Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Lawless - The scoop and digest

Before seeing Total Recall, which unfortunately from my point of view will be delayed until late this week, I was invited to an early screener of John Hillcoat's Lawless.

It's based on a true story so that always puts the fear of God up me as I've seen many movies based on and/or inspired by fact and some have been a good excuse to catch up on some beauty sleep.

One of the best examples of a snore job I can give was Machine Gun Preacher.

I was pleasantly surprised by this effort and is well worth a watch.

It's worth taking note that this is not officially released until 7 September.

As usual, please be aware that spoilers and/or plot details may be revealed.

This is adapted from the novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant.

The basic plot is a trio of brothers run a bootlegging business of distributing Moonshine whisky during the Depression in Franklin County, Virginia.

Plying their trade sees them encounter no end of problems with nasty and corrupt Deputy Rakes (Guy Pearce) being the main adversary that the brothers face.

Jars are nearly as important as the contents they hold...

Along with Rakes, other inconveniences include the competition of others muscling in, a gangster in Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) and female interest including one brother having the task of impressing a seemingly out of bounds preacher's daughter.

Let's just say that business is rife and life is never dull for the Bondurant siblings.

The leader and the 'invincible' brother is Forrest (Tom Hardy), closely followed by Howard (Jason Clarke) and the quiet Jack (Shia LaBeouf).

They are aided in their illegal activity by Cricket (Dane DeHaan) who is not only a dab hand at keeping the Moonshine flowing but also has other innovative uses like adapting cars.

Jack and Cricket are out on a delivery run and because Cricket forgets to fill the tank up, the scapegoat comes up with a novel idea of using Moonshine as a replacement fuel.  They're soon up and running again.

What justifies its 18 cert is the bone crunching and various acts of graphic bloody violence.  Hardy is more than handy with a knuckle duster as he beats up various thugs and Pearce dishes out his own form of crooked justice in the pursuit to take down the Bondurants.

Clarke is also close at hand to help out with any situation that demands fisticuffs.

Inevitably, as tensions run high and affairs escalate with Rakes, as does the blood and nicely, this is not a case of big men flexing muscles and deflecting blows with their egos and testosterone.

In probably the film's most shocking scene, a pair of testicles is removed from a guy sent to more than rough up the brothers and are delivered as a 'present' to Rakes.  Although the eunuch style operation is unseen, the effect is no less powerful.

In a cheesy but nevertheless decent line.  When Jack appears after the action, Howard says something like "Why don't you show some balls."

When Rakes opens his early Christmas present, he's slightly shocked...

As this is set during the 1920s, what's important is not to make the landscape and costume either unrealistic or futuristic.  You can be sure that Hillcoat has this under control.

Performances are impressive as Hardy (grunting somewhat) and Clarke add the muscle and assert their authority in numerous situations, but I was most surprised by LeBouf as he is forced to gradually outgrow his timidity and grow a pair.

I'm really not a fan but he handles his char with surprising ease.

In addition, I'm really pleased for Dane Dehaan as he was great in Josh Trank's Chronicle and is equally fine as the handy ace in the Bondurant's pack.

What I found strange is that Gary Oldman hardly has any screen time and considering his role, you'd think this would be quite the opposite.  He nonchalantly guns down and whacks people with little emotion or regret.

Pearce is excellent as the villain and as nasty as this sort of char can be.

Who'd of thought that after portraying Mike in famous Ozzy soap Neighbours that he'd be such hot property in Hollywood.

After starring as a drag queen in Priscilla, his big break came in L.A.Confidential and from then on, the rest is history.

The female support is pertinent and while nothing amazing, is suitably decent.

It's always difficult to have a bit of light relief when dealing with such subject matter but the right amount is injected from the humour syringe.

I do have to doubt Forrest's 'invincible' tag and was he really this tough (especially his throat)?

When it all comes to a head, its penultimate scene with all concerned reaches a satisfying conclusion.

All in all, it's a very commendable, gritty and entertaining drama boasting the right amount of action and emotion while never becoming ridiculous.

Very good stuff.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Max 330 Mega Chapter 4 - Banquet


Sprite or 7Up, Pepsi or Coke, Fanta or Tango, Coffee or Tea, Capcom or SNK?

Capcom or SNK?  As we are talking one on one fighting games, that’s put the lions amongst the gazelles.

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that about 15 years ago, if SNK was mentioned in the same breath as Capcom, many would be sued for obscene insanity.

I’d like to think the tide has finally changed with SNK Playmore (formerly Playmore and before that SNK) throwing their weight around in the HD cosmos.

It seems that SNK's legacy, loaded with seminal chars and innovation are finally getting global recognition.

This is true as KOF 13 tournies are regularly held.

During the 90s, SNK versed Capcom in a battle and ultimately lost.  Undeterred, SNK licked their wounds and evolved their franchises to make them not just great, but actually incredible.

Even I will admit that SNK games weren’t always truly wonderful as looking back, some of the early games in their most famous franchises left gamers suffering from a mild case of hypothermia.

SNK listened and got to work on fixing those ‘problems’, hence cementing their historical importance.  The innovation and gameplay cogs were suitably oiled and finally hit the soft spot.

While this didn’t make Capcom sweat buckets, it made them perspire.

While nervous, they had a solution – churn out a ‘new’ Street Fighter 2 game to keep millions happy as unfortunately, laziness triumphs over effort.

In most SNK fighters, they came up with a fairly novel, if obvious route of effectively using six attack buttons.  This involved the use of lightly or heavily tapping a button to achieve a different strength of punch or kick.

So SNK did have six buttons, just in a slightly hidden way.

Special moves in fighting games quite obviously mean that they were not regular punches or kick and saw your char emit some kind of firework show to deal out heavier damage than traditional fisticuffs.

These were achieved by performing what can only be described as a ‘motion’ on your D-pad or joystick and shortly after, pushing a specific button.

The variations were deliciously varied and famous ones were Hadokens, Hurricane Kicks and Dragon Punches.

Charge moves also existed like Sonic Booms and Jack Knifes.  This involved holding your D-pad for a couple of seconds then pushing in the opposite direction then tapping that button.

Later, charge moves became more flexible, but back then – trying to skip that time period would result in the move not working.

Button mashing also achieved certain special moves or as I like to call it ‘rubber finger’.

