Neo Geo Mini: International Edition (Hardware) Review

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What’s in the Box?

What you get in your Neo Geo package depends on how much you’re willing to invest. At the basic level just buying the console, you can expect to find the arcade-themed system itself, as well as an extraordinarily large USB-C cable to power it. Aside from that, you have some stickers to decorate the system and… That’s it? For those just buying the unit itself, this is the full package. If you’re wanting to experience each of the system’s games to the fullest with two people on the big screen, you’ll need to buy a HDMI cable and controllers separately. To add to your troubles, this HDMI cable isn’t your average HDMI or HDMI Mini, SNK opting for a port I definitely do not recognise, really pushing you to buy the extras. The system itself comes in at around £100, with controllers £20 apiece and a HDMI cable around £10. I’m not entirely on board with how SNK have split apart this package, but if it can keep the cost of the main unit down for the single players out there, it could be argued to be a good thing.

From an aesthetic point of view, the Neo Geo Mini hits hard. Rocking the look of a traditional arcade cabinet, it features a 3.5 inch display above a joystick and buttons. While the design is rather striking in its deviation to your usual mini or classic consoles, it doesn’t come without its drawbacks. By far my biggest issue lies in its confused state of portability, perhaps the biggest draw of these systems. Where you’re able to throw your NES, SNES, or PS1 Classic into a bag to plug and play anywhere, the Neo Geo Mini’s screen gets in the way. It needs some kind of cover for even basic peace of mind in a bag. You can of course buy a screen protector, but it doesn’t feel enough. A more minor complaint comes from the button stylisation chosen for the International release—more specifically their single-tone grey colour. As somebody new to an ABCD button layout, it took longer than I’d have liked to become familiar with which button does what. Without the visual contrast seen in the Asia release, I had to glare at the hard to see which button was which. This of course is a problem that goes away in time, and one you can completely overlook if already familiar with this layout.

The joystick and overall control scheme did surprise me once I found my footing. I never imagined such a cramped layout of four buttons and a stick paired with a less than sizable screen could be at all comfortable, and yet I found it the ideal way to play. The stick in particular was the thing that brought it all together, the ball on top allowing me to grip it from a number of positions and effortlessly play each game.

The video above shows what I feel to be the best way to enjoy these games. Hitting the buttons as you would on an arcade machine with your fingers feels far more natural and responsive than just using two thumbs as you would with a controller. It’s not to say the controllers you can get for the system are bad by any means, but I had a much better time not using them. A nice thing to mention for the penny pinchers among us is that if you’re desperate for some two player action, you can get away with just picking up a single controller separately and having one person use the system controls. Whether the controller is registered as player one or two depends on which port it’s plugged into, largely providing a simple and intuitive experience.

Game List

The system comes with 40 games built-in, continuing the trend of classic consoles with this number not being expandable. Though I find myself unfamiliar with the system’s library outside of the Metal Slug series, I feel there’s a great variety of games and genres on offer here. From shooting to platforming, to fighters and Tetris-likes, there’s a good chance there’ll be something you like in this surprising range of titles.

While I won’t go through each title individually, there are two themes I noticed threaded through the majority of the system’s library. The first is a fantastic sense of progression. This idea feels incredibly arcade-esque, giving you the power to leap from the start of the game into a slow and methodical way of playing, or blaze through level after level knowing what to pick up and which enemies will jump out. The sensation of going straight from zero to hero, and being punched right back down to zero for misstepping, is incredibly gripping, and has kept me hooked on games I never thought I’d be playing for any period of time.

The other theme is a little more obvious: multiplayer. If you have a player two to experience these classic titles, you’ll be better off for it. Some games featuring coop, others 1v1 battles, and others feeling as though two disconnected sessions are being played in tandem, your options are largely open—assuming you’re willing to pay the toll for one or two additional controllers.

