About four years ago I made a list of must-play Neo Geo games on the Wii Virtual Console. Since then, it’s become the most consistently accessed post on the blog. With Wii VC shutting down and Hamster continuing to release a Neo Geo game every week on Switch, it seemed like a good time to revisit the concept with Nintendo’s hybrid console in mind.
A few things to know about this list:
- This list is a living document. I will continue to add cool Neo Geo games to the post as they release on the Switch eshop.
- The port quality in the series is consistently good. No game is being left off of the list because it’s glitchy or anything. The ACA Neo Geo series has a (pretty much) universal feature set including settings for audio, video (filters, screen size, etc.), difficulty (level, continues, etc.), and region (Japanese or English version). Every game also includes online leaderboards in the form of Hi Score and Caravan modes. The games can be played in handheld, docked, or tabletop mode with the Joy Con removed. They all support screenshots, and some like Metal Slug 3 have been patched to allow for 30 second video capture. None of the games in the series offer proper online play.
- I love SNK and Neo Geo games. A ton. However, many of these games demand quite a bit of skill for high-level play, and that’s not me. I can tell you why Last Blade gives me chills everytime I play it, but I can’t break down the fighting mechanics and systems at play. So in the interest of giving a more complete picture in addition to my thoughts, I included links for “further reading” about the games chosen in the list.
- I tried to limit the number of entries from a single series. For example, while I think there is an argument to be made for every Metal Slug game to be on this list, I only included one, because that’s my favorite one. This was especially challenging with the King of Fighters series, but such is life.
- Attn World Heroes and Art of Fighting mega-fans: don’t read this list, you’ll only be disappointed.
- Finally, and this probably doesn’t matter to anyone except me, but I took all the screenshots for this article myself. This ensures that the images you’re seeing from these games is authentic Switch quality. I use the A1 (light scanline) filter (found in the options of each game).
Cool. Let’s get started.
Blazing Star (1998)
Sporting one of the most bizarre and entertaining localizations on the hardware, Blazing Star delights from the first incomprehensible line of text. For as much as Blazing Star entertains, it also punishes in equal parts. The game is fast and relentless, constantly putting the player’s reflexes to the test. However, thanks to the difficulty / continue options in this port, the game can be experienced in its entirety by players of all skill levels. But if you really want to put your skills to the rest, give Hi Score Mode a go.
Neo Turf Masters (1996)
While golf video games haven’t really evolved much past the eponymous NES original, that formula is so sound that they haven’t needed to. Swing meters, adjusting for grade while putting- these mechanics are as ingrained in our muscle memory as much as pressing “A” to jump. Neo Turf Masters unsurprisingly follows this tired and true formula to become the secret best pick up and play 2-player Tabletop Mode game on the Switch.
Samurai Shodown II (1994)
In late 1995, my local game store began selling used 3DO consoles for a cool $80. I scrimped and saved to buy a system for the sole purpose of acquiring one game: Samurai Shodown. Outside of the prohibitively expensive Neo Geo AES, the 3DO was the best way to play SamSho and enjoy those large, scaling sprites. It was worth it. But in the meantime, Samurai Shodown II was already making the rounds in arcades, with more characters, better visuals, and some cool new defensive moves, such as dodging and rolling. As much nostalgia as I have for the original SamSho, every aspect of the sequel is superior, and the game I would recommend today.
Magician Lord (1990)
I almost didn’t include Magician Lord on this list. On one hand, the Castlevania-esque traversal combined with transformations reminiscent of Altered Beat set to a rockin’ synth soundtrack is instantly appealing to anyone who grew up playing games in the late-80s / early-90s. On the other hand, the game is stupidly difficult, with absurd platforming and cruel enemy placement seemingly designed to devour the arcade player’s hard-earned money. However, unlike previous home releases (like the Wii VC version) where continuing started you back at the beginning of a stage, the Arcade Archives port allows you to continue from where you died. This is a huge change that makes the game immediately more manageable (I recently finished it for the first time ever). It’s a game worth seeing through for the vibe alone.
