NEOGEO is generally characterized by, with only a few notable exceptions, fighting games and Metal slug. Within a couple of years of its launch, it seemed that the vast majority of output on the console was mining (quite successfully) a few particular types of games. To be fair, such was the state of arcades in the mid-1990s. If you didn’t make a fighting game, a licensed beat-em-up, a shoot-em-up, or a puzzle game, you were rowing against the tide.
It makes the existence of Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy ($3.99) a bit of a rarity. The game was developed internally at SNK by former IREM employees, and came in the summer of 1994 together with The King of Fighters ’94. One of these games became almost legendary, indelibly carving its legacy into the platform itself. The other was Top hunter. A quirky little platformer/beat-em-up hybrid for one or two players, one could generously say it paved the way for Metal slug in a small way.
While there is no significant shared staff between Top hunter and Metal slug, there are some common elements. The visual style has the same kind of goofy yet gruesome feel, and there are lots of fun enemy animations. You can find vehicles to ride on and sometimes get your hands on a gun. Platforming is mostly perfunctory, and jumping is mostly used to avoid attacks rather than navigating harrowing platforms. The stages end with a boss fight, usually against some kind of large opponent. It is about all the shared aspects.
There are two key mechanics Top hunter. The first is your stretchy arms, which allow you to grab a variety of objects and either smash them or throw them. You can also use them to work with different machines, switches and so on. You’ll usually defeat enemies by punching them or throwing something at them, but you can use some traps and some special moves for some variety. The other gimmick is that each stage has two planes and you can jump between them as needed or desired. Sometimes traps or power-ups must be accessed from the opposite plane, encouraging you to switch regularly.
I’ll be honest: there were a few platformers in this era that tried this kind of thing, and I don’t feel like any of them were significantly better for it. Probably the best of the bunch was Wario Land for Virtual Boy, and there’s a reason for that. The 3D effect of the console helped solve a problem that seems to be inherent to this type of design. It can sometimes be difficult to tell which plane a given object is on. In this game, it can make it difficult to line up rolls and even occasionally result in taking a hit you didn’t think was going to hit you. The art style here makes things a little worse as little is done to differentiate the planes visually.
Well, it’s not a big deal. A bigger problem with Top hunter is that there is too often a lack of tension. This is an unusually simple game for an arcade platformer, and once you get the hang of things you can go ridiculously far on each credit. The enemies just don’t pose much of a threat to your extremely versatile and powerful character. There aren’t enough enemy types either, so you’ll start seeing the same faces over and over again. It’s fun messing around with everything and trying to defeat enemies in different ways, but in the end Top hunter is a bit boring.
This boredom can be alleviated somewhat by bringing a friend along for some good old-fashioned co-op mayhem, but this is of course a ACA NEOGEO release for mobile. That means you’ll only be able to play multiplayer if you have some external controllers and don’t mind hugging around your chosen mobile device. I would think that for most people it’s not going to be the typical gaming experience with this game. You’ll most likely be playing solo, and that’s the less fun way to experience Top hunter.
However, it benefits from the fact that we don’t get too many high quality premium games of this type on mobile. I would say it takes touch controls even better than Metal slug games do since you don’t have to worry about accurate aiming as much. I guess as a solo experience it takes to mobile better than some NEOGEO games do. And I want to stress that the game is by no means a half-hearted effort. It’s quite gorgeous in the way NEOGEO games tended to be, and each of the four worlds has a distinct look. You get three levels in each world, plus a rather climactic final stage. If you play the included Japanese version, there are even some secret endings to be found. It may not be exciting every minute, but it certainly adds value.
Since this is part of ACA NEOGEO line, the expected extras and options are all here. You can play with an external controller, you get both regional versions of the game, there are additional modes with their own online leaderboards, and you have more options than you can shake a stick at. The emulation quality is good and my only complaints about Hamster’s part in all of this are my usual ones about not having online multiplayer or the MVS version as an option. It’s a great package and it’s a bit luxurious as I’m quite used to this level of quality in such a low price release.
I’m not the biggest fan of Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy, but it’s a decent enough romp that clearly had a lot of care put into it. A little too simple and repetitive at times, and I’m not sure the two-point system works as well as it should, but for a few bucks you get the fun out of it. Add the usual suite of features that come with Hamster’s ACA NEOGEO line, and you have a nice distraction for a lazy weekend afternoon.