While it's fairly common knowledge that the Neo Geo system sported a rather sizable library of fighting titles, many people don't realise that the system also featured an extremely impressive assortment of shoot 'em up releases as well. In fact, several of these games rank as some of the best shooters of all time among avid fans of the genre.
So why is it exactly, that we've seen over 20 Neo Geo releases to date and not one shmup released in North America? Even Europe has only seen one Neo Geo shooter title made available, with the release of the import Neo Geo CD release Ironclad last week.
This glaring lack of Neo Geo shmups has given us the itch to take a look back at ten of the best Neo Geo shoot 'em up titles available for the system and put together a list we hope SNK Playmore will take a good long look at when they consider their next Virtual Console releases.
While Andro Dunos isn't quite as flashy as some of the higher end Neo Geo shmups, it's still a lot of fun to play. At times it looks and feels very similar to the earlier PC Engine shoot 'em ups, but with a touch of Salamander influence to it. The game sports a very manageable and smooth difficulty curve, so players of any skill level should find it appealing and easy enough to get into. The bosses in the game, while visually appealing enough, can be a bit drab in their attacks and movements, but the level designs leading up to them more than make up for it. If you can appreciate an 8-bit style shooter experience wrapped up in a solid 16-bit visual performance, you'll find a lot to like about Andro Dunos.
Blazing Star is easily one of the most popular and sought-after shooters available for the various Neo Geo systems. While some fans still prefer the slightly more aggressive Pulstar, you can't argue that Blazing Star is one of the most visually beautiful and playable shmups ever created. The game is chock full of screen-filling bosses to tackle and some of the best level designs ever crafted that should test even the most seasoned shooter fan. It doesn't hurt that the game also features a very user-friendly gameplay system and an extremely smooth difficulty curve to boot. Toss in a fantastic scoring and grading system and you have a shooter that no fans of the genre should miss.
Last Resort is a good candidate for most underrated Neo Geo shmup. While it generally takes a backseat to the likes of Pulstar, Blazing Star, and Viewpoint, it's actually a very high quality shooter and yet another R-Type clone that does enough new things to warrant a play. The game makes use of the same type of pod system as that of R-Type, but in Last Resort you can control the aim of the pod and which direction it shoots or fires a charge shot in. Despite the game being an earlier Neo Geo release, the visuals and music are actually quite impressive. The difficulty curve is rather sharp, although not quite as sharp as that of Viewpoint, but there's enough playability in the level designs and boss fights to keep you coming back for more. An engaging shmup that should not be overlooked.
Prehistoric Isle 2 is one of the more interesting shooters available on the Neo Geo system, mainly due to its unique dinosaur-themed world and its flashy rendered visuals. Of course the game isn't all about eye candy as it's one of the more enjoyable horizontal shmups on the system and despite starting off a bit on the easy side, the game features a solid level of challenge later on in the game. There are also some amazing backdrops to pilot your helicopter through, not to mention a very interesting gameplay mechanic that allows you to rescue stranded people along the way for extra points. It doesn't help matters that the game is a bit on the rare side, so tracking down a copy for the MVS arcade system can be tricky and expensive. Those who own the game will tell you it's well worth the effort.
Pulstar is about as blatant an R-Type rip-off as you could get, but what makes it so funny is that it's actually even better than the actual R-Type release. It basically takes many of the visual and gameplay mechanics of R-Type and spices them all up a bit. Not only is it one of the most graphically impressive Neo Geo shmups with its gorgeous rendered visuals, it's also one of the most rewarding gameplay experiences as well. While the game is a bit high in the difficulty department, it's so much fun that you'll keep coming back to it time and time again, no matter how many times you crash. There's still quite a debate as to whether Pulstar or Blazing Star are the better game, but as anyone who's played these two gems will tell you, any shmup fan worth their weight should own both of them.
Captain Tomaday would have to be considered the "cute-em up" of the Neo Geo system. It's easily one of the most outlandish shmups you're ever likely to encounter and the gameplay is every bit as eccentric as the visual themes the game makes use of. Instead of firing missiles, your renegade tomato fires off his two fists in order to take out enemies that range from flying Jack-O-Lanterns to agitated sea crabs. And as in most shmups, there are plenty of power-ups to pick up along the way to help you out. Combine all of these many zany ideas together and you have not only a very entertaining shooter, but one that will appeal to gamers of a wide age range. But be warned, the game might have a sugary sweet look and feel, but it can be quite challenging in later levels.
Strikers 1945 Plus is the only game developer Psikyo developed for the Neo Geo system, but it was a great choice to add to the system's catalogue of shooters. The game features a World War II-era theme so the planes you'll be piloting are all from the era, or based around them. The action is intense and the enemy fire is heavy and very sporadic, so you'll have to really be on your toes in order to manoeuvre the game's many areas. The visuals and soundtrack are a bit basic, but the game's very smooth and responsive controls more than make up for it. This was one of the best releases from the series, so if you're a fan of the Strikers releases, you're gonna want to get your hands on this one. There weren't a lot of vertical shmups developed for the Neo Geo system, but this is easily one of the better ones.
The one thing that can definitely be said of Twinkle Star Sprites is that there are very few shooters quite like it. The game takes the basic vertical shooter premise and builds a split-screen battle mode around it all. As you destroy enemies on your side of the screen, you can create and launch attacks on the other opponent's side of the screen in an effort to KO them. While this whole thing might seem rather bizarre, everything is integrated so smoothly that the overall experience is a lot of fun, especially if you can round up a second player to join in the fun. The pastel-coloured visuals give the game a unique visual style and the upbeat musical tracks end up adding even more charm and personality to a game that's already overflowing with both. It's no wonder this game is so popular among Neo Geo fans.
Viewpoint has the honor of being almost unanimously voted the Neo Geo shooter most likely to make you put your fist through a wall. While it's unique isometric viewpoint and polygon-style visuals are its main draw, the sheer level of difficulty in beating the game in one credit will drive even the most seasoned shmup fan insane. Of course that's a testament to just how much Neo Geo fans love the game as you know it must be good to keep people coming back to it despite it's brutal difficulty. And although it's not quite on par with Pulstar or Blazing Star, it's unique look and gameplay make it still one of the most popular Neo Geo shmups. If you can appreciate something a little different, you'll love what Viewpoint has to offer. Of course that's assuming you've got what it takes to play the game.
Zed Blade is another Neo Geo shooter that tends to be widely overlooked. Sure the visuals aren't terribly detailed and the techno soundtrack can become a little redundant, but the core gameplay features a surprising amount of intensity, not to mention some enjoyable boss fights. The game's scenery isn't much to look at, but the game does feature some smooth multi-layer scrolling and the special attacks and bosses also show a nice bit of graphical flare. Fans of early 16-bit era shmups, specifically those found on the PC Engine early in its lifecycle, will enjoy the intensity and simple play control mechanics of Zed Blade. It might not be much to look at, but it's got it where it counts.
Well there you have it – ten Neo Geo shoot 'em ups that deserve to be released on the Virtual Console. Not only are some of these titles insanely difficult to find for the actual systems, they're also exorbitantly priced in many cases as well, making them perfect candidates for release on the service.
We'd love to hear what you guys think. And if you've got a favourite Neo Geo shoot 'em up, here's your chance to let SNK Playmore know you want to see it on the Virtual Console.