Thursday, August 21, 2014

The 50 Greatest Neo Geo Games of All Time! (Part Four: #20-#11)

Part four of a five-part series celebrating the best SNK and pals had to offer! 

HEY! Looking for other installments in the series? They can be found at the links below:

PART ONE: Counting down games #050 to #041
PART TWO: Counting down games #040 to #031
PART THREE: Counting down games #030 to #021

The Neo Geo is one of the most beloved consoles of all-time, and pretty much the definition of a gamer’s system. Originally released in arcade board form, the Neo Geo Multi Video System (MVS) delivered some of the absolute best coin-op titles of the 1990s, via an ingenious cartridge set-up that allowed gamers to play four different titles on one machine. With its impressive hardware specs, it provided gamers with some of the era’s most dazzling graphics, and introduced players the world over to such acclaimed franchises as Samurai Shodown, Metal Slug and Fatal Fury, not to mention tons of less heralded, underappreciated gems such as The Last Blade, Pulstar and Top Hunter. Not content with dominating arcade parlors, SNK also released the system as a high-powered (and absurdly expensive) home console, known as the Advanced Entertainment System (AES) which LITERALLY brought the arcade experience into players’ living rooms.

For almost 15 years, SNK and other developers published titles for the AES and MVS, giving it one of the absolute longest life spans of any console in gaming history. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the console’s official retirement, THE INTERNET IS IN AMERICA is rolling out a special, five-part series, counting down the 50 greatest games to ever grace the Neo Geo.

Before we continue, a few notes about the criteria for the list:

001.) Both MVS and AES releases are eligible for the countdown. Unless explicitly stated, the versions of the games referred to on this list are the MVS iterations.

002.) Only official games, produced during the console’s original lifespan, are eligible. Sorry, homebrew enthusiasts.

003.) SNK games from the era, which were not released on the MVS or AES, are ineligible for this countdown. In short, that means no Neo Geo CD or Hyper Neo Geo 64 games are in the running.

004.) You know, a "Ragnagard vs. Sengoku" crossover would've been something. And that something is "pure shit," that's what.

With the fine print out of the way, who is ready to hop right into the countdown? All aboard, just say “S-N-K…”

Number 20:
Twinkle Star Sprites (1996)

Don’t let the cutesy visuals fool you -- this is a game that will kick your ass, and savagely. Not only is “Twinkle Star Sprites” one of the most inventive games on the Neo Geo, its easily one of the most intense as well.

The last game produced for the platform by developers ADK, “Twinkle Star Sprites” is a clever shoot ‘em up/competitive puzzle game hybrid. Like in “Puyo Puyo,” your ability to clear your own screen affects your adversary’s playing field, and vice-versa. The twist is, instead of solving block puzzles, you’re actually engaged in a SHMUP showdown, and believe you me, the vertically scrolling blasting can get hot and heavy, indeed.

This is actually a really strategic game, with enough technical nuance to put hardcore fighters like “Mark of the Wolves” to shame. The title includes a brilliant parrying system of sorts, which allows players to bat combo-linked fireball attacks back and forth -- trade enough times, and it actually summons an ungodly powerful boss creature to REALLY make things interesting. If you’re in search of an unorthodox multiplayer experience, then this is a truly innovative title you need to get your hands on ASAP.

Number 19:
Magical Drop III (1997)

Data East was easily the Neo Geo’s most valuable third party developer, and “Magical Drop III” isn’t just the venerable puzzle series’ best -- it’s without question the best game of its type to be found on the system.

Structurally, the “Magical Drop” games play quite a bit like “Bust-A-Move.” The difference, however, is two-fold. For starters, the game allows you to yank orbs from the playing field, instead of supplying you with balls from the get-go. This means you’ll find yourself constantly pulling down single bubbles and bursting similarly colored groupings -- it’s a game designed from the ground up to always have you on your toes.

The other variation, however, is what makes the “Magical Drop” series, and especially this superlative third outing, stand out so much -- the game’s tempo. Trust me, when I say the gameplay in this one is fast, I mean “Sonic commandeering a Indy car in Burnout 3” fast. Fierce multiplayer bouts have been known to lead to some minor carpal tunnel syndrome-like symptoms -- this, my friends, is about as hardcore as puzzle games can possibly get.