Yes, all these came from Street Fighter, but SNK made their own…

Power Geysers, Haohshokokens, Deadly Ninja Bees and many more.

To be fair, SNK stole from Capcom and Capcom stole from SNK.  Many extensions or variations on classic motions all exist.

Many famous Capcom motions obviously exist in SNK games and if asked “How do you do Terry’s Power Wave?”  I’d reply “Just a Hadoken.”

There are so many others like backwards yoga flame, backwards hurricane kick with punch etc etc.

Appropriately, Capcom stole taunts and super moves entirely from their bitterest rival.

A taunt or raz move was mostly pointless as a simple button combo saw your char make a strange action or spoken word(s) in a failed attempt to wind your opponent up.

Still, some were cool and even funny.  Joe pulling a moony always raises a smile…

However, Art of Fighting made this an important gameplay mechanic.

A super move could only performed under certain conditions which following a sometimes convoluted motion, saw a huge energy blast cause huge damage to your enemy.

These were usually visually spectacular and extremely satisfying to perform.

A classic super move that Capcom shoplifted from SNK was the classic Art of Fighting super move combo, first used in one of those Marvel fighting games.

It might have been Marvel Super Heroes but I know it was called Stars and Stripes and performed by Captain America.  It’s exactly the same.

In the world of SNK, charging a spirit gauge, power gauge and even your energy meter played an important part.

Possibly the most insane unique move that SNK came up with was the doll move in Samurai Shodown 2.  Wacky and pointless?  Right on both counts.

Another SNK innovation was screen scaling.  As it infers, the screen ‘scaled’ in and out during the explosive action which meant for some huge sprites.

Some of the console ports just couldn’t handle it so sensibly, was omitted entirely.

One thing that completely separates SNK from Capcom is that all SNK chars perform fireball attacks using one hand.

Capcom recognised the importance of their main rival and so created a Street Fighter char called Dan who performed un-Capcom like one-handed fireball attacks.  Dan is the nearest thing you’ll see to an Art of Fighting char in a Capcom game.

He was basically a fairly useless and highly underpowered Ryu and is a running joke amongst Capcom and SNK fans.

The tension between both sets still remained remarkably intense.

Like Capcom, 2P action was incredible and ensured many hours of ridicule and rivalry.

I could really wax lyrical on motions, chars, OTT supers, victory poses, presentation and much more but I’m just delaying the inevitable.

An entire series will be dissected and eviscerated; in a fairly expansive and elaborate spiel.

As you’d expect, many were ported to other systems but never gave the same effect.  This was true even when they became available on the later super systems…

I’m taking you down Lamentable Lane, Awful Avenue, Decent Drive and Riotous Road.  Every door will be banged on and I’m screaming the neighbourhood down.

If the motion police come to deplete my energy, I’ll taunt, block, counter with a combo and charge my gauge to unleash a devastating super desperation move.

That should take care of them, unless I fumble.

Most were developed by SNK but others had a crack too with ‘different’ results.

So before getting to the downright tasty, we have to take a bite on what others released.

Karnov’s Revenge, Data East 1994

I’ll begin with this and the signs are good as it was a Data East effort.  Don’t charge that gauge just yet, because it was only okay.

Shame really, as Data East made some great games for the Neo Geo but they struggled with this genre.

This was actually a sequel as some may call this Fighter’s History Dynamite.

Fighter’s History is probably more famous for being in court with Capcom over it being a direct rip-off of Street Fighter 2.

The intro was amusing as it saw the bald headed Karnov point rudely and then unexpectedly, a fist would smash a ‘window’ and the glass would fall away.

The graphics were decent as the backgrounds went through day to night transitions a la Fatal Fury.

Of these transitions, the stages could look quite different per round so that was smart.

The problem was it played pretty awkwardly and moves felt unsatisfying.

If it was any stiffer, you could take it surfing.

On a lighter note, Karnov as the end boss proved a humorous challenge.

Fight Fever, Viccom 1994

I’ve just had word from the Met Office, there is a storm heading our way and it smells of something so putrid and foul, I can’t bear to inhale.

This is an extreme announcement to all aspiring artists, daring developers and pedantic programmers.  If you wish to make a truly ‘excellent’ game, please take heed and follow the advice of Viccom.

I love storms, yer’ know - those shit storms that occasionally developers shower us gamers with.

Fight fucking Fever is one of those storms and among the worst fighting game ever made.  Its quality even teeters with The Legend of Success Joe – it’s that stupendous.

It’s a dirty game, a sleazy and perverted steaming pile of goat shit that even an unfit fly would find unacceptable due to its whiff.

A true excavation of foul smelling contamination, I really don’t want to speak about this as it may warp my mind and judgment but I guess I have no choice….

I pray for my ‘in’sanity.

The only thing that makes sense is that Viccom was a Korean developer so sensibly, its premise is based around Taekwondo but the execution was frankly awful.

You can be certain that it boasted forgettable chars, terrible moves, laughable animation and lamentable gameplay.

It would disgrace a terrible Megadrive game and it seems that Viccom were infected with system confusion.

Either that or they’re just a bunch of sick bastards.

It even dared to model itself on Art of Fighting; I can barely contain my anger.

I bet SNK were insulted, rather than flattered.

What we have folks is a game with so many negatives; I’d swear it was made in a faulty battery factory.

You could say it has appeal, but there again, so does a mangy orange.

I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies as there was no sequel and Viccom was never seen again on the Neo Geo.  Hoorah!

Breakers and Breakers Revenge, Visco 1996 and 1998

Well after Fight Fever, things had to improve and I suppose this upped the ante but not by much.

Visco at it with these and I’ll mainly mention the first as its sequel was, well….

Eight brawlers to choose from and at least they had a go at looking interesting as these were global and historical fighters (like World Heroes).

There was an Egyptian, T Hawk wannabe and a scary Amazon female but there were two chars (Sho and Jin) which must be the laziest sprites drawn together in fighting game history.

They are EXACTLY the same sprite but with different moves.  To further to take the piss, their char portraits were the same too.

Before we scream Ken and Ryu, Ryo and Robert et al, at least Capcom and SNK made sure they looked different.

It’s just absolutely ridiculous.

I must mention the Italian sword swinger known as Pielle.  The constant sound of ‘ohhh’ can’t fail to encourage a giggle, regardless of your sexuality.

