When the Nintendo Switch was announced last October, the world united as one to celebrate this great opportunity to purchase an emulated version of Super Mario Bros on the NES on a new system for the 400th time. It got more sincerely excited about the prospect of being able to take Gamecube and/or Wii titles ‘on the go’. The Virtual Console (Nintendo’s online retro game store) has become an integral part of Nintendo’s offerings, having formed a central part of its systems’ game library for Wii, 3DS and Wii U.
However, when the system arrived, the Virtual Console wasn’t there. Indeed, there was little in the way of ‘online’ at all, just a vague notion that things would be appearing later in the year. Given the paucity of titles available for the system upon launch, it seemed like an unusual misstep for a company that’s not been shy about selling you things twice, thrice or more over the years.
But yet, there is a glimmer of light. Since its launch, Hamster Corporation (yes, that is what they’re called, get over it) have been drip-feeding classic Neo Geo games onto the Switch. At the time of writing, there are 17 on the eShop – a significant percentage of the total games available for the system.
The Neo Geo was a huge deal in the 90s, offering anyone with more money than sense the opportunity to have arcade-perfect versions of SNK’s games in the home. And, if you’d like to recreate what it was like to overspend on hardware that allows you to play a small, but impressive, line-up of 90s arcade titles, you can now do it again by purchasing a Nintendo Switch. Here’s some of the key franchises you can dip your toe in…
The first Fatal Fury title, King Of Fighters, was released in November 1991. It’s a classic 1v1 fighting game from Takashi Nishiyama, creator of the original Street Fighter (who later returned to that franchise for the series’ return to form, Street Fighter 4). Whilst this game might not have given Street Fighter 2 anything to worry about, it’s still interesting in seeing the direction the first instalment’s creator would have taken the series in. Two-lane battles mean the fights have both a foreground and background aisle and, if a second player joins in mid-battle, rather than hijacking the single player mode, they join the game, making it become 2 v 1 for the remainder of that fight, before squaring off against each other.
Eight years later, the final instalment in the series, Garou: Mark Of The Wolves (also known as Fatal Fury 4) appeared, pushing the Neo Geo’s then-aging hardware to the limit. Praised at the time, if you’d like to see these two book-ends of the franchise, you can grab them both on the Switch now.
The King Of Fighters
Another 1v1 fighting title, this one’s a crossover title that takes characters from Fatal Fury and Art Of Fighting (sadly, this series is not yet represented on Switch) and pits them against each other. The first instalment, in 1994, chose to abandon the genre’s traditional best-of-3 approach and instead allowed you to pick 3 players for a team. When one is defeated, the next tags in, and so it goes until one of the team loses all 3 members.
If you want to see the direction this series took, you can also grab the fifth instalment, from 1998, which allows you to play as most of the characters from all four previous iterations. If that still isn’t enough for you, King Of Fighters ’99 should be out on Switch too, later this year.
As the above might suggest, the Neo Geo is often thought of as a system built on fighting games (Samurai Showdown 4, World Heroes Perfect, Galaxy Fight and the best of the bunch, Waku Waku 7, are also available on Switch) but it wasn’t all just punching. Metal Slug is a series of run and gun titles that deserves a lot more love than it gets. The first title got great reviews at the time, and holds up well today, thanks to its approach of turning every element up to 11. It’s a ridiculous amount of fun to play and if, when you finish it, you’re yearning for more, you can immediately grab Metal Slug 3 (2’s not on the Switch yet). Back in the day, this one would have cost you a fortune in the arcades, such was it’s difficulty, but here you can just keep popping virtual coins in to your heart’s content at no extra cost.
If that’s not enough run and gun goodness for you, Shock Troopers and the lesser-spotted Nam-1975 are also on Switch to help you scratch that itch.
But wait – there’s more…
If you like a vertical-scrolling shooter, Alpha Mission 2 is here like a turbo-charged, laser-blasting version of arcade classic 1942. If you prefer your shooters to scroll sideways, there’s Blazing Star, a great game made in the mould of R-Type that has the distinction of being the source of the popular online expression ‘Fail’, from its full game over message: “You fail it! Your skill is not enough, see you next time, bye-bye!” Or at least that’s what Wikipedia says. And Wikipedia’s never wrong, right?
Closing out the Switch/Neo Geo library (for now) are Over Top, an obscure top-down racer, and Neo Turf Masters, a golf game which, given the rest of this line-up, looks as out of place here as a cuddly toy in an anus. It’s good though. The golf game, I mean…
The Neo Geo had a great library of games, and many of them are already available on the Switch. They often get overlooked as they don’t fit the traditional ‘history of games’ narrative that leans so heavily on Sega, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, but that’s a shame as many of them hold up well today. Plus, they just look SO arcade.
Sure, it might seem slightly extravagant to buy a Switch just to play Neo Geo games, but the handheld Neo Geo X (released in 2012) will set you back £350 and that’s only got 20 games on it, whereas it seems the Switch is going to have a steady stream of Neo Geo games arriving for the foreseeable future.
So, if you’re a retro gaming fan that likes the idea of a Neo Geo handheld that can also play the latest Nintendo titles, pick up a Switch.
It’s a mystery why I’m not in charge of Nintendo’s marketing.
Steve McNeil is co-creator of, and team captain on, Dara O Briain’s Go 8-Bit. You can find him on Twitter, here.