In the case of this retrospective, the focus will be on the original arcade version due to the plethora of ports released in the years following.
During the mid-80’s, video games began to ripen with several developers experimenting and understanding the essentials in delivering a successful title. From Sega’s Outrun, Taito’s Darius, and Konami’s Salamander, these had been risky games, yet returning with financial and critical success. Additionally, inspiring others to improve and expand upon these titles. Namely, there was one small company establishing this within the Beat em’ up genre, Technos Japan, a company formed by members of Data East (Burger Time, Crude Buster, and Magical Drop series).
After the completion of Renegade (Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun in Japan), demand for a follow-up began. Rather than create a direct sequel, series producer Yoshihisa Kishimoto inspired by his love for the films Mad Max, Enter the Dragon, and the anime/manga series Hokuto No Ken (Fist of the North Star) decided to produce a co-op beat em’ up with a more cinematic approach, Double Dragon.
Double Dragon, developed by Technos Japan and published by Taito was released on Arcades in Summer of 1987. The game follows 2 brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee on a quest to save Billy’s girlfriend Marian from the Black Warriors. The Lee Brothers traverse through 4 levels fighting their way among the toughest of the Black Warriors members, including Williams, Linda, Willy, and Abobo. Personally, the enemies seem inspired by The Warriors though it might be myself thinking this comparison. Likewise, there’s an Easter egg from another game appearing in the first level, the car used in Road Blaster, another title Kishmoto worked on. However, there is a twist in the end of the
game when playing with a friend…
Graphically, there is a fantastic display of colors used to display the detailed sprites. Notably, the backgrounds throughout the game. Particularly, no two backgrounds are the same in comparison to other games. I applaud the efforts Tecnhos placed inside the game. The rich colorful graphics are a testament to why Double Dragon stands above the rest.
However, I met the gameplay with mixed results. Notably, serving as a technological and spiritual successor to Renegade (Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun), Double Dragon inherited the former’s button layout, 4-way joystick and simplicity. Furthermore, there are hidden attacks initiated when combining the jump button with either kick or punch button. Additionally, the Lee Brothers move at a quick pace, giving players a rapid advantage in deciding attack moves. Nonetheless, the AI is cruel and merciless. Equally, there is a significant amount of slowdown present throughout the game resulting from the multiple 8-bit microprocessors inside the hardware.
Despite the mixed gameplay, the unfavorable portion of the game stems from the music. To begin with, I agree that the music is memorable, yet during the playthrough I felt as though there was something off about the composition and unbearable for my ears at moments. Yet, there is an arranged soundtrack, which in my opinion is a superior arrangement, with its 80s production, which I grew loving after listening to the tracks repeatedly.
Overall, Double Dragon launched the Golden Age of Beat em’ ups influencing such classics such as Streets of Rage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Final Fight. Improving on Renegade, DoubleDragon’s enduring legacy is the game’s ability to cooperatively play together.
Additionally, various sequels and spin-offs were released varying with quality from the great Double Dragon II and the ill-fated Double Dragon V.
Recently, a sequel, Double Dragon IV (Based of the NES chronology), which I found personally to be an insult to the DoubleDragon fanbase despite several original members including Kishmoto working on the title. The game serves as a disgraceful example of companies cashing in on people’s nostalgia.
But in the end, even with the multiple issues I may have with the franchise, there is no denying its legacy as a classic. All in all, Double Dragon resides as the one of the greatest beat em’ ups created.
It’s the year 2000, the start of a new millennium! The good news is we’ve survived Y2K! Well, several of us. The late 90s and early 2000s were a difficult time for several Japanese game developers like Sega, SNK, and Data East. Struggling to survive by making staff cuts and developing that one game that could save the company.
As the 90s progressed, it seemed that 2D games were put aside for 3D based games that we’re rapidly taking over with titles like Super Mario 64, Virtua Fighter 2, and Tomb Raider impressing audiences for their remarkable 3D graphics (for the time). Consequently, forcing multiple companies to either enter the 3D Market or leave.
