One cool thing that we’ve started to see in the last couple of console generations is publishers bringing formerly Japan-only releases to the West — not necessarily fully translated, but simply providing us access to games that were previously difficult or impractical to get hold of.
One such example is ADK Damashii, a compilation of Neo Geo games that was released for PlayStation 2 back in 2008. It was ported to PlayStation 4 in 2015 for Japanese players — then, two years later, it got a surprise Western release via digital download, followed by a limited packaged release courtesy of Limited Run Games at the tail end of 2019.
ADK Damashii features five games to enjoy, all developed by former SNK partner Alpha Denshi Kabushiki Gaisha, also known as Alpha Denshi Corporation or, you guessed it, ADK. Let’s begin with a look at the rather literally titled Ninja Combat.
If there’s one thing the Neo Geo is good at, it’s… well, it’s fighting games, but if there’s more than one thing the Neo Geo is good at, puzzle games are definitely in the mix too.
Money Puzzle Exchanger is a 1997 release from Japanese developer Face that began its life on the Neo Geo MVS system before later being ported to Game Boy and PlayStation. These days, it’s pretty easy to get hold of in its initial incarnation thanks to it being part of Hamster’s Arcade Archives series, whose various releases have found their way to numerous platforms over the last few years.
And that’s fortunate, because Money Puzzle Exchanger is a great game that is well worth your time and… well, money.
SNK had some top-notch arcade hits throughout the ’80s and ’90s, and many of them came home in one form or another.
One great example was Ikari Warriors, which saw several different home ports over the years. The one we’re concerned with today is Elite’s Atari ST version, which remains surprisingly true to the arcade original despite lacking SNK’s iconic “loop lever” control scheme.
It’s a solid top-down run-and-gun that still holds its own well today, and back then it demonstrated that the ST was more than capable of providing a convincing “arcade at home” experience!
Sometimes there are games that aren’t the most fun to play today, but remain significant from a historical perspective nonetheless. SNK’s 1986 title Athena, in both its arcade and NES incarnations, definitely falls into that category.
Acting as a spiritual predecessor to Psycho Soldier but having pretty much nothing to do with it — the “Athena” in this game is supposedly a distant ancestor of the “Athena” in Psycho Soldier, so it’s not even the same character — Athena is a monstrously challenging platform action game that does a lot of interesting things… and a lot of frustrating things!
In the same year as the excellent Vanguard, SNK’s 6502-based “Rockola” hardware played host to an altogether different kind of game.
Fantasy was a rather unusual game. Eschewing the usual spaceships and aliens in favour of a distinctly more “human” setup, the game actually made an effort to tell a story as it progressed. An extremely simple story, yes, but exceedingly ambitious considering this was 1981.
As you may have noticed already, early-days pre-Neo Geo SNK is a real treasure trove of classic shoot ’em ups. And few come more classic than Vanguard.
First released in 1981, Vanguard was another game of “firsts” for the fledgling SNK. It was not, as some sources claim, SNK’s first colour game — Sasuke vs. Commanderpredates it by a year — but it was their first to incorporate something that would become a mainstay of their later titles, including Bermuda Triangleand World Wars: multi-directional shooting, independent of movement direction.
It also featured some delightful synthesised speech and gratuitously, shamelessly stolen music. And it’s a lot of fun to boot. Let’s take a closer look.
Like Ozma Wars before it, Sasuke vs. Commander is another game of possible “firsts” in gaming — and also a game that doesn’t get much acknowledgement today, thanks to a lack of home ports until it got a PlayStation minis release for PS3, PSP and Vita in 2011.
Well now. Here’s one that doesn’t get talked about all that much: one of SNK’s earliest games, and a title believed to be the second ever fixed shoot ’em up, after Taito’s genre-defining classic Space Invaders.
In fact, Ozma Wars, developed by Logitec (no, not that one) and published by SNK in 1979, ran on the same Taito 8080 hardware that powered Space Invaders, was available as a conversion kit for Space Invaders machines, and even made use of the same coloured overlay on its black and white display to bring a bit of vibrancy to the visuals.
What’s more, it provides a thoroughly interesting early shoot ’em up experience that is markedly distinct from Taito’s title. Let’s take a closer look.
The loose “trilogy” of vertically scrolling shoot ’em ups from SNK’s early days that began with Alpha Mission and Bermuda Triangle finally concludes with 1987’s World Wars.
Sometimes erroneously described as a reskin of Bermuda Triangle, World Wars offers an interesting blend between the gameplay elements of its two predecessors, and manages to carve out an identity for itself as an enjoyable, addictive shoot ’em up in its own right in the process.