The actual game itself featured workable combos, decent graphics, moves and special effects.  Super moves also made and appearance and it even played reasonably enough so all in all, it wasn’t too bad.

The sequel, well there’s nothing too much to say about the sequel because it’s not even a sequel.  In fact, anybody would struggle to make a case for it to qualify as a terrible update.

One new char and that’s really about it.  I’m pretty sure that was it.  If Breakers was responsible for the laziest char sprites ever, how about Revenge been the laziest and worst sequel ever made?

Shinoken and/or Ragnagard, Saurus 1996

This was a fairly late Neo game and took note of the graphics used in Pulstar and Blazing Star as all chars were rendered.

You weren’t exactly spoilt for choice with those chars as again, there were only eight to choose from.

It wasn’t fisticuffs but weapons based fighter and as rendering was used, the animation was great, but as the old age expression goes and like so many before, fancy graphics do not necessarily make a good game.

Did this fall under that category?  Well I’d say yes and no as while not totally awful, it wasn’t totally great either.

Of that ‘great’ animation, this only applied to standing animation as the rest was fairly mediocre.

I also found the backgrounds to be a bit of mess too, with an odd colour scheme and a strange mix of inactivity.

The end boss reminded me of Devil Kazuya out of Tekken 2.

Standard stuff here, with the usual throws, dashes and a power gauge to manually charge.  I wouldn’t blub too much if a rare state of amnesia caused me to forget about this one.

Well, we’re not doing very well so far are we?  So it’s time to dip our toes into the improvement pool…

Double Dragon, Technos 1995

This did not fall under ‘same title, different game’ because this is a spin-off from the classic 1987 Technos scrolling brawler.

Anyway, this is more like it. 

The graphics were fine but not exactly mind-blowing, the animation was fairly ordinary but one thing mattered, was its gameplay.

The char roster was ten and saw you choose some of the chars from the Doub Drag universe and some unique warriors.

The usual special moves existed and there was a charge meter which gradually filled on performing regular specials.  Once filled, performing the normal specials with more than button meant a more powerful version of the original.

The two bosses offered some resistance.

I’ll get the worst bit outta the way first and the most un-Neo like intro you’re ever likely to see.  FMV – can you believe this shit?  What made it worse is that it was so badly pixilated; it was on par with a very bad Mega CD game.  The footage contained was from the atrocious film of what this was based on.

This is what I really don’t get, why do developers insist on using a technique that a console just can’t handle or doesn’t even want to be a part of.

I mean getting the Neo Geo to do perfect FMV is like asking the C64 to do a smooth 3D game, or a Speccy game not to attribute clash.

The actual game was good, the music was better and it played very well.

Everything was smooth, it got extremely active and combos flowed like a hungry cave spring.

I liked the way before you fought each char, they had their own unique entrance.

Destructible objects also existed in every stage and while nothing original – cool.

The music sparkled in the limelight and the charge theme, heard when you powered up Billy or Jimmy was extremely memorable.  Duh Duh Duh, Der Der Der etc etc….

It’s no classic but certainly worth a play and although it sounded like a shower of the proverbial, I am happy for it to rain on me.

Savage Reign, SNK 1995

Alarm bells are starting to excitedly ring because this is first set we’ve stumbled across to be entirely done by SNK.

This should automatically signal greatness, but it’s one of the rare occasions that I can’t rave as this series is consigned to just been decent.

Let’s get our potato masher into the former and definitely totally inferior original.

(Kizuna is next).

Each char (ten of the blighters) is armed with a weapon and unlike what you’d think, these can be used separately but not put away.  Another variation is the ability to jump to another plane and use whatever action as a further attack.

Weapons ranged from boomerangs, discus, axe and a gymnast’s ball.

Yeah, that’s not some kind of sick joke, a gymnast’s ball will come in really handy when coming up against a lunatic with an axe?

 Bit of innovation then, but nah, this one didn’t light my fire.

So choose one of your 10 chars and off you went to enter Battle of the Beast God….

It was virtually devoid of any sort of combo system so it was either use your weapon, fist, foot, stereotypical special or nuke to win a match.

The innovation of being able to jump to other bits of the background wore off quicker than an Eyetoy.

The backgrounds could be rather attractive.  Chung’s setting was my favourite even if some will say it’s like a certain hundred kick specialist’s stage.

Eagle, Gordon and Carol also had nice scenery so if that’s its best aspect, uh oh.

To break up the action, you could break some bells.  It certainly was a load of ‘bells’.

My main bees in my bonnet (apart from the combo system) were animation choppier than a dangerous boating trip and one of the worst SNK bosses ever.

SNK rarely shit out ‘awful’ end bosses as usually they’re memorable and become stuff of legend, but everybody has an off day I suppose – even SNK.

First you got King Lion, then King Leo (Lion was the impostor).  They both wore some kind of camp Riddler mask (gay), armed with a giant sword (okay) but the deal breaker was why the fuck did SNK force them to wear boxing gloves?

What sort of bosses are these?  Is this some kind of appalling tribute to The Village People?

It doesn’t stop there.  If memory serves me right, the winning dialogue was something like “I am King Lion and/or King Leo.  Hear me Gggggguuuuuuurrrrrrrraaaaaarrrrrrrrrrr.”

Pinch me, was this a joke?  Nope!

Was it in homage to Catwoman?

To cap it off, they were practically the same, yes even bordering on Breakers territory.

It’s okay, but by SNK’s high standards - a mediocre effort.

Kizuna Encounter, SNK 1996

This is the sequel and SNK go some way to redeeming themselves.

It’s not brilliant, but it’s good.

The intro automatically signals a better game but the campness of King Lion returns…

The subtitle of Super Tag Battle is not for its health and as you’d expect, two players are chosen in ‘tagging’ your way to victory.

10 is the magic number and amongst those, two new and far better chars join the tit for tag fun.

Rosa - a feisty sword wielding female and Kim Young Mok, a dashing dude with a staff.

I don’t know if this was SNK being unoriginal or trying to be funny but the char Kim, not only looks like Kim out of Fatal Fury, but seems to have inherited some of his fairly famous special moves….

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Eight of the cast return with two dropped from the original line-up as Carol and Nicola are considered expendable.

After choosing your two chars and your starter, Beat Up.

Yes, instead of Round 1 Fight or whatever, it’s Beat Up.

