Neo Geo Games the Switch Needs in its Neo Geo ACA Series
Patrons of the Nintendo Switch’s bare-bones eShop at this point, whether they’re familiar with the brand or not, have probably found it hard to miss the presence of the ACA Neo Geo series alongside the service’s full-priced downloads of retail titles and indie favorites like Snake Pass and Mr. Shifty. The Arcade Archives series from Japan’s Hamster Corporation has thrived on the PS4 for several years now, with hits from companies like Taito (Bubble Bobble, Elevator Action), Konami (Contra, Gradius), and Technos (Double Dragon, Super Dodgeball) being presented for the console with quality emulation and added features such as online ranking and the ability to share screenshots or clips with the system’s share button. But while the PS4 has reaped the mightiest bounty from the ACA series, the Xbox One and, of course, Nintendo Switch have recently started to get in on the fun with the Neo Geo series of releases that has become Hamster Corp.’s main focus over the past few months, with new games from SNK’s classic hardware being released several times a month, with the Switch, in some ways, benefitting from the majority of those releases, some of which (Shock Troopers, Waku Waku 7) are exclusive to the new system, although a few (Fatal Fury 2, Sengoku 2) have only appeared elsewhere so far.
In spite of the ACA Neo Geo series’ presence on all three current systems as well as PC, it would make sense to argue for games that need to be introduced for the brand in general, on any console, but the manner in which releases have been spread around makes it easier to pick one console. The Switch is easily the most important console for the ACA Neo Geo series, then, for a few reasons, the first being that the system has arguably been shown to be the new favorite for Hamster Corp. with the Switch receiving the greater share of exclusives, both in quantity and quality. But of course, the other, even more important reason to clamor for more Switch dedication is the fact that it simply needs it more right now, as a new console with hungrier fans, obviously harsher critics, and of course, a much smaller library to compete and mix in with.
While the diversity and quantity of the games released and lack of brand recognition for anything other than Metal Slug or King of Fighters, you’re not likely to see any of these titles crack the top 10 sellers list anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that the eShop hasn’t benefitted from more titles simply showing up to fill out the roster, or that the revenue isn’t there, with the $7.99 price tag on each game filling an important role of impulse buys that used to be reserved for Nintendo’s other Virtual Console staples like Super Mario Bros. 1-3 and Link To The Past which are still MIA at this point. And of course, there are those such as myself who don’t need any Nintendo staples to make their hundredth appearance on our marketplaces, but would love to see something new come down the pipe with a bit of extra quality and devotion to the emulation that it sorely needs to be replicated properly. Hell, if the word “arcade” wasn’t right there in the brand name, I’d be clamoring for some digital Neo Geo Pocket Color titles to make an appearance (especially in the absence of my highly anticipated Pocket Rumble). Anyway, straight from the heavily opinionated mind of a major SNK fan, are a few classics from the big red arcade cabinet that are deserving of your consideration if they happen to pop up on the eShop over the next few months.
Honorable Mentions: As far as I can tell, some of the upcoming/in-the-works releases for the ACA Neo Geo series are keeping things going strong. Two of my absolute top picks for this article are supposedly on the horizon for the ACA Neo Geo series on the Switch, Blazing Star and Garou: Mark of the Wolves. The former is an SNK produced shoot 'em up akin to R-Type that is, in my opinion, miles ahead of the currently available Alpha Mission II or the also upcoming Last Resort. The latter, meanwhile, is the final entry in SNK’s famous Fatal Fury series as it took a backseat to the company’s yearly King of Fighters installments, and appropriately enough still plays to this day like quite possibly the most technically sound 2D fighter ever created -- the culmination of over a decade of making some of the industry’s best fighters.
The presence of Sunsoft-developed titles Galaxy Fight and Waku Waku 7 provide the precedent that not all additions to the ACA Neo Geo series need to be first party titles, and thankfully increases the possibility of this classic Data East sports title seeing a resurrection on the Switch. A major influence on recent PS Plus freebie Disc Jam, WindJammers is an intense blend of Frisbee and ping pong that puts players against each other one on one trying to rip throws past their opponent into their goal (no seriously, it’s just like Disc Jam). Like many Neo Geo games that are especially memorable and fitting for a Switch port, WindJammers is exciting, unique, and competitive and would make for great local multiplayer gameplay or a few quick rounds on the bus or train.
Twinkle Star Sprites
Another great representative of the Neo Geo’s history of great head-to-head multiplayer, Twinkle Star Sprites is one of the system’s most unique titles, blending the vertical-scrolling shoot 'em up with competitive puzzle gaming such as you might find in the Puyo Puyo series. The last title from SNK’s prolific second-party studio, ADK, the fast pace and cutesy graphics create an exciting environment for players while the various enemies that are traded back and forth between competitors make Twinkle Star Sprites another great high-energy multiplayer experience and yet another unique title hiding in the Neo Geo’s back catalog.