All in all on the games front, I’m happy, but where it gets interesting is comparing this library to those available on the Switch. At the time of writing, an impressive 38/40 of these great titles have already seen a release, one of those coming out as I’ve been reviewing this unit. What does this mean for you as a consumer? Well if you already have a Switch and only want one or two games, it means you still have a way to play without needing to buy this. That being said, with each title costing £6.29, the lines begin to blur when you find yourself more and more engrossed. With all 40 titles coming to more than £200, I might still recommend this for the more rabid players among us.

Big Screen, Little Screen

The last major aspect of this system I feel needs discussing is the image quality both via its 3.5 inch screen, and its optional HDMI out extra. A surprising standout, the built-in screen definitely stood supreme. With the image feeling crisp and clear, each title felt responsive and fresh. The details were visible and a joy to look at; the same can’t be said for the image on a larger display.

The filter used for their HDMI out is for the lack of a better word vile. Each previously-pleasant scene now feels muddy and washed out, and with little to no option to customise the experience, it’s easy to regret the £10 wasted on your odd HDMI cable. I hate to sound so negative about a product I really did come to love, but something like this goes a long way in ruining an otherwise brilliant release, especially when you have the Switch Neo Geo games available with their abundance of options and filters.

A more minor criticism I have lies in the system’s menu, and their use of what I believe to be Times New Roman as a font choice. Though a seemingly-minor decision, it goes a long way in devaluing what is otherwise a premium experience. It feels as though they were short on time, and felt it necessary to rush it out with a menu seeming at home in the 1000 games in 1 machines you can find at your local market.

Despite my criticisms, I genuinely do recommend this to a certain kind of person. If you love the arcade feel of games, have a second player to join you on this journey, are happy to play on a 3.5 inch screen or overlook a muddied larger display, and don’t already own most of these games on the Switch: this is for you. Even if you find yourself missing a player two, I’d still be inclined to recommend this, assuming you can get past its shortcomings. It is by no means a perfect console, but on the whole I feel you do get a good experience for the price of entry.

New AceNS (Hardware) Review

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A second RCM dongle from the Ace3DS team, this review mainly focuses on what’s new and different. If you want to have a better understanding of the device’s features and the dongle this is being compared to, be sure to check out my AceNS review.

What’s in the Box?

  • AceNS 3 in 1 Loader
  • RCM Jig
  • Micro USB to USB Cable

A remarkably familiar package at first glance, the second iteration of the AceNS dongle comes in the same transparent box, with the same essentials to get you started. Once again, my first impressions were really quite good. Instead of a plain box, it now has clear branding to make it stand out and easier to find on my desk. There’s a lot more space inside the box with the dongle being drastically smaller this time around, and the jig being stored internally. The micro USB cable is again quite small, with the same issue of the dongle likely hanging from a desktop tower USB port should you decide to plug it in, but with this dongle feeling a reasonable degree lighter than before, it’s less of an issue. Chances are you’ll have a few dozen of these cables lying around from old phones and miscellaneous tech.

The design is again something I’m incredibly fond of. The neon red and blue stand out and allow me to make an association on sight, the jig slotting into the back is great to help with keeping it handy without having to keep everything in a box, and the single hardware button feels sturdy with a satisfying click when pressed. You have the same simplicity in payload updating as the previous design, simply requiring you connect to a PC and drag and drop files just like you would onto a memory stick. Nothing has changed here: the dongle appears the same, and functions the same. If you bought the first iteration, everything is familiar. This of course beckons the question: why should I be buying this if it functions the same as the first? To boil it down to a single word—battery.

By far my largest criticism of the original AceNS was the requirement to plug it in for a few seconds before you could use it. Because of it storing so little power, if you wanted to change payloads, you’d have to update it manually by editing a text file on your PC, or loading into whichever payload was currently enabled, and cycling through them once your switch had started up. Whichever way you look at it, it was a pain, and it really held back what was otherwise a brilliant dongle. The battery fixes everything. Having charged it when I first received the unit last week, it hasn’t needed charging despite my daily usage. Because of its ability to charge by either being plugged into a turned on Switch, or via micro USB,  it’s really quite possible your dongle will remain powered beyond the advertised three months because of the extra power fed to it by the Switch each time it’s powered on. Even without this, only having to charge it for an hour for it to last this long is a dream come true.