Even more, with SNK competing in the console market with their AES (Advance Entertainment System) were trapped with which direction to go into. The AES was not selling well since it’s $400+ price tag was not meant for the middle class consumer. Not even their cheaper Neo Geo CD was selling enough, despite its cheaper price tag. Add to that, even the smallest amount of 3rd party developers halted development for Neo-Geo or left the gaming industry entirely. So by 1997, SNK announced the discontinuation of the AES, yet games were still being developed until 2004.
As a result, SNK decided to enter the 3D market with the successor to the Neo Geo, Hyper Neo-Geo 64. Unfortunately, that failed to attract arcade goers competing with the likes of Sega’s Model 3 and the Namco System 12. Releasing merely seven games during its life span.
Despite that, the releases on the MVS during this time (1997-1999) are among the best SNK released with titles like Last Blade, King of Fighters 98, Metal Slug X, and Garou: Mark of the Wolves were not successful enough to turn a profit.
Accordingly, SNK even attempted to jump into the handheld market, which was (and still is) monopolized by Nintendo with the release of the Neo Geo Pocket in October of 1998.
Though initial sales were promising, it was not enough as a few months after its release, Nintendo released the successor to the Game Boy, the Game Boy Color. Thus, SNK went back to the drawing boards and released the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1999 worldwide. With promising sales, fantastic third-party support from Capcom, Sega, Namco, and Taito. Moreover, expectations made it seem like SNK would be seeing green again.
Unfortunately, the optimism was temporary when Aruze acquired SNK in the beginning of the century. Having no faith in the SNK’s game developers, Azure reduced funding to the company. During this time, the developers at SNK noticing the writing on the walls knew, this was the end. But they were not going to leave fans without sending them a thank you gift for all their support.
The King of Fighters 2000 released in the arcades in March 2000 is without a doubt, the last game developed by the original SNK team and the other game published by SNK that year (the other being Metal Slug 3). The second game in the NEST saga beginning a year earlier featuring K’ as the saga’s main protagonist in his quest to defeat the NEST cartel from taking over the world. Zero, a former member of the NEST plans to destroy the organization using the Zero cannon. K’ and friends must stop Zero before it’s too late.
Secondly, improving on the striker system that debuted in the previous game. This time around, summoning strikers can accomplished at any time making it more convenient for players. Furthermore, players are able to select regular strikers which are any of the playable characters or another striker featuring excellent fan service! With appearances of characters from Garou, Last Blade, Samurai Shodown, and Metal Slug leaving fans content.
Next, like the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it!” As the years pass, the KOF formula remains intact. The controls are fantastic and feeling at home with previous titles.
On another note, graphically the game is on-par with the previous games in the series despite, it feeling like a quick copy and paste job with minor editing in between. Though they still fit the game’s setting feeling bland, which seems is one of my complaints of the entire NEST Saga. The new characters however like Seth, Kula, and Vanessa are a breath of fresh air balancing out the young cast.
Moreover, one of the game’s best features is by far is the soundtrack. Undeniably, the best King of Fighter’s soundtrack ever made! New tracks including Beauty and the Beast, KD-0084, Terry 115, Arashi no Saxophone 4 are wonderful additions, yet none compare to the track fitting of the situation felt by fans and SNK alike, Good-Bye ESAKA or as referred to by fans Good-Bye SNK. The track gives off that “Goodbye” feeling being felt among fans around the world. Overall, the arranged versions are the excellent surely leaving fans satisfied one last time.
Sample of the game’s music
Nonetheless, Playmore ported this to multiple systems, including the AES, Dreamcast, PS4, and PlayStation 2 including a standalone release and another bundling KOF 2000 and KOF 2001 together. The former eventually being released on PSN in Japan in 2015 exclusively in Japan and a year later on the PS4 worldwide.
An Xbox version was in consideration, but eventually cancelled. The AES version being a straight conversion of the MVS one that includes a Single fighter mode, survival, unlocked Kula from the start, and training mode.
The Dreamcast and PS2 ports are nearly identical except the sound effects and voices are clearer, a gallery mode, arranged soundtrack, additional strikers, and a bizarre puzzle game exclusive to the Dreamcast version.
There is a re imagined version for the Game Boy Advance titled King of Fighters EX2: Howling Blood which uses borrows music, stages, and sprites from KOF 2000, but has a completely different plot.
