Sunday, 9 December 2012

Max 330 Mega The Premier Collection - Final Round


Well it’s been a journey of epic proportions and it’s all boiled down to this.

Like every other adventure, it has to come to an end but I do conclude with the most accomplished Neo double-hit combo of all.

Nudging the mighty Garou aside, there is simply nothing better than The Last Blade.

It’s just a shame it didn't become a trilogy but quality is definitely favoured over quantity.

Like Fatal Fury taking on KOF, it cannot hope to battle Samurai Shodown in terms of popularity but rest assured; it happily overshadows Haohmuru and chums on every other level.

It uses heavy emphasis on the Four Symbols which consist of mythological creatures in Chinese constellations (Genbu, Byakko, Suzak and Seiryu).

Historians will be more than aware that they each have their own origin, trait, significance and meaning.

Although insignificant in practice, the concept is undeniably the most interesting premise for a game of this type.

Backgrounds are decorated with such pedantic detail; they dazzle even Garou into submission.

SNK has left no stone unturned and even by their high standards, they truly excelled themselves.  They particularly exploit the Geo’s range of colours afforded by an exotic and splendid palette.

The imagination and the obsession to create such incredible surroundings is proudly demonstrated and the lingering air of wonderment is inhaled and exhaled with insatiable delight.

SNK have employed an insane amount of detail and each has more depth than a wishing well.

Sprites ooze personality and have more appeal than a bunch of bananas.

I would go as far to say that they look even better than Garou.

That is in terms of how they look and not how they move but that doesn't mean that they move anything like an asthmatic sloth and remain smoother than galaxy chocolate woven in silk.

The visuals are exceptional but the audio is what really separates the men from the infants.

Sam is lauded for its sexy sound but this lets out the audible satisfaction of Brian Blessed blaring through a powerful microphone.

It’s an audacious mix of traditional sonic blasts and subtle sounds emanating from what ever creature or force occupies that particular stage.

The result is exemplary and nothing short of a triumph.

It's another master brush stroke on SNK’s canvas.

You really have to hear it to appreciate how effective it is (and that’s just on cart).

When there is music, it adopts a Western approach which is a novel device in itself.

This is a serious, sedate and sombre occasion.  There’s little room for humour or hilarity, so instead a sense of melancholy is waved which adds a generously sized dollop of sauce to a generous serving of chips.

So that’s the foundation built so it’s time to bear its modesty.

Lady Gaga ran a Bad Romance so why not become embroiled in The Bakumatsu Romance.

The Last Blade, SNK 1997

We begin proceedings with a terrific intro featuring fireflies rising, those symbols spinning and the coming together sparking a light show.  All explained via an MC with the subtle touch of a mysterious echo.

What follows is customary SNK superiority with some lovely animation shorts, the shock of lightning, leaves falling and a mighty fine climax with Moriya and Kaede.

We have a modest amount but no less attractive line-up of weapon-wielders who all have one or two reasons to select them.

They range from a tribute to Jet Li, the ancient, nubile, jovial, eccentric, the wicked and mysterious.

Kaede is basically the Haohmuru of the piece and makes an excellent protagonist.

He can also ‘awake’ which means a different posture and amended move list.

The drawback though is that in this form, your vitality constantly drains so it’s obviously not a good idea to awaken with a minimal amount of health

His nuke is basically a huge lightsaber which could be in homage to Luke Skywalker?

You can expect swing a bat, sword, fan, a fishing rod and other pointy sticks.

I take it the fish weren’t biting Okino?  Oh, watch out for his turtle toss too.

The other ten are Juzoh, Akari, Amano, Zantetsu, Yuki, Moriya, Shigen, Shikyoh, Washizuka and Lee.

All have in their possession a superb arsenal of specials and nukes up their sheath which are suitably attractive and potent in their application.

The sprites even move their mouths correctly to match their speech.  Is lip sync important?  Of course it is.

Garou highlighted a proven fact in you don’t have to bombard the player with a roster that threatens to include those who are perfunctory.

This is no different as you are spoilt for choice in terms of quality.

Your chosen char will determine who you’ll fight late on and thus a story developing.

The mechanics of playing is rather dynamic so it is worth explaining matters.

Do you want a Power or Speed gauge?

Your decision reaps preferential benefits and hindrances.

Imagine a far more in-depth variation of Samurai Shodown’s Slash or Bust techniques.

Power is the real key to nukes (super nukes can only be done in Power) and offensive mayhem but chain combos and the combo special cannot be used.

Speed opens up brutal combo potential but means normal attacks are less powerful but the chain and combo special compensates.

