On paper, NeoGeo Heroes Ultimate Shooting sounds like a great formula. Take SNK Playmore’s massive stable of arcade game characters and plop them into an old-school styled vertical scrolling shooter, then add a bunch of SNK-themed bosses and a story composed almost entirely of silly gags and in-jokes. Sounds like a real winner for SNK’s longtime fan crowd, right? Unfortunately, NeoGeo Heroes isn’t as awesome as the premise might lead you to believe.
True to its name, NeoGeo Heroes lets you play as one of many characters from SNK arcade classics. They range from the well-known (Mai Shiranui and Terry Bogard from King of Fighters, Marco from Metal Slug) to the far more obscure (Akari from The Last Blade, Syd-III from ancient arcade shooter ASO). Each character has a unique standard shot pattern and themed “special moves” with different effects on the playfield, along with the typical limited stock of life-saving “smart bombs” to use in a pinch. You’ll take your character through a player-chosen path along several action-packed shooting and dodging-filled stages, racking up high scores and fighting a classic SNK character as a boss at the end of each. There’s a lot of potential for superplay fiends to rack up some killer high scores, which is a very enjoyable element of the game.
The main issue with NeoGeo Heroes, however, is that the stages themselves are generally dull, filled with utterly nondescript backgrounds and constantly recycled, generic enemy designs. If you were hoping for fun level designs themed around specific SNK titles and characters, you are going to be sorely disappointed - the bosses (and the ridiculous dialogue accompanying them) are the only thing that will get your nostalgia juices flowing. To make things worse, the stage design is inconsistent. Enemy waves and attack patterns fall in the categories of “piss easy” and “suddenly, frustratingly hard,” and often change between the two extremes at a moment’s notice. As a result, you’ll often find yourself struggling to maintain interest in the core stage until you reach the considerably more fun (though still inconsistently difficult) boss fights.
Another big issue is the display. The PSP’s extra-lengthy widescreen was clearly not designed with the intent to handle vertically-oriented shooting games, but that didn’t stop the developers of NGH. What’s boggling is that, despite being a PSP exclusive, the game’s default display is formatted like a vertical scrolling arcade game – meaning that only a small portion in the center of the screen is used for the actual game area, and is surrounded by giant “letterbox” borders at all times. Considering the PSP screen’s already small vertical area, this means a whole lot of squinting and potential headaches when you’re trying to keep track of teeny bullets threatening to fry you. You can remedy this problem by changing a setting to play holding the PSP vertically, which actually works out very well once you get used to it – provided you don’t mind looking like a moron when you play in public. Why not just make a shooting game that fits the default PSP display more adequately to begin with?
NGH does offer a lot in terms of extras, too. There’s a special challenge mode, an art gallery, and even an entire extra game - King of Fighters Sky Stage - included in the $20 package. Sky Stage isn’t as cool a bonus as it seems, though - while the stage design is different from NeoGeo Heroes, the pared-down character roster and gameplay make it feel more like a beta for the main game. It also suffers from the same display and control problems as NGH, so if you’re really interested in Sky Stage, you’re best off buying it on XBLA.
NeoGeo Heroes has good things going for it – a great premise, fantastic boss encounters, and a load of extras for a very reasonable price. Frequently dull levels suck out a lot of the charm, however, and the game’s biggest selling point – SNK nostalgia – is completely underutilized. In the end, NeoGeo Heroes feels like a fun idea executed merely adequately instead of spectacularly.
Dec 23, 2010