Impressions: NeoGeo Heroes: Ultimate Shooting

The NeoGeo was home to many memorable adventures, many of which are still obviously revered today. Today some of the most remarkable heroes are immortalized in NeoGeo Heroes: Ultimate Shooting for another handheld of our time, the PSP. It places some of the most memorable characters of the mega-shock era into a completely different environment than their native games – a top-down “bullet hell” shooter that places you in control of one of these said heroes rather than a more conventional spaceship or super-powered craft. Interesting that a game based on franchises and featuring characters best known for their fighting game and platform appearances would appear in a shooter, but hey, whatever works.

After some simple exposition and story setup, you can dig right in. And the plot is fairly silly – Ultimate Shooting is but a competition dreamt up by Professor Brown Sugar to determine which of the heroes throughout the years is actually the strongest. He nabbed a time machine and decided to round all of them up, implausible as it seems. Of course, wouldn’t you know it – an evil corporation has to rain on everyone’s parade. “DAMNED,” the corporation in question, makes their grand entrance and attempts to steal all of the Heroes’ special powers. Even after all the excitement DAMNED’s eventual downfall, Professor Sugar had the foresight to freeze his time machine so that it would be safe from the clutches of evil. Fast forward fifteen years, though, and DAMNED have reared their ugly heads once again. As DAMNED has risen again, so must our heroes.

You’ll take control of one of several memorable heroes from different NeoGeo franchises, such as Terry Bogard (Fatal Fury), Athena Asamiya (The King of Fighters), Marlo Rossi (Metal Slug), Iroha (Samurai Showdown VI), and several other recognizable faces from the NeoGeo’s glory days. You’ll fly through each level, decimating the competition, several hundreds of enemies at a time using one main attack and three special moves. Each character has a unique fighting style, ranging from scattered fire to a thin, concentrated beam that covers less ground but does more damage. Special moves are mapped to the square button. Triangle activates “provocation,” which enhances your firepower and empowers your hero for a brief time period. Should you need an extra nod to clear the screen of enemies, bombs are available to incur massive damage all the way across your field of vision, much like in Deathsmiles.

As far as core gameplay goes, this is a very typical bullet hell shooter, one that fans of the genre will have no trouble becoming accustomed to. There are a handful of different modes to tackle, including the main stage, NeoGeo Heroes, which acts as the “campaign” mode. You can choose your favorite fighter and blow through a set of stages ending with a boss fight. Along the way branching paths determine who you will ultimately face, and offers a little variety to an otherwise standard, barebones bullet hell experience. Thankfully you have unlimited tries to conquer each stage, as there are an unlimited amount of continues, but hardcore players will need to take note that your accumulated score resets to zero once a continue is used. As the main mode can’t last over a couple hours, trying to attain the highest score possible will be the biggest reason players come back.

Once you’re done with the main campaign, Subject and Survival modes await. Subject mode is the tougher of the three and gives you different challenges to complete for each stage. Doing so will see you being awarded emblems according to your progress. Survival mode strings different bosses together as you attempt to fight them off and stay alive as long as possible. If you’ve exhausted all options, the “KOF Sky Stage” has also been included; the initial top-down departure with King of Fighters being featured – the first of its kind.

So there are plenty of things to do, apart from the campaign, but NeoGeo; Ultimate Shooting Heroes still has a few pitfalls. For one thing, given that its a download-only title for the PSP there really isn’t much bang for your buck. Even seasoned vets will find that they’ve exhausted their enjoyment after a few hours – and let’s not forget the fact that this is essentially a glorified SNES-quality title. In addition, gameplay is often hindered by unfortunate slowdown, most notably during boss encounters or when the screen is heavily populated with enemies, making it difficult to dodge during heated battles or when expert maneuvers are sorely needed. And beyond technical and issues of value, this is a very threadbare, humdrum experience.

NeoGeo Heroes: Ultimate Shooting feels very much like a downloadable throwback title ripped straight from the olden days of shoot-’em-ups. As a download-only release for the PSP, there are plenty more cost-effective options to satisfy any bullet-hell craving that can provide many more hours of enjoyment. Unfortunately, poor visuals and technical performance (during some of the more intense moments) can drag the experience down when pinpoint accuracy is needed most. In the end, the game is still a competent and enjoyable release, but is probably best left to the most dedicated and knowledgeable fans of the platform and hardcore bullet hell fans looking for a new challenge any way they can get it.

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