It’s the traditional slow down period where game companies don’t want to try and compete with the big 4th of July holiday in America. However, looking back at what has come on 4th of July since I started writing this column back in 2018, Disgaea 6 is probably the most high profile release in comparison to Red Faction: Guerrilla Remastered, the Shadowbringers expansion for Final Fantasy XIV, and Iron Man VR. Throw your hands up, and play your games while the butterflies fly away. Yeah, ah-yeah, ah-yeah-ee-yeah, there’s new games in the U.S.A.!
Oh, the Neo Geo turns 30 this week. You should scroll down to read more!
Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny (Switch) – Releases Jun. 29th
The long running tactical RPG series Disgaea will release its sixth entry in the mainline series this week, and according to recent articles I’ve seen, the game looks “terrible”. Not because it doesn’t look like it’ll be a fun game, but because the graphics are terrible. I guess they’ve moved away from 2d, hand drawn art to 3d polygon models, and moved battles into their own separate screen that makes it look like a Pokémon game. I guess if that stuff bothers you then this is your warning.
Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Jun. 29th
I can’t tell if the “this game contains disturbing content” warning is real or tongue in cheek. Just in case there’s a weird twist I am going to not look anything up about this game, just in case something gets spoiled. Anyway, this is supposed to contain a bunch of new content that should hopefully please fans of the original release. If you’re like me and haven’t checked this out yet, well, now might be the perfect time.
Sky: Children of the Light (Switch) – Releases Jun. 29th
The development team behind Flower and Journey first released their new title Sky: Children of the Light on mobile devices back in 2019. Now console owners, well, specifically Switch owners, can finally see what Thatgamecompany’s latest title has to offer.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors & Ghoul Patrol (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Jun. 29th
It might be a week full of ports and re-releases (aside from Disgaea 6), but at least they’re worthwhile. Released for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis back in the mid 90’s, Zombies Ate My Neighbors and its sequel Ghoul Patrol are two of the most well known cult classics that the consoles had to offer. I’ve purchased Zombies Ate My Neighbors multiple times, both in physical and digital formats, and I can’t wait to buy it again, like a hungry child.
Notable Releases from 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon (PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Jul. 5th, 2011: Wiki Link
Launched in 2003, the first EDF game, then titled Monster Attack, was a Japan/European budget title for the PS2. Finding success with the game, publisher D3 green lit sequels and we eventually got the fourth game in the series, Earth Defense Force 2017, in 2006 (that’s not at all confusing). It would take five years for the follow-up to arrive, a spin-off of the main series called Insect Armageddon. The concept behind the game was “what if American’s made an EDF title“, so D3 commissioned the U.S. developer Vicious Cycle Software to create their own spin on the EDF formula. Taking a more “serious” approach to a series about giant insects from space that want to take over the Earth, Insect Armageddon steers itself away from the more anime inspired trappings and gives us good ol’ Americans the serious stuff we demand in our video games. You know, like in Gears of War, Crysis, Infamous, Assassin’s Creed, real serious shit. Critics were mostly kind to the game, basically saying it wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t turd pile. They gave this out for free through Xbox Live’s Games With Gold promotion and I tried it out, not really a fan, it’s missing the zaniness that you would expect from a game inspired by 1950’s b-movie creature features. If you want to play an EDF game then maybe check out some of the more recent titles, this is for the extremely curious only.
