Okay, I'll level with you guys. I'm not even entirely sure what I can write about this title that would qualify as actual news. This game is so entrenched in video game history that it's not even funny. Still, here goes.
Neo Geo Battle Coliseum is a 2-D sprite-based arcade fighting game ripped straight out of the turn of the century. Anyone who owns a PlayStation 2 has invariably played a handful of these already, if not more. Thus they, and you, likely already know what to expect here. You've got special moves, super combos, complicated command lists and button combinations galore. This game isn't for newcomers to the genre, especially given some characters' command lists, and options once some special moves are activated.
My writing of this review comes at an interesting time, however. See, Sega Superstars Tennis just got released for almost all major platforms, and I've been playing ungodly amounts of it. I'll be talking about that game in due time, but the philosophies behind that game and the one featured here are strikingly similar. It's caused me to think.
With the SNK vs. Capcom crossover license having run its course, both SNK and Capcom, a couple of years ago, created giant crossover dream match fighting games based on their home franchises. Capcom released Capcom Fighting Evolution, a positively lazy MUGEN-esque cut-and-paste affair. SNK, bless them, went the opposite route and actually dug into their back catalogs, creating all-new sprite sets for characters they owned that no one ever thought they'd see again, and let them rumble to your heart's content.
Personally, I'm a big fan of this approach. Some may call dusting off and updating old franchises "pandering to nostalgia" — I prefer to call it "celebrating what's proven to be quality." Of course, when you do this, you easily run the risk of alienating yourself to all but a niche audience—the ones that have followed your franchises for years. Look at the character roster. Some of the characters make sense from an audience standpoint, like Marco from Metal Slug, along with a bunch of King of Fighters and a couple of Samurai Shodown representatives, but then it just gets crazy. Cyber Woo from King of the Monsters 2? Mudman and Fuuma from World Heroes? Heck, some of the games represented weren't even good — is there a reason Kisarah from Aggressors of Dark Kombat made a slot?
But I digress. There are times when, yes, in fact, fan service can, nay must drive a game, and this is one of them, because it's hard to see its worth in other categories. One has only to look at Marco to see that this title is hardly "balanced" for any sort of tournament play. SNK stuffed him with every single piece of weaponry and every special technique that he's ever had in every single Metal Slug game, to great effect. The guy's utterly insane as a result, packing the biggest punishments for jumping in since Ryu and Ken's Shoryuken.
Thus, when you play NGBC by yourself or with others, most of the rush usually isn't going to come from any skillful fighting, but the fact that holy crap I'm fighting Marco from Metal Slug and he shot a rocket in my face just like he does in that other game he's from. Depending on how well it's done, it can be enough to keep you going all by itself. Fortunately, every character, no matter how pandering to the nostalgia bone they are, comes with a bevy of moves, flash and technique to keep the motivation for "one more game" quite strong.
There's one more thing about this game that breaks the mold, at least for fighting game veterans. The Arcade Mode of NGBC is set up like the Survival Mode of most fighting games, with a couple of twists. Here, you're given roughly 300 seconds to defeat as many tag teams as possible with a tag team of your own (without energy regeneration), and afterwards, your performance nets you a boss in accordance with your own "skill." Such bosses range from Mizuchi, a carbon copy of the seemingly cheap but ultimately disappointing Orochi from King of Fighters '97, to Goodman, the true final boss and an utter pain with whom to deal. It's a decent system, and one has to wonder just why it took so many years for something like it to surface in fighting games at all.
Keeping in line with the "old territory" motif, Battle Coliseum sports the same graphical fidelity (or lack thereof) of the old Neo-Geo MVS games. Large, pixelated 16-bit sprites dance around the screen, and depending on who you talk to, they're either looking a bit long in the tooth, or they're an affront to the eyes in the year 2008. The lack of the Japanese version's 480p mode doesn't help matters, but at least the soundtrack's good.
Still, even after all I've talked, it all comes down to my first few paragraphs. Do you like 2-D fighters, or want to know what they're all about? Snatch up Neo Geo Battle Coliseum. Do you like to break 2-D fighters, and play them at the highest level possible? This title may provide some frustration. Do you like SNK and have fond memories of their franchises? Then odds are you already have this game; if not, though, you really should. It's a celebration of all you hold dear, you crazed fanboy/fangirl, you.
However, if you were raised on things like Tekken and Soul Calibur and just never knew that fighting games used to be played on flat arenas … not your fault, but the sequels to those are coming this year, so you may want to go reserve them at your local game shop, and let us old people have our fun.
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