Number 18:
Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy (1994)

There is just so much to love about this game that I don’t really know where to begin. Imagine, if you will, a magical combination of “Metal Slug,” “Bionic Commando,” “Shinobi” and “Rocket Knight Adventures.” Now, add to that some elements borrowed from “Mega Man,” “Ghosts N Goblins” and even a little bit of “Ristar,” and you have the core fundamentals behind “Top Hunter.”

“Top Hunter” is basically an early ‘90s arcade love-in, which actually predates some of the era’s most beloved 2D games. You get the mech suits from “Metal Slug,” the ability to hop in and out of the background like in “E-Swat,” and even pick up weird-ass props and use them to your own advantage like in “Double Dragon.” With stage design that rivals the best “Sonic” levels, not only is this a criminally underappreciated title you should’ve played years ago, it’s quite possibly one of the era’s most absurdly undervalued technical achievements, to boot.

This is really a fantastic platform/run and gun/side scrolling beat ’em up hybrid, with absolutely gorgeous character sprites and some of the era’s best animated backgrounds. With five absolutely gargantuan levels to choose from -- each filled with tons of sub-bosses and constantly changing game mechanics -- this is definitely one of the longer coin-op forays to make it to the Neo Geo. And did I tell you the game has some supremely awesome co-op play, as well?

Number 17:
World Heroes Perfect (1995)

A rather fitting title here: the game itself may not be perfect per se, but as far as “World Heroes” titles go, there’s none better than this mid ‘90s redux.

To be fair, the “World Heroes” franchise has always kind of been one of the redheaded stepchildren of the SNK fighting game family. With character designs and a globe hopping hook that strongly resembles another popular Clinton era brawler, a lot of coin-op enthusiasts tended to write the first two “World Heroes” games off, which is a real shame. This title is basically a hyper-polished re-release of “World Heroes 2,” with practically every character in the franchise included as a playable fighter. And yes, the game is pretty damn spectacular too, in case you were wondering.

The title plays a lot like “Street Fighter II” (shocking, I know), with really good backdrops, some pretty awesome animations and character sprites that are a lot more detailed than most genre games from the timeframe. The gameplay is rock solid, with every character looking -- and playing -- distinctively, from the sword-wielding Joan of Arc rip-off to the razor-gloved Jack the Ripper punk-rocker to the kinda’ racist Tiki warrior to the evil football player from hell to the two guys that play just like Ken and Ryu, right down to the palette swapped clothing. It’s a bit simplistic compared to the other heavy hitters on the Neo Geo, but there is no denying this one is a flat out great game in its own right.

Number 16:
SVC Chaos: SNK vs. Capcom (2003)

At some point, you’ve probably played one of the “Capcom vs. SNK” games before. Outside of a Neo Geo Pocket Color offering (which, by the way, is one of the greatest handheld games of all-time), this early 2000s offering is the sole SNK-produced crossover brawler to also feature “Street Fighter II” stalwarts.

With Playmore taking over the reins, “SVC Chaos” is a real hoot and a half to play. It’s so bizarre -- and of course, awesome -- to see characters like M. Bison and Balrog drawn up in the inimitable SNK style. And man, you haven’t seen “crazy” until you’ve seen a Hugo on Earthquake showdown in this game!

The animations are great, the gameplay is fantastic  (its basically running on the “King of Fighters 2002” engine) and the cast of characters is really tremendous. You could argue that there’s perhaps a bit of an over sampling of “Street Fighter” characters and an under serving of “Samurai Shodown” cast members, but overall, there’s hardly anything to complain about in this one at all. And be prepared for some downright astounding cameos, featuring such weirdoes as “The Art of Fighting’s” Serious Mr. Karate, the Mars People from “Metal Slug,” Mega Man’s Zero, and the ULTIMATE fighting game final boss -- the little red gargoyle asshole from “Ghosts N Goblins!”

