The Neo-Geo CD was first introduced in 1994, four years after the release of the cartridge based Neo-Geo home console – the Advanced Entertainment System (or AES). The idea of the Neo-Geo CD was easy to understand – as awesome as the Neo-Geo AES cartridge hardware had been, the cost of the cartridges was always going to limit its contemporary user base.
In the UK, new AES releases would run anywhere between £200 – £300, and in the early 1990’s that was a huge amount of money to pay for any videogame. The story was the same in the USA and Japan where the AES had the bulk of its modest sales success. The cost was due in part to the use of ROM chips, which were expensive to produce back then, and the fact you were basically buying a full and proper arcade game for your home.
So, the concept of playing SNK’s eclectic range of Neo-Geo arcade games at the same price point of a PlayStation game was clearly going to be appealing to gamers – on paper at least. The hardware was still expensive, $399 / £399 (dearer than the PlayStation and Saturn), but now the games were priced at around £45 making Neo-Geo software on a par with the mainstream consoles of the day.
Contemporary writers have criticised SNK for releasing the Neo-Geo CD, and its price tag, in the same year as the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation, and despite the Neo-Geo’s impressive 2D handling ability, the hardware specs of SNK’s new console were no match for the new 32-Bit powerhouses.
Doubtless the intention never was to compete directly with either Sega or Sony’s new consoles, but to make the arcade experience of the Neo-Geo more accessible. Bearing in mind that many arcade games, especially beat’em-ups and shoot’em-ups, in the mid-late ‘90s were still using 2D graphics, the Neo-Geo was still well placed to serve. And besides, if you weren’t a fan of beat’em-ups why on earth were you buying a Neo-Geo home console anyway?!
Why the Neo-Geo CD hardware became such a ham-strung compromise may forever remain a mystery. The technology certainly was available at the time to make the data management on the console a whole lot more tolerable than it what it became. Implementing this may have led to increased hardware costs, but the machine was too expensive anyway, and both Sega and Sony had long since realised that you do not make money on the hardware – you make it on the games.
The original MVS arcade hardware had been a huge international success for SNK, and by 1994 I am more than confident in saying that they had made their R&D costs back for developing the platform and then some.
While I do not know how much the Neo-Geo CD cost to develop, in the grand scheme of things I would wager very little. The hardware is still Neo-Geo, but instead of ROM cartridge as the delivery medium for the games it became CD-ROM. A major mistake was fitting a single-speed CD drive to the unit, and the late 1995 release of the Neo-Geo CDZ did little to improve things. Some hardware improvements saw loading times speed up, but there was still no progress in improving the way the system handled in-game data delivery of the King of Fighters series or others with large meg counts.
So, are the loading times so appalling that the Neo-Geo CD isn’t worth bothering with?
No, far from it. Some of the earlier games load in one hit, making loading times moot, and many of the later games with relatively modest meg counts carry, fairly, unobtrusive loads between stages.
Sadly, some of the later releases are just not worth bothering with, as the loading times completely ruin the flow of the gameplay. These games are usually post ’96 releases with high meg counts. A good example would be Metal Slug 2 whereby there is at least one-mid level load per stage (excluding the first stage). It’s a real shame, as, from what I can see, it’s identical to the ROM cart versions, with the bonus of CD quality audio.
The King of Fighters ’95 through to ’99, inclusive, are almost unplayable as SNK intended. Each bout is broken up by loading the next character, and the loading on KoF ’99 is really excruciating due to the huge meg count. Single play is just about tolerable, but King of Fighters is not supposed to be pure 1-on-1 fighting, it’s all about the team play!
Some late games are not as bad as you would perhaps think. Real Bout Fatal Fury 2: The Newcomers is more than playable on Neo-Geo CD, with relatively quick loads between stages, making it, arguably, one of the best brawlers for the CD system.
The original Metal Slug is eminently playable, largely, due to the fact the game is under 200 Megs. There are loads between stages, but you get a nice map showing your progress, there is no in-level loading, and there are other exclusive bonuses such as the Combat School.
Bonus material like this, is definitely one of the Neo-Geo CD’s strongest assets. Besides the CD quality soundtracks many of the games carry, there are a number that have features not found anywhere else.