Because it now has a proper source of power, switching payloads is even easier. You hold a button just as you did before, but you’re no longer shackled to your console being turned on and the dongle being plugged in. You can switch payloads before usage, or with the dongle plugged into the Switch just as before. It’s a great step up that comes with the jump from capacitors to battery, and it’s an incredibly welcome one.

Having had the dongle for just over a week, I’ve honestly found very little to complain about. My biggest issue is that the Switch doesn’t sit flat if you have the jig in the dongle, but with the connector being USB-C, you can just flip it to completely get around this. I can’t say how long it’ll last, but after my daily usage, it’s still going strong. The connector at the head of the device does feel a lot more sturdy than the previous iteration, so it bodes well for its lifespan.

All in all, I find myself struggling not to recommend this as your daily RCM driver. Lighter than ever, sporting a great design and a greater battery, the only test left is the test of time.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate (Nintendo Switch) Review

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Originally released in 1999 for the N64, Super Smash Bros was the first in a now-distinguished line of family-friendly fighting games featuring the best of Nintendo’s characters. With each new release, the roster grew, stages and features improving with each generation’s new capabilities. Now the final month of 2018, the ultimate release is upon us: just how far has this franchise come in 19 years?

A Smashing Time

The mode that immediately grabbed my attention is the series staple: Smash. Each battle plays out as the series has defined as standard, with recognisable fighters from franchises Nintendo or otherwise taking to the stage. With that in mind, you might be wondering what this supposed Ultimate release adds to the formula. For better or worse, I don’t feel much has changed, at least from a non-competitive standpoint. Starting with the original cast of eight fighters, characters old and new become available to you the more you play. There’s a pleasant sense of progression to be found in this, each challenger approaching screen feeling deserved, and offering a satisfying challenge before gaining access to them as a part of your roster.

If there’s one thing to be observed, it’s the overall step up in difficulty the game has taken from its previous releases. For the first time, I found myself actually losing against new characters as they appeared, forced to rechallenge them later. With the release of version 1.2.0, the difficulty of these challengers has supposedly been reduced. While I don’t feel either difficult or easy challengers to be bad in themselves, it would’ve been great to have seen some kind of setting to define how you want to play, in oppose to bringing down the difficulty altogether. If it’s a case of accessibility, make visible accessibility options and give the power to the player akin to how you can decide the difficulty of your CPU opponents.

What’s left in regards to changes feel minor, but all add up to create what is probably the most refined and polished Smash Bros experience to date. You have the FS Meter, something charged as you deal and are dealt damage, which rewards you with a Final Smash when full. You have stage morphing, which will switch between two stages mid-battle at random or predetermined intervals. You have the underdog boost to throw a bone to a player in a pinch. All these features can be toggled and saved as rulesets, and I really suggest you try everything. With the ability to save and pick between rulesets each time you go into a game, there’s nothing stopping you from going from everything to a more mundane no items, Final Destination-only setup depending on your mood.

It’s really quite difficult to pull up things to dislike here, the only thing coming to mind being that you have to reselect your character after each battle. For all the quality of life changes made, it surprises me to see something like this overlooked. Of course, you can get around this to some extent by making each battle the first to two to five wins, the game transitioning fluidly between each one with your selected characters, but it would have been nice for the cursor to already be over your previously used character if nothing else. It feels as though there’s an unnecessary delay between battles that could be so easily addressed.