Number 15:
Fatal Fury Special (1993)

With so many fighting games on the market, how do you make a game that stands out? While most developers turned towards sensational and gimmicky hooks (namely, through fatalities, semi-nudity and the occasional dinosaur-themed brawler), SNK knew what few others ever understood: you’ve got to have a deep, nuanced fighting system, and on top of that, a game with plenty of character.

SNK really took the “character” part to heart, with “Fatal Fury Special” a beefed up re-do of the already pretty damn great “Fatal Fury 2.” The game contains 15 characters, all of whom are aesthetically interesting and, much more importantly, diverse in fighting technique. All of the fighters in “Mortal Kombat” pretty much played alike, but in this game, there is a WORLD of difference between taking on Duck King, Geese Howard or Big Bear. Before “Virtua Fighter,” this game was pretty much the closest the fighting world got to a somewhat respectable simulation fighter (uh…just ignore the occasional fireball, though.)

So, let’s see: you have a ton of fighters, all with distinct move sets, who are beautifully animated, in conjunction with truly interesting backdrops and a combat system that’s among the absolute best in the genre. Skip the watered down console ports -- you need to experience this one the way it was intended, on actual Neo Geo hardware.

Number 14:
The King of Fighters ‘99 (1998)

Although the inclusion of “striker” characters is a rather controversial one, I think “KOF ‘99” is still one of the better entries in what may very well be SNK’s marquee franchise.

As with  the previous installments in the series, this game is anchored around three-on-three team battles. The cast for this one includes a who’s who of “Fatal Fury” and “Art of Fighting” standouts, as well as  few new additions. Alike “Insert Property vs. Capcom,” you get to build your own team from scratch, and as expected, the combat here is downright exquisite.

To me, this was this last truly great crossover fighter SNK released (not counting “SVC Chaos,” of course.) The animations were beautiful, the combat system was just about pitch perfect and even the backgrounds looked incredible (although I have to wonder what the hell is going on at the Chinese restaurant -- is that a silhouette of a man beating a cat to death?) From here, the series was just spinning in its wheels, in my humblest of opinions -- if you’re looking for “KOF” apex, I reckon this title right here is the peak of the mountain.

Number 13:
Spinmaster (1993)

Known as “Miracle Adventures” in Japan, this was Data East’s first game released for the Neo Geo, and it’s definitely one of the company’s best, as well. Playing similarly to “Joe and Mac,” with characters that appear to be culled from the forgotten Genesis gem “Dashin’ Desperadoes,” this game is a merger of underrated genre classics -- fittingly enough, becoming a much revered unsung platformer itself over the last few years.

The gameplay is very simplistic, yet satisfying. You travel from stage to stage -- which are all exquisitely animated -- and mow down wave after wave of henchmen, using all sorts of neat weapons: yo-yos, bombs, laser ninja stars and good old fashioned fireballs are all at your disposal. The character sprites are downright gorgeous, and the solid platforming gameplay -- highlighted by some excellently designed levels -- makes this one an absolute blast to play through, solo or with a buddy.

If you are a fan of intense platformer/run and gun hybrids a’la “Metal Slug” and “Gunstar Heroes,” you definitely owe it to yourself to give “Spinmaster” a try. Not only is it one of the genre’s greatest undiscovered offerings, it’s definitely one of the best games of its type, period.

Number 12:
Pulstar (1995)

Prior to this game, developer Aicom was probably best known for the "Zaxxon"-inspired “Viewpoint,” which I’d consider to be one of the more overrated titles to appear on the Neo Geo. That said, “Pulstar” is an absolutely marvelous game, and one of the best SHMUPS to come out during the mid-1990s.

The game is sort of a cross between “Einhander” and “R-Type.” The graphics are essentially 2.5D, with some really impressive graphical effects throughout. You have the ability to charge your shots for extra damage, and of course, there are TONS of upgrades for your warship. There are only four stages, but they are fairly long, and holy hell, do they look visually astounding. Each and every boss fight in “Pulstar” would probably qualify as an end-boss in any other genre game from the era.

The only thing holding this game back, in my opinion, is the length. Since it’s not exactly the toughest SHMUP out there, I found myself easily blasting through this one in under half an hour (which means, as an aside,  you can listen to “Pinkerton” all the way through during a speed run.) Granted, it’s one hell of half-hour while it lasts, but sadly, “Pulstar” just leaves you wanting more, in the worst possible way.

