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Interview: SNK, Code Mystics on SNK Gals’ Fighters and Recreating the NGPC Charm

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SNK Gals’ Fighters is one of those ports that came out of nowhere. One day, we’re sitting around and waiting to see how SNK will celebrate the Neo Geo’s 30th anniversary. The next, one of the most whimsical entries in its catalog is here for everyone to enjoy worldwide on a new platform. Siliconera was able find out how that happened and what went into the details, as well as talk about potential future ports, directly in a SNK Gals’ Fighters interview with Adam Laatz, Director of Business Development at SNK Corporation, and Jeff Vavasour, Code Mystics’ Founder.

Jenni Lada: There have been two Switch versions of NEOGEO Pocket Color games so far: Samurai Shodown! 2 and SNK Gals’ Fighters . How did these projects get started?

Adam Laatz: Along with the developers of these ports over at Code Mystics based in Vancouver, we had discussed bringing NEOGEO Pocket Color (NGPC) content to modern platforms numerous times in the past. Unfortunately that never came to fruition for various reasons…

However, is it largely thanks to the combination of Nintendo’s “hybrid” console & portable system being a perfect fit for these retro releases, and the strong recommendation and support from a friend at Nintendo who is based here in Tokyo that we were able to make this happen.

We felt a port of SAMURAI SHODOWN! 2 would go together great with celebrating the release of our SAMURAI SHODOWN reboot on Nintendo Switch earlier this year.

What led to SNK Gals’ Fighters being picked as a game to celebrate the NEOGEO’s 30th anniversary with a rerelease?

Laatz: Thanks to the nice response we received from fans on SamSho! 2’s (pre-order bonus) release and our lead producer Oda-san’s blessing, we made the decision to move forward with SNK Gals’ Fighters as our next (standalone) release in getting this project off the ground.

Being that this high-quality title is a fan favorite which came out a bit later in the life-cycle of SNK’s handheld system back in the day, along with SNK Heroines (somewhat of a “spiritual successor” to SNK Gals’ Fighters) also released on the Switch a couple of years back, we felt it would be a natural choice for our next NGPC title to be released on Nintendo’s console.

The NEOGEO Pocket Color had a microswitch-based stick, while the Switch’s analog stick and D-pad work a bit differently. What kind of an effect did this have on SNK Gals’ Fighters?

Jeff Vavasour: Well, from Code Mystics decades of experience reviving classic arcade, console, and portable titles, one thing we’ve learned is that the controls are part of the experience. No matter how accurate the game recreation is, without the authentic controls, it won’t be quite the same experience.

Fortunately, modern platforms like the Switch offer a variety of options for controls. In lieu of having the exact controls, we try to leverage all the options available to us, which means the stick, D-pad, and touch screen in this case. D-pad gives the precise tactile feedback, though might be a bit more awkward on diagonals; with the touch screen you can get 1:1 scale replacement of the original control, though without the tactile feedback; and, stick is halfway between these two solutions. The rewind feature helps bridge the remaining gap, giving you a second shot at pulling off moves that may have been hindered by the difference in controls.

That said, we saw it suggested on social media that someone should create a Joy-Con with the authentic "clicky" NGPC stick in place of the usual direction buttons. That’s something we could totally get behind and would love to see!

The SNK Gals’ Fighters Switch port basically gives people a working NEOGEO Pocket Color in handheld mode. How did that concept come up and what kind of work went into making those touch screen controls possible?

Vavasour: The idea from the beginning was to capture as much of the classic experience as possible, and showcase the NGPC as a platform too, not just its games. Putting old-school games on widescreen displays, the usual thing to do was surround it with themed art, sometimes cabinet art in the case of arcade games. In a few previous titles we’d done with SNK, some trial skins for that frame hinted at the NEOGEO console.

With so many interesting designs for the NEOGEO Pocket Color‒especially the see-through variants‒it seemed a natural way to showcase them and the platform itself. (Fun fact: SAMURAI SHODOWN! 2 features all the 1st Generation NGPC skins, while SNK GALS’ FIGHTERS features all the 2nd Generation skins.) So our lead artist, Tony Rodriguez, worked tirelessly with SNK’s art directors to create a clean and accurate high resolution replica of the NGPC.

Once we had that, we realized it was a natural way to display the button mapping for the original game controls. We felt the button mapping needed to be prominent to avoid confusion over the A and B buttons being opposite placement to the Switch. Once we had that going, we realized that you could basically scale the virtual NGPC to be the exact size of the original, and then button placement was familiar and you wouldn’t have to memorize anything, so making them touch-responsive seemed the natural next step.

snk gals fighters interview

SNK Gals’ Fighters’ multiplayer involves going head-to-head, literally. How did you come up with that concept and how similar is the final mode to your early ideas for it?

Vavasour: Link was something we felt important to bring to the game, since a big part of the ongoing joy of fighting games is playing other people. It was also a feature of the original NGPC game that perhaps less people had an opportunity to experience first hand, so we wanted to include that as part of the celebration of the NGPC itself.

In our original concept, when SAMURAI SHODOWN! 2 was being developed last year, the wide screen would reasonably permit enough room for two virtual machines to show side-by-side, which we thought would be suitable for the Switch’s tabletop and TV modes. We thought that in handheld mode, people would play solo with the Joy-Con attached or with the touch screen.