Anachronox (PC) – Released Jun. 27th, 2001: Wiki Link
Tom Hall, one of the co-founders of id Software, wanted to make a console style RPG for the PC, something in the same vein as Final Fantasy. Calling it Anachronox, he set his story in space with a strong cyberpunk aesthetic, centering on a private detective named Sylvester “Sly Boots” Bucelli. Hall had grand plans for the story of Sly Boots, even cutting out the second and third acts of the game to save them for upcoming sequels. Unfortunately for Hall his company Ion Storm would face major financial trouble and shut down before these sequels could be made. What players ended up with was a fun, but flawed, hidden gem of a game that ends on a major cliffhanger with no resolution. Originally expected to release in 1998, Anachronox would be plagued by delays from the get go. Hall’s ambitious, 460 page design document, was almost 4 times as big as most game’s design documents, but with so much rich detail down on paper, it was Hall’s most realized world since Commander Keen. Originally started on the Quake I engine, before switching over to the Quake II engine, and Hall even built his own custom scripting language called APE (Anachronox Programming Language). These engine changes, and custom scripting delayed things further, with the game now looking like a 1999 release. With Hall continuing to add in new things such as mini-games and new characters, things were delayed even further. By 1998’s E3, Hall and his team at Ion Storm were demoing and receiving feedback on Anachronox from the public, and when they asked about multiplayer Hall assured players it would be there, causing more delays. As 1999 began, Ion Storm forecasted that Anachronox would sell over 2 million copies, so work was instantly begun on the sequel, pulling some of the original team away and causing, yes, delays. By mid 1999, with a cast of 450 NPCs, huge 3D environments to detail and fill, large, sweeping cinematics to animate and voice act, the team was suddenly hit with the realization that they wouldn’t release in 1999, better to push it to 2000. With the extra time, Hall and his team decided to build in a brand new system that would allow players to turn on and off the adult themes of the game, but realizing it was tougher than anticipated, settled on a toggle that would censor profanity, delaying the game, obviously. One of Hall’s mini-game’s, an erotic dance to be performed by Boots, was personally coded by him, and shown off at E3 in 2000. The team said Anachronox would be out by the end of the year, and there were even rumors of a Dreamcast version…but the end of 2000 came and there was still no game, despite being heavily hyped up by the gaming press. Instead, in order to meet an ASAP release date, the team at Ion Storm began crunching, working six days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day (I hope they got a pizza party). Spending most of the first few months of 2001 crushing bugs, news about Ion Storm’s financial troubles started to bubble up in May of 2001, but to everyone’s surprise and delight, Anachronox finally made it to store shelves on June 27th, 2001. Anachronox received mostly positive reviews, being praised for its originality, characters, story, and its ability to function like a console style RPG, but on the PC. While lots of praise was given to the early hours of the game, particularly with how well fleshed out the characters and locations were, it was readily apparent that the later hours of the game were rushed in order to get the game finished and released. Unfortunately, the rumors of Ion Storm’s demise were true, and while Anachronox would be applauded by critics, sales weren’t there, and after Hall and co-founder John Romero left Ion Storm, it just couldn’t survive. A few years after its release, Hall lamented that Anachronox ended up disappearing into obscurity. It took millions of dollars to make, but in the end there was only about $50k spent on marketing. He owned up to the fact that trying to make a 70 hour RPG with only 15 people was probably a bad idea, but they did it, and it wasn’t as buggy as some other AAA RPGs, and it was a well regarded cult classic. The couple hours I spent with it this past week were a lot of fun, however the combat and load times are a bit slow, and it has that early 3D polygon problem of making me nauseous when I play it, so doing more than an hour at a time is rough for me. While Hall wouldn’t make another big RPG again, instead starting one of the earliest mobile game companies, Monkeystone Games, with his frequent partner John Romero. With Anachronox now being owned by Sqaure Enix, who got the rights after purchasing Eidos, the game’s publisher, there is hope that someone could come along and finish the game up under the Square Enix Collective project. Will somebody do that? I doubt it, but you never know.
Neo Geo – Released Jul. 1st, 1991: Wiki Link
Since the introduction of the home video game console, game developers have been trying to bring arcade favorites to the living room. Typically, these ports were either vastly inferior or played completely different than what you would find at your local arcade, all due to the fact that the home consoles were far less powerful than the cabinets in the arcade. Japanese game developer SNK had started making arcade games in the late 70’s and have a few minor hits in both Japan and the U.S., but it was their 1986 title Ikari Warriors that finally broke through into the mainstream and set SNK on their path to success. SNK would mostly work on both ports and original titles for the NES through the rest of the 80’s, but near the end of the decade as Nintendo, Sega, and NEC would start to focus on 16-bit home consoles, SNK decided to refocus their efforts on the arcade, and they had a wild new idea. A typical arcade cabinet contains one game and has their artwork themed to that specific title. If you wanted a new game you either had to buy the new cabinet or, in some cases, you could buy a new circuit board and art decals and swap out one of your older titles. This was a cumbersome process, however, not something you wanted to do every day. SNK, seeing this problem, thought of an ingenious solution. They could have arcade owners buy one machine that housed a gaming console in which you could swap out the titles as easily as you could an NES cartridge. Not only that, but you could put up to four games in one machine, quickly expanding your arcade’s library with only one device. Then, when new games come out, you just buy the cartridge, take out whichever game brings in the least revenue, and hopefully have a better performing title. While arcades, restaurants, laundromats, and other large venues could easily fit a cabinet or two in their establishment, bars, hotels, and other small venues couldn’t.