The gauge is filled up in the usual way and when full, is either red for power or blue for speed.

A nuke is even more powerful when your vitality is knocking on death’s door and your meter is full so patient fighters may want to wait…

A chain combo is done by a series of button taps and stick presses which opens the door to rapid combination of attacks.  There are quite a few variations so like cooking, it’s useful to experiment.

A combo special is available to any char but you must have the meter filled and a flashing energy bar.

When this is activated, a star show will briefly be shown and the meter starts to drain, during which you can happily chain any attack (apart from nukes) to dish out maximum punishment.

Super cancels can only be achieved in Power and means that if you do the motion for a nuke during a certain special, it will then cancel that special into the nuke.

Normal moves can also be cancelled into specials.

A standard air-blocking system is also welcomed and you can even dish out a cheeky extra blow while your opponent is grounded.

Sam Shodown 3 (and even Sam 2 to a certain extent), had the problem of attacks of whatever kind being way too powerful.

This allays any such fears for two reasons.

Specials moderately punish and most importantly, nukes don't wipe you from existence but take a balanced chunk of vitality off.

The double energy bar is employed from Real Bout which further assists duels lasting longer than your average scrap.

Even a lengthy chain combo will not be fatal as the strength of strikes is reduced.

As it is weapons based, you’d immediately scream Sam Shodown and even Ninja Masters but that’s way off the mark.

That sounds like an odd thing to say but it really isn't, as this behemoth plays nothing like any of the above.

Apart from the weak and strong sword swipes, there’s also a kick and repel button.

The repel button is an extra blocking mechanism and can be used to deal damage with high, low, jumping attacks and even specials in an alternative way.

You can even repel jumping attacks.

When mastered, it’s extremely useful to exploit in the heat of battle.

‘Just the ticket to crush those annoying opponents’.

SNK do come up with such nonsense.  Ha ha!

It’s particularly great that SNK chose to distance this from Sam and not create the same game with different pixels.

Is this tactical suicide?

Er, that’s a negative as it easily outshines the nearest challengers, plays superbly and strikes a balance that threatens a virtually faultless occasion.

So there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye.

Okay, this still plays fine even if you ignore what’s available but you are really missing out if you shy away from the roads and other avenues available.

As you are fighting with bladed objects, it’s not particularly surprising to see copper tasting liquid.

It’s less gory than Sam and adopts a more subtle approach.

You can be sliced in half (exactly like Sam 2) but unlike the 1994 classic, blood does flow.

Portraits are full screen and what a great set they are too.

Stages are introduced via brief but sweeter than candy floss sequences.

The locations that each char frequents have more glamour than a fashion boutique.

Stages have a title that means nothing but something and everything as having a normal title would ruin the mood.

An Invitation to Incision, Demon’s Sabbath, Exposing the Heart and a Twist of Fate are just some of the mysterious muses.

The subtle sounds add to their atmospheric nature.

Some have music; some don’t so I’ll untangle each shoelace and make them knot free.

Of those that have a melody, that ceases upon a victory and is replaced by a sound.

Ready or not, here they come.

Intro – birds flying freely into the distance, people passing and a rotating windmill blowing in the wind.  That’s one of those you’d find a beach…

The quirky Akari enjoys an exquisite pinkish sky with feathered friends flying and landing.  She is keenly watched by an audience in a lively marketplace with Chinese lanterns and a feline statuette among them.

Juzoh and audible chattering can be seen and heard while its placid nature almost interrupts the necessary sword dicing.

Intro – the camera pans down together with passing trees, birds flying and a guy enjoying the luxury of being pulled in a pedicab.

Juzoh entertains us with a bustling village set during a tranquil morning with traditional buildings staple to this kind of surroundings.

The pedicab puller and its passenger take a break along with other interested spectators and Akari is keen to cheer on her eccentric pal.

There’s some great detail including wooden boards stacked (which can be knocked over), flags blowing and useful shadow placement.

Intro – the mist envelops, the camera scrolls, the glow of the dawn and his line arcing into the water presents tranquillity.

Okay, a swamp isn’t exactly the Hilton but Okino would disagree.

Insects chirp and the water laps amongst impatient herons while the mist hovers and clings.

Further details include excellently drawn trees as the moss and roots clearly show their wrinkles.

Amano presents an impressive effort.

Intro- a proud moon reflects admires narcissistic intent on the lake as we watch an angelic cherry blossom petal drift harmlessly until laying upon water causing a brief ripple.

A wonderful variety of inebriated spectators who prattle incomprehensibly are accompanied by falling cherry blossom with a moonlit bridge and serene water activity.

