SNK on the PlayStation 4 – Part III

Click here to read Part I or here to read Part II of this article.

Welcome back! Today we’ll be looking at several Metal Slug games, the stylish but tedious Sengoku, and a few other treats from the Neo Geo’s past.

Metal Slug title screen (Neo Geo).Title as it appears on the US PlayStation Network – ACA NEOGEO METAL SLUG
Original Release – Neo Geo, 1996
US PlayStation Network Release – 12/20/2016
PlayStation Network Price – $14.99

Metal Slug (Arcade Archives PlayStation 4).

Every second of the game is chaotic.

The developer responsible for the creation and groundwork of this series, Nazca, cut its teeth doing several visually beautiful games for Irem1 before there seemed to be a mass exodus to SNK. All of that experience culminates in Metal Slug, one of the best run ‘n gun games ever made. The most important things about Metal Slug are the cartoony characters and the wonderful variety of exaggerated military hardware. Everything sounds great too, with powerful explosions2 and a variety of Wilhelm-like3 screams to punctuate the player’s every press of the fire button. There’s a truly impressive amount of slapstick happening amidst the game’s carnage, and between that and the game’s sobering but hopeful ending4 gives the game a unique tone we see very rarely in any war game.

Metal Slug (PlayStation 4).

Those flags, the clock, they spent a lot of time
detailing things that will be destroyed in seconds.

Metal Slug is also a perfect length, with each stage sporting a unique look so that it never outstays its welcome. According to an interview with5 of the game’s creators, one the most arduous technical challenges of the series is programming the behavior for the default enemy soldiers to make sure everything in the game feels alive, and it shows! These guys taunt the player whenever one loses a life, goof off and tell jokes to each other, take naps, and may run away screaming when a new player enters the game.This might be a good time to point out the unusual names of the two protagonists. Marchius Dennis Rossi6 and Tarmicle Roving III. Despite there being no character background presented in the game, both are given some backstory in the manuals for each Metal Slug title. It might seem like an attention to detail not worth bothering with, but creating memorable characters is something SNK has always been great at, and Metal Slug‘s unique look and painstakingly detailed animation has created a legacy that is referred to even games that would seem completely disconnected from it like The Last of Us. Metal Slug‘s successful combination of gallows humor, irreverent personality7, and over the top action makes it stand out to this day. A must-own for action fans and anyone who like blasting things cooperatively with a friend.

 

Metal Slug 3 title screen (Neo Geo).Title as it appears on the US PlayStation Network – Metal Slug 3
Original Release – Neo Geo, 1999
US PlayStation Network Release – 12/20/2016
PlayStation Network Price – $14.99

Metal Slug 3 (A Neo Geo game on the PlayStation 4).

Instead of huge tanks, the majority of
Metal Slug 3‘s biggest threats are biological.

1999, SNK was running out of money and would soon file for bankruptcy protection, but that didn’t stop them from publishing one of the best video games ever made. Metal Slug 3 is an absolutely beautiful game, with a massive amount of new content8 for a sequel from a company seemingly on its its last legs. Marco and Tarma return along with Metal Slug 2 newcomers Eri and Fio9 But just as Metal Slug offers a compact and focused blast-fest. Metal Slug 3 is bombastic and all over the place in the best way possible. Big mode from Metal Slug X and all of the weapons are back along with some new vehicles to hop into. Instead of “just” soldiers, tanks, mummies and aliens folks will also be confronting giant enemy crabs and other sea-life, zombies, massive robots, it’s hard to overstate just how much action and variety is packed into this game. It also has a very strong final level. On paper the game seems short with only five missions, but mission five it almost a third of the entire game. It’s an incredible would-be conclusion to a great series. And a perfect send off to the Neo Geo system had SNK not continued on.10

Metal Slug 3 (Neo Geo and Playstation 4).

You can become a zombie and vomit a
powerful swath of blood across the land.

This version of Metal Slug 3 is missing two extra modes players got to enjoy on the PlayStation 2 and XBOX. One where players can control a small group of enemy soldiers trying to save their leader, and another called Fat Island that focuses on eating. Remember that “Big mode” I mentioned earlier? All of the Metal Slug games have weird items players can grab for more points, many of which are different types of food. In Metal Slug 3 and some other installments, eating a ton of those11 will cause the announcer to exclaim “WOAH! BIG!” as the character’s weight suddenly doubles. Often being temporarily transformed like this is a portrayed as a bad thing, but unlike in most video games growing fat in the Metal Slug series is COMPLETELY AWESOME. When a character is big their movement speed is very slightly decreased, but all of their attacks do almost double the damage they normally would, it’s a huge advantage! It’s also another level of ridiculousness added to an already bold game – every character has two sprite sets to take this mode into account. On top of all that, US PlayStation 4 owners are actually a bit spoiled for Metal Slug content, since in addition to Metal Slug and Metal Slug 3, we also have access to the…

 

Metal Slug Anthology PS2 and Neo Geo.Title as it appears on the US PlayStation Network – METAL SLUG ANTHOLOGY
Original Release – Wii, 2006
US PlayStation Network Release – 12/20/2016
PlayStation Network Price – $19.99
This game supports most PlayStation 3 and USB arcade sticks.