It becomes immediately apparent that it looks and plays far better.  The original wasn’t exactly ugly so a welcome positive.

The backgrounds have a nice little intro before each fight and while this has been done many times before in SNK games, it never becomes tiresome or boring.

Combos are even possible - great.

Your partner waits impatiently in the background until tagged.  You can only tag within the tagging zone.

The timing of tagging is pretty important as when one player is dead, you lose.

There are no rounds, just a strategic single fight to the finish.

Thankfully, there’s a new end boss too and an odd one at that.  It’s sort of like a stronger and strange Mezu and Gozu hybrid.

The ending teased a third but that never materialized.

Overall, it’s not a great game but far better than the original and the tagging idea made it at least interesting.

Kabuki Klash, Hudson Soft 1995
We are back with the more than decent trend as we stumble across this wacky and crazy brawler.

This features colourful graphics, great sprites and OTT moves.  Sprinkle a dose of smooth animation, nice backgrounds and balanced gameplay, and then you naturally have a more than mediocre fighting game.

What is fairly interesting is that it’s actually based on an obscure Japanese RPG series Tengai Makyo, hence why it has the subtitle Far East of Eden.  Many would see it as a standalone game with a standalone subtitle but now you know…

Anyway, you need a PC Engine and a lot of luck finding it to go right back to the beginning of this franchise.

That amount of eight chars exists again but you needn’t worry as this annoying magic number will eventually get bored.  Remember, even Street Fighter 2 started off with eight chars.

Rest assured though they’re quirky enough and very Japanese ensuring some crazy shit.

It’s a weapons based fighter and just like Sam Shodown, losing your weapon is possible.  Expect the usual sort of attacks but the ability to unleash a nuke is always welcome and it’s nice that these are pretty difficult to miss.

In another nod towards Sam, is that you can collect power ups that either hinders or assists, ranging from poison to health ups.

Special attacks are infinite but not in the traditional sense as the magic gauge gradually decreases as you perform motions, so it’s best not to use them willy nilly.

The landscapes are varied, colourful (without being garish) and mostly great.  A highlights show couldn’t cover it.

In addition to all this goodness, how about if you throw four crazy bosses in too.  Honestly, there’s not too much not to dislike about this beast.

Providing you accept its zaniness, great stuff.

Galaxy Fight, Sunsoft 1995

This is another decent slice of fighting pie.

Again, as the title suggests – the fighters infer that they are not of this earth, and sure enough – they’re not.

Well, it is slightly misleading as it should be called Planet Fight as they are all from another planet.

A total of eight combatants take part in this tournament and it seems that eight really is a magic number.

A bunny girl and ninja are the only chars that should have stayed on Earth.  She and he really belong in Kabuki Klash and Samurai Showdown respectively.

Each fight takes place on a different planet and the scenery is certainly active, colourful and interesting.  Parallax scrolling adds to each planet’s depth.

During the game, a quirky little punching bag dude named Bonus appears unexpectedly.  He is supposed to be a joke and poses little or no challenge.

The psycho bunny from Monty Python and The Holy Grail also makes an appearance?  For some crazy reason, it eventually morphs into your clone…

The title is only really explained when you reach the cheap boss as you travel to a ‘galaxy’.

Nice visuals and decent graphics, add chars with a difference and playing unlike a dog meant a good game.

Waku Waku 7, Sunsoft 1996

If Kabuki was the zany, then this is the truly mental.  It’s far more bonkers than a previous Sunsoft effort - Galaxy Fight.

Similarities are there to see but this is a far better game.

To understand, you have to snort the same crack as Sunsoft.

The only reason I can think of to explain the ‘7’ in its title must be its char roster?

There is a point to the story though as only the player owning the most balls will be truly victorious.

You must seek more than just the regular pair.

The stage is set by a great intro and then be prepared to embrace the craziness.

Fighting mechanics are slightly different as when hit, you are able to press buttons together to repel an attack or jump off a wall.  You can also push the stick up to counter attack when knocked down and rubber finger to get up quicker.

How often these are used is up to you but while obviously not essential, it’s nice that the option(s) are there and adds that bit of variety to proceedings.

I’m pretty sure this is the only Neo game with seven or nine chars.  Yes, that’s right – seven or nine.  It’s seven playing against the CPU or nine during 2P.

On cycling through the chars, it tells you the motions required for special and nukes.  To spice it up, charge attacks are also available.  You can’t fail to notice what drugs Sunsoft were taking as you get a mutant rabbit thing, a robot and a floating princess?

Video game connoisseurs and those with a keen eye for Anime will notice a variety of parodies.  Amongst others, references to Darkstalkers, King of Fighters and Dominion: Tank Police exist among the look and play of the chars.

The ‘off your tree’ routine is reflected in some special moves.

Nukes are even more OTT than Kabuki as you definitely can’t miss what happens when these are unleashed.

Stage backgrounds feature more colours than the rainbow and are suitably vibrant.  Char animation is rather cool and scenery even changes their colour and appearance.

The music and sound is typically cheerful without being sickening so it’s definitely not an occasion to mute your TV.  Lyrics can even be heard behind the melodies.

Hey, the punching bag from Galaxy Fight makes an appearance once again to lampoon Capcom, together with your evil clone.

The end boss is encounter is great but not short of intravenous invention.

It’s a giant black sphere with tiny wings as ears.  You’d expect it to be more mental than a scene from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and true to form, it didn’t disappoint.

It’s cheaper than a pound shop sale too.

Battle by it and you’re treated to endings smarter than a dapperly dressed waiter.

The char roster is tighter than a new pair of shoes but quality over quantity here.

Great graphics; perfectly suited sound and fluid gameplay ensure it’s a winner by Sunsoft.

Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer, 1995 Technos

Well that’s a quite a mouthful and considering that Double Dragon was good, I had high hopes.

Don your cape as it’s a superhero themed fighter but before your spider sense begins tingling, this does not contain chars from the Marvel or DC universe…

Theoretically, this sounds like a good idea but how about in practice?

Well it’s neither ‘super’ or the proverbial shower.

Before this latest operation, does anybody remember Sonic Blastman?  If you do or don’t, it was indeed a bunch of shit.

What makes this slightly different is that when you vanquish an opponent, you have the opportunity to steal a special move from the defeated char.

Also, I demand you turn the tables on your foe with a super desperation move – what a ridiculous and great term.