The scattered petals, silhouettes of those moving inside, lit lanterns and shadows cast from the audience outside turns up the volume to eleven.

It may come as no surprise that there’s malicious malevolence ready to explode their hatred upon whoever is foolish enough to oppose their omnipotence.

An appealing intermission about halfway through exhibits The Last Blade is no different.

We see the stately home from the intro flash into view with a white suit and some human denizen is ready to unleash power to make the earth shudder.

For now, he appears to be a naturist as he is ‘born’ again.  Put some clothes on man as you are not The Terminator.

The suit remains mysterious but their identities will be of course disclosed but for now, I’m keeping you hanging.

Suffice to say, Hades’ Gate has now been opened.

The beast that is Shigen inhabits a dank limestone cave but the surroundings and sound are anything but drab and desperate.

Intro – the floor cracks leaving the residue of rubble and the peace of Shigen is disturbed.

An altar is centrally and scruffily displayed as candles flicker, statues motionlessly observe as water drips from stalactites and blade masters tread and splash shallow water.

Stalagmites grow on stone pillars and the surreal hue of green reflects on the water’s shallow surface.

Listen as water drips and ‘plops’ upon the water and a peculiar echo bounces around the acoustics.

Overall, it’s another worthwhile stage.

Allow me to present a stage that is among the most aesthetically pleasing.

The shaolin monk Lee frequents a harbour basked in sunset and the detail is frankly unnecessary.

Intro – seagulls soar and coo as the sky scrolls and a ship’s bowsprit is briefly shown.

He enjoys a huge rippling sunset together with huge ships docked and a steamboat chugs out smoke.  A small hut, discarded cart and a solitary boat bobs as a small campfire quietly smoulders amidst the presumably present wind.

The greenery and a flag blowing are among other details to admire.

Seagulls are heard cooing and flying freely with an unknown species of bird playfully circle around the sun and sky.

Finally, if you look very carefully there are people waving in the very distant background.

The water sploshing does not threaten to break equanimity.

We now have a magnificent setting and possibly my personal fave.

Intro – a mysterious figure applies a dent or two with his throwing knives to the decking below and reveals Zantetsu impatiently waiting above.

If we weren't already aware, he prefers life at sea and seems quite content to spend his remaining days sleeping in a hammock.

He is seen jumping below deck to challenge you.

It’s just another extremely intelligent detail that only SNK could think of.

If this stage was the brainchild of ‘another’ developer and even if a stage intro of a similar nature existed; I’d bet my last billiard ball that he’d already be there…

Also, would a stage be programmed to gently move up and down to recreate a nautical nightmare?

In a series filled with such insane intricacies, it’s difficult to resist sniping.

Anyway, the shaft of light above deck is perhaps the best aspect.

This light is wonderfully translated to the slanted ladder leading to the cargo hold below because its shine only affects the lower steps.

Squares of light converted from the wooden grill means that other spots are substantially dimmer than the said areas meaning SNK’s obsessive eye for detail deserves another podium finish.

It doesn't end there as taking a peek through windows reveals the moonlit sky and other vessels.  Dirty rags blow, the dangerous end of a cannon pokes outside and a coiled rope excites the plaudits.

A swinging lantern and a rat occasionally scurrying behind a barrel ensure you can practically scratch the scurvy and taste the rum.

The sound of sea and timber creaking adds more chocolate sprinkles to this cappuccino.

Yuki the ice maiden chills out with a stage cooler than a snowman’s bits and bobs.

Intro – the camera pans outside a home to show the snow.

Will the attention to detail begin to falter; does a kebab taste better with a beer?

Let’s add the chilli, garlic sauce and salad to alleviate such an obvious doubt.

A delightful melody plays throughout as the snow constantly falls amongst naked trees and rocks.

The grass probes the heavily covered ground and a distant lit bridge above a moving lake ensures another lovely background.

Unlike the snow, the detail doesn't fall and this is thanks to a seasonal weather condition.

It’s as pronounced (if not more) than living at sea.

First off, chars exhale cold breath.  Of course they do, you’d expect that right?

Well not with any other developer…

When there’s cause to do so, a large amount of snow topples from a rooftop.  Cool, but is that all?

You will notice that the ground is laden with snow but if a char is smacked down, that area will clear but as the snow continues to fall, it will gradually become covered again.

It’s altogether superb.

Further ambience returns for the next stage and the quality refuses to diminish.

Intro – a gust of the wind extinguishes the glow of a candle’s flame behind a canvas screen.  The darkness and its glow quickly expose the moonlight and the bamboo outside.