 

Metal Slug 6: A great game marred by lethally
bland background art.

Aaah the Metal Slug Anthology, now this is a compilation with a weird history. The first Metal Slug collection only came out on Windows in South Korea many years ago, so long ago that it only contained three games!12 A few years later the Metal Slug Anthology we know today was announced as a Wii exclusive that, due to some miscommunication, didn’t support the Wii’s Classic Controller, making it pretty difficult to play. On top of that it had a few odd issues13 to it and some weirdly placed loading time. Since then the games have been ported to many different systems, and the version of the Anthology available on the PS4 is a port of one originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2007.

 

Metal Slug X, PlayStation 4.

Metal Slug X adds new enemies and MUCH
less slowdown to the already great Metal Slug 2!

This is great news, as while it carries over some odd quirks (most unfortunately some mid-level load times that break up the pacing a bit are still present along with the game occasionally lagging) it also fixes quite a few issues and provides an awesome amount of content for the money. Every game on here is filled with so much detailed animation and little visual touches that it’s worth replaying them a few times each just to see everything. It’s also great to play through them in order as each successive game escalates the action with a new threat (though few games can top the final level of Metal Slug 3). Contra fans will be in heaven with this series. Fans argue to this day over which one is the best and had the most work put into it, but Metal Slug 4 is the only one that stands out as lacking14 but it’s not worth skipping this collection over one middling game. Purists may prefer the previously mentioned stand alone ports of Metal Slug and Metal Slug 3 for being more accurate to the originals, but you can’t go wrong with getting the Metal Slug Anthology and having all six Neo Geo Metal Slug games plus Metal Slug 6 in one place, it’s awesome and also a great opportunity to experience some odd curiosities of the Neo Geo. Not many cartridge games have pre-recorded streaming music, but have you heard Metal Slug 5’s original soundtrack in action?

 

 

NAM-1974 title screen (Neo Geo).Title as it appears on the US PlayStation Network – ACA NEOGEO NAM-1975
Original Release – Neo Geo, 1991
US PlayStation Network Release – 12/20/2016
PlayStation Network Price – $7.99

Extra weapons are limited but extremely
useful.

The very first Neo Geo game, SNK’s infamous of mashup of Apocalypse NowFull Metal Jacket, and some Cannon Films caliber camp actually makes for a great, challenging shooter that still holds up today! It’s also a bit more balanced and fair than SNK’s other early Neo Geo action games. Unfortunately players are not allowed to continue while confronting the game’s final boss, but like many of SNK’s action games from the late 80s and early 90s even beating the game results in a total downer ending. Our protagonist15 is hailed as a hero, but is never recovers from his experiences. Instead of some victorious final words we get a simple voice over: “Now we are called heroes…but the hell continues.” For many arcade games it’s the journey and not the destination that matters, and fortunately for NAM-1975 that journey is still a blast to play through today. As for how the game plays, it’s a one of the last great entries in a rare genre of shooting gallery games where the player’s character is visible on screen and has to be moved around to avoid attacks instead of all the action happening from a first person perspective.16 Unlike its contemporaries, however, NAM–1975 offers a few more movement options (this is a running theme for SNK, the company whose fighting games introduced sidestepping, counters, dashing, and a slew of other movement techniques that are now standards of the genre) that make it easier for players to not get cornered by the constant hail of gunfire heading towards them at all times.

 

Neo Turf Masters title screen for Neo Geo.Title as it appears on the US PlayStation Network – ACA NEOGEO NEO TURF MASTERS
Original Release – Neo Geo, 1996
US PlayStation Network Release – 12/20/2016
PlayStation Network Price – $7.99

I love this game.

This is the best golf game ever made. Better than Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004, better than Links 2003, better than the Game Boy Color version of Mario Golf. Purchase ASAP. Smooth animation, easy to learn controls, nice vistas, and one of the chillest soundtracks ever. Neo Turf Masters has it all. It’s also the ultimate testament to those Metal Slug folks at Nazca. They spent almost a decade making gritty post-apocalyptic action games for Irem and SNK and then come out of nowhere with Neo Turf Masters, one of the most relaxing video games ever. It’s awesome.

 

 

 

 

Samurai Shodown title screen.Title as it appears on the US PlayStation Network – ACA NEOGEO SAMURAI SHODOWN
Original Release – 1993, Neo Geo
US PlayStation Network Release – 12/20/2016
PlayStation Network price – $7.99

One of the most colorful fighting game
rosters ever designed.

