NeoGeo Battle Coliseum Review
It's always a good idea to bring together a classic cast of video game characters in any game, regardless of the format or genre. When it comes to SNK Playmore, they've got several well-known franchises to draw from, and they did just that by selecting characters from the likes of Metal Slug, Samuari Showdown and King of Fighters for play in NeoGeo Battle Coliseum. Fans of old-school arcade games will take pleasure in being able to choose from a slew of familiar faces, and for the most part, the gameplay works to uphold this excellent compilation theory. However, the end result is also a bare-bones experience with not quite enough in the way of options, modes or customization. Furthermore, they don't take enough advantage of the two-character tag-team setup, which leads to a relatively bland experience after only a few hours of play. Still, for fans of fighting games and classic SNK titles, this budget-priced game might be worthy of a purchase. After all, you probably aren't interested in dropping $60 on a brand new title so soon after spending a fortune during the Christmas holidays. Right?
As usual, when it comes to compilations and games that feature an old visual style, we can't really harp on the graphics too much. Obviously, NeoGeo Battle Coliseum isn't going to look anything like Virtua Fighter 5, so it would be unfair to hold it to such standards. Therefore, the best we can do is examine how well this PS2 title recreates the pleasant sprite-based graphics from video game consoles long past. When we do that, we're mostly happy with the effort, although we still think some of the characters could've been cleaned up just a bit more. We loved the option of changing the costume color for each character, and we even had the ability to change between "Normal" and "Soft" for the character graphical design. But the backgrounds aren't all that absorbing, and SNK certainly could've done a bit more with the environment (yes, we realize it's just an old-fashioned 2D fighter, but still). We did appreciate the very cool special effects included, though, which represented a definite highlight of the game. If you have the dexterous fortitude to pull ‘em off, you will be rewarded by the ensuing flash of eye candy that assaults your screen.
The sound is similar, in that the overall presentation is fine, but it lacks some polish and variety. When you enter your first battle, the invigorating combat tracks help to get you psyched up for the action, but the repetitive rock/electronic songs quickly grow tiresome. The sound effects are good, especially when it comes to those aforementioned special attacks, but those effects can get muddled with the infrequent use of character voices during gameplay. If you want to get picky, one can cite some technical issues when an ending scrolls or when fooling around with the menus (curious drops in volume, a wee bit of static here and there, etc.), but let's not be anal. SNK brings in some decent music and effects for this game, and there isn't enough wrong with the sound to significantly hinder the experience. Provided you get involved in the fighting, you likely won't even bother too much about the less-than-perfect sound, which has its moments, but never succeeds in being a substantially positive factor. What, you don't remember the way those old 16, 32, and even 64-bit games used to sound? At the very least, the effects and tracks are nostalgic in NeoGeo Battle Coliseum, yes?
This game doesn't play out exactly like a standard fighter. Rather than the default one-on-one matches we're all so familiar with, SNK decided to use a tag team style of play and allows you to choose two characters per play session. At any given time during a round - except when you're getting nailed - you can hit the R1 button and "tag" your teammate. This makes for added strategy and there's the obvious benefit of being able to play with two different characters during your quest for ultimate supremacy. However, as we said in the intro, we're confused as to why SNK didn't want to make this tag team format a catalyst for an engaging and truly original fighting experience. Furthermore, while there are plenty of pretty special maneuvers and abilities, they're far too difficult to execute (depending on the character), and this turns the game into more of a button-masher. Some may like this, but it's unlikely that die-hard fans of this genre are interested in that type of thing. But if you have a friend who wants to sit down for a few hours and reminisce a bit, that inherent two-player format is great fun, even if it gets a little old a little too quickly.
When you start things up, you'll be able to pick from Arcade Play, Arcade Vs. (two players, duh), Tag Play, Survival Challenge and Practice. Unfortunately, that's all we've got, and it doesn't help that Arcade Play and Tag Play are virtually the same thing. You have to defeat both opponents in the latter mode and in Arcade mode, you only have to take down one, but that's the only difference. Practice isn't much of anything, and Survival Challenge is probably the only saving grace when it comes to depth. You can unlock a whole bunch of new content with this mode, but the lack of balance really shows its unfortunate colors, here. Thing is, too many characters are wicked cheap. Marco, for example, only has to stand at a distance and toss up his assortment of firepower, making it extremely difficult for anybody to get close. Haohmaru has crazy range with that sword of his, and for some reason, does an abnormal amount of damage in comparison to most other characters. In other words, if you want to play with a friend, you two have to pick out the cheap characters right off the bat in order to stave off the "lame" accusations and exclamations.
Now, because some characters have special skills that are very difficult to execute, the cheapness factor lessens just a bit. But again, it very much depends on the character selection. And whichever characters you choose is all the more crucial considering the next complaint we have: most of the fighters do not have the awesome Special Double Assault ability! What's the deal with that? We've got two characters going into every battle, and only a few of them can pair up and unleash some serious firepower. That makes absolutely no sense, and is the primary failing of NeoGeo Battle Coliseum. On the good side of things, the controls really are quite responsive, and the variety of fighting skills and unbelievable assortment of characters (40, plus 6 unlockable ones!) is enough to make any fan of the genre smile. There is a lack of balance, but with so many characters and so many different fighting styles, you're bound to find something you like. Whether you feel like mastering Yuki's unique combat ability or you just enjoy watching Mai's bouncing bosoms - man, those things have a life of their own - you will certainly appreciate the selection.
On top of which, it's a $20 budget title that is designed to appeal to two players, even more so than the standard fighter. So when it's all nasty outside and you and a buddy have nothing to do, and you just might be reminiscing about the good ol' days, perhaps NeoGeo Battle Coliseum is just the ticket. Sure, the gameplay exhibits a lack of balance ("dude, that is so cheap" will be a common lament), the tracks are repetitive, and there aren't enough modes, but that's okay. There are a ton of characters, a lot of variety in the fighting styles, good control, and the tag system does add another dimension of strategy to a straightforward genre. We just wish SNK didn't totally drop the ball in regards to the Double Assault ability, which punctuated the tag team format, and without a lot of modes to pick from, everything gets kinda dry after a few hours. If they had just followed through with the initial idea, the game could've been very solid. But...well, you can't have everything. This is an okay title, and maybe worth the twenty bucks if you're looking for a simple, fun, yet flawed old-school 2D fighter.
1/7/2008 Ben Dutka