In many ways, the Neo Geo remains a Holy Grail for the gamer. 25 years ago, you lusted after one because it offered a true arcade quality experience that could not be rivalled by home consoles. Today you lust after it for much the same reasons – to get hold of arcade perfect versions of your favourite retro games. Sadly, the Neo Geo was an expensive machine when first released and remains expensive now.
Happily, if you don’t have access to untold wealth, you can get hold of some games for a far more reasonable price. A number of SNK games were released for later consoles via emulation, giving us poorer gamers the chance to see what we had been missing. One such collection is the SNK Arcade Classics title for the Wii.
As with all compilations, the 16 titles are a bit of a mixed bag. Some – Metal Slug and Shock Troopers – remain as playable now as they were on first release; a few are merely OK, whilst a small number have dated very badly. There are some games you will return to regularly and others you will barely touch – but that’s true of all compilations. The important thing is that, overall, the disc offers very good value for money.
The Neo Geo is best remembered as a console dominated by fighting games and that’s something that’s reflected here. Of the 16 titles available, at least half are fighting games (either scrolling or static screen). However, other genres are represented, including sports games, platform titles and shooters). If you don’t like fighting games, though, the value for money aspect of this compilation is going to be somewhat limited.
Ignition Entertainment has done a good job of emulating the Neo Geo on the Wii and all the games play extremely well. The games are presented in full screen mode (unlike the cramped letter box format that so affects so many retro games on the PS Store, for example). Emulation is also smooth and glitch-free so you can pretend you are reliving the glory days of early 90s gaming and are rich enough to afford a Neo Geo.
Obviously, graphics and sound have advanced greatly since these titles were first released, but the games still have that wow factor. They might look a little crude and block to modern eyes, but they ooze character. Graphics are bright, colourful and the sprites very distinctive and full of imagination. Some of the games also show a sense of humour too often missing from modern titles. Play the body-fest that is Metal Slug, for example, and it’s almost impossible to not come away with a big stupid smile on your face thanks to the OTT run and gun action.
Sound is generally top quality, although obviously it’s variable across the different titles. Some of the tunes which accompany the games are superb; others soon grate on your ears and have you reaching for the volume control button. Thanks to the awesome power of the original consoles, most of the titles are littered with speech. When used well, it can really add to the atmosphere, although there are times (in Neo Turf Masters, for example) when it can sound a little cheesy. That said, it’s no cheesier than the speech in Everybody’s Golf on more modern consoles, so I’m not going to mark it down for that
Controls have been very well thought out. You can select different controls for each individual title or apply a default set to them all. Similarly, you can use the Wii controller and Nunchuk, the Classic Controller, or an original GameCube controller. Each works fine, although some are more suited to particular games than others. Personally, I tend to find the GameCube controller works best for the majority of titles. Whichever method you choose, you’ll find them pretty responsive, giving you a good deal of control over the game.
It’s a shame that a curious design decision has been made with regard to the game mechanics. All the titles are switched to Free Play mode by default, which means that when you die, you can restart from your current position. This is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it recognises that many of the titles were originally brutally difficult and that mere mortals like me – who never stood a chance of making much progress – can now see everything the game has to offer. On the other hand, it limits their long-term appeal, giving you an easy route through each of the titles. It would have been better if the infinite lives/continues could have been switched off if preferred, but as far as I can see, there is no way to do this.
Overall, it’s a compilation that’s well worth picking up, particularly if you’re into fighting games. Like the original hardware, the price of the Wii disc does seem to be increasing. I picked up a second hand copy for £6 around 3 years ago, but a quick look on Amazon and eBay suggests a more typical price is now around £20. Even so, £20 for 16 games is still pretty decent value for money and my advice would be to find yourself a copy before the price climbs any higher.