Moriya occupies the most solemn surrounding of all.  Clouds envelop and race by the huge moon which almost threatens to dominate the terrific navy blue sky.  Of course, there is one or two other twilights er, highlights.

The wind howls, the bamboo leaves blow and those shed from their respective tress are also caught up in this invisible force of nature.

Music is favoured but victory reaps the functional but decrepit water wheel emitting a creaking sound as the river gently flows and the wind screams an innocent roar to mark another stellar stage.

Well we’re certainly getting there but the carnage continues with none other than our main protagonist, Kaede.

In my opinion, it’s certainly the most beautiful and cannot fail to seduce.

Intro – an image quickly sheds its blurry nature to reveal a tree branch and a maple leaf falls.

We've had winter, now autumn and with it; half of Vivaldi.

His setting seems to be a large yard with a vast bed of strewn autumn leaves, large red and orange trees with the gentle falling of leaves.

Nicely, these huge trees are not mirror images as the complicated creation of branches prove and the shading is meticulously graded.

What makes this stage suitably unnecessary is how the shadows of objects are cast amongst the scenery.  Okay, you can base and imagine but how SNK designed such a realistic setting is baffling.

A tiled roof, stone ornaments and a proud wooden gate is already open which stretches out to show a ship proudly grazing on the sun-kissed sea.

The bed of leaves is kicked up and mercilessly crunched underfoot during the necessity of fighting.

The vibe of birds and the sound of water will relax the most stressful situation and complement a truly wonderful environment.

Of the two remaining regular chars, they adopt a friendless approach to proceedings.

The evil Shikyoh graces his presence with another stage of eloquent charm.

Intro – stone slabs are punished by heavy rainfall and soon after lightning flashes to briefly reveal a silhouette, blood dripping and then splats.

As the short suggests, this rain isn't letting up anytime soon and is mercilessly relentless.

The dilapidated temple and broken bricked construction fails to improve such a depressing situation and virtuous birds seem happy to perch and embrace the condition.

The bare trees seem weak and broken wood is strewn on the ground which is shy of greenery, goodness and nutrition.

If there’s rain, lightning can’t be too far away and the blushing sky is happy to prove this inevitability with customary flashes.

An overturned bell overflows and the effect of rainfall is proudly displayed in various puddles, as are the reflections of applicable structures means detail refuses to yield.

Washizuka is also pretty desperate in company but is short on luck and surrounded by general hopelessness.

Intro – the clouds part to reveal the moon and a solitary hound howls.

Another deserted stage sees a pretty desperate situation but is handy for those keen looking for a spare part.

A large area outside observes unlit lanterns, a discarded umbrella and an abandoned cart.  The water drips from various roofed buildings and numerous puddles ripple among the infrequent whimpering stokes up the necessary tension and anxious calmness.

That concludes analysis on the regular twelve stages with necessary specification and particulars.

We are not quite done yet as an intermission will see the player finally facing up to double trouble.

It has taken 200 years for him to awake and introducing the monster that is Musashi.

Taking a sword in each hand, he has some nasty moves but is surprisingly a pussy cat compared to most SNK nightmares.

The stage is dominated by the eruption of terror.  The rocks seem impenetrable to the molten threat as a lava waterfall flows and fire seeps through at most angles.

This is accompanied by a large statue and Hades’ Gate is represented by a busy and apparently angry eclipse.

As we challenge the might of the man, the screen shakes and rumbles while listening to a suitable ditty.

When you overcome Musashi, his fate is sealed by a light pillar.

Another sequence follows before the grand finale informing us about the Blue Dragon.

Kigami is his name and posing a decent challenge is his game.

We are first in the confines of his pad as the lightning flashes beyond the windows, candles are lit, lanterns flicker and the red carpet has already been laid up the stairs and throughout.

He looks quite an innocent prospect and resistance is pretty futile despite yielding a vicious looking sword.

Is there something he’s not telling us?

Holy levitation Batman, is he floating?  Well it appears so Robin, there’s also something different about his pointy stick too.

He hovers, he swipes, and he scores.  Yes after putting him to the sword once, the final boss has literally taken off with a blue blazing sword.

Does he float like a butterfly and sting like a bee?  Well he definitely achieves the former.

His new bling allows appropriately flashy moves and in true SNK style, a new stage.

Well to be fair, it’s a combination of Musashi’s and Kigami’s former stage.

The remains of his home encourage an even more furious eclipse and while the lava continues to flow and fire erupts, debris is caught up in the mayhem.

He’s tougher than Musashi but still less stiff than a surfing board.

