Review: NeoGeo Battle Coliseum (PS2)

Neo Geo Battle Coliseum
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Developer: SNK Playmore
Genre: Fighter
Release Date 12/17/2007

SNK Playmore’s track record with its fighting games has been less than stellar for a while. After KoF 2002 and 2003, everything seems to have fallen apart. Games like KOF XI, Maximum Impact II, and NeoWave were mediocre at best. Compilations like Art of Fighting Anthology fared little better, showing that even some of the classics haven’t aged well. KoF XI damn near made me throw away my SNK fanboy membership card. It was Advance Guardian Heroes all over again.

In the back of my mind though, I knew NeoGeo Battle Coliseum was coming. Unlike the crapfest that was Capcom Fighting Evolution, I had heard excellent things about the Atomisware version of this game. That is was a gift to SNK fans the same way SegaGaga was the last thank you from the REAL Sega. It was supposed to be a lot of fun, and left out most of the mistakes Playmore had made since reviving the SNK name.

Then came little tiny doubts creeping into my mind. NGBC was only being released on the PS2, generally a bad sign for a SNK game. The PS2 is generally regarded as the worst system for porting fighting games to. The Dual Shock is a hideous piece of crap for the genre. The Xbox, the Dreamcast, and hell, even the Gamecube was able to handle controls response time and gameplay better than the PS2. It may be the supreme winner of the last console war, but in terms of quality fighter game play, I’d take the PSX over the PS2 anyday.

Then came delay after delay after delay. I was expecting this game in late summer. It has been out in arcade form for 2 years. Why the delays in what should be a simple port? The roster too, gave me pause. A lot of the characters were obscure or niche, even to the most diehard of SNK fans. Finally, there was the knowledge that several characters in NGBC like Geese Howard, Mr. Big, Mai, Kyo and others were ripped from NGBC and put into the KOF XI PS2 version. And consider how awful that game played, I was definitely expecting the worst from this game.

So is NGBC the final nail in the coffin for my SNK love the same way Shining Force Neo ruined that classic series for me, or is NeoGeo Battle Coliseum The first fighting game release on the PS2 that SNK has gotten right in 26 months?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

SNK fighters generally have more story in one of their games than every other fighter on the planet combined. The problem is – Snk usually leaves out the story. Well not here! The beginning of the game gives you a nice intro to why you are battling in the NeoGeo tournament, hosted by WAREZ. There are four different final boss endings, depending on which boss you fight, and every character in the game gets a specific ending epilogue and graphic as well. I’ve always been a bit disappointed with fighting game endings, even while I loved their gameplay. No longer. NGBC gives you a nice chunk of plot and exposition. One of the things that I liked best is something most gamers will miss. The entire game is one giant metaphor for the life and history of SNK. The Two main characters, Yuki and Ai have moves that represent all aspects of SNK gaming, from Baseball Stars to the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Hell, even the sinister corporation, the Warez Conglomerate, represents emulation, the not quite legal concept that eventually killed SNK until Playmore resurrected it. Not since Segagaga has a game been this “wink wink” with its audience. And to think it’s a fighting game too. Truly awesome.

NGBC has a really nice mix of modes. The first mode is Arcade Play, where your two man team squares off against other tag teams until you reach one of four final bosses. Arcade Vs. is simply PVP mode. Tag Play is virtually the same as Arcade Vs., except that a second human player can join in at any time. Survival Challenge is the next mode, and it’s my favorite mode in the game. Here you have another series of two-on-two battles, but there is no time limit. You can’t wait things out and hope your longer life bar will carry you through Once you win a battle, you’ll move on to another, with a tiny bit of the health you lost restored. Repeat until dead, of you’ve faced the super final boss of the game in Goodman.