Number 11:
The Last Blade (1997)

At first glance, “The Last Blade” doesn’t seem all that different from “Samurai Shodown.” A feudal Japanese setting, huge, gorgeously animated sprites and, most apparently, characters wielding melee weapons? To the uninitiated, the game would appear to be an instance of SNK imitating itself.

Of course, “The Last Blade” is far from a “Samurai Shodown” rehash. Ultimately, the game plays more like a combination of “Fatal Fury” and “Virtua Fighter,” with the graphics and core combat system culled from SNK’s other sword-and-sandal ass kicker.

The gameplay really sets this one apart from its competitors. While most fighting games form the late 1990s were all about flashiness (see just about any “vs. Capcom” game for validation of this claim), “The Last Blade” is a refreshingly subdued title. The backgrounds are subtle, yet beautiful, and the underscored music is downright stellar. As stated earlier, it’s the combat system that makes this one a must-play; with a clever “speed vs. power” mechanic in place and a diverse array of brawlers (who all have their own range and weight weaknesses and strengths), this is easily one of the most cerebral fighting games of all-time.

Monday, August 18, 2014

B-Movie Review: "Pin" (1988)

It's a weird psychosexual thriller from Canada about a dude who thinks a medical mannequin is alive. And it's actually one of the better horror films from the late '80s you've never heard of before. 

I've been Jonesing for Halloween since February, and with the All Hallow's Eve season (which, as far as I am concerned, lasts from Labor Day until Thanksgiving) soon upon us, I decided to drudge up an old VHS favorite for all of you kooky kids.

Periodically, I will get comments from dudes asking me for a decent, unsung horror flick from the '80s, that probably WON'T make their girlfriends think they are psycho barfola perverts. Indeed, it's a rare animal, that Degenerate Cinema heyday, safe for girlfriend-consumption horror flick that don't suck, but "Pin" is certainly just such a celluloid endangered species.

The film starts with a bunch of kids eyeing this creepy old abandoned three-story house. One of the kids gets dared to climb the trellis, and he peeks behind a white sheet, uncovering what appears to be a very life-like dummy. Then, the dummy blinks, and seems to telepathically tell the kid to vamoose. Scared shitless, the kid runs for his life, and we flash back to 15 years prior.

So, there's this super-white family out in the burbs. The dad listens to Perry Como, and he makes his two kids -- Leon and Ursula -- count backwards from 100 by sevens every evening. He's a doctor, who keeps a very creepy medical dummy -- you know, the exposed tissue Vitruvian Man type mannequin -- in his office. As something of a ventriloquist, he's convinced his two kids that the dummy, named Pin (get it?) is actually alive, and he uses it as a kind of prop to discuss sex ed with them.

The mom of the family is your hyper-bitchy OCD type, who slaps Leon around for tracking mud in the house. Some of the neighborhood kids make fun of him, so he decides to head to his dad's office, after hours, to seek some sage advice from the dummy. A nurse walks into the room, so Leon has to hide. And then, the NURSE PROCEEDS TO HAVE SEX WITH THE MEDICAL DUMMY. Watching in rapt horror/awe, this apparently turns Leon into some kind of grade-school psychosexual maniac.

Leon goes home, slaps Ursula for calling Pin a dummy, and then his mama takes away one of his girlie mags. This leads to a lengthy talk about the birds and the bees from papa, and from there, we skip a few years into Leon and Ursula's high school days.

Leon, who now looks like Ed Cullen, is basically an asexual metrosexual, while Ursula -- who bares more than a passing resemblance to Taylor Swift -- is pretty much the town slut. While Ursula and her boyfriend of the week make the sign of the odd-toed ungulate in the backseat of a Volvo, Leon decides to "rescue" his little sis and pummel the crap out of her beau. Then, Ursula tells her sibling her period is late.

...and just when you thought you were well-adjusted, too!