That’s not to say he’s a formality but compared to others who will show no mercy in blowing you away with numerous acts of destruction, a chance is given and most will exploit a more expensive boss.

A typical smart sequence shows lightning flashes cast against Kagami admitting defeat in the abyss and symbols.

The endings are generally nice with decent artistic style.

It’s a wonderful game, a thing of beauty and poetry in motion.

Can SNK raise the high jump bar and clear it with relative ease in the next entry?

Does a bear shit in the woods?

Well he usually would but there is a handy porta loo nearby if he wanted to go posh.

Hmmm, it’s still brilliant with genuine sexiness but I’m not quite sure if it equals or is simply on par with its predecessor.

The Last Blade 2, SNK 1998

What SNK basically did in 1998 was create an arguably better looking, sounding and definitely better presented game, tweaked and tinkered the gameplay system and add new chars into the blender.

This doesn’t reinvent the wheel but makes it turn smoother and the result is probably an even better playing experience.

1864 A.D. The Bakumatsu.  Another wind blows through a heated age…

Get your visual and hearing tackle around these.

The brunch features one of the most stunning piano melodies you will ever hear in any type of game.  Its simplicity is matched only by its brilliance.

During this you’ll see a fabulously animated rotating pendant trailing magical light.  Its journey takes it past maple leaves and a huge moon.  A leaf tumbles leaving a shrill sound before disappearing, the string becomes a memory and the pendant is now a glowing orb.

We know that the blackened abyss is water as a reflection of this jewel is seen before it comes to rest with a big plop.

To finish it off, a series of full screen sketches follows.

Before these art stills, the plink plonk noise at the end is nothing short of exquisite.

I now serve the main course.

Our man Kaede unsheathes his sword which emits a fantastic and blinding flash of light which reflects on him.  During which, his hair flows in the wind which is deliciously animated.

A wonderful set of huge animation and background shorts swiftly follow including a brief walk over a snow laden bridge while our eventual sword bearer sports an umbrella enjoying the flakes fall.

Birds fly against a huge moon as Moriya looks particularly fantastic as his hair, clobber and grass blow in the howling wind.  During which, Magatama is also smashed into pieces.

This sacred object is a bead that came from Japan centuries ago and the end boss proudly displays an example on his forehead.

Back to the intro, each short becomes a sketch.

More full screen and art scrawls chase and another set of small stills spin idly by.  It climaxes with an excellent brown sketch with subtle animation.

A wonderful tune plays throughout and the only thing missing is speech.  However, the original’s intro needed speech and this is a different kind of showpiece.

Garou has two intros and the short intro is clearly influenced by the series of small stills from this long intro.

While nothing can touch Garou’s incredible climax with Terry and Rock, this pushes the rest hard.

The tally of chars has increased to sixteen.  Of this cast, all remain apart from Shikyoh who has since died and become slavering assassin Muroko (the original’s story should help) with a toned down Kigami also becoming playable.

Kaede is now permanently awakened with new sword masters Hibiki, Kojiroh and Setsuna embraced.

These three new chars are excellent trimmings to this proud Christmas tree and simply must be played.

Animation is as fluid as ever and those new chars have some wonderful style in their wardrobe.

If you’re missing the original form of Kaede, never fear as it can be seen during a winning pose or even unlocked with a code.

The first thing that strikes you is how much they’ve improved the presentation.  The char select screen has banished each player’s face been represented by an animated sprite and replaced it with a far better full bodied portrait.

You are also treated to a brand new set of portraits which are the same before and after a win.

The colour palette’s vividness has even somehow improved with all scenery awash with particular brilliance and vigour.

Before we get to the meat, let’s dip a slice of bread in the gravy.

The Power and Speed modes are retained with not much difference but the EX mode is a whole new addition.

Throwing is slightly different but still easy, the gauge is business as usual (even in EX) and combos return.

SNK tinkered with the current system and expanded it as you can now repel nukes and even in mid-air and should not to be confused with jumping attacks.  The timing of which is a lot fussier which I think is a good idea.

Combo Specials can only be done in Speed or EX mode and Super Cancels prefer Power or EX mode.

I’m not particularly sure of how this is done but I’m aware you force the boring into fighting by effectively breaking down their tiresome playing style.  The gauge choice is important as Speed and/or EX only allows this.

We’ve heard of it before but a nice touch is being able to perform air and ground recoveries.  In other words, suffer a hit and a simple stick push later you can recover quicker.

Guard cancel has been brought in which transfers interest to your gauge which needs to be pretty full.  The result is ‘stunning’ and leaving your foe vulnerable to whatever attack you desire.