Outside of the standard battles, Smash Bros Ultimate brings in two really cool new ways to play: Squad Strike and Smashdown. Squad Strike is something I never knew I wanted, letting you pick three or five characters to face off against your opponent’s selections. This mode diversifies into Tag Team, Elimination, and Best of. The first of these is by far my favourite, the fight flowing just as a standard stock battle might, the difference lying in what happens after you’re KO’d. Instead of respawning as the just-fallen character, you move onto the next fighter in your roster, keeping the game fresh and adding a fun layer of strategy to your choices and the order you decide to bring them out. Elimination functions similarly, but lacks the fluidity of Tag Team, starting a new battle each time a fighter falls. Best of is exactly as it sounds, functioning the same way as the first to X wins in standard Smash; where it is more interesting is again in the choice of characters. Deciding the order you’ll use your roster is the key to each of these battle types, and the mind games and predictions of how your opponent will decide serve as the foundations of the strategy and fun to be found here.

Smashdown is something I always knew I wanted, and I struggle to express how happy I am to finally see it, especially with as many characters on offer as this game has. This mode sees you pick one character at a time with them removed from your available pool after each fight, the player with the most wins at the end being crowned the victor. There’s so much to love here for how simple a concept it is. You have the debate of picking your best characters versus picking your opponent’s best to deprive them of the option. There’s little more to say, but I definitely encourage you to try it if you want an intense string of fights with a friend.

Spirited Warfare

Something severely lacking in the previous release, Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U, was a significant single player experience. Ultimate remedies this with spirits, spread across Spirit Board, and the game’s Adventure mode. At their core, both modes offer the same content: themed fights against spirits inhabiting the bodies of the game’s roster. These fights always come with twists; be it environmental changes like the arena being littered with lava, or your opponents being metal, being able to launch you easier, or being large or small, amongst other things. While a lot of these fights can appear unbalanced at first, I found myself constantly impressed by how well they suited their respective character. The choice of fighter and respective special conditions have kept me hooked, and have given me a reason to keep picking up my system, even when my friends are too busy to play. To add depth to these fights, you can pick your own set of spirits to bring with you to battle. These can make certain attacks stronger, add special characteristics to your fighter, or simply negate the environmental advantage your opponent has. Combine this with a rock, paper, scissors aspect of red beats green, green beats blue, and blue beats red, and you’ll find yourself gathering and using a large variety of different spirits for every situation.

Adventure mode sees the game’s cast enveloped and subsequently taken by a mysterious light, leaving only Kirby to save the day. The premise isn’t much, ultimately acting as a structure to allow you to move through the same battles seen in Spirit Board, but as a framework to make you want to gather and use spirits it does incredibly well. Breaking up these battles, you’ll also find bosses and more standard fights when you challenge a fighter for their freedom to make them playable. For how simple it is, I found myself incredibly impressed at the sheer scale of the world. As strange as it might sound, it truly felt like a world. Each area is themed to a certain game or series, giving you pleasant moments of belonging as you roam through a familiar setting. While the mode as a whole can feel a little repetitive, it does well in constantly giving you a reason to come back to the game, whether you’re only picking it up for one fight or ten. Also acting as a way to unlock characters, it’s an ideal place to start.

Classic Games

Tucked away in the Games & More screen, you’ll find many a familiar mode. Offering your standard multi-man smashes, Century, All-Star, and Cruel Smash, as well as the classic… Classic Mode, you’ve again got content upon content to satisfy a single player, but also tag team efforts. With each of your Mob Smash modes allowing for up to four people to participate, and Classic up to two, both storing high scores relative to the players present, you can happily drag others to suffering the same terrible fate as yourself in Cruel Smash (or happily play the other modes together if that’s your thing).

The mob smashes fairly self-explanatory, I feel the light truly deserves to be shined on the game’s implementation of Classic Mode. Instead of a standard selection of fights to be played universally by the cast, each member has their own story to tell, dictating the battles they face. Lucina’s path pits her against heroes from her franchise, Chrom’s battles are always with a CPU partner, each tells a tale you’ll smile at if familiar with the character and their origins. Though each route is short, you’ll find yourself coming back to clear each character’s route and better your high score. If you’re not confident in your skill, the intensity meter from the previous game returns, allowing you to dictate your own starting difficulty, with it adjusting based on how you perform as you progress. For those wanting a challenge, trying to finish each route with an intensity of 9.9 is an incredibly fun and rewarding experience.