Next up is Practice mode. Now most fighting games have this. It’s a chance to learn how to use different characters so that you can do their moves correctly. Most long time fighter fans don’t bother with this, but for NGBC you SHOULD. Why you may ask. Because of the nifty little record feature. By pressing the select button, you can record up to ten second of button and D pad commands. Once you are done recording, hit select again. From now on, whenever you press L2, your character will automatically do that same series of moves. This means all I have to do to enact a Terry Bogard Triple Power Geyser is hit a single button and watch it perform flawlessly every time, instead of entering11 different D pad entries AND 3 buttons. This is a nice little time saver that even the most hardcore SNK fan will be able to appreciate. Just remember, the L2 button will follow the exact series of buttons and joystick commands entered, so make sure everything is exactly how you want it. I think the best use of this little trick is to pre-program super specials or double team moves for your friends that might not be as skilled as you at the game, in order to give them a more even playing field.

Finally, there is gallery mode. In Gallery, you can view all the different things you unlocked. Endings and character specific epilogues can be unlocked by beating Arcade mode. Character illustrations and playable boss characters can be unlocked with each survival mode battle. There’s also some already unlocked artwork for you when you first boot up the game. All in all, you have an amazing amount of stuff to play and look through. The only thing missing is a single character mode.

NGBC packs what I consider the best 2-D fighting game story ever in with a half dozen different ways to play the game. From finally being able to record and playback move combos, to giving us over 100 unlockables, NGBC is a fine example of how to package plot and gameplay into a genre that has long since seen better days.

Story/Modes Rating: 8/10

2. Graphics

Ah the Achilles heel of SNK games. This one is no different. From the rest. SNK did go out of their way to make entirely new sprites for all the characters. However, even with new retooled graphics, NGBC still looks like a late 16 bit era game, or first gen 32 bit era game. As you can see from the pictures littered around this review, the backgrounds within NGBC are amazing. They are lush, vibrant and full of detail – a rarity for any SNK game within its current generation. In this aspect, Battle Coliseum really feels like a PS2 game. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

Mediocre character graphics for 2007 aside, I really like the look and feel of each character. I really haven’t been a fan of any of the main characters for any game outside the Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting or Samurai Showdown series. Iori and Kyo are up there with Cloud and Sepiroth in the “So lame!” category. K’ and the crew were even worse, and Ash Crimson is probably in my top ten for worst Protagonists ever. Yuki and Ai are well made and enjoyable characters. If you don’t fall in love with them immediately, then you are either new to the SNK fandom or have no soul. Probably both.

Some characters like Geese, Terry (Garou outfit), Mai, Mr. Karate and Marco have never looked better. It’s a real treat to see long since retired characters like King Lion and Neo-Dio with all new graphics and looking better than they ever did in their original games from yesteryear. I’m sure people new to SNK games will look at the character designs and go “Wow, that’s old school,” but trust me when I say everyone’s been given a face lift and the look great for an SNK game.

Amazing backgrounds and totally new character sprites and animations leaves NeoGeo Battle Coliseum looking…above average. The background designs are really nice, regardless of what publisher we’re talking about, and that’s good enough to bring the game up to better than SNK’s usual “Mediocre” rating for this category.

Graphics Rating: 6/10

3. Sound

I think this might be the weakest area of the game. Usually SNK songs stick in my head. They’re catchy, fit the stage they were written for perfectly, and many have been redone by actual bands to show their love of the KoF series of games. Here though? Most of the music is instantly forgettable. If you were to put me on the spot, I wouldn’t be able to hum a single track from the game. Don’t get me wrong; the music isn’t bad. Far from it. It’s just not memorable as in previous games.

Voice acting in NGBC, like most SNK games, is down to a bare minimum. Some characters, like Terry have the same old voice bits they’ve always had. A lot of characters, some of which haven’t ever been in a mainstream SNK game, have been given voices for the first time. Can’t beat that!

There’s not a character in the lot that sounds bad. I’d definitely put the voice acting over most fighting games, but that’s not saying much. In the end, we have another above average category. What’s here is acceptable, but there is definite room for improvement.