SNK saw this problem as well and decided to sell/rent out consoles to these businesses so that their patrons could play games while they drank or sat in their hotel rooms. Soon, though, SNK was getting requests from consumers who were eager to purchase the console for their own homes. Seeing a potential for new revenue, SNK decided to take the advice of these consumers and put the Neo Geo AES (Advanced Entertainment System) on the market in 1991, for a staggering $649.99, roughly $1,285 in 2021. Not only was the price for the machine high, since the games you bought were the same ones that arcades had to purchase, one game could cost anywhere from $200 to $300, roughly $400 to $600 in 2021. This was not a console that just anyone could pick up and put next to the TV, this was a high end piece of technology that was, at the time, leaps and bounds above what the NES, Genesis, TurboGrafx-16, and the soon to be released SNES had to offer. Marketed as a 24-bit machine (it was technically 16-bit), this was something that only serious hobbyists and the wealthy could afford. Due to its high price point, the Neo Geo didn’t sell nearly as many units as the Genesis and Super Nintendo did during the rest of the 90s, however, unlike those other two consoles, the Neo Geo did not have to try and compete with the likes of the 3D game revolution brought on by the PlayStation. Due to their strong commitment to release quality arcade titles, SNK would continue to find massive success by releasing titles like Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown, and of course, King of the Fighters, and since they didn’t need to spend any money porting their games, all of it could release on the Neo Geo, extending the life of the console well into the 2000’s. Granted, by then the PS2, Xbox and GameCube could easily replicate the Neo Geo arcade games, they played best (and first) on the Neo Geo. I didn’t know anybody who had one of these, it was always this fantasy device that I knew existed, but would never get to have. Nowadays you can find Neo Geo games on just about every single modern home video console, for a fraction of what they originally cost (about $7.99 a piece when they aren’t on discount). It was a revolutionary piece of hardware, and a pioneer as well, boasting the ability to save your data to a memory card, allowing you to move your data to another console or even bring it to the arcade. SNK would eventually start to lose money in a changing video game landscape, filing for bankruptcy in 2001. They would go through a series of owners over the next twenty years, with their most recent owner being a Saudi Arabian crown prince. I have no idea what the future holds for SNK and the Neo Geo, but as long as I can still download them on my Switch I’ll be happy.
Speaking of, all of these launch titles are readily available on the Nintendo eShop, which is where I played them all, and they are of course also available on the Xbox and PlayStation digital storefronts as well. Unlike other consoles, all of the Neo Geo launch titles were already available in arcades, and a typical Neo Geo game would release to arcades first, going on sale to the general public two to three months later. Still, I can’t even begin to imagine how cool it would have been to play King of the Monsters at the arcade, and then drive home and play the exact same thing on my television; it would have blown my mind. Okay, enough chit chat, let’s talk about the games.
While they would eventually become well known for the various fighting game’s, SNK was initially known for their strong slate of shooters. Titles like Ikari Warriors, TNKIII, and P.O.W.: Prisoners of War were enjoyed by millions around the world, so of course the Neo Geo would be home to some of SNK’s latest offerings. Two of the titles are what we would refer to as vertical scrolling SHMUPS, the outer space set Alpha Mission II and the WWII set Ghost Pilots. Between these two, I vastly prefer Alpha Mission II. While I understand that these are arcade games designed to suck quarters from your pocket like a vacuum cleaner, Ghost Pilots is so difficult that it isn’t even fun to play. At least with Alpha Mission II you can get to the level boss before you need to start pumping in quarters, but in Ghost Pilots you’ll lose all three of your lives in the first 30 seconds of the game. If I didn’t have unlimited lives I would have never gotten through this game, let alone the first stage. Our third shooter, NAM-1975, is a bit different, playing similarly to the NES title The Punisher. In this game, players control a U.S. soldier who has been sent to Vietnam in the final months of the war. They are tasked with rescuing a U.S. scientist and his daughter, shooting and bombing anyone and anything that gets in their way. To do this, players must move along the bottom of the screen while also moving an aiming reticle on the top of the screen in order to defeat their foes. It’s a ton of fun and one of the better games on the system, which is why I think it was chosen as one of the two pack-in titles that you could get with the system.