SNK made a few attempts at turning this series into a 3D fighter that range from interesting to embarrassing, but fortunately every 2D Samurai Shodown game is ageless. Not only does the original’s presentation hold up today, but the unique pacing of classic Samurai Shodown games still stands out. It’s a game that seem dated and stiff at a glance, but the satisfaction that goes with attacks that both come out so fast and hit like a freight train never gets old. This game is also historically important for introducing some techniques and rules taken for granted in the genre today that had never appeared in fighting games before it. Folks without a friend to play against will find the computer to be an interesting challenge as it performs differently based on the timer, and will get more or less aggressive depending on how much life it has left as time starts running out.

 

Title as it appears on the US PlayStation Network – SAMURAI SHODOWN VI
Original Release – PlayStation 2, 2007
US PlayStation Network Release – 12/20/2016
PlayStation Network Price – $14.99

Samurai Shodown VI select screen. PlayStation 4.

FIFTY. TWO. CHARACTERS.

This game is a mess in the best way possible. Every character from Samurai Shodown through Samurai Shodown V Special is available here along with a small number of new fighters, giving us an impressive roster of 52 characters. Several alternate versions are also included to cover all the bases right down to being able to play as Nakoruru’s and other characters’ animal friends! Unfortunately, despite all the awesome character sprites the presentation is noticeably weak by Samurai Shodown standards, a by-product of this game being a quick PS2 port. But it also, for such an all-encompassing game, is sorely lacking in the scenery department. There’s only a few backgrounds and most of them are very cheaply done. Still for the price, if you like Samurai Shodown at all this one is more than worthwhile, just don’t expect the focused atmosphere every other game in the series specializes in.

 

Samurai Shodown VI PlayStation 4 action.

This is the best background in the game
thanks to this song.

One thing that is impressive about Samurai Shodown VI in its own weird way is the story itself. It’s simple stuff even by fighting game standards, but this game is a prequel to the rest of the series and SNK actually manages to find a place for every single character present (even the animals!) to work their way into the games that take place after it. But don’t worry, like all Samurai Shodown games, while the story is presented in English the grammar, syntax, and even the kerning is so bad that the game’s endings are alternately silly and nigh indecipherable.  There are also a couple of fun exclusive characters in this game that include a creepy mechanical puppet and a pretty boy take on Andrew Jackson! Samurai Shodown: Where history comes to life. Still, it might have been nice if SNK forgot about the script completely and added some more content to the presentation as the game feels unfocused, with a huge roster that still lacks a few iconic later characters from the series like Shiki and Asura,17 but with enough happening in its cutscenes and roster diversity that the lack of backgrounds is hard to miss. Having character sprites from games dating back to 1993 already creates enough of a clash between art styles that a few more wouldn’t hurt. The new, smaller soundtrack is good, but not including any renditions of those wonderful character theme songs from previous CD installments of the series is also a very questionable move. That attempt to sit on the fence would hurt several of SNK’s later games, and would come to a head with the disastrous King of Fighters XII.18

 

Sengoku title screen for the Neo Geo.Title as it appears on the US PlayStation Network – ACA NEOGEO Sengoku
Original Release – Neo Geo, 1991
US PlayStation Network Release – 3/16/2017
PlayStation Network Price – $7.99

The difficulty goes from zero to stealing
your quarters very quickly.

Sengoku‘s presentation is excellent and it makes great use of the Neo Geo’s various graphical tricks. It also shows off the Neo Geo’s extra sound channels with plenty of voice samples and lyrics accompanying several of the game’s atmospheric music tracks. Unfortunately, it’s also a dated quarter muncher with hit detection and moves that vastly favor the game’s enemies over the player. Sengoku‘s pastel-clad chosen ones, an unnamed and garishly dressed duo only have one simple combo to fight19 with and just a small number of extra weapons that can be picked up. It’s a bit unique compared to other beat’em ups in that the heroes often run into hordes of enemies that only take one or two hits to defeat, making it feel more like one is tearing through an army, but that doesn’t make the game any less monotonous.

 

All of the bosses look awesome.

Something else that sets Sengoku apart aside from its outstanding presentation is that early on the player will meet three spirits they can switch between and play as at will. These different forms are pretty awesome: A questionably dressed ninja, a huge samurai, and an armored dog! An extra nice touch with them is that those swords the player can pick up take the form of various magic attacks in the hands of their spiritual allies. Personally I have a lot of nostalgia attached to this game, I still play it regularly myself because I can’t get out of my head how blown away I was by it in 1991. Realistically though, it’s hard to recommend today beyond giving the soundtrack a listen and seeing how the first level plays out, as that’s pretty much the template for the rest of the game.