Sound Rating: 6/10

4. Control and Gameplay

I’ll just get it out of the way right now. There is not a better SNK game on the PS2 in terms of control & gameplay. Hell, there is not a better 2-D fighter. The roster may be a bit of a “Who’s That?” even to SNK zealots, but in the end, it’s how the game handles that matters, and this game plays like a dream. It has taken out every last bit of crap I’ve wanted sliced out of the SNK games, and some nifty new abilities put in. I was VERY worried about how the game would hold up with the crappy PS2 joystick, but it’s wonderful. Plug in a Sega Saturn controller or an Arcade Stick, and this is the best fighting action you will see outside of a Saturn, Dreamcast or an AES/MVS.

NGBC is played with two characters. If you’re used to Marvel vs Capcom or X-Men vs Street Fighter gameplay, you have the basic gist of how the tagging in and out works.

Other neat tagging gameplay options include: your non active character recovering health after your active character has been in for 8 seconds. This really turns fighting gameplay on its ear as you now have to worry about your opponent resting its better character up. You’ll also be able to do what is called a “Double Assault” instead of a normal tag out. This move will not only do damage, but if it connects, the opponent struck with the DA will not be able to refill its health! The controls to do this move are simple, akin to a SF Hadouken, and so it really lets gamers of all skill levels enjoy this new feature.

Other new options:

1. The GC Switch. This is a guard cancel into a tag to your non active character.
2. GC Step. Tap forward twice quickly while guarding and you’ll lose one half of your power gauge bar, but it also allows you to counter moves that usually can’t be countered.
3. AC Tactical Step. This move uses a full bar of your power gauge and you have to time it perfectly, hitting R2 right as your opponent unleashes a special attack. Your character will glow blue, and during this time, they will be immune to damage. Nice!
4. Just GC Step. This is a GC Step, but it involves timing your guard to coincide right before the opponent hits you. If done right, you’ll only lose 1/4th of a Power bar, instead of one-half.

Classic standbys include your typical SNK power gauge. This fills up at you dispense and take damage allowing you to unleash super special moves. You also have your Guard Crush for human character that just block too damn much. The other is the Super Cancel. With a super cancel you can cancel your opponent’s special move and turn it into a Super Special Move of your own! Always a nice touch. Bets of all? All the horrible crap added from the last two KoF games is nowhere to be seen. Praise Cthulhu!

Whether you are brand new to SNK fighters, or have played every fighter ranging from Eternal Champions to Time Killers, you will be amazed with the level of control, responsiveness and feel of NGBC. In terms of rock solid gameplay, this is easily the best I’ve played all year.

Control and Gameplay: 10/10

5. Replayability

Oh my. Where to begin. 40 playable characters. The ability to make any team you want, with certain pairings having ultra special moves. Six characters to unlock. Four different final bosses to face off against, depending on how good you did originally. Over 100 things to unlock besides characters. Seeing SNK characters that have never been in a fighter before. Seeing SNK characters that have been hidden away from the light of day for almost a decade. Characters from 14 different previous SNK games. There’s so much here to try out and have fun with.

It’s going to take me a long time to beat the game with everyone (although you can unlock everything if you’re good enough to get to and beat Goodman in Survival Challenge), but it’ll be worth it. Best of all, with the recording option in practice, you can keep coming up with new combos to input and try out to see how the computer AI will try to counter it. It’s going to be hard to put this game down if you’re a fighting junkie.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Everyone gives crap to SNK for how crazy difficult their fighters are. ESPECIALLY their end bosses. Oh the horror stories I have heard over characters like Geese, Ignitz, Rugal, and that jackass in KoF XI. Well fret no longer, because NEOGEO Battle Coliseum gives you an end boss that suits your skill level. The better you are, the harder your end boss.