Fighting/Beat ’em Up:
With Fatal Fury still a few months away, the SNK fighting game revolution hadn’t quite popped yet. The lone fighting game on the system was their February, 1991 arcade release King of the Monsters, a game that carries a lot of nostalgic value, but some absolutely terrible game play. One other big trend in arcade games in the late 80’s and early 90’s were beat ’em ups with games like Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bringing in tons of cash. To get on the hype train, SNK released two games that feel exactly the same, Sengoku and Ninja Combat. Both games have your player fighting against demons, ninjas, and demon ninjas. Sometimes you use your fists, sometimes you use swords, and sometimes you play as a different character. In Sengoku, you collect allies along the way and have the ability to transform into them for sixty seconds. In Ninja Combat you collect allies along the way and then select who you want to play as at the start of every level. Both games are fun but forgettable. Lastly we have a really unique brawler, The Super Spy. Played in a first person perspective, players must navigate through buildings that contain maze-like corridors, opening door, searching for bombs and hostages, while engaging with different enemies with either their fists, a combat knife, a pistol or, if you can find it, a machine gun. I got very confused during my playthrough of The Super Spy, but I didn’t hate it. In fact, all of these brawlers are competent games that I would be happy to play anytime someone brought them up.
A long staple of video games is the platformer. Popularized by Super Mario Bros., the ability to run and jump through levels that move from left to right can be found on just about every game console in existence. Looking at the launch lineup for the Neo Geo, I believe these three titles represent the weakest entries, however, I was blown away by how much I enjoyed playing Cyber-Lip. Seen in the image above, it has some strong Metal Slug vibes, and feels like a spiritual predecessor, albeit far more limited. While I called these three entries weak, Cyber-Lip might be my favorite of the entire bunch, particularly for it’s hilariously bad translations, and one of the wackiest endings I’ve ever seen in a video game. The next two titles are hard skips for me, you can easily ignore Blue’s Journey and Magician Lord. Blue’s Journey is an attempt to make a kid friendly platformer along the lines of Adventure Island or Alex Kidd, and looks just about as ugly as those two games. Magician Lord, however, was really adored by critics and players, and even became the default pack-in title for the Neo Geo (along with Fatal Fury) after a soft re-launch of the system. Still, Magician Lord, while entertaining enough, just doesn’t have any staying power, and I quickly lost interest. Okay, can we talk about sports now? Sports please.
It wouldn’t be a console release without some sports titles, and the Neo Geo had a handful, each of which I found pretty appealing, well, except one. Let’s get the bad one out of the way, I didn’t care for Riding Hero. In this Hang-On clone, you must race your motorcycle through various tracks, looking to score first place. However, what sets this apart is it’s surprisingly robust story mode. I can’t imagine standing at an arcade cabinet trying to play this, but at home it might have been okay. Still, I found the menus clunky and the racing to be tedious, skip it. The next three titles, Baseball Stars Professional, League Bowling, and Top Player’s Golf are all solid, arcade sports games that I could play over and over. Baseball Stars Professional is a sequel to the NES exclusive title Baseball Stars, and looks and feels a lot like the SNES game Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball. It’s pure, arcade fun that doesn’t require a ton of movement or skill, just the ability to hit and throw the ball. Along with NAM-1975 it was one of the potential games you could have received when you purchased the Neo Geo (before it was swapped with Magician Lord and Fatal Fury). League Bowling and Top Player’s Golf are just like they say, a bowling and golf game. There are a few fun little modes you can play, particularly in League Bowling where strikes can count as 90 points, but mostly they are simple simulations of the two sports that you can play without any of the relatively minor physical activity both sports require in real life. The real question is, would I play them again? Absolutely.
Alright, that’s all the launch titles for the Neo Geo, each one easily available on any modern gaming console as digital downloads. I’d recommend most of these, but the best Neo Geo games were still a few months and years away, I’m looking forward to covering each of them.
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