100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #13 Ghost Pilots


A new year is upon us, both in terms of Neo Geo releases and with 100 Days Of MEGASHOCK! itself (KOF III? What’s that? I don’t know. You must have had a fever dream or something). Ghost Pilots, our focus for today, is the first release of 1991 (MVS-wise). 1991 also marks the year the Neo Geo AES is released. So are starting strong in this brand new and important year?

Not really. But let’s not jump to conclusion.

That downed plane, how it clearly chopped down all those trees before it halted, is a neat touch.

That crashed plane in the background, how it clearly chopped down all those trees as it was skidding before it halted, is a neat touch.

Ghost Pilots is SNK’s first attempt at a vertical scrolling shooter (or flying shooter, or shooting game, or shoot-em-up, or shmup. Pick your favorite) on the Neo Geo. It goes without saying that scrolling shooters were very popular at arcades, with very deep roots in the history of the medium as a whole. It’s arguable that the genre traces back all the way past Space Invaders and into Spacewar in 1962, even if these older titles lacked “scrolling”. SNK themselves had several shooters released pre-1991, like Ozma Wars (SNK’s first game ever), Vanguard I & II, and Alpha Mission. Suffice to say; by the time Ghost Pilots was out, shooters were a well-worn genre, both within SNK’s catalog, and the industry in general. So it’ll take a lot for any shooter released to stand out from the competition.

A traveling train of tanks towed by a tributary-traversing-transport.

A traveling train of tanks towed by a tributary-traversing-transport.

Ghost Pilots doesn’t stand out from the crowd. It’s a shooter in the same vein as Capcom’s 19XX series (or 194X series. It’s debatable). You pilot realistic-looking propeller sea planes, flying in a nondescript country, fighting against planes, tanks, ships, and other military combat vehicles, so nothing wacky like the Bydo or Aliens or magically flying people.

Ya know, hovercrafts are pretty vulnerable. All you have to do is shoot their skirt and then they sink. This one, however, wasn't that easy.

Ya know, hovercrafts are pretty vulnerable. All you have to do is shoot their skirt and then they sink. This one, however, wasn’t that easy.

At the start of the game, you can choose one of the 3 “stage” to play, though really they’re more like a string of stages. And only two of the 3 are unlocked at the start. You also choose one of 3 bomb types. And again, the 3rd bomb type is inaccessible at times. And also changes based on whether you’re going into an air-to-air combat stage or an air-to-ground stage.

Stage select screen. Top one is quite ominous.

Stage select screen. Top one is quite ominous.

Bomb select screen. Right-one is a napalm-type for ground stages...

Bomb select screen. Right-one is a napalm-type for ground stages…

...and a mine-looking one, dropped by friendly planes, for air-stages.

…and a mine-looking one, dropped by friendly planes, for air-stages.

Bomb#1 on the left is a standard a big bomb. Bomb#2 in the middle is a smaller bomb you can sort of push around post-explosion. It has some interesting uses. But with Bomb#3 on the right, if it’s a ground stage, it becomes a big napalm bomb that pretty much works like bomb#1. If it’s an aerial combat stage, bomb#3 becomes, well, not a bomb at all, at least not one that your plane drops. Rather, pressing the bomb button will call up 2 friendly planes to drop bombs near you. It has a huge area of affect, bigger than all the other bomb types, but it takes a while to activate. This can be a problem since, like many other shooters, bombs can suck up enemy bullets. And having a slow-activating bomb is less useful as a defensive measure.


But really, I shouldn’t have been so detailed in describing the minutia of Ghost Pilot’s mechanics. The problem with the game is that it’s just unremarkably run-of-the-mill. Standard looking levels, standard powerups, enemy patterns, backgrounds. It’s nothing special (but I do like the ridiculously large planes & tanks you fight as bosses). Sure, most of the Neo Geo releases by then can be considered derivative too. But they were always supported by great art direction & soundtrack (like Magician Lord) or a unique take on the genre (like Puzzled/Joy Joy Kids), or a weird, unconventional story (like Cyber-Lip). Ghost Pilots has none of these. It doesn’t even have Michael Beard doing the voice acting, or any voice acting.

This screen has some nice detail.

This screen has some nice detail. This is during the final stage.

It’s also just not that fun to play. I’m no shmup-expert, but Ghost Pilots feels like SNK dropped a plane from an older shmup into a more intense, modern one (well modern by 1991 standard). The plane feels big, with a big hitbox that is almost as big as the sprite itself. And the guns have a pretty low rate of fire. You can, however, boost your shot power by collecting powerups that make you shoot more and more bullets. And you do become very powerful when fully powered up. But it’s still a very plain type of powerup. And it’s a very plain experience throughout the rest of the game, with not many highlights or lowlights. At least I do like how stage progression in the game is almost continuous. At the end of each stage, the plane lands at a different “rest stop”. And then you continue on from that rest stop at the start of the next stage. It’s a neat touch. But there’re not a lot of those in Ghost Pilots.

The final boss is a crazy multi-screen big tank that spans...

The final boss is a crazy multi-screen big tank that spans…

...not just 2 screen...

…not just 2 screen…

...but possibly 3 or 4 screens. Big thing.

…but 3 or possibly 4 screens. Big thing.

Overall, Ghost Pilots could have been an average but interesting game. But it’s just plain average.