Most people will encounter Mizuchi who is basically yet another Orochi character. As you get better, you’ll encounter Neo-Dio from World Heroes or King Lion from Savage Reign. Only the best gamers will ever see the game’s true super baddie in Goodman, who is a new character and the leader of WAREZ When I first played the game, I had no idea about the multiple bosses. First time through, I did battle with King Lion. The next I faced Neo-Dio and my first encounter with Mizuchi was in Survival Challenge! here now, to help you guys out, is a list of what you have to do to face each of the four possible bosses.

(Hardest) Goodman: 9 wins, 7 connecting D-assaults, no bonuses or continues taken (more on that later) and your combined health has to be more than 50% at the end of your battle before Goodman.

(Second Hardest): Neo-Dio: 7 wins, 5 connecting D-assaults, 2 bonuses and no continues.

(Third Hardest) King Lion: 7 wins, no D-assaults, 1 Bonus and 1 continue taken.

Mizuchi: fail any of the requirements above.

Each boss is pretty hard, as one should expect from a KoF game, but there’s some tricks I found that can help you out. For example Mizuchi has a problem blocking jump based moves, while King Lion is very defensive. He will counter most of your offense and try to push you into a corner and then not let up. If you strike right away and then do a flurry of weak moves, you’ll break his guard and then can wail away. Also, King Lion tends to not do anything unless you do something first, so if you want a cheap out, just defend for two minutes and your characters’ combined health will almost assuredly be higher than King Lion’s, giving you the decision. As NGBC only has one round battles, you’ll get the win.

Out of all four bosses, I do find King Lio and Goodman to be the hardest. Neo-Dio and Mizuchi are a nice challenge, but are a little lackluster compared to previous SNk bosses, I like that though, as it means new people to fighting games, or even people who like them but aren’t that good at then can have a nice last battle and walk away feeling good about their skills instead of dying 30-40 times in a row and inventing new profanity terms like with some other SNK games.

Balance wise, this is the best SNK game I’ve played in years. Characters from different games FEEL like they are from different games and have retained their own specific strengths and weaknesses. All forty characters are playable, with some that I wouldn’t expect being tourney worthy, like Kisarah the schoolgirl from 1994’s Aggressors of Dark Kombat. She and Terry Bogard are my team supreme in this game. The other nice thing is that you can set everything from the timer speed to the computer AI to give you the skill level that works best for you, You can even set how strong you defense is and how your power gauge accumulates. For once, SNK has really gone out of its way to accommodate ALL its fans, not just its most hardcore ones. The end result is the best fighter they’ve put out since their rebirth. it offers something to everyone. Rock on baby.

Balance Rating: 8/10

7. Originality

Alas, like graphics, originality is one area where this game is sorely lacking. At this point of SNK’s existence it seems like all they put out anymore are fighters, fighters, more fighters, and the occasional Metal Slug. Don’t get me wrong. I love their fighters, but they all tend to blur together after a while, especially when you release five different ones on the PS2 alone in 2007, and three for the Wii’s virtual console.

NGBC does mix things up a bit by getting rid a lot of the crap that has bogged down SNK’s fighters for the past few years. It adds the record function (which is a wonderful idea) and it puts you in a tag setting instead of 1-on-1 or 3-on-3 battles. There’s some new characters and a pretty deep story (for a fighter) beyond the usual tournament of doom, but in the end, it’s just another game with Terry Bogard in it where you do D pad and button combinations to knock out special moves.

Originality Rating: 4/10

8. Appeal Factor

Generally SNK games are for a very niche audience. They’re hard, unrelenting and have a ton of back story behind them that is hard for a lot of gamers to wade through. With NGBC however, the old standby no loner holds up. With a nice sliding difficulty scale and the fact your skill level sets the boss means that anyone can enjoy this game. Record feature means you can program special and super special moves for your friends who don’t play as much to help them out.

