NeoGeo Battle Coliseum
Meet Goodman. Nobody really cares about him. In a world where Geese Howard and Rugal Bernstein – you know, real fighting game bosses – dominate the playing field, this fellow comes up short. He looks like a cheap Igniz knockoff, wields a fiery whip, and controls a purple ball of flame shaped like a baboon’s head. Ooh, fearsome. His design practically screams, “I’m a throwaway villain! Beware my generic scheming!” If he weren’t poised to take control of the SNK universe, he’d hardly be a character worth taking seriously. Never mind fiddling around with Southtown, the Orochi powers, and the other plot elements from the King of Fighters series; this pretty boy is out to kill off SNK’s finest. For the moment, it’s time to put all of the intricate storylines and plot progressions aside in favor of some awesome crossover fighting action.
For SNK fans, such a concept shouldn’t sound new. After all, the King of Fighters is essentially one massive crossover; it spans the likes of Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Ikari Warriors, and Psycho Soldier while maintaining a certain degree of continuity. NeoGeo Battle Coliseum, however, ditches the usual lineup; aside from a handful superstars from SNK’s main franchise, representatives from Samurai Showdown, The Last Blade, Metal Slug, World Heroes, and a few other series are present as well. Older characters, such as Shermie, the Jin Twins, and even the Mars People make their triumphant returns. Imagine Marco Rossi blasting Geese away in a hail of grenades and Heavy Machine Gun bullets, or Kaede clashing swords with Genjuro Kibagami. Sure, there are a couple of new characters (including a girl that summons Tetris blocks for projectiles), but you won’t care much about them. This is about nostalgia and showcasing the best of SNK’s past creations.
Miraculously, the gameplay isn’t hindered by the characters’ different playing styles. The combat mechanics echo those found in recent King of Fighters games, but don’t utilize the analog stick. A character comes with a standard set of punches, kicks, and counters, which in turn allows for plenty of hard-hitting combos and offensive or defensive tactics. Each fighter also comes packing a slew a special attacks, ranging from fiery knuckles, pulsing ground waves, invisible sword slashes, screen-filling projectiles, and all the rest of the stuff with which SNK veterans are undoubtedly familiar. Each attack builds up an energy meter that can be used to combine moves into longer combos, forward dashes, and a handful of other useful techniques. You can’t use all of this stuff at once, either; all of those subtle abilities consume your energy with each use. The trick is learning how to use such skills depending on the situation. You can’t dodge some of those fireballs by simply running forward, nor can you chain certain moves together without utilizing the energy. Those less experienced with such technical gameplay elements, however, will be satisfied with variety of supermoves available. Even though old favorites like Terry’s Buster Wolf and Geese’s Deadly Rave can be used, there’s nothing quite as awesome as hitting Shermie with Marco’s Metal Slug.
There is, however, one gameplay element that everyone should utilize: the Tag-Team system. With a nod to the most recent King of Fighters game, two characters can join forces and lay waste to the competition. While characters can be switched with the push of a button, it’s the combo attacks that make the difference. If you survive long enough in battle without tagging out, your characters can dish out a 2-on-1 onslaught. Like with any other offensive tactics in the game, tag combos require timing and skill to deal out the most punishment. Since such moves can be blocked, you’ll have to focus on knocking an enemy off balance with another attack and using the tag as the way to finish off your combo. The maneuvers may not look impressive or do a lot of damage, but they can whittle away your opponent’s health recovery, set up subsequent combos, and buy you time to consider your next move. If certain characters are paired up, they’ll perform some special attacks instead of the usual thrashing. Doing so requires additional, more challenging button inputs; if you time everything correctly, you’ll get to fry your enemies in a spray of projectiles or dice them up with some fancy swordplay. If anything, brutalizing your foe with a combination or Power Waves and Raging Storms never gets old.
Unfortunately, SNK seems to have relied too heavily on the nostalgic quality of the game’s dream-team combos. While the Arcade Mode is a solid and satisfying experience, the rest of NeoGeo Battle Coliseum is sorely lacking. Veterans of King of Fighters XI will be disappointed by the lack of Challenge Mode. The Tag Battle, VS, and Practice Modes are decently crafted, yet unremarkable. The sheer amount of detailed artwork, character’s endings (most of which are just scrolling text as opposed to actual scenes), and special illustrations will definitely satisfy an obsessive completionist’s need to unlock everything. By the time you’ve acquired everything, you’ll have spent countless hours replaying the Arcade Mode…or you could simply beat the far more difficult Survival Mode and unlock everything in a single playthrough. Surprisingly, it isn’t very hard to complete the challenge; the vast majority of the characters are so underpowered that they can be knocked out with a few hits. You’ll only have trouble with Goodman, whose utterly cheap tactics are standard fare for SNK bosses. While getting everything that way might be a somewhat challenging process, it kills off much of the game’s replay value.
It’s not like the considerable loading times will make things any more fun, either. The wait isn’t obscenely long, but you’ll be disappointed once you see the results. The sprites look slightly dated; SNK is normally great with revising character models, yet many of the characters could have used a touchup. It’s not like they’re horrendously aged, but fighting game veterans have seen better. The characters are still decked out in their usual costumes, be it Iori’s bondage pants or Kaede’s flapping shirttails. The combat animations themselves are remarkably fluid, on par with the last few King of Fighters games. Seasoned gamers and newcomers alike will be able to pull off multiple combos, projectiles, and supermoves without breaking a sweat. That’s on top of all the subtle references, fan service, and character cameos brimming throughout the levels. There’s something funny about seeing the Ikari Warriors team being forced to stand in the background as their Metal Slug rivals take center stage for once. The game’s presentation may not be the best that SNK has ever conceived, but it’s a sight to see.
Look folks, don’t count this one out. King of Fighters XI may be the vastly superior successor, but NeoGeo Battle Coliseum is still a solid fighter. The sheer amount characters and series represented make it one of the best fighting game crossovers in recent memory. It’s a treat for all those diehard fans that have faithfully followed SNK’s triumphs and failures throughout the years. Though the gameplay options may seem a little bare, the tag battling and intricate combat mechanics provide plenty of entertainment value. Besides, NeoGeo Battle Coliseum is selling for bargain bin prices. The game may be underdeveloped and flawed, but it’s definitely worth the purchase.