Big Tournament Golf has a full extra course, many of the King of Fighters games have art and character galleries, Ninja Masters has extra game modes, Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer has a vocal soundtrack not found in the AES/MVS version; and there are the Neo-Geo CD exclusive games as well.
Neo Driftout: New Technology, Ironclad, Puzzle Bobble, Futsal, Zintrick, and Samurai Spirits RPG are just some of the titles that only officially appeared on the CD unit as published by SNK for Neo-Geo home hardware. Some were never officially released on MVS either!
With a catalogue of just under 100 titles to choose from, there is plenty for the Neo-Geo enthusiast to play, and with the exorbitant prices of AES cartridges on the used market nowadays, the Neo-Geo CD may well be the better buy for the casual fan to get involved with, if you don’t wish to get into MVS gaming.
Nevertheless, be aware, that in recent years, games collectors have started to move in on the potential of the Neo-Geo CD as a collector system. The system’s lacklustre showing at retail in the 1990s resulted in many titles only receiving very small print runs, making some games very hard to track down, and in certain cases making the games expensive to buy as well.
If there’s any solid advice I can give, it’s to stay clear of the titles published in English for the US and European markets. Print runs for these titles were ridiculously low and to pick up some of the games, complete, if you can find them, will run serious coinage. Most Japanese titles can be bought for comfortably under $100.00 US, including some of the more sought after titles if you have the patience, and look in the right places (i.e. not eBay). It’s certainly worth me mentioning that all Neo-Geo CD software is region free, but remember: PAL hardware will only run the games at 50hz (letterboxed) no matter its region.
Hardware prices are modest, a loose Neo-Geo CD top loading model (the most common unit) can be picked up for under £150.00 with hook ups and a controller. Only the CDZ is still holding value, especially if it’s boxed, largely due to its short, Japanese market only, production run. Expect to pay north of £250.00 for a CDZ – and the loading isn’t that much quicker, honestly.
The Neo-Geo CD was one of many follies to be borne out of SNK during the 1990s; the Neo-Geo CDZ, Neo-Geo Hyper 64 and black-&-white Neo-Geo Pocket being the others. One cannot help but think that these hardware failures all contributed to weakening SNK financially, hastening its sale to Aruze, and thus the beginning of the end for the business in its original, and much loved, form.
The Neo-Geo CD could have been so much more, but remains another footnote of how SNK had the potential to really impress and entertain, but fumbled the opportunity by producing hardware that simply could not deliver the gameplay experience needed. Some observers have argued that CD technology for gaming was still in its infancy at the time, but I disagree. NEC had proven since 1988 that the CD-ROM format could deliver great games beyond ROM cartridge limitations; Sega’s Mega-CD (1991) had the potential (Final Fight CD / Sonic CD) to impress as well (it was just badly marketed and supported); and with Sony developing the PlayStation during the same period, its baffling to see SNK get the hardware delivery so wrong.
The Neo-Geo CD hardware was quietly abandoned in 1997, with the final official game being published in December 1999. Ironically the final game was one of the most unplayable on the system due to its high meg count and therefore ruinous loading – The King of Fighters ’99.
I’ve always had a soft-spot for the Neo-Geo CD, and it’s disappointing to hear some of the vitriol the system receives. SNK’s short sightedness with the hardware certainly is deserving of criticism, but the machine still has a place in any hard-core SNK fans heart, and is still worth checking out for those who don’t want to pay AES prices, and don’t want to suffer with emulation. I just hope that software prices do not begin to spiral too far out of most gamers reaches.
SNK Neo•Geo CD
Produced: 1994 – 1997
Neo•Geo CD (front loading limited edition launch unit) – Japan only.
Neo•Geo CD (top loading unit) – Japan / USA / Europe.
Neo•Geo CDZ – Japan only.
Please note that prices are based on UK perspective and do not including any shipping or import duty costs that may be applicable. Price estimates correct at time of publication.