NGBC has the potential to be a gateway fighter for people who haven’t done anything more than dabble in the genre. You can try out two characters so as to get a feel for who you are best with, and there’s so many unlockables and different endings that any gamer can have fun with this. The game also retains the feel of all the different games each character comes from, so if you like the play style of Samurai Shodown best, pick one of those and play like you normally would. If you’re a KoF style gamer, then Kyo and Iori are probably for you. So on and so forth.

NGBC is all about accommodating any gamer and their skill level/style preference. That’s the key to making a game that appeals to the masses. Now if only SNK’s reputation doesn’t scare the average gamer away before they even try this…

Appeal Factor: 7/10

9. Addictiveness

I had a lot of fun with this game. 40 characters to try out, and a lot of nostalgia to boot. So many flash backs to games and characters I haven’t thought of in eons. I loved the endings for each character, trying to figure out what the qualifications were to face each boss. A personal goal for me was to reach Goodman in Survival Challenge with Geese and Mr. Karate as I play them both very defensively an SC is geared for balls to the walls offense.

This is the most fun I’ve had with a fighter (not including anthologies) in years. It wasn’t something that had me doing long gaming sprees where I paid little heed to hunger or thirst, but it was a nice 30 minute to an hour span of super intense gaming. After the past two KoF’s this was a welcome addition to my collection.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

Okay, for 15-20 dollars (depending on where you buy it), you get the best 2-D fighter SNK has put out since its rebirth. You get 40 characters from fourteen different games, and it defies reality by having amazingly precise gameplay, even with a dual shock. Sure the game isn’t KoF ’98 or SNK vs Capcom: MOTM for the NGPC, but it’s a damn good fighter and even a casual fan of the genre shouldn’t miss picking this game up to to the price and features.

Here now is a list of where each character comes from:

Aggressors of Dark Kombat:
Kisarah Westfield

Art of Fighting:
Robert Garcia
Lee Pai Long
Mr. Big

Athena:
Athena

Buriki One:
Ryo Sakazaki as Mr. Karate

Fatal Fury:
Geese Howard
Mai Shiranui
Kim Kaphwan
Jin Chonshu
Jin Chonrei
Tung Fu Rue

King of Fighters:
Kyo Kusanagi (KoF ’99 specifically)
Iori Yagami
K’
Shermie
Mizuchi (KOF 97 as Orochi. Mizuchi is his clone.)

King of the Monsters:
Cyber Woo

Last Blade:
Kaede
Moriya Minakata
Akari Ichijou
Keiichiro Washizuka

Mark of the Wolves:
Terry Bogard (in his MOTW outfit)
Rock Howard
Hotaru Futaba

Metal Slug:
Marco Rossi
Mars People

Samurai Shodown:
Haohmaru
Genjuro Kibagami
Nakoruru
Shiki
Asura

Savage Reign
King Lion

World Heroes:
Hanzo
Fuuma
Mudman
Neo Dio

Original Characters:
Goodman
Yuki
Ai

Yes, the roster has some glaring omissions from various SNK games, but in the end, I like seeing a lot of characters that haven’t been used for a while instead of a buttload of rehashes. NGBC gives us nostalgia and a feeling of something new all at once. Factor in it’s budget price and new sprite designs and all I can say is that if this is the new direction of SNK, I am on board for the future. Rock on baby.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

The Scores
Story/Modes: 8
Graphics: 6
Sound: 6
Control & Gameplay: 10
Replayability: 7
Balance: 8
Originality: 4
Addictiveness: 6
Appeal Factor: 7
Miscellaneous: 10
Overall Score: 72/100

Final Score: 7.0 (Good Game)

Short Attention Span Summary
You’re not going to find a better game for the PS2 this year at this price. I still can’t believe it’s under twenty bucks. This is exactly the kind of product SNK should have been putting out for the past two years instead of KoF MI 2/2k6 and KoF XI. I’m very pleased with this game. Whether you are new to 2-D fighters, or a long time vet, you can’t go wrong picking this up for the holidays.