100 Days of MEGASHOCK! #401 The King Of Fighters XIII

Let’s be honest here. It’s been several months since the last 100 Days of MEGASHOCK! I started this blog in January of last year. And I have only managed to cover 12 games. At this rate, I’ll need more than a decade to go through the complete Neo Geo Library. And if you know me, you know that I don’t even have a shred of the persistence required to keep this blog running for that long. So I thought why not jump ahead and look at  what SNK Playmore has been doing in recent years to get to the end of this long 20+ year spanning tale. What’s a Playmore? Oh right. Don’t worry; I’ll get you up to speed on things.

So a few years into the Neo Geo’s life, SNK makes Fatal Fury, Art Of Fighting and a host of other fighters. And they became very popular. So that begat The King Of Fighters 94 (or KOF 94), a sort of crossover fighting game that brought characters from Art Of Fighting, Fatal Fury, and other SNK characters from non-fighting games. KOF 94 became even more popular, in turn becoming its own yearly franchise. In the midst of that, Nazca made Metal Slug and it was popular too. And then Nazca was co-opted into SNK.  So for a time, SNK was the Fighting Games + Metal Slug company, and then reducing to just making KOF + Metal Slug, and then to just making KOFs every now and then. Oh and during that, SNK made the Neo Geo Pocket (and shortly after, the Neo Geo Pocket Color), which was a really cool handheld. And also they closed down and then resurrected as Playmore, then SNK Playmore. Ok cool. So lets look at SNK Playmore’s latest game, which is The King Of Fighters XIII…Oh wait, sorry, my mistake. Did I write XIII? What I meant is The King Of Fighters III, the newest KOF pachinko game.

KOF Dumb banner

The King Of Fighters III is the third pachinko KOF title, naturally. The first pachinko KOF covered the Orochi saga (from KOF 95 to KOF 97), and the second pachinko KOF covered the NESTS saga (KOF 99 to KOF 2001). So obviously, the third pachinko KOF covers the Ash saga, which is  told specifically KOF 2003, KOF XI, and KOF XIII. The entries in-between don’t count (ie: no KOF XII, NeoWave, Maximum Impacts, the GBA only EX NeoBlood/EX2 Howling Blood, and sadly none of the Days Of Memories dating sim games. All strictly non-canon). The Ash saga basically revolves around Ash Crimson being an anti-hero who steals the powers of the Orochi-saga trio of heroes, first Chizuru in KOF 2003, and then Iori in KOF XI, for some diabolical reason, all the while fighting remnants of the Orochi clan who want to resurrect Orochi YET AGAIN. But you wouldn’t know that even after playing hours and hours of these KOFs. Ask any random person who plays KOF religiously and they probably would not know what the first thing about the plot of these games. Fighting games are hardly the optimal medium for delivering a deep & complex story like this. So SNK Playmore opted to retell this story in the more suitable medium of Pachinko-Slot machines.

In The King Of Fighters III, you play as Kyo Kusanagi as he walks around in…somewhere. Sometimes Athena Asamiya hangs around with him (wonder what Yuki or Kensou would think of that? Or dear god, I bet Iori would flip his sh*t out of jealousy). While Kyo is running around, he fights generic non-specific dudes. Although sometimes he seems to be fighting no one at all, just doing stuff in empty hallways. Sometimes Iori appears to challenge Kyo because of course Iori appears to challenge Kyo. And then they fight. And then Kyo runs some more. And sometimes random artwork of K’, Ryo Sakazaki, Ash Crimson, and Terry Bogard appear. Mai also appears occasionally. And so does Saiki, Ash’s time-traveling granddad. And then that’s the whole game. Fascinating, no?

Why is Athena standing awkwardly besides the table? Is she waiting for Kyo to invite her for some tea? If so, why is Kyo being a jerk and not inviting her to sit down? No manners, that guy.

Why is Athena standing awkwardly besides the table? Is she waiting for Kyo to invite her for some tea? If so, why is Kyo being a jerk and ignoring Athena? No manners, that guy.

But what’s a King Of Fighters without a deep, intricate, and dynamic battle system. In The King Of Fighters III,  SNK Playmore forgoes the complex 4 button and directional stick for a 3-button and one slot pull lever (I think. I honestly don’t know. I’m just scrambling from the video). You pull the lever to make all 3 slots roll. Pressing each of the buttons would stop the slot above it from rolling. And when all 3 slots stop, exciting things happen like lights flashing, loud-music blaring, and Kyo screaming stuff. If you keep on playing and align your slots to match horizontally or diagonally, you can do even more exciting stuff like activate Hyper Mode or do a NeoMAX super desperation move without the need for complex controller inputs or strict timing. All the payoff, with none the work.

Not the most flattering of angles for Kyo

Not the most flattering of angles for Kyo

All in all, it’s a pretty fun and highly enjoyable game. It replaces the meticulous & honestly uninviting high-risk, high-reward combat style of KOF with the obviously better no-risk, all reward all-the-time system. You win whether you want to or not. And you can make money by both playing it or by operating it at your own gambling establishment (as long as you have all the legal issues on owning a gambling establishment dealt with). It’s a game that pays for itself on both sides of the consumer-producer divide, which no other video game on any console has ever done. The King Of Fighters III represents the beginning of a new, exciting era for SNK Playmore and the Japanese video game industry, nay the international video game industry. And SNK Playmore has already announced their next pachinko game, which will be based on the classic Samurai Shodown series, and looks to change the dated 2D sprites of the originals into advanced, high-tech looking 3D models. We live in an exciting times for video games. The Future Is Now, and The Future Is Bright.

NOTE: 100 Days Of Megashock will return to it’s regular schedule soon. How soon? Not very very soon. But somewhat soonish in a non-compromising, halfheartedly promising manner. Only the best from me.