Finally, the most controversial of the lot and that’s the brand spanking EX mode.

This involves exploiting the best of both worlds from Power and Speed but not without consequences.  You take significantly more damage than usual and your attack strength is also reduced.

Still, power and speed gauges effectively combined have upsides of course but I remain critical of this bar.

We are now tucking into a lean selection of gammon, beef, pork and turkey.

Take as much as you want as it’ll only go to waste as scenery description is imminent.

The quantity of stages has been reduced to ten but most importantly, the quality has not diminished.

Chars share stages as you can’t really assign a char to frequent a particular stage because there simply aren't enough of them to go around.

These brand new environments have more shine than a heavily burnished piece of pottery.

This baby has a stage that is up there with the very best of everything (and that includes now)…

Eight are regularly seen, one is reserved for the boss and the other is as far I’m concerned only selectable in 2P.

I suppose you could only make a case for moaning because of the increased char roster.

As with the original, the music switch-off to allow ambience is retained.

Stage intros are even more immersive and while a brief title was favoured previously, the sequel insists on going a bit more subterranean.

Personally, I prefer the former idea but these are still very good.

Mouthfuls include:

Village of Twilight.  “Crimson” Will it be the sky, or YOU?
Forest of Forgetfulness “Time of Mystery” What disturbs the silence?
Shimiji Pass “The Voyage Begins” Riot at the Tea House
Fire at the Wadamoya “Flames” The Extinguishable Hate

YOU?  It really is written like that…  Why?

Intro – I really have no idea as this is the freakish effort that is seen in 2P only.  I've seen it years ago and I’m sure somebody can tell me but this remains a blank.

However, the stage itself does ring a bell.

The graveyard is dominated by a grey and gloomy cloudy sky as the moonlight shimmers and the grassy field blows violently in the wind.  The leaves and junk fly as naked desperate looking trees have little growth as the odd leaf blows on their branches.

A huge forest stretches out in the distance with a lonely hut and grave stones scruffily strewn mark a stage with more mood than a stroppy teenager.

The doldrums are rapidly heightened with Yuki-Machi.

Intro – a Geisha lady admires cherry blossom falling as she looks to the moonlit sky.

The cherry blossom party includes a floating barge, lit buildings and a scant audience.  A bridge accompanies customary trees and while the lake ripples, silhouettes move beyond the light.

Scattered clouds can be seen above while a ditty plays and a nice subtle touch is light shining through holes in a wooden fence.

It’s pretty good but remains a variation of before and I prefer the former effort.

Intro – we scroll past Jack the Hat and another geisha admiring trees, blue sky and clouds.  A huge steaming ship is fast approaching, the wind howls and before ending, it pans to the sun.

Now we have a stage boasting superb detail.

We fight anterior of many draping trees boasting overhanging leafy branches.  If we peer over the edge, stationary ships on the deep blue sea are ahead of the equally distant beach.  The grassy floor threatens to cover most of the ground and little is bare.

The audience is includes a guy on horseback as one equine creature frequently raises its legs and others seem happy to stare.

Other spectators exist in the background and a distinctive Sokaku hopeful is contentedly puffing away on his pipe, ostensibly oblivious to the fact that an infant is struggling to climb a modest set of steps of which his bottom occupies.

A typical Western harmony accompanies the action but the best part of this stage is the stunning attention to shadow casting on appropriate areas.

Intro – wooden posts gradually produce stretched shadows as a dragonfly has already attached itself to a stray reed off-screen and a gorgeous sunset ripples in front of a self producing heat wave.

This is a stage very much suffocated in ambience.

A gorgeous red sky exists above with a flock of birds passing by and below, grass and reeds blow on the soiled floor.  Trees casting shadows and a crow flies and lands on a concrete post as dragonflies hover and maintain a keen interest.

The noise of chirping insects and crows cawing adds the sugar and spice.

Intro – the text suggest that the rising celestial purpose could be either fireflies or souls?  Hades’ Gate builds and a huge lightning bolt ends this little sequence.

This environment is unsurprisingly based around the mystic.  We are invited to become part of a forest with lit stone lanterns and raging clouds hurriedly race past the eclipse.  Souls and/or fireflies are happy to dreamily surround and seemingly embrace the atmosphere.

Rain intermittently adds to the puddles and chars are happy to make a splash or several.

To wrap up, mysterious lights can be seen in numerously holes and yes, it’s another stage of grand value and relevance.

On success, the brief sound of water dripping, crickets croaking and the gust of wind seems that favouring music over sound was an unwise decision.

