A few weeks back, we took a look at Burning Fight ($3.99), one of SNK’s many early attempts at striking beat-em-up gold on its fledgling NEOGEO platform. It almost shamelessly cribbed from Capcom’s Final Fight, and it was perhaps that lack of thematic individuality that hurt it in the end. Well, no one can accuse Robo Army ($3.99) of not having its own identity. Robot warriors that can beat down their robot enemies with their own arms, and sometimes turn into cars for a while? Yes, I think SNK got to that particular well first.
One of the tough things about being a newcomer to the console manufacturing party is that you generally won’t get a lot of third-party support until you’re well-established. That means you have to carry your system with your own power, filling any and all gaps as needed. The NEOGEO was not a typical platform, of course. Indeed, the home console version was likely of secondary concern to SNK. But even in the arcades, it was selling a platform. If SNK couldn’t provide fresh titles in the genres players wanted on a regular basis, there was always going to be room for another company’s cabinet. It’s a big ask, and it’s a rare company that can handle that kind of demand with grace.
Somehow, Diablo Immortal (Free) is here. It was announced back in November 2018 in a presentation that has been written into memetic legend. It feels like a million years ago that the words “Do you guys not have phones?” were uttered by a fellow who probably regretted them as soon as they left his mouth. The explosive (and not in a good way) reaction from fans. A slow and steady development. A global pandemic. The rise of Apple Arcade. All that nonsense between Epic and Apple with Fortnite. Serious allegations against Blizzard and Activision. Microsoft buying the whole darned shebang. And somehow, Diablo Immortal is here.
While I have given up on reviewing every single one of these weekly Arcade Archives releases from SNK and Hamster, I will occasionally be popping in for games that I really like. Aero Fighters 2 ($3.99) is one of those games, so here we are. Unlike many of the games we’ve looked at so far, Aero Fighters 2 wasn’t anywhere near the system’s launch window, hitting instead during the middle of the NEOGEO’s most active period on the market. This is also a noteworthy release in that it’s technically one of the relatively small number of third party games for the console, having been created by Video System.
Given the time and place the NEOGEO occupied, it’s surprising that it didn’t have more shoot-em-ups than it did. I mean, I know it had no small number of them, but the number pales next to how many fighting games were on the platform. Blazing Star is one of the better-remembered ones, and the Aero Fighters games certainly had a following. One that came somewhat early in the system’s long life supposedly came by way of some ex-Irem folks, and if that story is true it really shows. Last Resort ($3.99) is a staple of many of SNK’s NEOGEO reissue projects, so it’s not surprise it has also made its way to the mobile Arcade Archives line.
The first couple of years of the NEOGEO’s life were some of its most interesting ones. Once Street Fighter II hit like a megaton and SNK figured out one-on-one fighters were the way forward, we saw fewer of the odd experiments that characterized the platform’s early life. One of the more successful ones was King of the Monsters ($3.99), a wild fighting/wrestling game featuring giant monsters. It allows players to battle alone, against each other, or against the computer in destructible arenas. Hamster has now brought it to mobile as part of its ACA NEOGEO line, which has certainly seen its swings and misses thus far.
Big Tournament Golf ($3.99), formerly known as NEO Turf Masters, is the first of these releases where I can say it scores as high as possible on both scales. It’s an amazing game, one of the best to grace the NEOGEO hardware. At the time of its release you wouldn’t necessarily have thought a golf game could work in an arcade format, but it sure did. It perfectly rode the line between satisfying depth and accessibility, and its course designs were great fun. And wouldn’t you know it? This is one game designed around button controls that works perfectly well with touch controls.
SNK fans probably know the company’s tumultuous history, but the short version is that the company hit some financial skids in the late 1990s and got bought up by a pachinko company named Aruze. That company was mainly interested in using their newly-acquired brands for their pachinko business, but they did continue to manage the NEOGEO platform. Some new games in the more popular NEOGEO franchises were outsourced to mixed results, things went badly, and SNK’s former owner managed to buy most of the company’s assets back. Largely a happy ending, for a while.
So far in the new mobile ACA NEOGEO line, we’ve seen a decent mix of games released. Some popular titles, some not so well-known. Some great games, some a little more average. Some that suit touch controls, and others not so much. A couple of them are the best of all worlds. But with the release of Puzzled ($3.99), I believe we have our first “worst of all worlds” situation. Even with the generally excellent work Hamster does on these releases, there’s only so much that can be done for some games.
SNK’s NEOGEO platform played host to a great many classics, both famous and under-the-radar. The Metal Slug games. The King of Fighters series. Magician Lord. Shock Troopers. Sengoku 3. NEO Turf Masters. Fatal Fury. Samurai Shodown. Twinkle Star Sprites. Blazing Star. Truly, the system was a treasure trove of arcade experiences that kept players coming back again and again, and still do. And then there are NEOGEO games like Zed Blade ($3.99). Almost entirely unremarkable. Eminently forgettable. The nicest thing you could say about it is that it’s serviceable. Nevertheless, it’s the latest ACA NEOGEO release on mobile from SNK and Hamster.