This was first seen in Fatal Fury 2 and can only be used under the condition of having little or low energy.

You have 10 super heroes to choose from (wow, is that the new magic number?) all capable of dishing out some decent damage.

The landscapes are pretty cool and feature some nice detail.

There’s one stage set against a huge advertisement of Captain Atlantis (surely a parody of Captain America?).

Others include a colourful lit up street scene and a disco dance stage (a bit like Duck King’s in Fatal Fury Special).

The music also threatened to be decent too.

Some of the special moves have obvious comparisons with early Fatal Fury games such as Terry’s Power Wave.

In conclusion, it’s not great but above average graphics, some innovations and decent gameplay meant it’s worth a fight or two.

Ninja Masters, SNK/ADK 1996

This was the final attempt by ADK at this sort of game and they stored their best until last.  It was mostly brilliant and challenged the look, feel and sound of a high quality SNK game.

SNK were part of this katana slice but it was mainly the brainchild of ADK.

It’s a shame that:

There wasn’t a sequel; and more importantly
It was always overshadowed by the admittedly superior and more famous Samurai Shodown franchise.

Despite the superiority of Sam, this was a very useful mammal featuring excellent graphics, perfectly suited audio, innovative gameplay and two great end bosses.

The animation was impressively smart and boasted some very nice char portraits too.

As a nice innovation, during a bout you could draw your unique weapon to decide each fight’s destiny.  So because of this, unarmed or armed combat meant for some more than interesting fights and attack variations.

After some damage, your weapon was dropped so you had to scurry to retrieve it.

So in short, it’s potentially a hybrid of Art of Fighting and Sam Shodown.

The tactics employed gave you literally the freedom to play two different types of game but no matter what your preference, it’s obviously can’t be compared in terms of gameplay.

There are some crazy chars including the usual ninja types, beefcakes and a pensioner (a striking resemblance to Nicotine from Sam 2).  The strangest guy could throw crows.

Caw blimey.

The super meter is present and there were a number of pyrotechnics and devastating attacks available.

Combos could be pulled off with eminent fluidity.

Backgrounds were great including battlefields, caves, snow covered forests, temples and waterfalls.  Every stage used an area which scrolled upon movement and I suppose you could say it’s where the audience would sit if this was a live performance.

If I had a slight grumble, ten was the magic number….

In short, this was a fine effort and although its blade was slightly blunter than a certain other series, I applaud ADK’s effort and endeavour.

Having said that, if this was given more than one shot then who knows, Haohmuru and co may have wished they had chosen the path of the Ninja, instead of a Samurai.

World Heroes series, ADK 1992-1995

This is a cult Neo Geo favourite amongst fans and while I respect and appreciate its following, I raise an eyebrow to its popularity.

The basic idea is that some eccentric scientist perfects time travel and uses his know-how to invent a machine to bring all historical figures together and organises a fighting tournament to find the mightiest.

Isn’t that original?  Shame it wasn’t called Time Heroes to make the title even cornier than its premise.

Anyway, some of the brawlers are based on actual historical figures while others are not.

For example, Genghis Khan was known as J Carn.

Those who’ve played Fuuma from ADK (Aggressors of Dark Kombat) will notice that this is where it all began.

Despite been inspired by actual figures, the events, fights, special moves, and general nonsense contained herein this camp fighting franchise are fictitious and any similarity to persons (living or dead) is purely coincidental.

The appeal is surely its theme and because of this, the backgrounds have an international and even original flavour.

The moves, its variety of chars and ridiculousness all adds to its cult status.

Eight, is a magic number…

When considering you had a char called Muscle Power, this is best enjoyed if you take this as seriously as the prospect of a sloth out manoeuvring a cheetah.

An appalling Bruce Lee char known as Dragon was also available.  FFS.

You could choose between normal and a death match and the latter meant arenas had lethal consequences including spiked walls, flame covered boxing rings, mines and electric fences.

The first game was notoriously famous for Brocken, a robotic Dhalsim with a deadly crouching low kick.

Apply the rubber finger and you have a kill more instant than a Manhunt execution.

It was a terrible oversight by ADK and was virtually an unintended cheat when favouring the flexible German.

Bonus stages of carving a statue and smashing vases were frankly pointless.

The end boss, Gee Gus would make Robert Patrick seethe in liquid metal rage.

Its true failure was been more unbalanced than a one-legged flamingo.

This was the first, so the second would surely iron out various faults.

It did, but before screaming hooray, keep that bubbly on ice…

This was a ‘bit’ more balanced and expanded to fourteen chars.  They got even more camp and stupid.

This time the cast included a native, American footballer, Viking and pirate.  Ho ho!

The death match option returned and after more stupid bonus stages, the boss replacing the ‘other’ was Dio and wasn’t too different to Gus but w/o the benefit of morphing.

A sequel it was rather than an update, but ADK must try harder next time.

So with the iron clearly getting bored of creases, we get airsick with Jet, yeah it really was called World Heroes 2 Jet.

So the name suggests an update to the sequel and would you be right?

I think yes.

A novelty in this one was being able to play dead at will.  If used subtlety, I suppose this could be to your advantage.

This update got wet and multiplied to sixteen chars with two new faces.

As a bonus, you have to stop a rampaging bull.  I mean c’mon - what a stupid bonus stage.

It takes a novel twist as instead of the usual situation of fighting the same char over a best of three, each round introduces a different fighter.

Each day is summarized and even tells you what the decisive blow was.  Fairly pointless, but at least it’s unique.

However, when the final challenge is reached, it reverts back to the classic best of three.

During the ending, the game then takes a bizarre and comical turn with banter and super deformed sprites.

New stages, better graphics, a tweaked premise and a new boss ensured the improvement factor.

It’s definitely the best of the three and there’s only one left.  This couldn’t fail as it was apparently perfect.

World Heroes Perfect to be exact.

16 chars again, back to best of three and a hero gauge.

As tacky as it sounds, the hero gauge is basically the key to unleashing a nuke.  While this is nothing new, it's a World Heroes first.

It’s built up in the ‘original’ way of performing various attacks and as per usual, special moves help…

I’ll give it this; it’s definitely the best looking of all Heroes, but nothing else stands out.

The stages are quite imaginative as we travel among many different and previously unseen time periods but the on-looking chars based in these periods clearly have animation issues.

