The Mana series has had a complicated history in the West, and it’s one that we’ve gone over to varying degrees in articles about other Mana games. It’s a tale of confusing branding, lightning caught in a bottle, tough business choices, and a creative team that seemed to perpetually have different ideas than what its fans may have hoped. While the series would continue for many installments after, all of that appeared to come to an unfortunate head with the Western release of Legend of Mana ($27.99) on the PlayStation.
The latest release in SNK and Hamster’s new mobile Arcade Archives NEOGEO line is one of the launch titles for the NEOGEO itself: NAM-1975 ($3.99). While the console would come to be known mostly for its fighting games and the Metal Slug series of run-and-gun games, things were less obvious at the start. A scatter-shot spread of nine games in various genres arrived with the NEOGEO when it hit in 1990, and one of the clear favorites of the bunch was this very game. A gallery shooter set in the Vietnam War, NAM-1975 offered plenty of action for one or two players.
It seems as though we’re rolling along with the ACA NEOGEO releases. Hamster keeps a weekly schedule on other platforms, and that could be what will happen here. That means you’ll be getting a lot of opinions on NEOGEO games from me in the future, I suppose. Today we’ll be looking at Shock Troopers ($3.99), a 1997 top-down shooter that came during a time when the genre was a bit on the wane. This ACA NEOGEO version comes in a similar package as the previous releases, which we already know to be a good thing.
Historically speaking, SNK isn’t shy about spreading its NEOGEO catalog around. Even when the console was active, ports of SNK’s biggest hits made their way to other consoles. Mobile devices have seen their fair share of NEOGEO love from SNK, largely through a line of releases handled by Dotemu. Still, that’s nothing compared to what we’ve seen on consoles and PC from Hamster through its Arcade Archives line. The company has managed to get just about every NEOGEO game possible up on those platforms, and it seems it’s bringing its show to our mobile shores.
I never expected to see ActRaiser again. A memorable and successful early release for the 16-bit Super NES in North America, ActRaiser hasn’t had a lot of luck since then. It was followed up by an incredibly misguided sequel that seemingly killed the franchise. Then its developer, Quintet, faded out under mysterious circumstances, taking much of its IP with it. The game’s publisher, Enix, merged with Square and the new company appeared to have little interest in massive chunks of Enix’s historical output. ActRaiser got a Japan-only port of its action stages for feature phones, and a Virtual Console release early on in the Nintendo Wii’s life. And then there was silence.
For a very long time, the game now known as Trials of Mana ($23.99) was the fish that got away for Western players. The first game in the Mana series, now known as Adventures of Mana, made it over under the title Final Fantasy Adventure. The second came over as Secret of Mana. But due to a variety of factors, the third game just didn’t happen at the time. Even the typically resourceful fan translation community had a bit of trouble with the game for a while. Later Mana games made it out overseas virtually without fail, leaving the third chapter as something of an oddity.
Fortunately, the talent behind a game is generally more important than any branding. Igarashi wanted to make another Metroidvania, and fans enthusiastically obliged when he went to Kickstarter to find the funding for it. A lot of stories like that have disappointing or even terrible endings, but Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night ($9.99) seems to have largely gone as everyone hoped. A few bumps on the road, to be sure. It was originally set for a 2017 release but ended up coming in 2019 instead. A few of the planned versions were canceled thanks to the platforms being on their way out. The Switch version launched in a rather miserable state. A few planned features had to be changed.
There are some things that you don’t realize you want until you actually have them, and for me this mobile port of Konami’s classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night ($2.99) is one of them. This is one of my favorite games of all-time, one that I obsessed over for a couple of years following its release on the PlayStation in 1997. I found every item, uncovered every secret, and squeezed out every last percentage point of map exploration. I’ve replayed it time and again on various platforms and have written numerous pieces about it, with the most recent being less than a month ago.
Incredible Mandy ($2.99) is an adventure through dreams searching for memories lost, people forgotten, and experiences once treasured. It is a third person platformer with a little bit of combat and a whole lot of environmental puzzles in a semi-open world, sprinkled with collectibles to fill in the story. It, in short, looks really, really interesting.