What it is:
Neo Geo Heroes Ultimate Shooting is a game that aims straight at the hearts of Neo Geo fans. From the somewhat nonsensical title yelled in Engrish at the title screen to the point-increasing "100Mega" medals, this game is soaked in SNK culture. It’s nice to see a company take a look at their past and make a game that revels in it.
As the cliché goes, the devil is in the details, and Neo Geo Heroes is full of little details. From the bullet-erasing adaptation of Terry Bogard’s Buster Wolf (still surprisingly potent in shooter form) to Marco Rossi’s use of his pistol when his heavy machine gun ammo is depleted in classic Metal Slug style, there’s a range of intricacies in here that would put a smile on any SNK fan’s face.
For me, personally, the highlight of this crossover is the way that the characters interact with one another. While SNK’s localization isn’t great, it’s still charming to see characters interactions like Terry’s comments on Iroha’s outfit ("That’s going to be hard to erase from my memory…") or Akari’s challenge to Athena to see who the "real heroine of the game" is. Of particular note is Marco Rossi, whose bizarre illustrations wonderfully complement his ridiculous dialogue.
Now you know what the “Neo Geo Heroes” part of the title involves, so you may be curious as to how the “Ultimate Shooting” portion fares…
…and it’s “okay.”
How it feels:
Shooting in and of itself is fun. You’ve got your standard shoot and bomb buttons, as well as the fighting game-inspired special attack button (which you can charge for three different levels of occasionally-bullet-cancelling-fun). There’s also a taunt button, which makes enemies more aggressive, but will clear all the bullets from the screen at the same time. Meanwhile, varying shot types for each character provide the icing on the cake. Each shot type feels very unique, and the specials are all character-appropriate.
Neo Geo Heroes re-imagines and incorporates established fighting game elements into its design in clever ways. It’s interesting to see attacks you’re familiar with from a different perspective. Unfortunately, more noticeable than the creativity involved in adapting fighting game attacks to a top-down format are the backgrounds and enemies, which come across as instantly forgettable.
It’s a shame, given SNK’s traditionally stellar art direction, but the cities you fly over and ships you fight are about as generic as they come. It doesn’t detract from the fun of the game, but it does feel like a wasted opportunity. It would have been so much fun to see more SNK characters (even in the backgrounds!) or at the very least have the stages more accurately reflect their bosses.
Perhaps the closest comparison one could make to Neo Geo Heroes is The King of Fighters Sky Stage, another SNK shoot-em-up. If you’ve played that game, some of what you see in Neo Geo Heroes may seem familiar to you (if not, Sky Stage is included as part of the package!). However, there are a few things that Neo Geo Heroes does better in my opinion.
First and foremost is tone. Sky Stage takes itself seriously, and attempts to create a story that justifies the characters’ ability to fly while simultaneously providing a traditional King of Fighters tale. Neo Geo Heroes ignores all that, and just revels in characters interacting with one another with glorious abandon, and little care for subtlety. For example; the big bad guy’s name is "GEO-GEEGUS" (all caps, mind you).
It’s also nice that Neo Geo Heroes doesn’t use Sky Stage’s abysmal English voiceover.
Another interesting feature in Neo Geo Heroes are the branching paths. While the stages tend not to be very varied, it’s nice to be able to fight a different assortment of bosses each time you run through the five-stage game. You can also start from any stage you’ve played before, which is incredibly handy if you’re just looking for practice.
It would be lax of me not to mention that Neo Geo Heroes Ultimate Shooting is the only PSP shooter I can think of with a tate mode (PSP held vertically). This means that you can tilt your PSP on its side and play the game in a more screen-filling and arcade-accurate position.
As you might expect from reading the description, it feels a little strange. While SNK did an admirable effort to give shoot-em-up enthusiasts the option, it feels rather cramped, trying to — for example — move with the D-pad, bomb with the L button, and use opposite directions on the PSP’s analog nub to fire and use specials.
That said, while awkward, it’s still novel and fun, and I appreciate that SNK included the option (with a number of different control schemes to boot!) for anyone that wants to give it a go.
There’s a lot of game in Neo Geo Heroes Ultimate Shooting, and I was surprised at how much I liked it, despite my distaste for KoF Sky Stage. It’s simple and charming fan service, wrapped up in a fun-but-uninspiring shooter. While the game could have done so much more with its environments and enemies, it’s packed with bonuses like challenge modes, concept art, and of course, the creatively-implemented tate mode.
Neo Geo Heroes Ultimate Shooting probably won’t win any awards, but it’s an enjoyable little way to look back at and appreciate SNK’s history and culture.
Food for thought:
1. As much as I appreciate The Last Blade being represented at all, why Akari of all people? I mean, I guess she works best in a shooter, but I miss the likes of Kaede and Moriya…
2. For that matter, did we really need both Iroha and Mai in the same game? Actually, don’t answer that…