Sidekicks as the goal celebrations were suitably OTT and not too shabby.

What was different was the ability to feint and perform power shots.

A referee was a notable absentee as was a huge amount of teams to pick and choose from.

Decidedly average really.*

Top Players Golf was another very early Neo game.

Good hitting mechanics, nice graphics, typical SNK really.

A choice of two courses and four chars with the usual golfing hazards, a choice of clubs, weather conditions and numerous holes to negotiate.

Although, there were no particularly huge arcade stills to talk of but never mind as it was a good game of golf.

Like 3 Count, Street Hoop was the only basketball game to grace the Geo and like Bout, it was suitably OTT and fun.

Data East made this and the intro was like Sidekicks’ goal celebrations – absurd.

A choice of ten 3 on 3 teams were selectable, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

There were quite a few different courts and everything was virtually spoken, I mean virtually everything – I reckon if you could fart, it would be mentioned.

The speech was very emotional and what surprised me most was that along with the music, there were quite a few tacky songs with full lyrics.  “Cross court long shot”, “Work that ball” etc.

A super shot gauge built up which basically meant a guaranteed goal by unleashing an unstoppable super move.

Sinking whatever shot into a rim meant two or three points.  There were a nice variety of moves at your disposal and each match was split into two halves.

Goal attempts could be intercepted or stole and (amongst others) you could fake a dunk and turn it into a different move.

Kiss the rim, hook shot, and reverse jam were all moves.

Playing badly would prompt audible boos and 'Upset'.

It was very good fun playing solo but more so with a mate.

Thrash Rally was an overhead racing game from ADK.  It looked okay and had acceptable driving mechanics.

What was good about it is that it gave you fair warning when you were approaching whatever kind of bend.

There was a decent variety in courses and backgrounds changed regularly.

Obstacles to avoid were few and far between and were mainly other cars, animals and other carelessly placed objects.  I guess whoever owned this livestock didn’t give a shit what happened to it.

I have to ask, what the fuck were elephants doing in a rally?

Nothing spectacular but at least it was playable.

*There was another racing game and I suppose this was the sequel to Thrash Rally as it looked very similar.

It kicked off with a smart rendered intro that wasn't really seen that often in a Neo game.

OverTop from ADK in 1996 had far superior graphics, varied terrain and subtle touches such as lighting, skid marks and exhaust fire.

Weather effects included snow and rain - decent.

There were a number of different looking brums to choose from and was pretty fast.

As with Rally, it warned you in advance of imminent bends.

Animals soared overhead and numerous obstacles were placed in your way like cones and barrels.  If you fancied defying gravity for a bit, drive over various ramps?

Not quite cool as school but certainly cool.*

The penultimate yarn I'll mention was the ‘other’ golf game in Neo Turf Masters by Nazca and wow for a sport game; those graphics were hotter than the rocks that Arnie handled in Red Heat.

Your player char was huge and not content in looking virtually real; his animation was smoother than the finest silk.

I think there was about six chars (all with their own unique strength) and a number of courses (each having a number of holes) to choose from.

As you’d expect, the usual golfing clichés existed (bunkers, water hazards, wind, clubs, power shots etc) and unlike Top Players Golf, there were numerous arcade style close ups.

I wasn't teed off by this.

When taking a swing, you had to time the shot in ‘power’ then you’d finish the shot in 'low', 'nice' or 'high' and depending on your timing, this would determine a ‘nice’ shot.

Achieving such determinations as Eagles and Albatrosses gave you a different celebration screen but these were tough.

Using club know how was the key to any other result than a Bogey or Par.

Top Players Golf played a good game on the fairway but this was a definite Hole in One.

Excellent game but very pricey on cart.. 

Realistically, the only way to play it is on MVS but nowadays, this is practically impossible.

The final action here rests on Windjammers, again by Data East and was largely Pong with OTT arcade overtones.

After choosing your char and typically in this sort of game, some were easier to play than others and those were reserved for expert players.

What followed was endlessly entertaining.

You could slide, power up your char, perform numerous moves and unleash super moves, all in an attempt to get a greater number of points required to defeat your opponent.

There wasn’t a points target so instead, your aim was to build an unassailable lead that guaranteed victory when the clock ticked down.

The most difficult area to score (in theory) was in the middle and reaped five instead of three points.

You could make that disc sing to your desired tune as you could order curve, spin, and straight shots at will.

The controls were very responsive and w/o any delay in what you commanded, it made for some addictive shit

Some courts weren’t just empty and had barriers to make rebounds unpredictable that mixed up things nicely.

It’s fast, furious but it's not the Ready Money Round.

Sorry Roy.

There was a pretty pointless bonus round which involved tossing your disc for a dog to catch.  Still, it broke up the regular familiarity.

In la mends terms, while it was perfectly playable against the computer, it really came into its own when playing with a pal.

It’s up there with the most action packed sport game the Neo had to offer, mainly due to how frenetic the action could get.

For me, what was most disappointing is that SNK never made a Neo Geo tennis game.

That could've been fantastic with OTT nukes, unrealistic shot selection, rage gauges, huge char close-ups and super fast arcade gameplay.

Of course, throw in some mad Sidekicks fouls and the ability to hurl a torrent of abuse at ball boys/girls and the umpire.  You'd have the ultimate SNK sport game, wishful thinking now but I'm sure you'll agree - what a great idea.

In another reality, I'd swap League Bowling and more for Fighting Power Tennis any day.

Good fictitious name eh?  No?  Oh man!

There were some bizarre others, namely horse-racing hi-jinks in Saurus' Stake Winners.

I only know of these oddities but never had first hand experience so that's why they haven't featured.

Anyway, horse-racing on Neo Geo - that's nuttier than a Snickers infested fruit cake. 

That concludes this double-hit combo and although there are some delicacies here, the most famous are yet to come so I’ll describe this set as finger food.

Adjust the station accordingly as Chapter 2 will really see the Meg count and intensity level rise.
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