Let’s not mess about here, Metal Slug 4 was awful. Sadly its development was caught up in the turmoil of SNK’s collapse and its re-emergence as Playmore (later to be SNK Playmore). Out sourced to a little known Korean developer called Mega Enterprise, Metal Slug 4 was a patched together effort which resembled more of a Mugen-style hack than a professionally accomplished product.
After the grandeur of Metal Slug 3, Metal Slug 4 was nothing short of disappointing.
At 13 years old, the tried and trusted Neo-Geo MVS hardware was starting to show its age, so it came as pleasant surprise when Metal Slug 5 was announced, and launched into arcades in late 2003. The question was though, who was programming this new Slug game and would it do the series justice, unlike its predecessor?
Fortunately, Metal Slug 5 was programmed jointly in-house and by Noise Factory (the Japanese developer behind the brilliant Sengoku 2001 and Rage of the Dragons). Therefore, most of the features introduced by Mega Enterprise are removed and the game looks and plays in a considerably more polished manner than Slug 4.
Which is a good thing, as this was the last Metal Slug game to be released on the Neo-Geo hardware, and not only did it get the standard MVS and AES releases, SNK Playmore also provided the game in a very nice JAMMA kit and produced home ports for the PlayStation 2 and X-Box.
The story is a bit thin, but gives us a reunion of our favourite Slug characters, meaning Player 1 and Player 2 can choose to play as either Marco, Tarma, Eri or Fio (Nadia and Trevor from Slug 4 aren’t mentioned – no great loss there). Then it’s straight into the action as our heroes battle against the Ptolemaic Army who are generally up-to-no-good and have stolen plans for the Metal Slug super vehicle.
Gameplay is straightforward run-and-gun, and anyone familiar with the previous games will feel instantly at home. Each credit gives you three lives, and it’s still one-hit and you’re dead. As standard you’re armed with a pistol with infinite ammo, and ten grenades, but there are plenty of power-ups to collect on the way by destroying certain enemies, or, in the main, rescuing hostages. If you get killed during a level you’ll lose all the hostages you’ve saved up to that point. Get to the end of the level unscathed and with plenty of freed hostages and you’ll get rewarded with lots of bonus points.
Although there is some re-use of previous Metal Slug backgrounds, it is nowhere near as blatant as Slug 4’s use of old graphic assets, and is usually fairly brief. The enemies have been redrawn and it’s refreshing to see opponents who aren’t part of General Morden’s army or alien invaders. End of level bosses are typically large, and well animated, guaranteed to give your reflexes a workout.
A new “slide” move is introduced (pull down and press B) which is useful at times, and actually necessary in a few places, and the dual machine-gun power-up returns. There are no new weapons to find sadly, and the flame-shot is missing altogether. “Big” mode is here somewhere, apparently, but I have yet to activate it. The useless “Monkey” mode from Slug 4 has gone, as have all the rather naff Slug variants introduced in that game.
And what about the Metal Slug? Our trusty Super Vehicle 001 makes regular appearances through the levels, along with the Slug-Mariner, Slug Flyer and the all new Slug Gunner. The Slug Gunner is a great addition, very well animated with some nice features, one of the best new Metal Slug variants since the Slug Flyer was introduced in Metal Slug 2.
There’s also the really neat looking Spider-Slug and the Slug Car – which looks like a Fiat 500 with a cannon strapped to it. I was a bit disappointed there were no “animal” Slugs this time, the Camel, Elephant and Ostrich were always really amusing (as well as useful) and added to the style of the earlier installments.
One of the great things about Metal Slug X and Metal Slug 3 were all the little nuances, like the Elephant Slug, “Thunder Cloud”, Allen O’Neil’s demise, suicidal mummy, the explorer, Hyakutaro Ichimonji… I could go on for ages. Little elements like this provided the series with a much-loved charm. Lamentably, there are no little features to look out for in this episode, which is a real shame.
Music is good, a selection of rock infused tunes that suit the game very well, but I can’t help but miss the soundtracks of composer Hiya! who scored the first three games in the series. Sound effects are great, though largely re-used from previous games.
The story, as presented through the game, is not particularly cohesive or fathomable, and although this doesn’t overly detract from the fun in playing the game, it does make the experience feel a little random. However, not long after the game was originally launched, some fans found a number of unused sprites and other game assets hidden in the game’s code, heavily hinting that the game was not finished properly and the release rushed.
