Neo Geo AES / Neo Geo CD
1994 / 1995
The year is 1995 and fighting games are so in vogue that they could give Super Mario a run for his coins. Schlepping your pockets full of quarters over to the local arcade in an attempt to lay a whomping on your buddies in Super Street Fighter II Turbo has become a daily occurrence. More than a hobby – honing your skills in the game has practically become religion for you and your pals. Sure, there are other titles to choose from. Arcades are full of variety. Cabinets line the walls of this jumpin’ forum of neon lights and finger tapping sounds. In the far left corner towards the back, you’ve got solid offerings from SNK in the forms of Fatal Fury Special and King of the Monsters 2, whereas the adjacent side houses spots for Midway’s latest masterpiece, Mortal Kombat 3. Heck, even the Sega Genesis back at home serves up its own entertainment with games like Clay Fighter and Eternal Champions. But as fun as all of the aforementioned games can be, not many of them hold a strong burning candle to Street Fighter, besides maybe Mortal Kombat – and the only time they see much action here is when Ryu and Ken’s cabs are so busy that they’ve got line ups out the front door. Well, today happens to be one of those busy days and you’re sure not waiting in a line that long. Bummed out, you and your fellow dudes are left to embark on a trip of arcade exploration. Desperate for something fresh. Everything in here’s been played before. Same old, same old. Move forwards, backwards. Guard, weak punch, strong kick. Same game, different characters. But wait a second… what is that? Over by the front door, next to a couple kids playing Darkstalkers, sits a sole Neo Geo MVS cabinet running a game you’ve certainly never seen before. The sprites on the screen are moving horizontally and vertically around the stage, up and down and left and right… all in an attempt to pick up a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire that was just thrown on the ground by one of the brawl’s spectators! The colours of the level and characters pop off of the screen louder than a strip of Hubba Bubba Bubble Tape and once within earshot, the music pumping out of the cab’s speakers is seriously jammin’. “ATTACK,” exclaims the big red cabinet as two characters start to duke it out. Now this is a game that deserves a quarter or two. Enter the “realistic 3D battle”, Aggressors of Dark Kombat.
Releasing in 1994 for the Neo Geo AES and 1995 for the Neo Geo CD, Aggressors of Dark Kombat (also known as GANGAN in Japan) places a fresh spin on the traditional fighting games of old as it allows for full freedom of movement from the background to the foreground, all without the use of designated buttons to do so. This alone gives the game a unique feel upon comparison to some of its contemporaries, wherein hopping from the main plane of movement to the background traditionally required the tapping of a button or simply wasn’t an option at all. On top of this interesting dynamic, Aggressors of Dark Kombat (or ADK for short – an abbreviation of the game’s title and the developer’s namesake, Alpha Denshi Corporation) also incorporates the use of weapons that are either thrown onto the ground during fights or found within breakable objects. Items such as shovels, Molotov cocktails and baseball bats can all be used to assail your opponents – which only adds to the depth and variety of the game. I’ve mentioned this in the past but ADK reminds me of a 2D version of 1999’s Power Stone for the Sega Dreamcast. All that freedom of movement and weapon play utilized in an attempt to build up for one final, devastating attack. But unlike Power Stone, ADK uses a “Crazy Meter” that must be filled in order to unleash a character’s “Crazy Attack” (it’s a crazy game). If your opponent’s health bar is in the red, loosing a Crazy Attack will defeat the opposition outright.
Another unique aspect of the game is that each fight is contested within one round as the combatants go through several colours of health within their life bar. This is a refreshing take on the average fighter as it’s nice to not have to face the same opponent twice sometimes.
A maximum of three buttons are used in the game: one for punches, another for kicks, and a third for jumping (as holding up on the control pad will move your character into the stage’s background). Grabbing an opponent is also an option while fighting – as is counter-grabbing and breaking free of said grabs (that’s a lot of grabbin’) – which can be turned into health decimating body slam reversals.
I’m a big fan of the sprites used in this game. Bright and colourful, you can tell that a lot of enthusiasm went into designing the characters. Joe Kusanagi (the game’s main character) is an obvious standout. Known as the “Red Panther from Honmoku”, Joe is cool, quick and confident with the looks to match. Goh Kidokoro plays the role of the big brute that’s vying for control over the entirety of Japan. With his massive muscles and wooden sandals, he’s sure to pose a challenge. Leonhalt Domador is probably the most German looking character I’ve ever seen in a video game excluding Castle Wolfenstein. A facsimile of Tony from Die Hard (sans the specs), Leonhalt is a 7’7” (not joking) street fighter who’s now on the run from the authorities for illegally entering the United States. Fuuma Kotaro from Alpha Denshi’s World Heroes series is also a selectable character and fits in perfectly with the rest of the game’s funky cast.
While the differences between Aggressor’s of Dark Kombat’s CD and AES versions may be slim, there are a few of note that I discovered while playing through the two of them. First of all are the loading screens (which the AES version obviously doesn’t have) that feature playable character, Kisarah, petting a cat. I’ve always appreciated these types of NGCD loading screens – the ones that actually have something to do with the game you’re playing. They make for a nice touch and have a bit more relevance to what’s happening on screen in comparison to some of the earlier AES games that received CD ports years later (early AES games that landed on the NGCD 3-4 years after their initial release typically used standard, rather boring loading screens). The second difference between versions that I noticed were the character select screens. The AES version showcases full-body representations of each selectable fighter, whereas the CD version displays headshots of each character with a large Neo Geo CD logo situated at the bottom of the screen. There are also the evident soundtrack upgrades that come with the NGCD version of the game, thanks in no small part to that super futuristic CD technology. Lastly, I noticed something that I’ve come across a few times upon comparing differences between AES and CD ports of Neo Geo games, and that’s something I like to call difficulty tweaking. This became most apparent to me when (attempting) to play through Art of Fighting 2 on the AES, followed by a spin on CD. Now, I’ll start by shamelessly admitting that I couldn’t beat the game on either console, but I did fare significantly better when playing it on NGCD. The same curiosity occurs in Aggressors of Dark Kombat, wherein I can get pulverized around the fourth or fifth match while playing on AES, but can swing through the game rather pleasantly while playing on CD. I can only surmise that the Neo Geo CD versions of several games were made slightly less difficult to protect the likes of delicate furniture, framed photos, and family heirlooms – all of which may have suffered damage from a discharged controller pad thrown in a fit of rage.
Well-executed ideas lead Aggressors of Dark Kombat to be an undeniably fun game. With fast and fluid animation, a memorable cast of characters, addictive gameplay and really righteous music; it’s a shame that it isn’t spoken about more today. If you’re a fan of the fighting game genre and are looking for something different, give this one a spin; it’s a crazy good time.