It isn’t all roses here however. Perhaps more notable to long-running fans of the series, two familiar modes are missing: Endless Smash, and Home-Run Contest. While these aren’t necessarily significant in the content they provide, I can’t understand the removal of the fan-favourite minigame that’s been a hit since Melee. Toting that every character is present is one thing, but to remove two long-standing game modes is entirely contrary to the game truly being the ultimate package.

Online Interaction

This review being post-release, I’m able to discuss the uproar surrounding the game’s online when it first launched. Put simply, it was substandard and dissatisfactory, throwing many into confusion over just what their Nintendo Switch Online subscription money was being used for. Now a few patches in (the game being on version 1.2.0 at the time of writing), I’m glad to report things are at least better. Playing 20 or so matches online, some alone and some coop with a friend next to me, we experienced minor moments of lag, but the experience was largely positive. These moments definitely aren’t enough to ruin a casual fight, but if they happen at the penultimate moment of a more competitive game, I could definitely understand frustration. 

Connectivity aside, the actual implementation of online features is interesting to say the least. Discarding the notions of fun and glory present in the previous game, you simply jump into online games. Where opinions are mixed is in how the game does its matchmaking. At launch, priority was heavily given to players in close proximity in an attempt to make matches as fluid and lagless as possible. This came at the cost of discarding a player’s preferred ruleset, throwing competitive players into matches on large stages with undesirable items, and casual players into a more mundane setting. With the latest update, preferred rules are at the core of matchmaking. While still not perfect, I did manage to match with other players relatively quickly and had my devilish ruleset a good deal of the time. Though through a lack of skill I am yet to unlock it, the game does also feature a mode for the more experienced players in Elite Smash. Pitting you against other high ranking players, the idea behind it is to keep you hooked on intense fighting action by constantly challenging you. It is however worth noting that there is, to the best of my understanding, no difference from standard online battles aside from this. It could still be four-player, it could still have items, and it might not even be set on Final Destination. At the moment, all you can do is hope Nintendo change this in future, but for now, you might just have to learn to make the best of it.

Battle Arenas are the game’s answer to a lot of people wanting to play together. Featuring a queue system and the option to spectate, I imagine this to be the go-to mode for streamers and casual online tournament organisers. Being able to fully customise the rules, as well as the player rotation, this mode presents a surprisingly intuitive way to get together with faraway friends and play with minimal effort. It’s also worth noting this is the only mode you can really be certain you’ll get the rules you want, so you might see competitive-hungry players flocking here, even if it has no impact on your online ranking. 

Training and More

The last major thing worth mentioning from my perspective is the game’s training mode. Much to my surprise, it is the best it has ever been, even for a more casual player such as myself. The map itself is huge. Featuring a large flat platform, as well as a battlefield-esque stage to the side, on top of clear markings for distance and blast zones for both Battlefield and Final Destination, you’re really able to understand how each character works. The settings available to change range from your standard CPU damage percentage, to more interesting things like being able to lock their damage percentage, show the trajectory of attacks at varying percentages, and even make the game move a frame at a time. Everything I want, and everything I never knew I wanted, is here. In every other game, I’ve simply overlooked the training mode and learned by doing, but here, I almost feel like the game is pushing me towards it. It feels a waste not to use it when everything is laid out so perfectly.

On more minor notes, several things return from previous games. Amiibo training, tournaments, and eight player smashes are all here. A nice addition is that every map can now be played with eight players unlike the previous game where only select maps were compatible. Custom Smash now features more options, the personal favourite of mine being the ability to start with Rocket Belts—try this with Little Mac for some serious fun.

Overall, I struggle to deny that this is in fact the ultimate form of Super Smash Bros. Riddled with a plethora of addictive content for both single players and parties of people alike, you’ll find time an abstract concept as you proclaim “just one more” after each battle. Though missing a few modes I had thought to be standard of the series, it offers more than enough to keep you hooked for tens, if not hundreds of hours.