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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy (NEO4ALL) Review

Original release:
June 24, 1994

Game details:
1-2 Players
Standard controller
VGA box

The following game was not officially released for the Sega Dreamcast. It is emulated using NEO4ALL RC-3 developed by chui. This is an evaluation of the emulation of the game, as well as the game itself.

Using Team RDC's release, you can play this game as though it is a commercial game with only a brief loading screen.

The emulation of this game is very smooth. While you're playing through the stages you won't encounter much slowdown at all. There is some slowdown after boss fights while the game is doing some loading. There seem to be some strange things going on with how the music loads. At one point, instead of looping the track over the game moved on to the next song. There is a very slight graphical glitch in the ending "cutscene." Overall, there's nothing that's going to ruin your enjoyment of the game.

Top Hunter is a bizarre mixture of genres. There's elements of platformers, side scrolling shooters, fighting games and some light puzzles strewn throughout the game. This is probably the deepest non-fighting Neo Geo game you're going to come across. Sentiments can be found across the internet that this is a precursor to Metal Slug and personally, I can definitely see the influence. You'll use vehicles and make your way through hordes of mostly one-hit kill enemies. The influence ends there though. Top Hunter's twist is that you have fighting game moves at your disposal. You can perform shoryukens and hadokens and some sort of flying dive using the appropriate Street Fighter inputs.

The fighting game twist isn't the only thing Top Hunter has over Metal Slug; the game has two different layers. There's a foreground and a background, and at times it will be necessary to switch between them to advance due to gaps in the paths. The game's puzzles also utilize the layers with some timing sections that are difficult to get down. Overall, this isn't a difficult game. You'll die a lot as you play through, but the causes of your death are often largely unavoidable and cheap; this was an arcade game after all, and they had to make money. This is also a surprisingly long game. There is four different worlds, each with three different stages. Once those are completed, you'll move onto a final world. On top of the normal stages, there are skateboard (rocketboard? some kind of board) mini-games hidden throughout the levels which you can seek out for some bonus points. The mini-games will also add time to the clock, but the timer is as ignorable as it is in Metal Slug.

As you can see, there's quite a lot of gameplay here for an arcade platformer. This game feels like a full-fledged adventure game that might have been developed for home consoles, and it's surprising, especially since most side scrolling Neo Geo games were pretty shallow in the depth department.

Being an arcade game, there's not going to be an opening crawl to lay out what's going on for you. From what I could gather throughout the game, space pirates have taken over these four planets you have to rescue. Being a bounty hunter (thus Top Hunter), you stand to make some serious coin.

The graphics are incredible. Shame on you if you don't have a VGA box. Characters animate smoothly and the level of detail in the sprites puts most 2D PlayStation games to shame. This is not a difficult feat, but considering this game came out a while before the PlayStation and you're now emulating it on the Dreamcast, it gets impressive. Apparently this was one of the few Neo Geo games dubbed "100 Mega Shock" due to the graphics (that better not be a made up Wikipedia fact). The overall design of the game almost makes it feel like a Dreamcast game as well. Something about the artwork has that playful look that many of the Dreamcast's more creative games had.

This is a mixed bag. The music is good but it clashes with the look of the game. Your eyes are telling you this is a pretty playful and fun game while the music is telling you something horribly tragic is happening. The menu and between level music is perfectly fitting for what you think the game should sound like. When you're in a level, it takes a surprisingly dark turn. The music isn't bad, but it is confusing.

This is one of those games that has huge ambitions but doesn't quite make it. It's not a bad game, but it's not at the level it could've been at. I highly recommend playing it because it's an interesting mix of play styles and the graphics are beautiful. You're going to have fun with this game, but it's just not top shelf material.


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