It does have one really awesome technique we very rarely see in beat’em ups. When unarmed, if a samurai takes a swing at our heroes the player can hit forward+A at the right time to intercept their sword and snap it in half! If both characters are armed their blades can clash and the player can mash the A button to get a free hit in. Neither of these ever gets old.

 

Title screen for World Heroes.Title as it appears on the US PlayStation Network – ACA NEOGEO WORLD HEROES
Original Release – Neo Geo, 1992
US PlayStation Network Release – 1/26/2017
PlayStation Network Price – $7.99

ADK’s devotion to historical accuracy is
shocking.

This is a colorful game with a catchy Yuka Watanabe soundtrack, but new players are going to find the strict special move controls a bit of a pain on a regular game pad. I like this game myself but if you happened to buy a Nintendo Switch I’d skip this and download World Heroes Perfect off the Switch shop instead. Even if you only have a PlayStation 4 I’d still skip it since you could get some of the best fighting games ever made instead like the The Last Blade 2 or Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Players that do pick it up will at least get a few minutes of fun checking out the character designs and seeing that the game’s creators were big fans of both JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Fist of the North Star. The most important thing about World Heroes though is that it was the first fighting game with interactive background elements that could actually turn the tide of the fight instead of just being there for for extra visual flair.

 

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  1. Check out In the Hunt and Gunforce 2 for some good examples. Quite a few animators and sprite artists that worked on SNK’s biggest 90s games also worked on other Irem classics like the R-Type series. The early Neo Geo shooter, Last Resort, is sort of an alternate R-Type III in that respect.
  2. The Metal Slug series actually shares a sound effects library with DOOM and several major action films! The most recognizable will be the the sound exploding barrels make in DOOM.
  3. The Wilhelm Scream Compilation
  4. Spoilers? A slow pan across dozens of corpses and occasional mourners across the levels the players just fought through ending on a note of everyone being happy the war is over as a victorious march plays.
  5. That interview can be found on any version of Metal Slug Anthology
  6. Called Marco for short, his name is an homage to the main character of the Japanese TV series 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother.
  7. Fans of Dominion Tank Police will love this game for its goofiness as much as they will for the titular “Metal Slug” tank being heavily inspired by that comic.
  8. Interestingly, if one were to examine the contents of the the cartridge for the previous game, Metal Slug X, one would find unused sprites for a few of 3‘s new enemies on it, they put  A LOT of time into Metal Slug 3.
  9. Like our first two protagonists they have complete backstories and full names, Fiolina Germi and Eri Kasamoto.
  10. That’s a great story in of itself. Check this out, this is the short version: SNK’s president, Eikichi Kawasaki, basically basically filed for bankruptcy protection, broke up his company into a bunch of smaller groups, sold what was left of SNK to a major pachinko company (Aruze), then sold the intellectual rights of all things SNK to his family members and friends for next to nothing, and then absorbed folks from those smaller developers back under the completely totally unrelated to SNK and completely new company named SNK Playmore, and then successfully sued Aruze for making Samurai Shodown/etc. themed pachinko games, SNK started producing its own series of pachinko games that were super successful and still going strong today. Anyway now we have The King of Fighters XIV, an amazing game that was only able to happen because this guy wheeled and dealed extremely well over a very short period of time. The Future is Now. Not many English sources cover the inner workings of this in detail, but you can piece it together via the archives of their own press releases.
  11. Usually it’s sixteen food items on a single life.
  12. Besides some minor discussion on Neo Geo fan community message boards of the time, here’s one of the very few English language links that verifies its existence, as it was quickly made obsolete in South Korea and beyond by successively more complete anthologies.
  13. Horrible input lag, music will on rare occasion the music will hang or drop completely when changing levels. If you have a TV with a low refresh rate it will feel a little sluggish to control compared to the standalone releases. Bosses don’t “flash” when hit so it can hard to tell if you’re causing any damage or attacking the right spot, and more!
  14. This one was made at a weird time, and was created by two small developers named Noise Factory and Brezzasoft while SNK was reassembling itself.
  15. Our protagonists are known only by code names, Silver and Brown. The woman seen on the game’s cover, a captured agent that will pop up to help the player’s out in a few places, is amusingly named Chris Helper.
  16. Two more obscure games of this kind worth checking out are Riot and Charge ‘N Blast, but the most “famous” is probably Cabal.
  17. They created a 2D version of these two cool characters for SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos and Neo Geo Battle Colosseum but couldn’t bother with new sprites for the very series they came from.
  18. A game that is simultaneously all new while being clearly incomplete.
  19. Player two has some capoeira moves, did this sprite inspire the design of Soiree Mira for The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact? I mean how many blue vested cowboys specializing in capoeria are there?
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Chris Rasa
Chris’ only known functions are learning about video games, watching movies, and writing about both. Much of his published work can be found on Hardcore Gaming 101, where he has worked as a contributing editor since 2004 and, more recently contributed to HG101’s ever growing selection of books.