Next we have a stage that is bursting at the seams with such detail; it should have chosen a larger dress size.

Intro – joyful children intake the air of unseen entertainment but the rumble of something large approaching turn their joy into unease as a shadow darkens the mood.  The camera pans up showing lens flare to reveal a huge elephant set against a harmonious ditty.

The giant nelly dominates another intricate laden effort, so let’s talk about this giant animal.

It trumpets a suitable noise, flaps its ears, blinks and the trunk sways idly from side to side.  A person tends to its leg and the rider fans his huge head.  It’s a wonderful creation and eminently realistic of the beast that exists in reality.

SNK improved upon the poorer example as seen in Street Fighter Alpha 2 in 1996.

The outside audience is not intimidated by such a beast and the variety is extremely impressive, as is the activity.

A carnival scene is inferred as a stationary and juggling stilt walker entertains and it’s odd to see some guy holding another in a headlock who seems to be punching him on a sporadic basis.

Flags and banners blow gently in the wind and the vast blue sky enjoys fluffy washed out clouds.

Another traditional ditty suits the tone of placidness.

The main event steps into the descriptive foray.

Intro – a small amount of brief brown art stills are shown as the burning house feels the effect of a rippling heat wave.

We fight among the dangerous surroundings of a heated situation as the builders regret the timber construction.

Yeeeaaahhh, the stage is on fire.

Most sections and areas of various sizes are ignited and a large beam seems to be most prominent.   The deadly plasma is accompanied with a fantastic rippling effect and makes it all the more awe-inspiring.

Oh, nearly forgot to mention the sound of intense burning, crackling and collapsed deterioration.

For the sake of sanity, I've checked a vid out and the heat wave is definitely absent on CD.

Not only do CD versions reduce animation, they reduce effects.  Brilliant!

It’s therefore obvious that if Garou existed on a circular disc, a heart attack would be certain.

Anyway, this excellent effect was also missing in the Dreamcast port.

We hurry along to an uncut stage, and what a sight it is.

Intro - a raging waterfall with birds in flight and rays of light shine.

The massive waterfall cannot fail to shed vapour as it surrounds and clings.  Numerous water trails trickle down the rock face and the huge forest has intermittent light shafts showing their true colours shining through.

The trees and rock face which are not particularly affected is considerably paler and the rest of the greenery is considerably darker and more vivid.

This forest is meticulously drawn and the only thing left to cap off this hamburger is the ketchup.

This sauce is in the form of waterfall anger with wildlife chirps, cheeps and squawks.

I reckon SNK used this as the inspiration for Garou and Gato, with a slight nod towards Butt’s stage.

The penultimate surrounding is in the guise in the aftermath of a naval war.

Intro – a sword in soil is blurred to obscurity but you don’t have to wait long before it sparkles with a very nice sound nibble.

The battlefield is a dreary and fraught situation and hardly the place to go for a holiday.

Cannons are placed above and behind, smoke spouts from behind a destroyed barrier.

Discarded and defaced items of junk are seen and flags blow surrender as if to say that although the war was won, it might as been a defeat.

The water laps against the shore while a docked ship suggests presence in the background.

A gang of hungry dogs feast upon scraps of meat and one of the rabid animals can scarper if a battle becomes too intense.

The end boss awaits and he’s introduced during a well-dressed sequence involving Hades’ Gate.

The orange sky engulfed with lightning pans down to show the ultimate test and I suppose it’s to be expected that if you are going to serve such insanity, it’s no surprise he’s a few gunmen short of a posse.

Before he attempts to send you to Hades itself, spinning balls rotate above his hand to form his unconventional pointy stick.

Kouryu ups the difficulty stakes from Kagami and results in being a proper SNK end boss. 

He does have a crazy nuke as if he catches you, the camera pans to the heavens where a large spear brings you crashing down to earth with a crushing blow.

His stage consists of intimidating music and a lightning bolt destroys an object upon arrival.  The orange sky and its spherical cloud formation enjoy the build up of flashing light and other bolts threaten a shocking accident.

The occasional blade of grass is caught up in windy surroundings, as do the flags attached to the ropes strongly wrapped around huge rocks.

It’s not a mind-blowing climax but is certainly not an awful way for The Last Blade 2 to bow out.

The short sequence is a pleasant way to sign off and as with most SNK end bosses, they naturally feel the need to die in fairly outlandish fashion.

An arrow is shot into the infinite sky and a laser column of light accepts his wanted sacrifice.

This is another happy member of the conclusion club as each are worth seeing.

There is a strong inference that SNK were planning a third but sadly, bankruptcy in a few years hence ensured this never happened.