But then in the fall of 2019, when the Nintendo Switch Lite debuted, we realised that most Lite owners wouldn’t be able to avail of the link feature at all, so brainstormed how to solve that. For the solution, we turned to what we’d earlier done e.g. in Atari Flashback Classics, wherein some portrait-oriented arcade games could avail of the Flip Grip and get more screen space. Typically, in that mode, the game was using only one of the two attached Joy-Con controllers, so the other was free to control Player 2.

Serendipitously, we found if the screen is turned sideways, you can almost perfectly fit two NGPC screens side-by-side on one 16:9 screen with no wasted space, so we thought it worked really well, and went for it.

snk gals fighters interview

What has the response been to the SNK Gals’ Fighters so far? Have you noticed if people are reacting differently in different regions?

Laatz: We’ve been pleasantly surprised by all the responses from fans and the press on this release so far! Both in the West and here in Japan, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’ve received a good deal of inquiries from media outlets, and requests from fans to release more NGPC content on Nintendo Switch.

I feel the positive response to SNK Gals’ Fighters is largely due to the timeless popularity of many of these emblematic and memorable characters. And also of course due to the great level of detail that went into these portable games for their simple, yet surprisingly deep gameplay on a handheld system back in the late-90s.

Are there any particular challenges that come from porting a NEOGEO Pocket Color game to the Nintendo Switch?

Vavasour: NEOGEO Pocket Color might be a 20-year-old system, but it was a powerful and flexible system for its time. Rather than porting, our goal was to create a robust method to bring NGPC games like SAMURAI SHODOWN! 2 and SNK GALS’ FIGHTERS to the Switch authentically and accurately. Our team were pioneers of game emulation, creating the first commercially available arcade game emulations for the PC (in the form of Williams Arcade Classics) back in 1994. (Yes, we were doing this before MAME!) We’ve been refining these techniques on all major platforms ever since.

Dan Filner, who was the lead emulation engineer on this project, took NGPC emulation further than it had ever been taken before, both in terms of accuracy and depth. Getting link functioning was something we’re particularly proud of; it’s not a feature of the NGPC that had ever been emulated before. And beyond just recreating the basic link functionality, we had to delve into the ROMs to get the emulator to respond to context, activating/deactivating the link, activating/deactivating the split-screen depending on whether two screens showed the same thing.

The NGPC also had a unique way of saving data where it could modify any part of the cartridge, so we needed to be able to encapsulate that in a way that preserved save data, even if you switched between English and Japanese renditions. And emulating two copies of a system as nuanced as the NGPC requires a surprising amount of CPU power, so care had to be taken there, particularly in consideration of Switch battery life.

And of course, we needed to wrap that in a succinct Switch presentation that still allowed the NGPC to shine through as the centerpiece. We wanted you to feel like you were playing the NGPC.

With there now being two NEOGEO Pocket Color Switch ports out there, is there more of a streamlined process for it? Would it be possible for more ports and, if so, what potential challenges could come with bringing them to this platform in multiple regions?

Laatz: We can definitely say that as long as there is interest from SNK fans and retro-gamers, SNK is confident and committed to bringing more NGPC content (ports to Nintendo Switch) if the demand is there! Pleased stay tuned for upcoming announcements.

If other NEOGEO Pocket Color ports were considered, are there any particular titles that you personally might consider more likely candidates?

Laatz: I’m personally a big fan of Metal Slug, as well as a number of 2nd/3rd party releases that we would love to bring to gamers in the near future… We’re currently exploring those possibilities internally and with Code Mystics at the moment, and want to thank our fans for their support of SNK and your interest in NGPC in general.

snk 40th anniversary collection

Back in 2018, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection from Digital Eclipse gave people a chance to play over 20 classic SNK releases. Could we see a Code Mystics SNK NEOGEO Pocket Color collection?

Laatz: While we are monitoring the results of our recent release of SNK Gals’ Fighters on Nintendo eShop and gauging interest from our fans/customers, this is definitely in the cards if we continue to see such a positive response.

While there are a number of paths we can take in order to realize some sort of compilation, thanks to our friends over at partners such as Pix’n Love Editions and Limited Run Games, physical release(s) are definitely a possibility IMHO.

Be sure to check out our Online Shop here in Japan which has been receiving good traction over the past few years thanks to our sister company SNK Entertainment–who are helping to make more physical releases, Limited / Collector’s Editions, and a variety of cool SNK merch a reality as well.

Also, please continue to voice your opinion on NGPC and anything related to SNK both at our official website and to our Community Manager (Jon Campana a.k.a. “Krispy Kaiser” @krispykaiser) on Twitter!

SNK Gals’ Fighters is available for the Neo Geo Pocket Color and the Nintendo Switch. (Our thanks to SNK’s Adam Laatz and Code Mystics’ Jeff Vavasour.)

Jenni Lada
Jenni is Editor-in-Chief at Siliconera and has been playing games since getting access to her parents' Intellivision as a toddler. She continues to play on every possible platform and loves all of the systems she owns. (These include a PS4, Switch, Xbox One, WonderSwan Color and even a Vectrex!) You may have also seen her work at GamerTell, Cheat Code Central, Michibiku and PlayStation LifeStyle.