Given that MVS releases soldiered on for another 6 months after Slug 5, it’s a shame SNK Playmore didn’t release a revised edition of the game with the missing content programmed back in… a Metal Slug 5 Special or Metal Slug X2 if you like. But, in retrospect, there probably wasn’t the time to do so.The game is not as large as Metal Slug 3 with its numerous branching paths; but nevertheless, it’s got as much action and longevity as the first few installments, and Slug 3 was always a bit too big for my liking. As a huge Metal Slug fan I found Slug 5 to be readily enjoyable, and a massive improvement over the dire Mega Enterprise effort.
Metal Slug 5 is a worthy entry into the series, and whilst it does not quite reach past glories, it’s a very playable, and fun, run and gun affair that no Neo-Geo owner or Metal Slug fan should be without.
Metal Slug 5
Version tested: SNK Neo-Geo MVS (JAMMA)
Also available on: Sony PlayStation 2 / Microsoft X-box / SNK Neo-Geo AES / SNK Neo-Geo MVS (cartridge) / Microsoft Windows
What can be written about Street Fighter II that has not already been said by someone else previously? This was the first thought that entered my head when I decided to write this review of the classic Capcom brawler.
Since it first entered arcades in 1991, Street Fighter II has had countless column inches devoted to it and its many revisions and sequels. As far as ports go, most of these articles have focused on either the Super Nintendo / Super Famicom games or the Sega Mega Drive / Genesis versions.
However, as impressive as these ports were across the main 16-Bit formats, there was one port which really stands out, for its technical achievement if nothing else. That is the 1993 PC Engine release of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition.
An initially surprising fact about this particular port is that Capcom used the PC Engine’s HuCard format for the release rather than utilising the CD-ROM. By the time Street Fighter II: Champion Edition was launched, HuCard support had started to seriously dwindle, with most new games coming out on the CD-ROM format, taking advantage of the additional capacity and CD quality audio. In 1992 just over 30% of the games released that year in Japan for PC Engine were in the HuCard format. By the end of 1993, the year Street Fighter II was published on the PC Engine, there had only been an additional 10 HuCard titles published, including Capcom’s Street Fighter II.
As with the Mega Drive versions of Street Fighter II, the PC Engine was initially at a disadvantage with the control system. At the time of its release in June ’93, NEC had just launched the PC Engine DUO-R, but that, like all its predecessors, only had two action buttons on its control pad (the later DUO-RX was bundled with a six button pad). Fortunately, just as Sega did, NEC released a six button controller; and so did Hori, who released the superb Fighting Commander PC. The game can still be played with a standard controller, but this does stunt the gameplay somewhat.
There is, sadly, one major drawback with the PC Engine – a solitary controller port. Now, why, given the number of different versions of the PC Engine produced between 1987 & 1994, none of the revisions ever addressed this deficiency is anyones guess. But, most Street Fighter II veterans will argue that no matter how well you’ve mastered your favourite character, to put your skills to the test, and to get the most satisfying experience out of the game, you need to play against a human controlled opponent.
Therefore, not only would you need to buy the game and two six button controllers, you’d also need to pick up a multi-tap as well. Not a particularly cheap proposition back in the day.
One of the great thing about the game being on HuCard is that it is, like all other HuCards, playable on both the PC Engine GT (aka Turbo Express) and LT. Despite having the disadvantage of just two action buttons, on the GT Street Fighter II is still incredibly playable, and I found it quite easy to adjust my style to pressing the “select” button to toggle between “punch” and “kick”. In the early ’90s, to have been able to swank around with a GT and such a close port of Street Fighter II must have been something else!
As with the Super Famicom and Mega Drive Street Fighter games, Capcom handled the PC Engine port in-house and therefore content wise, it matches the original coin-op. All twelve fighters are selectable, along with their alternate colour palletes, each character’s special moves are there, along with thier individual stages, theme tunes and the bonus stages.