Afterwards, it seemed like SNK’s luck was turning around, the anticipated crossover with Capcom, Capcom vs. SNK and the sequel, Capcom vs SNK 2 were successful, but unfortunately Capcom ended up winning a majority of earnings since they developed both titles.
Despite all the internal problems SNK was having, SNK headed to E3 to present audiences with the future of the Neo-Geo Pocket Color and promising a series of excellent titles like Last Blade, Cotton, Faselei, and Metal Slug: Second Mission to consumers.
Unfortunately, despite the positive reception of SNK’s E3 appearance, their promises fell short. Aruze not interested in helping SNK rather, exploit their beloved IPs to help their slot machine and pachinko business announced weeks after SNK’s appearance at E3 that SNK would stop all production of the NGPC and future title in the US and Canada.
Sadly, all the games announced for the NGPC at E3 that we’re shipping to retailers nationwide were either sold to recycling firms or sent back to Japan. Eikichi Kawasaki, founder of SNK left the company after Aruze’s betrayal and went on to form Playmore the following year.
With of the key players out, Aruze noticing this as an opportunity to remove SNK indefinitely. Finally, October 2001, Aruze approved SNK’s bankruptcy. Beginning to auction out a plethora of SNK’s IPs which Playmore bought back while licensing major IPs including KOF, Metal Slug, and Sengoku to other companies during this time. On the final day, SNK wrote this message on their website, “Dear All NEOGEO fans/customers, it is with deepest grief that in the Autumn of 2001, SNK will close the company history in its business. It was all of your favor and encouragement which made our passion running to make better games for SNK fans. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank and every one of you for your continuous help and assistance rendered to SNK since its incorporation in Japan July in 1978. Without your support, SNK Corporation would not have been possible throughout 23 years of operation. With all our heart-felt gratitude, thank you once again!” and just like that, SNK was no more.
However, SNK returns to the living when Playmore regained the rights to use the name SNK and became SNK Playmore in 2003. Resurfacing by releasing new titles to the Neo Geo including KOF 2003, Samurai Shodown V, and SVC: Chaos. Eventually, SNK Playmore sued Aruze for unauthorized usage of their IPs during the time of acquisition and awarding SNK Playmore with 5.64 billion yens.
Although SNK Playmore is around today, recently acquiring SNK was no other than Ledo Millennium in August 2015 hoping to use SNK’s IPs in a similar way to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. At the same time, having built a great relationship with Sony, SNK has begun it’s comeback by releasing many of their classic titles to the PS4, Vita, and PC with a considerable amount of success. As a result, promising fans with new titles, including a new KOF, Samurai Shodown, and hopefully a new Garou.
As of December 1st 2016, SNK Playmore will now return back into SNK, promising audiences with the intention to return to producing quality titles as they did back in during the Neo Geo days.
Conclusively, this is a game comes highly recommended to KOF fans. Sure, this isn’t 98, 2002 UM, nor XIII. At the same time, this was the last game developed by the original SNK team which means something for hardcore fans of the series. In contrast, KOF 2001 and 2002 published by the Korean based company Eolith are not so memorable. It’s a worthwhile addition and a solid fighting game.
The run and gun is the genre filling countless testosterone-induced boy’s joy with dreams of saving the world with only their guns and explosions. Starting with Ikari Warriors and Contra following suit in the mid-80s, the genre continued to impress audiences in the 90s with Gunstar Heroes, Sunset Riders, Alien Soldier, and Nazca’s (a company made up of former Irem developers) Metal Slug.
After the success of the first Metal Slug, SNK purchased the company before releasing Metal Slug 2. The game suffered from a tremendous amount of slowdown and several other issues. Nazaca responded to this updating MS 2 into Metal Slug X.
But fast forwarding to the year 2000, various arcade companies were on their last legs in an era where 3D has taken over the market. Correspondingly, SNK was noticing the writing on the walls that the end was near. As a result, Nazca prepared for the inevitable. Making sure they said their goodbyes to audiences worldwide by releasing the fourth installment in the Metal Slug series and the magnum opus of the Run and Gun genre, Ladies and Gentlemen, Metal Slug 3.
Metal Slug 3, released on the Neo Geo back in March of 2000. This was Nazca’s swan song and one of the final games SNK released before their bankruptcy the following year (The other being King of Fighters 2000).
