SNK fans have much to celebrate, with two of their most-recent fighting games coming to American PS2s after a painful hiatus, with the release of King of Fighters XI and NeoGeo Battle Coliseum. Both of which are respectable fighting games that can be best viewed as the middle-ground between the technical Street Fighter and the somewhat-hectic Guilty Gear. And like KOFXI, NGBC does not disappoint in terms of quality, balanced fighting that is fun for just about anybody, regardless of skill level.
NGBC can best be described as SNK’s take on the early Marvel vs. Capcom games. While MVC2 is the best-known, most widely-played installment in the series, MVC1 was similar. It was a fast-paced game that prided itself on slick tag-teaming, over-the-top moves and fancy supers. NGBC is identical to it in many ways to the ol’ MVC1. Battles are two-on-two, with a five-button system practically identical to that of past SNK fighting games (but with the fifth button being mapped to the character shift). Battles are fast-paced, and super bars build with time, in addition to attacks, which allows for supers to be readily available very, very quickly, resulting in strong, super-heavy gameplay that makes it even more similar to MVC1. NGBC also takes a page from the Maximum Impact series, with super moves taking anywhere between one and three bars to use, as opposed to SNK’s typical one bar, one super setup. Much like in MVC1, as a character takes damage, another “recovery” bar is attached to his available amount of health. If a character is shifted, the recovery bar grows back, boosting the resting character’s health. There is also a special attack called Deadly Assaults, which do a minimal amount of damage, but directly attack the amount of health a character can recover. Shifting characters can also be used in combos, similar to KOFXI, resulting in a highly prevalent offense-or-defense approach to tagging. Because of this, NGBC ends up with an impressively unique and dynamic battle system that is just plain fun.
The cast of characters is an odd one. It can be best described as a dream match of almost major character from every NeoGeo game, encompassing almost every NeoGeo series ever. Characters from King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, Samurai Showdown, World Heroes, Metal Slug, Art of Fighting and Last Blade, as well as odds-and-ends from numerous other games like Cyber Woo from King of the Monsters and classical Athena from the Athena side-scroller. There are a couple notable absences, like Ash star of the most-recent King of Fighters games and Yuri Sakazaki (an Art of Fighting lead character and one of a handful of KOF characters to appear in every game), which are made somewhat confusing by the presence of relatively minor characters like Shermie (from King of Fighters 97) and Lee Pai Long (from Art of Fighting). There is also a pair of new characters, Ai and Yuki, included mainly to pay homage to various tidbits from the NeoGeo’s long history. Regardless, the game features a respectably large and diverse cast of thirty-nine characters.
As with essentially every SNK game from the past ten years, the graphics fall well short of almost any other game released since 2002. This has been a frustratingly chronic problem for SNK over the past several years, but it is probably at its worst in NGBC. KOFXI had a similar problem, where the sprites from characters released in KOF2003 and the new characters all looked significantly better than everyone else, who were still having sprites recycled from the NeoGeo (which was, by the way, first released in 1990). This is complicated by the fact that the sprites in NGBC seem to have very, very different artistic styles. In all seriousness, looking at Iori, Mudman, Haohmaru, Mr. Karate and Robert next to each other should result in questioning why they’re in the same game when they look so different. It’s almost like putting Half Life 2 characters on the same screen as, say, Dead or Alive 3 characters; while they’re relatively similar, the higher quality graphics of the newer characters, combined with some notable stylistic designs result in conflicting artistic and graphical styles. As for sound…well, the music is decent and the voice acting is solid. There isn’t really much to say about it.
Despite the graphical shortcomings, NeoGeo Battle Coliseum is still a good fighting game. With fast-paced gameplay and a slick, tag-based combat system, it would be found appealing by most fighting game fans, casual or hardcore. Not to mention the fact it costs a measly $20. While it lacks online play, it’s still worth checking out. However, if I was personally forced to choose between NGBC and KOFXI, I’d have to go with the latter. However, getting both is definitely a fine idea for any PS2 owners with all this Christmas exchanging.