In fact, there’s very little that is missing. The opening sequence with the two fighters outside a sky-scraper is absent, and the character animations on the continue / game over screen are also missing. Inevitably there are some frames of animation missing, but they’re hardly noticeable. Whereas in some ports to less able machines background animations tend to be the first to go out the window, in this port all the background animations of the 12 stages seem to be intact – from the bustling street scene in China, to the tiny drops of water in E. Honda’s bath house.
Where the game would certainly of benefited from the CD-ROM format is in the music. While many of the game’s tunes are faithfully replicated here, there are a few that suffer from the HuCard’s limitations, particularly Sagat’s stage. Still, the voice samples are nice and clear, and all present, including the announcer.
I’m not going to go into any detail over the gameplay, you’ve heard it all before, and then some. I am sure most of you know where I am coming from when I say the gameplay is pure Street Fighter II; it is indistinguishable from the arcade parent or the later ports on more advanced hardware. Yes, you will need a six button pad, but if you’ve got a Mega Drive, you would have the same issue.
There is no denying that Street Fighter II is still a highly playable game, that some 25 years on from its original release it is still one of the definitive one-on-one fighting games, and the PC Engine version holds up so well it is still worth picking up. The really nice thing is that it won’t cost you the earth either, with average eBay prices in the £25.00 range, sometimes less, for a boxed HuCard.
So, if you’ve got a PC Engine and you’re a fan of the Street Fighter series you owe it to yourself to pick this up and a six button pad. Even if you’re not that much of a fan, it’s probably worth picking it up to just see what the humble HuCard, and PC Engine, were capable of in the right hands.
Street Fighter II : Champion Edition
Version Tested: NEC PC Engine
Also available on: Sega Mega Drive / Sega Saturn / Sony PlayStation / Sony PlayStation 2 / Sony PSP / Microsoft X-BOX / Sharp X68000 / JAMMA PCB (CPS1 system)
Time seems to have flown by since I last spent some time with this blog, but it’s been a pretty hectic 12 months to say the least and procrastination runs deep with this writer…
However, there are still lots of video gaming musings I would like to share with you, and so without any further hesitation let’s plunge straight into having a look back at Fox Interactive’s Die Hard Trilogy.
Most of us have probably had the benefit of wearing “rose-tinted glasses” from time-to-time. Looking back on a game we haven’t played for years with much fondness and then getting the urge to track it down again to relive the experience we thought we had all those years ago.
I remember buying Die Hard Trilogy over the Christmas period of 1996 for the Sony PlayStation, and I’m sure I recall enjoying the first two episodes of the game. Fast forward 20 years, and I’m pretty certain I should have left those memories as they were – memories.
Die Hard Trilogy, as the name suggests, is based on the first three Die Hard movies (Die Hard 4 was a long way off happening back in 1996), and is correspondingly split into three separate games which you’re free to tackle in any order you choose.
The Die Hard game is a run-and-gun 3D shooter; Die Hard 2: Die Harder is a shooting game in the mould of Virtua Cop / Lethal Enforcers; and Die Hard With a Vengeance is a driving game.
The first part of the Trilogy has you running round Nakatomi Plaza, killing bad guys, rescuing hostages and trying to stay alive. You’re armed with a hand-gun with unlimited ammo, but you can pick up various machine guns and shot guns (all with limited ammunition) as you go around the levels.
Each level is populated with X-number of terrorists, and you do not progress until they are all eliminated. There is no time-limit to this, but once the floor is cleared of bad guys you only have 30 seconds to make it to the elevator for the next floor before a bomb goes off.
You have a life gauge, shown as McClane’s police shield and a terrorist and ammo counter along with a map of the game area showing the location of terrorists (red dots) and hostages (blue dots).
The map is very useful. Each floor is pretty large and the terrorists are generally well spread out. In addition the draw distance for the graphics is very short (one assumes due to hardware limitations) so your view is restricted to your immediate location. Terrorists do not usually fire on you until they’re pretty close, but for your own survival strategy the viewpoint can be a hinderance at times.
There’s plenty of action to be had, each floor has a more than healthy supply of goons to dispatch, and some of the scenery can be shot and destroyed for added effect. However, the control system is cumbersome, health items are few and far between and McClane will only take a few shots before being carried out in a body-bag.