After saving the world from General Morden and the Mars People, Marco and the gang return ending Morden’s Army. But a strange phenomenon occurs when the enemy is beyond organized than they originally conceived. Leading Marco and the gang to find out the real perpetrators behind this.
If you’ve played previous Metal Slugs, fortunately you’re in luck! the controls have not changed since the first game. Equally important, the option to choose from 4 characters: Marco, Tarma, Fiolina, and Eri is still here too. Though, there is no difference between any of them, it’s just a matter of personal preference until the second act of Mission 5.
Additionally, as with previous entries in the franchise, the game offers five different levels. At the same time, the game offers players the ability to choose from numerous routes in the middle of each stage,concluded by fighting the same boss at the end of each stage. This was trending in the genre since Hard Corps. This is probably what makes this game unique is that it offers players outstanding replay value.
Whether its fighting yetis and zombies while riding on an elephant that blows fire out of his trunk, up in the sky with an ostrich killing hundreds of people, destroying enormous snails and weird beetles, and diving underwater on a sub and killing giant crabs. In either case, all the different routes have their own unique flavor, making players appreciate how much effort Nazca put into the game.
Interestingly,the game borrows from aspects of the levels from unused levels from Metal Slug X discovered inside the game’s debug menu. At the same time, the last level is split into 4 different sections which makes for one satisfied experience but, I won’t spoil that.
Moreover, Metal Slug 3 introduces players to new items, slugs and transformations that will travel beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
Firstly, the game introduces a few new slugs, countless that are exclusive to a certain route, including an ostrich slug, a submarine, a drill slug, a rocket ship, a Jetpack, and my favorite one, an elephant slug that can blow fire and electricity out of its trunk!!!
Additionally, new items debut here, including the Thunder cloud, which is a cloud that targets enemies and shoot them down with lighting, Utan, a baby monkey in diapers with a Uzi, and mobile satellite which is somewhat similar to Thunder cloud.
Not to mention, the debut of the best transformation in the series, the zombie mode, once a player becomes infected by zombie ooze, they transform into a zombie. As an illustration, the transformation makes the characters slow but immune to weapons. The player can only have their pistol and their grenade which is now a screen covering wave of blood, an amazing idea! Yet the only circumstance that can kill the player is zombie ooze.
The bosses are outrageous! Giant Hermit crabs with tanks, something that came straight out of 2001: Space Odyssey, and an ancient statue that releases dog spirits, needles, and turning the hero into coins. Even with an over the top design, comes remarkable power! Even the deaths as gruesome as they are, remind of something that came out of the cartoons of the yesteryear.
Be ready to die several times thanks to the game’s extreme difficulty. In other words, level memorization is critical to receive the best score concluding each level. When playing the original arcade version, be ready to bring your monthly allowance since you’re going to spend a heap-full of quarters.
Next, one of the best features of Metal Slug series is the stunning sprite work. As a matter of fact, Nazca put much time and effort ever since the game debuted in 1996. The Metal Slug series, often regarded for its highly detailed graphics and fluid animation. Though the game recycles from the previous entries, it’s not to say that it is awful. In fact, everything exhibiting fantastically within the game’s world.
Another key point, the music developed by Noise Factory (Rage of the Dragons, Sengoku 3, and KOF: Maximum Impact) is absolutely fantastic! The game borrows older tracks from previous games, but they added in major POWER and instruments fitting in with the overall vibe of the game.
Furthermore, hardcore Metal Slug fans will notice certain tracks pay tribute to Nazca’s final entry during their days with Irem, Gun Force II, which fans consider as the spiritual prequel to the series. But the newer tracks are among the BEST the series has to offer! Combining that heavy rock and military movie soundtrack, keeping the player motivated throughout the game. Notably, Tracks including the Yeti cave, the underwater stage, the space section in mission 5 and the beginning of the last mission are among the top compositions from the game.
Marine Diver (Submarine Route in Level 1 bears a striking resemblance Gun Force II BGM C
All things considered, this game sets the bar high for the run and gun genre, a true definition of a magnum opus. Even if Nazca having gone their own ways, left players extremely satisfied. No other run and gun game after this has been able to emulate the impact that Metal Slug 3 brought forth. Even the rest of the series pales in comparison to this masterpiece, though I will admit I haven’t played 6 nor 7.
