This content originally appeared in issue #2 of the Nintendo Fun Factor zine. The issue is available as a free .PDF download here; check it out!
As the Wii Virtual Console entered its twilight, there was one company still releasing games for it: SNK. Over the past few years, the Wii has (somewhat strangely) become the best place to play Neo Geo games. The consensus from the notoriously-hard-to-please Neo Geo fandom over on sites like Neo-Geo.com is that the emulation in these releases is close to, if not 100%, perfect. The games may be a bit on the pricey side (though nothing compared to the original cart prices), but they don’t have the awful load times that plague some of the disc-based collections.
SNK and publisher D4 Enterprise have built up a respectable library of Neo Geo titles on the Virtual Console. Here are some of the must-plays:
The Last Blade 2 (1998)
Samurai Shodown II may be the most famous and well-regarded SNK samurai-fighter, but Last Blade 2 is my personal favorite. What makes Last Blade 2 so remarkable to me is the setting and atmosphere. The game takes place in mid-19th century Japan, during a period of upheaval. The “modern era” of Japan has begun, the shogunate has come to an end, and the samurai have been rendered useless. This melancholy and somber tone is reflected in every facet of Last Blade 2’s aesthetic- some stages have no music whatsoever- a far cry from the typical electronic rock of fighting games. The fighting is pretty solid too, with an elegant and impactful deflect/counter mechanic. Highly recommended.
Don’t let its somewhat ugly pre-rendered graphics fool you – Ironclad is a wonderful game. Branching paths, cool bosses, tight controls, and a plethora of ship upgrades make this side scrolling shooter worth checking out. Although this was originally a Neo Geo CD release, it suffers from none of that system’s infamous load times on the Wii Virtual Console.
Sengoku 2 (1993)
This time-traveling, shape shifting, weapons-based brawler represents pretty much everything great about early-90s video games. Sengoku 2’s closest contemporary in the gameplay department is probably Golden Axe, so imagine Golden Axe with Altered Beast-esque transformations and stages set in the 90s, ancient, and war-torn 1940s Japan. Awesome.
Metal Slug 3 (2000)
Generally considered to be the best entry in the series, Metal Slug 3 still impresses today, over a decade after its original release. From the amazing animation, absurdist humor, and the fast action the series is known for to a huge variety of stages and vehicles, Metal Slug 3 has it all. This is not just the best Metal Slug, but one of the best games in the genre, right up there with greats such as Gunstar Heroes and Contra 3.
Magical Drop III (1997)
With easy to learn, tough to master, mechanics and music that will be stuck in your head for days, Magical Drop 3 is the best puzzle game you’ve (maybe) never played.
Shock Troopers 2nd Squad (1998)
Shock Troopers 2nd Squad is somewhat similar to SNK’s early top down shooters such as Ikari Warriors and Guerrilla War. However, the setting and enemies are far more ridiculous and the digitized voices just add to the surrealness of the experience – I honestly didn’t realize the characters were speaking English until about halfway through the second stage.
The King of Fighters ’98 (1998)
While the Wii Virtual Console sports every KOF from ’94 to ’99, King of Fighters ’98 is my top pick. Rocking a huge roster, giant sprites, gorgeous backgrounds, multiple play modes (single, team, practice, and vs), and a great soundtrack, this is to me the series’ peak.
If you want the most authentic Neo Geo experience possible on your Wii, be sure to track down the (Japan-only) Neo Stick 2!