The main sprites are the same tired and boring assortment of recycled pixels.

You’d think that three games later, they’d get off their asses and give the poor bastards a new look, but oh no, obviously too much effort.

The boss from Jet reappears and then another dude steps up but don’t get too excited as it’s just a golden Neo Dio.

All that I can say is that ADK must be well into the environment....

The final game is hardly worthy of its title.

I think what’s most disappointing is that despite recycling the same chars and adding the odd noob, largely little or nothing changes.

Most fighting game franchises give returning chars a decent overhaul.  It seems that ADK obviously thought that this would offend fans.

Did anything change?  Well apart from char portraits, I don’t think so.

A camp and cult franchise but these heroes certainly didn’t change my world.

Yes, notice the way I didn’t mention ‘classic’.

I’d say that if I had to play one of these, I’d take to the skies…

SVC Chaos, Playmore 2003

Like many others, call it SNK Vs Capcom Chaos but it was marketed as the above.

I really wanted to avoid mentioning this but I’m compelled to do so because unfortunately, it actually exists.

If Viccom and Fight Fever was a bad joke, this on the other hand is a truly offensive and sickening prank.

I’ll be honest, when I heard about this coming out, I nearly exploded…. with anticipation and excitement.

After the appalling Capcom vs SNK in 2000 and its sequel in 2001, I really hoped, in fact I demanded that this was going to be more important than sliced bread.

As SNK was the primary developer and not Capcom, we’d expect greatness personified.

Well who knows, we might have done if it was SNK but because the poor souls went bankrupt in 2001, it was left up to Playmore.

The premise and mechanics is set out and tries to play like King of Fighters (w/o the three on three matches) so even with that omission, it could still work and be brilliant.

The prospect of Terry and Kyo mixing it with Ryu and Ken, Mai vs Chunners etc etc left opposing fans salivating at such match ups.

On one side you have SNK and on t’other, Capcom.  It seemed a win/win and a no lose situation, but deary me…

It starts so well because the intro is pretty good.  Kyo and Ryu being interrupted by Akuma, Mr. Karate displaying proudness on the tip of Ryu’s house?

Apart from the ‘music’, it sets the scene and teases us into thinking; yep this is going to be awesome.

Actually that music was an early warning.

Unfortunately at the end of this rainbow, instead of a pot of gold, we find a pot of shit.

The char roster is impressive as 24 chars from the SNK and Capcom universe step up to the plate but the choice made by Capcom was odd.

The SNK line-up is widespread and ambitious with chars from King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown and Art of Fighting all featuring but the Capcom line-up is basically Street Fighter 2.

I can only think that Capcom weren’t prepared to give Playmore permission for chars from other franchises.

They might as well have called this crock of shit, SNK vs Street Fighter 2.

SNK sprites are mostly recycled so look fine, Mr. Karate is a new sprite and Playmore did a good job with Samurai Shodown as Genjuro and Earthquake looked particularly cool, but with the Capcom sprites, this really was Uncharted.

It’s like Naughty Dog redrawing Drake for the 360.

It would have been nice for every SNK sprite to be redesigned.  Like what Capcom did with Street Fighter Alpha.... 

To be fair, most are passable but what the fuck is going on with Guile’s face and hair?  What’s with the expression and why has he got a peculiarly shaped heavy duty brush on his head?

I know Guile always had an eccentric barber but c’mon, this is taking the proverbial piss.

Weird shit Playmore!

Sagat just looks perverted but Bison, Vega and Dhalsim at least looked rather good.

Why is Hugo bigger than Earthquake?

Why was this game ever made?

This is shit, of the worst kind and I’m finally gonna spread the slurry…

There are many rather important reasons why this insults excrement.

Firstly, if you’re a SNK char – it’s okay but when batting for the other side – it’s horseshit man.

As it’s a novelty seeing a Capcom char in a Neo game, you’re probably going to choose a novelty and wow; the novelty soon wears off before it’s even been given a chance to grow on you.

It plays like an absolute canine and the balance of power is ultimately imbalanced.  Choose a classic SNK char over a Capcom char and SNK is going to win.

Their classic moves smelt bad too.

Genjuro and Earthquake obviously have weapons and therefore, surely it's pretty important to ensure that it works against unarmed combatants?

No, no, yippee aye no.

I briefly mentioned the ‘music’ and that's been generous as it’s just a scrambled 8 bit mess of torture and bullshit.

Why is there no tune to any composition?
Why is it sometimes so fucking high-pitched, muted and repetitive?
Why does it screech louder than a cat’s chorus?

It sounds so bad, it’s painful to play.

A eunuch has more balls.

The backgrounds are awful, I mean truly atrocious.  The colour scheme is appallingly bland and usually consists of a couple of colours, yeah I’m really not jesting.

Not content with been virtually monochrome, they have about as much style as a well dressed vagrant.

The only one that raises a slight smile is a forest with a waterfall and that only borders on mediocrity.

Never mind, because even if it was the most amazing stage ever, its soul would be sucked dry due to that fucking terrible mess Playmore dare to describe as music.

I guess when drawing these banal states of inanimate excitement, they drew inspiration from watching paint dry.

The only other things worth mentioning, apart from the intro are the ‘other’ hidden and/or boss chars.

These include a new-look Athena, Demitri, Mars People, Geese and Red Arremer.

The running joke of Dan makes an appearance and I suppose it’s funny that an SNK char confuses him with Robert.

Some chars were only selectable in the ports like on the PS2 and Xbox.

As you can gather, I really liked this and why didn't it go platinum due to its magnificence.

Shudder at the awesome glory, be overwhelmed by its power and feel the wrath of SVC Chaos.

If I was writing a letter describing my delight, it’d be something like:

“Cheers Playmore, you took some of the greatest fighting chars of all time, dropped them in a meat grinder and served up the worst ‘vs’ games of all time.”

Marvellous!

Rage of the Dragons, Evoga/Noise Factory 2002

It’s necessary to mention this first, as the next game on my list explains why that nicks some chars and elements from this.

As SNK went bankrupt in 2001, Playmore took a firm hold of the Neo Geo reins and published a few efforts in an attempt to revive the fortunes of the Neo Geo and with it, keep it alive.

This act of resuscitation would ultimately prove fruitless…

Removing that lump from my throat, it’s supposed to be in homage to Double Dragon as two chars also share the first names of Billy and Jimmy from the Technos classic.