Above all, Metal Slug 3executes this remarkably! not only improving on the foundation beginning with Commando, Contra, and, Gunstar Heroes but finds ways to present it in an original way, bringing in new ideas that were not regularly appearing in a run and gun games before. Nazca not only took cues from other run and gun games, but also borrowed from games they previously worked on during their days with Irem including: In the Hunt,Gun Force II, Armored Police Unit Gallop, and even R-Type.
I cannot stop praising the game hence, I’ll finish here.
There is no logic to not attempt this game, it’s basically committing a crime against gaming. Unless you absolutely find this type of genre mundane, there’s a special place for haters!
The game being ported to a plethora of different platforms, including the standalone ports on the Neo Geo AES, PS2 (JP and PAL only), Original Xbox (PAL and US only which contain mini games notably “Fat Island” where the players compete to determine which player can gain weight. “Storming the UFO mothership” is a minigame where the player play as one of Morden’s men and kill off several aliens as they can from the last level.That is to say, both ports offer unlimited continues,yet at the same time PS2 port has the player continuing where they died at, identical to the arcade. Whereas, the Xbox port makes the individual restart at the beginning of the level, making Ninja Gaiden Black strike as child’s play compared to this possibly turning people off. However, the Xbox version is only in 480i, but has a patch that brings it to 480p. Not to mention, the Xbox 360 version, in contrast, does not feature the mini games mentioned above, but offers online multiplayer and upscaled graphics. Next, the Metal Slug Anthology for the PS2, PSP and Wii which is an emulated version of the AES port and only in 480i. By and large, there also on the iOS, Android, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii Virtual Console (AES Version), Steam, Mac OS X, and Linux.
For the most part, there’s no excuse to not try the game at this point. Its affordable with the sole exception for the MVS cart fetching around out $150. In the event that you’re a bourgeoisie, by all means invest on the AES version which will be a substantial fee of $1500 or higher depending on what region the game originated from. I cannot recommend this game enough, it’s simply fantastic showing how something simple can be created into a masterpiece.
“In the Year 19XX, The Evil Crime Syndicate, Zeed was reduced to rubble by the powers of stealth possessed by the Shinobi Master. It seemed as if the world had returned to peace… But Three Years Later… The world was once again swallowed in darkness. Zeed had returned. With an incredible increase in power. Much greater than before. Neo Zeed became the strongest crime organization ever to exist. After establishing their mighty crime empire, Neo Zeed turned their efforts towards destroying the threat posed by these who possessed the powers of stealth. All of the followers of the power of stealth were attacked and their chief was killed. The Chief, with his dying breath, told Musashi that Naoko, his bride-to-be had been taken hostage but the Neo Zeed. So to get revenge for his comrades and bring back Noako, Musashi set out for the Heart of Neo Zeed.”
Revenge of Shinobi also known as Super Shinobi in Japan, released on December 2, 1989 and developed by Sega Consumer Development Division #3, a stunning title for the Sega Genesis. A system released a year before in Japan and in its 4th month in the United States. The first in the Shinobi Genesis/Mega Drive trilogy and frankly the best one. After saving hostages from Zeed, Joe Musashi returns for vengeance for the kidnapping of Noako and the death of his master. Using the legendary skills of the Shinobi master, Musashi puts his skills to the test against his new adversaries.
The game is a major departure from its prequel incorporating a darker setting observed in games like Double Dragon 2 and Belmont’s Revenge. Furthermore, a major addition Noriyoshi Ohba, director of the game points out being the inclusion of Health Points (HP). “In the original Shinobi, you died when you are hit once, but in the sequel Joe has HP. We designed it this way because while Shinobi was designed to be played for about three minutes with one coin, The Revenge of Shinobi was a console game and cost considerably more. It was also a much bigger game, so introducing a damage system was much more suitable,” Ohba states. Additionally, the objective of saving hostages was all but gone except for Musashi’s Fiancé. The game is challenging,so memorization is essential if one is to survive the challenges ahead.