Fans will know that Garou 2 was unfinished and remains a mysterious and frustrating dream of what might have been.

Bakumatsu miscellany

This is even more deserted than Fatal Fury and there’s less to talk about than the activities of a derelict building.

Unlike Fatal Fury, a spin-off and ports only exist.

The PS1 port of the original had a lengthy but fairly terrible anime intro and game itself looked cool but the actual guts were undeniably massacred.

Animation was cautioned but the slowdown that existed was criminal.

The Last Blade 2: Final Edition or Heart of the Samurai (as it was known in America) made its way on the Dreamcast and is the closest thing you’ll get to the original.

The latter version was heavily censored as blood was replaced with milk.  Remember MK on the SNES with brown sweat?

Like the Neo CD version, a quiz and an art gallery was also included in this port.

A compilation of both games was released on PS2 and can be imported from Japan if you so wish but expect the same issues that plagued the PS1 port still exist...

The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny was an inevitable portable spin-off released for the NGP by SNK in 2000.

This was based on the sequel but for some odd reason, the intro is a recreation of the original.

Power, Speed and EX modes are retained and the charm of super deformed equivalents is always a guarantee.

It’s an impressive translation as everything from the sequel is recognisable, albeit with inevitable concessions.

The stages even have movement and ridiculous as it sounds, the stage intros are highly authentic.

SNK always made a fine job with pocket ports and this had all the necessary ingredients to make this arguably the best of the lot.

Final Romance

I suppose it’s a simple choice between either unsheathing Haohmuru’s sword or dancing to Kaede’s tune.

Ninja Masters remains a commendable but unconsidered outsider.

For all its popularity and entries, Samurai Shodown remains inferior meaning that The Last Blade is undeniably the better package.

Apart from looking and sounding rather more attractive, it’s significantly deeper than its nearest rival.

I’m very surprised that the new SNK hasn't resurrected the idea or even finished Garou 2 as they must’ve access to the design archives.

Let’s be honest, if it hasn't happened yet, it isn't going to happen now or ever.

As Fats Domino would say, ain't that a shame.

Final rant and unexpected reality

So that really is it as there’s nothing left to say as I've run out of games, premier collections and types of food.

For those that haven’t, I unreservedly urge and compel you to stand up and respect the undoubted genius of SNK and the importance of the Neo Geo.

Capcom has Street Fighter, Darkstalkers and numerous Marvel ‘vs’ while SNK has KOF, Fatal Fury, Sam Shodown, The Last Blade and even Art of Fighting.

To the world, KOF is the nearest thing that can hope to challenge the omnipotent Street Fighter but overall, I'd rather play Fatal Fury as from Real Bout onwards; it’s an absolute joy to play.

The combo potential is just exemplary and chars that were previously awful enjoy a suitable revamp which makes any sprite a pleasure to control.

As with every Premier Collection feature, I haven’t really touched upon the nukes, specials, winning poses, stories and speech as I don’t have the privilege of forever and a day.

If this was a debate on music, Capcom is the mainstream and SNK is what you’ll never hear on the radio.

It is churlish to believe that the popular should be automatically favoured over the anonymous as many will believe that there was one company, one developer and one choice.

Thanks to the Wii’s virtual console, Xbox Live and PSN, most of the Neo Geo library is now available.

However, KOF 13 has really shown the world that there is more to life than Street Fighter.

Anybody who doesn't have anything but admiration for SNK is a spice short of a curry.

Now is the time for that unexpected reality.

The Neo Geo X is imminent and the Limited Edition comes with a Ninja Masters game card, 20 pre-loaded games and the control stick is basically an exact replica of the original AES stick with unseen buttons.

What is the purpose of these extra buttons?  I haven’t got a Scooby Doo but it’s probably something to do with accessing the menu screen.

This baby is not only handheld but you can also connect it to a modern day box as it has a HDMI output.

The question on how much other game cards will cost and if these will even exist on a physical medium remain unanswered but I remain optimistic.

As there is an SD slot, games stored on unique memory cards cannot be ruled out.

It’s up to SNK Playmore on whether they include an art book, music CD, history of development and swanky hard casing with every release etc etc but it’s an unrealistic dream because I’m sure they want to keep the cost down.

The very idea of this being an actual reality still feels ludicrous.  It’s supposed to be released this month but common internet shopping sites seem shy to give details.

You’d think a portable SNES would be the more obvious choice as we've already had a portable Megadrive distributed by Blaze.

16 bits, 2 bytes?

Let’s just say I’m thinking about it...

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