Weapon power-ups are also in short supply, which is annoying as most of your enemies carry automatic weapons. Grenades are fairly easy to come by, but you need to be careful where you throw one, as you’ll die if you get caught in the blast. As each level is covered in tight corridors, this mistake can be easily made, and, repeated.
So, to the second game on the disc – Die Hard 2. This plays as a straight forward rails-shooter like Virtua Cop. This is about as generic as it gets, if you’ve played any of Virtua Cop, Area 51, Time Crisis etc, the gameplay will be instantly familiar, and sadly as this segment offers nothing new to the genre, it’s rather forgettable.
As per the film, the game is based in and around Dulles International Airport, with you, as John McClane, taking out terrorists while trying to avoid innocent people. Along the way you can pick up temporary power-ups like machine guns, pick up health packs, and add additional rockets and grenades to your arsenal.
On the PlayStation Die Hard 2 can be played either with the controller or PlayStation Mouse, but, the Saturn version not only supports the controller and mouse, but also the Saturn light-gun used for the Virtua Cop ports. The game is not particularly playable with a pad controller, but works okay with a mouse to move the aiming reticule. Unfortunately, as of writing, I have been unable to play Die Hard 2 with a light-gun, however, I doubt that this would elevate the game much beyond mediocre.
Last, but by no means least, we have Die Hard 3. Once more we move genres, and this time to a driving game. The last game in the “Trilogy” is an arcade style driving game in a rather crude vien to Sega’s Crazy Taxi. You have a set time limit to get from point A to the location of a bomb at point B. If you don’t get there in time the bomb goes off and you lose a life.
The final segment is probably the best of the three in terms of presentation (not surprising as it’s rumoured that the whole game was supposed to be Die Hard 3 before Fox decided to tack on the first two films to broaden the package). However, the time limits are really strict, there’s no map (just a compass that gives you a vague notification of which direction to head in), and there are lots of obstacles to slow you down. Right down.
You have a limited number of turbos available as well, but I’m really not sure if they’re a help or a hinderance. Even with a few Chase HQ elements thrown in and different vehicles to drive as you progress, it feel like a chore to play.
This final chapter courted a little controversy back in the day as you could, if you wanted, mow down innocent pedestrians Grand Theft Auto style. The visuals are so basic by today’s standards that you wonder what all the fuss was about… it’s hardly graphic violence. The time limits will also prevent you from going on any mass execution sprees if that’s your thing.
So there you have it, three games in one package and all the John McClane action you may ever need. Unfortunately, this game is more Dynasty than Die Hard.
Across the entire trilogy, a major annoyance is the lack of an auto-save feature. None of the games have continues, so, get to the last level and lose your last life and it’s straight back to the very beginning if you haven’t been saving regularly. Strangely there is no extra-life feature either. You get three lives, and that’s it.
The length of all three games is commendable, if you’ve got the patience to play through all three segments then you’ll be happily tied up with Die Hard Trilogy for some time.
Die Hard Trilogy is definitely a game that hasn’t quite stood the test of time either in gameplay or graphics (well, certainly not the graphics). I could forgive the aging graphics if there weren’t so many annoying gameplay flaws.
Aiming in the first game requires you to be in front of the terrorist to get a hit, but the controls are so clunky they don’t allow for precision. The levels are large, but full of rooms and obstacles which are too easy to get caught and trapped on – this can be hugely annoying when you’re trying to get to the elevator before the bomb goes off and you don’t make it because a door held you up.
The second game is useless playing with a control pad, and not that much more satisfying with a mouse. Why there was no light-gun support for PlayStation is anyones guess.
The third game is so unforgiving it’s irritating. The difficulty curve is far too steep; which is a general issue with the whole game given the size of each individual game within the Trilogy.
I do think it would be interesting to see a remake of the title on current gen hardware backed by a reputable programmer. So long as they get someone who doesn’t sound like Garfield doing a Bruce Willis impression. Could be a lot of fun…
Overall, the original Die Hard Trilogy is one Die Hard game to which this writer is saying “Yippee-ki-nay“.
Die Hard Trilogy
Version tested: Sega Saturn
Also available on: Sony PlayStation / PC