It would also make sense that this was supposed to be a sequel to the previously mentioned spin-off.

Whatever, it’s surprisingly good.

This was another tag team effort (as already seen in Kizuna) but with unseen gameplay mechanics.

I did like the sequence combo which saw you start it off and then it was up to you to finish it off (following a button ‘sequence’).

Imagine doing a DIY combo, then adding a sequence combo?  The result should be a combo in double figures…

Unlike Kizuna, the game told you when you could tag, as opposed to just being in a particular area.

You could also surrender a char and this was another nice idea.

Basically, imagine the situation if you felt one of your chars was suffering a beating, simply surrender he/she and that char’s remaining energy would be transferred to the other and give you a better chance of winning, even though you’re now down to one.

Or some may choose to surrender for shits and giggles.

Whatever, it’s a good idea.

14 sets of attitude and machismo entered the foray and all had a good enough reason to be chose.

With it been tag based, like it or lump it, two chars had to be chosen.

The char line-up was pretty comical and colourful.  Two dudes that stood out were a Shaft afro wearing suit and a pot bellied beast.

You could see the ‘SNK’ in them though.

As another variation to Kizuna, it wasn’t one char strike and you’re out.

Like King of Fighters, the super gauge could go beyond filling up once meaning for a better and more devastating motion attack.

Not satisfied with looking the bees, the light shows employed on the successful execution of each certainly ensured a pretty explosive effect and thus, giving you the knees.

Nicely, there were quite a few variations too.

The backgrounds had a vibrant and quality look to them and all chars boasted certain smoothness to their movement.  It can be pretty fast paced so it’s given thumbs up from me.

The boss was rather smart and I liken him as a cross between Yamazaki and Rugal.

A selection of nice up to you combos (excluding the sequence types), fluid gameplay, a very decent selection of moves and nukes ensured that this solitary effort was a return to form for the ailing Neo Geo.

So overall, it’s a nice chunk of cheddar.

Power Instinct Matrimelee, Noise Factory 2003

Many may know this as just Matrimelee and was linked to Dragons because this was also made a Noise.

It was one of the last games released on the Neo.

Originally created by Atlus, this was obviously just another sequel and nicked some elements from Rage of the Dragons.  Chars from the latter can make an ‘unlockable’ appearance.

Putting Princess Sissy and her accursed treasure chest in her place is your aim.

This wasn’t as good as Dragons, but certainly not the rottenest of eggs.

Fifteen in the char roster, a similar look and style to Rage of the Dragons and all in all, surely we can’t go far wrong.

Like Dragons, it had a couple of gimmicks to make fights a bit different.

The Enabler gimmick allows you to throw the Kuroko lookalike referee at your opponent and allows counters during blocking.

Bloodline Battles sounds a lot more exciting than it actually was as this was just a variation on Dragons’ sequence combo.

Many stages were set in a ring against an audience with only some slight variations separating them from been the same, so a bit lazy.

There are quite a few unique in look so that’s a blessing.

The most frustrating stage is rather shy in its appearance as for whatever reason, seeing it is just pure pot luck.  On the rare occasion it pops up, it’s a mystical forest with spirits floating about and is really good.

I have to ask, why in the name of motion’s headache a developer would do their damndest to ‘hide’ their most attractive stage is beyond reason. 

As this was related to Dragons, it plays well and allows a variety of combos.

It must an Atlus or indeed Power Instinct thing as when the victory screen and smug waffle appeared, the defeated weren’t bloodied and battered; their face was just slapped with graffiti.

What is surprising is that some stages feature full lyrics.  Okay, most of us can’t understand it but that’s irrelevant.

Apart from these, the audio is one of its best aspects as the beeps and bleeps have, pardon the pun, a very distinct sound.

So you find and fight the Princess and wow, what an experience.

I’m not going to mislead you as ‘that’ experience is sadomasochistic and soul-churning.

Before an explanation, a trippy and cool remix of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March is played.  It does get annoying, considering you’ll be potentially hearing it, frequently (again, again and again).

Again, again, again, again and again….

As with any cheap boss, there’s a technique to be learnt but until you educate yourself, it’s impossible not to scream various expletives at the screen.

Have trust, you’ll never want to see a nurses uniform ever again…

Okay, that’s the frustration talking.

I really fucking hate that creation of pixels….

Aaaaarrrrrrggggggghhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

If you win, congratulations and you deserve a pint!

Art of Fighting series, SNK 1992, 1994 and 1996

Well after some showers, storms and a healthy dollop of sunshine we have now climbed onto a magical rainbow.

Let’s not beat around a certain bush, Art of Fighting is a classic and kick-ass creation.

While not brilliant, it’s very good and certainly a very important factor to the SNK universe.

It also introduced another gauge of particular significance which was essential for necessary progress.

This is when we really appreciate the novelty of one-handed fireball attacks with Ryo and Robert et al happily dishing out all manner of punches, kicks and special effects.

The household screen scaling, huge sprites, facial bruising, spirit gauge, famous chars and classic moves are all showcased with abundance

It would be churlish to call this anything other than important.

Before screen scaling became a pertinent regular, this is where it all began.

Round 1 - Fight

The original boasted the most appalling choice of playable chars of any SNK game and possibly, any game of this type.  In the 1P game, you only had the choice between Ryo and Robert, with all others being CPU only.

Yes, it’s true.

Clearly a decision made by SNK whilst truly hungover.

So accepting a decision that can’t be fought, gamers were forced to make the best of it.

Below your energy gauge was your spirit gauge, which was basically your special move gauge.  Upon every special move performed, this gauge depleted and when nearly spent, the effect of a special move was virtually nil.

Of course, resorting to normal moves was an option but the most sensible was to charge it back up using a simple button combo.  There was a downside as this left you completely vulnerable but of course, it was the same for the other player.

Like the Neo Geo CD loading time, you got used to it.

Fortunately, you weren’t forced to remain in this state, as you could pick and choose how much you retrieved and go back to it later, and frequently repeat as necessary.

On taunting a char, this demoralised them and reduced their spirit gauge.

SNK came up with some good shit.

However, you needed a full gauge to perform a hidden nuke.

For once, the ‘bonus’ stages weren’t pointless as rewards were reaped for been successful.  The rewards could be increasing your spirit or strength gauge meter and learning a nuke.  At the time, they looked excellent.