Garou: Mark of the Wolves (1999)
In my humble opinion, Mark of the Wolves is the greatest fighting game SNK ever released. It’s gorgeous, deep, responsive, and accessible- even I could make sense of the systems. The absolute definition of a “must-play.”
Metal Slug (1996)
While later games in the series would up the stage count, challenge, and absurdity, the original Metal Slug remains a perfect run-and-gun experience. Released in 1996, well into the Neo Geo’s life, Metal Slug showcases some of the hardware’s best sprites and animation. It’s also just the right length for Contra-style repeated playthroughs.
Waku Waku 7 (1996)
The Neo Geo was home to many fighting games, but only one Waku Waku 7. Arguably the most eclectic of the system’s fighters, Waku Waku 7 (not the 7th game in the series), is pretty much non-stop cosmic weirdness. The cast of playable characters includes a giant cat thing, a mech piloted by a cop and a dog, a robot maid, and a rabbit schoolgirl(??). The art style is really striking- the “stage” splash screens are especially gorgeous, and the actual combat visuals are both colorful and surreal. It’s also extremely accessible and fun, which makes it a super enjoyable party fighter.
Magical Drop III (1997)
A cross between Puzzle Bobble and Puyo Puyo, the Magical Drop series stands alongside the greatest puzzle games of the 90s. Magical Drop III is the best of the series, with a solid selection of modes and absolutely delightful presentation. Another great choice for pick-up-and-play Tabletop Mode multiplayer.
The Last Blade (1997)
As much as I love Samurai Shodown, The Last Blade is my SNK samurai series of choice. Or should I say “post-samurai?” What’s interesting about The Last Blade is everything. You can feel the vibe of a roster of samurai and warriors, existing in world that is moving on and leaving them behind. The gorgeous backgrounds and somber soundtrack are chill-inducing, and the fighting mechanics are unique and satisfying. Once the sequel hits Switch, I would recommend that over the original, but for fans of the genre and this era in Japanese history, the complete duology is essential.
Zed Blade (1994)
I had never played Zed Blade prior to its Switch release, but as soon as I booted it up, I was hooked. The game opens by giving you a choice of pilot (which determines your ship’s speed), and then you choose your main, sub, and rear weapons (three choices for each). This alone gives the player a ton of options for experimentation and replayability. It also sports quite possibly my favorite soundtrack on the Neo Geo (by Cave / M2 composer Manabu Namiki).
King of Fighters ‘99 (1999)
While I didn’t let my personal connection and nostalgia color my pick for which Samurai Shodown game ended up on this list, I will for King of Fighters. Without a Neo Geo (or PS1 / Saturn importing know-how), I had little access to the KOF series until ‘98 hit the Sega Dreamcast. My friends and I would play KOF ‘98 between games of Soul Calibur and Virtua Fighter 3tb, but it wasn’t until ‘99 proper hit that the series really took off for me. First of all, King of Fighters ‘99 was simply gorgeous. Yeah, Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive 2 were super impressive 3D titles, but I couldn’t get over all the small details in KOF ‘99’s stages and the way the colors just popped. I also ended up falling in love with the new “Striker” mechanic, mostly because it allowed me to have characters on my team that I liked, but wasn’t good at playing. Although it’s not really a fan favorite, I’d still recommend KOF ‘99 as a great jumping on point. It’s where I really fell in love with the series, and it begins the insane “NESTS” storyline, which would be continued in KOF 2000 (also on the eshop).
Sengoku 3 (2001)
Sengoku 3 drops the transformations from the previous two games in the series, and in the process transforms into the best beat ’em up on the Neo Geo. Not only does the game look great, but it also adds in multiple layers of mechanical depth- you have a substantial roster of playable characters, each with loads of both regular and special moves (which require fighting game style inputs to execute). There is a double-tap dash mechanic, and all four of the Neo Geo’s face buttons get use. Oh and did I mention the robust combo system? Sengoku 3 doesn’t just represent the pinnacle of Neo Geo brawlers, but it stands among the all-time best in the genre, period.
More to come…