The Neo Geo boasts more than a few decent beat 'em ups, especially from its early years from 1990 to 1994, when the genre was at its hottest. Unfortunately, unlike the company’s long and diverse history of quality 2D fighters, the only one of their brawlers that really seemed to stick enough to justify sequels was Sengoku. Robo Army isn’t my pick for the next big eShop title because it blows every other title out of the water or because it does anything crazy or different like a lot of great titles from the system, but beat-em-ups make for some of the best retro experiences at this point, and some of the best games to throw down a couple bucks on and power through with a friend. Even as just a passable experience compared to some of the flag-bearers of the genre like Double Dragon or Turtles in Time, Robo Army has a cool aesthetic with an exceptionally cheesy SNK look that represents the best of its kind at the time and isn’t something everybody has seen before, so it earns a nomination for one of the unexpected or more obscure entries in the ACA Neo Geo brand.
Baseball Stars 2
There will never be a time when I am not in the mood to play some Baseball Stars 2. Where MVP Baseball 2005 claims its rightful place as history’s greatest baseball simulation, Baseball Stars 2 does the same for the fast-paced, pick-up-and-play style of game that SNK boasted throughout its time as an arcade mainstay. It's bright, colorful graphics essentially set the standard for the next decade of Neo Geo titles, while the balance of its familiar gameplay made it extremely endearing to players who had honed their skills on SNK’s previous Baseball Stars efforts on the NES, while adding in the same style of management features that had set those games apart as a deeper but still accessible gameplay experience. Sports games may not seem like the greatest retro titles to dig up for re-release on modern consoles, but Baseball Stars 2 is a Neo Geo staple that can’t be ignored.
The Last Blade / The Last Blade 2
Speaking of games that shouldn’t be forgotten from the Neo Geo library, The Last Blade remains one of the few remaining series from the system’s plethora of fighting games without a representative port in the ACA Neo Geo series. Often forgotten for its resemblance to the more popular and historically significant Samurai Shodown series, The Last Blade was either made as the spiritual successor to those games or posthumously given that label (it’s tough to say for sure) due to their similar setting and mechanics, such as alternative versions and fighting styles for each character, as well as a parry-based approach to defense. The Last Blade, unfortunately, faded into obscurity after the second game in the series, partly due to lack of brand recognition, which saw SNK return to favoring the original series’ name in compilations and other attempts at utilizing the weapons-based fighting system in newer titles. Despite its struggle to maintain its own identity from a historical standpoint next to its cousin, The Last Blade series deserves to be acknowledged for continuing the weapons-based fighter on the Neo Geo up to the same standards that Garou: Mark of the Wolves would reach for the Fatal Fury series at the same time — technically sound, excellent variety in characters and fighting styles, and gorgeous graphics that showed off the staying power of the Neo Geo’s hardware even in the 3D-crazy late ‘90s.
Art of Fighting 3: Path of the Warrior
The unspectacular middle-child between SNK’s more prolific Fatal Fury and King of Fighters series, the KoF games owe as much to Art of Fighting as they do to any other series that lends its characters to their all-star casts, but AoF’s issue is that its legacy has always been just that — vital to the foundation of its running mates, but lacking in its own right for not ever outdoing them, as opposed to The Last Blade, which served as a continuation rather than an also-ran. Still, the third and final entry from the franchise is the easy pick when it comes to giving it its due, as the initially scant roster of two single player combatants had grown to a more respectable 10, each with decent storylines as well as good animation and graphics that bested a lot of SNK’s other efforts at the time, but naturally kept it from being as endearing as Fatal Fury and King of Fighters, both of which offered a better tournament setting than Art of Fighting’s story-heavy alternative. Still, ACA Neo Geo is almost certainly going to give props to the AoF series at some point on the Switch, and while the original is an easy choice for historical significance, Path of the Warrior is the way to go for the entry that has aged the best.
Magical Drop III
One of the only true puzzle games on the Neo Geo (which makes sense for a system that had to function equally well in arcades and at home), Magical Drop III is a matching style puzzle game similar to Bust-A-Move that incorporates the same type of frantic head-to-head multiplayer shared by many of the Neo Geo’s best titles and best candidates for the ACA Neo Geo series. It’s not the easiest thing to communicate why a match-3 puzzle game work so well in the modern era of gaming where everybody and their mother has made a Bejeweled clone (even the WWE), but whether in the arcades, at home, or on the go with the Neo Geo Pocket Color iteration, Data East’s Magical Drop games were the Neo Geo’s answer to classic competitive puzzlers like Puyo Puyo, Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble and Panel de Pon and could easily see a Nintendo Switch port alongside the recent interest in the genre created by Puyo Puyo Tetris.