There are a few exceptional examples of foreground and background switching which shows how far developers were pushing the Genesis’s hardware back in 1989.“If you look at its backgrounds, for example, in usual Mega Drive games there are only two layers of scrolling. However, in The Super Shinobi there are three to four in multiple stages, and this added a great deal of depth that just wasn’t seen in Mega Drive games at the time,” Ohba states.
Equipping Musashi with only his sword, a limited amount of kunai (unless you preform the infinite Shuriken cheat), and his Ninjutsu magic: Ikazuchi, a lightning shield protecting Musashi from attacks for several hits, Kariu, a fire dragon engulfing the screen with pillars of fire clearing out enemies, Fushin, having the ability to jump greater distances, and finally Mijin, where Musashi blows himself up only to regenerate consequently costing the player a life.
The game has a total of 8 stages modeling them similarly to the prequel: two levels and a boss fight.
Composing the music is done by none other than Yuzo Koshiro who masters the Sega Genesis’s audio capabilities early in its lifetime, foreshadowing his magnum opus, the Streets of Rage series. The game’s composition is one of the greatest gifts to the Sega Genesis’s music scene. Thankfully, the developers added a sound test so you can enjoy the music! Composing the music on a PC-88 which used a similar FM Synth to the Mega Drive/Genesis. Accordingly, he would continue this trend during the rest of his Genesis/Mega Drive composition career. Furthermore, the PC-88 version of the tracks features higher quality drum samples. Yuzo Koshiro’s goal was to combine traditional Japanese music with the growing popular electronic dance music. According to Koshiro, a source of inspiration for the track “Ninja Step” was Prince’s soundtrack to the 1989 Tim Burton film, Batman. Without a doubt, ranking among the best soundtracks on the Genesis. Unfortunately, he would not return to composethe Shinobi sequels.
Besides, heaps of the in-game fonts and sounds return in
the Streets of Rage Series.
Perhaps, any complaints I have with the game are regarding the bland pastel colors in the game which is common with early Genesis/Mega Drive games and the double jumps can be frustrating to perform at times. But, with a little practice and forgiveness on the developers since it was early in the Genesis lifespan these complaints can be forgiven.
The Revenge of Shinobi has several bizarre homages of copyrighted material from “Batman”, “Spiderman”, “Godzilla”, “Terminator”, “Hulk”, “Rambo”, and Jackie Chan. Apparently, the original copyright holders were not too fond of their unlicensed appearance so Sega removed “Batman”, changed “Rambo’s” appearance in later revisions, and “Spiderman” was officially put in since Sega had the license for a few revisions. Ironically though, they had the license for “Rambo”, but never used it in this game. “Godzilla” turns into a fossil in the later revisions as well, but the “Terminator/Hulk” remained in all versions.Accordingly, Obha stated that he made a bit of rough sketches from his mind and photos due to his lack of drawing abilities and unfortunately, the sprite designer reproduced them too well developing the sprites in game. In addition to that, by modeling the face of actor Sonny Chiba he was set as the face of Musashi (Kill Bill and Shadow Warriors) which eventually changed in later versions possibly due to legal reasons.
For those who want a trip down memory lane or wanting to start a Sega Genesis collection, the game itself is affordable with it being released onto different platforms like the Sega Smash Pack for the Dreamcast and PC (compatibility will vary) which instead includes a prototype which has many differences from the final product. Not to mention, also downloadable on the Wii Virtual Console, PSN, and XBLA. For those wanting a physical copy, I recommend the Sega 6-pack which has a great selection of Genesis/Mega Drive titles, including Golden Axe, Sonic, Super Hang On, and Streets of Rage. The game’s soundtrack is available on the The Super Shinobi & Works basing off the PC-88 compositions and Shinobi Music Collection – Legend of Joe Musashi which is based off the Genesis/Mega Drive version. Not only does Revenge of Shinobi look great, it plays well, having one of the best video game soundtrack, and the best Sega Genesis games. I highly recommend people try this game at least once since it shows how impressive Sega’s 16-bit system was in comparison to the NES and PC-Engine. In the end, the game’s legacy remains a respected one for Sega pushing the system’s capabilities early in its lifespan to state, “This is what the Genesis can do that Nintendo can’t!” paving way for Sega domination before the mighty Super Nintendo and a little blue hedgehog arrived.