Playing against the CPU saw a story develop for the journey to rescue Ryo’s kidnapped sister.  After each fight, a pointless clue was given to the location of Yuri but it all added to the intrigue.  Seven Southtown brawlers later and you reach the big cheese.

Some would become extremely recognisable in another very famous franchise…

The char graphics were huge and largely detailed.  This was the first time I’d ever seen facial bruising and actual damage caused to a char and nicely, their posture and demeanour even took its toll as upon taking a beating as they looked slightly less upright than before.

Clothes could be ripped and glasses could even fall off.  Brutal stuff.

Backgrounds could be decent and the general audio wasn’t antique either.  The background chars seemed to suffer from rigor mortis.

Okay, although playable, it wasn’t brilliant and a very limited char base could potentially cause it to be fairly awful.  This was thankfully not enough to damage a good game.

Round 2 – Fight

This is when SNK really ironed out those creases and corrected everything that was wrong with the first game.  The result was a franchise, evolved.

You’ll find that the end boss from the first was Takuma, who turned out to be Ryo and Yuri’s father.

The char roster was drastically improved to twelve and many returned from the first, along with a few new faces including Takuma, Eiji, Yuri and Temjin.

Of the returning cast, SNK improved their look as they were far more attractive looking sprites.

This is where an SNK sequel shows its gloss…

For returning chars, the backgrounds were totally redone and had a completely different change of scenery.  Suffice to say, it was a vast improvement over the original.  Robert’s stylish red Porsche and John’s whirring aeroplane are highlights.

The overall colour style received a new lick of paint and substantially superior.

New bonus stages returned, but the purposes remained as before.  Actually, they were inferior and lacked the impressive factor.

As a strange choice, you’ll be brainwashed into thinking there’s only one winning stance and you’d be right, unless a perfect was achieved and that reaps a secret winning pose.

A certain Geese struts his tough stuff as the boss and it’s the only time you’ll see him with a pony tail….

Assuming you win, you are treated to a genuinely funny and comical credit roll.

It sees chars in a lighthearted way and it’s certainly an amusing watch.

So an excellent sequel and there’s a third game….

I really did think this would be the big one and it is, but lending a sword from a friendly ninja shows a double-edged situation.

Final Round - Fight

The big hype around this was that the animation is motion captured and in my opinion, that’s far more exciting than rendering.

The Invincible Dragon and The Raging Tiger, Ryo and Robert respectively will treat us to animation we’d never seen before.

To say it was silky smooth and more fluent than a beautiful waterfall would be an understatement.

The story shifts focus from Ryo to Robert, some shit about searching for a friend that leads him and Ryo to Mexico.  Oh, an elixir is pertinent to the shenanigans too. 

The char roster was more controversial than a BBFC classification decision as it only boasted ten and w/o favourites such as Yuri and Takuma.  WTF right?

Ryo, Robert and eight other motion captured creations would take us to unknown territory; and with such production value, surely SNK couldn’t fuck this up?

Of Ryo and Robert, they looked akin in spirit but were slightly redesigned.  The result was awesome.

The sprites are even bigger than before so that’s an OMG moment in itself.

The other chars were okay to decent, but they fell a long way short of replacing favourites and their signature moves.

Like Fuuma from World Heroes, this is where it began for Kasumi from King of Fighters.

Yuri teases, but only appears as a side char.

This was a peculiar beast to play as the motion capture forces it to play differently.  To understand, you’ve just have to of had the pleasure of playing it and no video in the world will allow you to appreciate it.

This is a unique SNK experience as it plays like no other.  It is marmite.

If you tried to play it like any other 2D fighter, your efforts will rightfully go unrewarded.

It did feel at times, slightly unnatural.

Due to the motion capture, the animation in theory can’t be bettered but you could also say it’s a technique that automatically grants brilliance and unlike others, not as handmade.

I’m saying yes… and a tentative no.

I think I prefer handmade animation as that requires so much more effort.  I hope and think that makes sense.

Whatever, the animation is fantastic.

This is odder than a multi-eyed Cyclops but SNK departed from facial bruising.  This was the series that made virtual fighting an actual injury but decided to discard it like an old newspaper.  I can’t ever question SNK, but this is one question that demanded an answer.

The actual backgrounds remain classic and were largely excellent.

The waterfall, a bustling Mexican street scene and sunset dust are great examples and a nice audio touch was during a night parade as the parade’s music lights the stage up, almost as much as the travelling parade itself.

There are some excellent intricacies such as puddles rippling and a tree providing shade for chars in the previously mentioned street scene.

These are such great effects; you could be forgiven for noticing them.

If there’s a trick, SNK rarely misses it.

The colour scheme is noticeably more vibrant with SNK really exploiting the Neo Geo palette.

The sound is cool and while not classic, the music is distinctly jazzy.

More controversy rains heavier than a torrential downpour is the Ultimate K.O.  Under very limited energy conditions, performing a nuke can end a match in one round, yes one round and not the final round.

I’m not sure about that one but together with decent combo potential, this was a different Art of Fighting.

The end boss was Wyler and gets a sudden muscle expansion after drinking an elixir.

Suffice to say, I’m not a fan.

The strangest trick ever exists in AOF 3 with the birthday feature.  It kicks in if your machine’s internal clock is set to a char’s birthday and the result is an automatically powered up brawler who is able to unleash a nuke, w/o needing to meet the minimal energy condition.

Art of Fighting certainly had a go at been different and remains a very playable and seminal fighting franchise.

The introduction of screen scaling, spirit gauge, famous chars and huge sprites is archetypical of SNK.

I also feel the actual blows are suitably crunching.  When a punch or a kick connects, it never felt more satisfying.

It rightly deserves its status of been a celebrated series and while some may love it, like it or hate it, nobody can deny its importance.

Well that’s it.  I can talk no further about the games available for SNK’s wonder machine as I’ve scoured every motion, plunged every depth and searched every corner.

Hold the phone, what are those voices faintly echoing in my hearing tackle, “Power Geyser”, “Hurricane Upper”, “Ippon”, “Plasma Blade”, “Rising Tackle” and “Okay”…?

It’s getting even scarier….

I now have visions of three on three battles, Geese, feudal Japan, pointed blades, blood and a Bakumatsu Romance?

It seems this battle is not yet over.

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