By Anthony L. Cuaycong
AT THE TURN of the millennium, SNK Corp. came out with the two-dimensional SNK Gals’ Fighters on the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Designed to be the female version of the hugely successful The King of Fighters series, it was released near the end of the handheld’s life cycle. Needless to say, it was an attempt to boost flagging sales; it tried to widen the user base by making 10 distaff characters from popular licenses its protagonists under proven gameplay mechanics.
Even as SNK Gals’ Fighters ultimately failed to help prop up the Neo Geo Pocket Color, SNK evidently thought it had a potential hit in its hands. Under a different set of circumstances and with a few tweaks here and there, it figured to meet the same goals. Which, in a nutshell, was how the idea of a revival germinated nearly two decades after the title’s initial availability on store shelves. When the mere possibility actually got the green light is subject to speculation. What isn’t: The studio’s decision to follow up last year’s The King of Fighters XIV with SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy.
Made commercially available last month, the spiritual successor to SNK Gals’ Fighters bears a striking resemblance to the latest iteration of the gaming company’s most accomplished franchise. Indeed, SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy boasts of the same look and feel as The King of Fighters XIV, featuring the rendition of three-dimensional models over a two-dimensional plane and the employment of frenetic music tracks that further inject a sense of urgency to the proceedings.
Where SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy departs from its older sibling is, as its name indicates, in its all-female roster of fighters operating under a tag-team setup. Twelve — from such notable series as The King of Fighters, Samurai Showdown, Fatal Fury, and Art of Fighting — are available at the outset, with downloadable content promising to expand the list. (The latest additions: Thief Arthur and Skullo Mania.) And instead of offering the usual mano-a-mano matches, the game goes the two-versus-two route, but with only one character in the theater of battle at any given time. Players can choose any two characters at hand, send out a particular one to start, and then call for substitutions on an infinite number of instances. Protagonists on one side share a health bar, but possess a separate special-attack meter that fills up faster at rest, and that, once fully charged, sets up the Dream Finishes required for victory.
Corollary to the intent of SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy to interest the masses, controls have been simplified. Those steeped in fighting games may be disappointed with the lack of complexity of button combinations for spectacular moves, but newcomers will, no doubt, appreciate the absence of a learning curve. There are just four attack buttons, including one for throws. Moreover, crouching has been eliminated altogether, thereby streamlining combat for less experienced players.
Parenthetically, the relative ease with which SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy can be negotiated dovetails with its lighthearted treatment of the proceedings. The Story Mode, which fleshes out the chosen characters through a series of animated cutscenes interspersed with seven fights, displays humorous touches with no small measure of fan service. The costume customization options, which provide players with opportunities to have protagonists compete in various getups — or, as the case may be, stages of undress — lean on the side of comedy, with literally dozens of accessories on tap. Even the items that pop up on the field of combat from time to time for use against opponents convey some measure of silliness.
In a nutshell, SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy represents SNK’s deliberate effort to court a more extensive consumer base, as highlighted by its status as the company’s first release on the Switch — and on a Nintendo platform in a long, long while. It’s a feast for the senses even when played on the go, and its interface has been programmed to cater to casual gamers, eliminating the need for them to purchase an arcade stick to stay competitive, whether against artificial intelligence on Story and Survival Modes or versus other players collocated or online.
Meanwhile, the characters’ narratives are compelling, and their thoughtful presentation speaks of the effort that went into their development. They lay claim to unique backstories, wardrobes, and special moves, in the process providing significant replay value. True, SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy isn’t the ultra-deep fighting game that spawns tournaments akin to the Evolution Championship Series. Then again, it isn’t meant to be. Broken down to brass tacks, it aims to please. And, in this regard, it delivers.
Conan Exiles (PS4): Compared to other sandbox/survival titles like Subnautica, Minecraft, and Rust, it doesn’t look as artistic or as stylized. Nonetheless, its gameplay remains strangely compelling, propped up by the way it presents its harsh, arid climates. Despite all its flaws, it’s able to stand against its competitors well enough to warrant a purchase. It’s neither the best looking nor the most satisfying in its genre, but it’s inviting all the same. Fans of dark and gritty settings will find it right up their alley. (7/10)
Super Bomberman R (PS4): It’s an easy recommend for players on the lookout for party games. It’s perfect for a whole afternoon of unwinding with friends engaging in battles of oneupmanship, laced with loads of taunting for good measure. And longtime fans of the franchise will be happy to note that it’s the best and the brightest of the Bomberman brethren yet. At $39.99 for all its bells and whistles (and, signifying the PS4 stamp of approval, Ratchet and Clank on the roster), it’s a worthy addition to the library of Sony stalwarts and casual gamers alike. (8/10)
Video Game Review
SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy
PlayStation 4/Nintendo Switch
• Lighthearted fare designed to please a wide swath of gamers
• Characters fleshed out through fully animated cutscenes
• Simple controls and easy-to-follow gameplay mechanics
• No learning curve
• Delivers fun in spades
• Lacks the depth of gold-standard fighting games
• Short Story Modes
• Lack of complex combinations promotes button mashing
• Sometimes too silly for comfort