Diagetically, Ursula and Leon are supposed to be 15, but I'm pretty sure both actors were about 30 when this thing was filmed. Hoo-ray for Dawson Casting! The two go to Pin for some advice about Ursula probably being preggers, and what do you know, now Leon is throwing his voice to make Pin "talk." Following an OB-GYN check up from Doctor Dad, the two kids start looking into college applications. Then, the father heads to his office, and hey, Leon is there, just talking to Pin like a weirdo.

Creeped out considerably, dad takes the mannequin with him while he and his wife drive like maniacs to a conference. Of course, they wind up crashing (due to Pin's meddling, perhaps?) and Ursula and Leon have to cope with being orphans. Apparently, they're not too saddened by their ma and pa's passing, as they celebrate their memory by yanking all of the plastic covering from the manor furniture and eating pizza.

At this point, Leon decides to put Pin in a tuxedo, and Ursula coincidentally decides to start doing some research on schizophrenia. Then, Aunt Dorothy decides to move in, and Leon moves Pin into the attic. One night, they hatch a plan to scare Dorothy to death, by leaving Pin in her bed like a horse head. Of course, the stunt gives their auntie a heart attack, and once more, Leon and Ursula find themselves the sole occupants of the spacious residence.

Leon makes beef stroganoff for dinner, and wheels out Pin, who know has realistic human skin and a blonde wig stapled to his plastic noggin. Ursula makes a snide comment, and Leon DEMANDS she apologize to Pin.

Working at the library, some dude named Stan hits on Ursula, and they go out on a date. Envious, Leon exacts revenge by going out on a date with some random skank. Leon and his gal pal start making out, and then Leon sends PIN IN A MOTORIZED WHEELCHAIR TO ATTACK HER. Ursula gets home early and saves her, and tells Leon that Stan is coming over for dinner the next evening.

At dinner, Leon brings out Pin and then, he recites a poem he wrote about raping his sister. Needless to say, Stan thinks his girl's sibling is cuckoo bananas, but Ursula doesn't want to do anything because she knows he'll wind up in a nuthouse.

So, Leon invites Stan over for drinks the day after. Of course, the hooch is poisoned, allowing Leon to pummel his sister's boyfriend half to death with a horse statue. Freaked out, he goes to Pin for advice, who tells him to hide the evidence. Leon then wraps up Stan in plastic and buries him under a woodpile.

Ursula gets home, and Leon lies about Stan's whereabouts. During dinner, Leon talks about dad a lot, and then she hears Stan's wristwatch go off, which wouldn't you know it, was the one piece of evidence Leon forgot to pick up!

This leads to the film's climactic death struggle, ending with Ursula lunging at her brother with a fire axe. Police then find Stan's not quite dead body, and the film concludes with Ursula visiting Leon in an insane asylum, where he's basically turned himself into Pin.


The film was directed and written by this Canuck named Sandor Stern, whose worked on a ton of TV shows and a few of the "Amityville Horror" flicks. Interestingly enough, the movie is based on a novel penned by Andrew Neiderman, who was also the dude who wrote "The Devil's Advocate."

The guy who played Leon, David Hewlitt, has gone on to have a pretty prolific career in sci-fi tinged fare, probably best known for his appearances in "Cube," "Splice" and the "Stargate" TV show. Cynthia Preston, who played Ursula, has been in a million billion TV shows, probably best known for her stint on "General Hospital." Her last big movie role was in 2013's "Carrie" remake, which as a reminder, sucked.

Oh, and the dad in the movie? He was played by Terry O'Quinn, whose probably best known for "Lost" and his role in "The Stepfather" films. And according to the Wikipedia, the guy who actually voiced Pin was Jonathan Banks, who is probably better known as Mike from "Breaking Bad."

Over the years, "Pin" has garnered something of a cult following, and for good reason. While it's hardly anything I'd consider the decade's best, it's certainly a well-above average horror flick that eschews the cartoonish gore for a more suspenseful, semi-psychological thriller pace.

This is one of those rare films that actually manages to give me the willies. Really, the trick to a good horror movie is the build-up: I mean, once all of the crazy shit starts happening, it's too chaotic to really be considered horrifying anymore. "Pin" really excels at building up dread, as Leon's psychosis delightfully grows from "mildly crazy" to "oh shit, this muddafuggah's out of his gourd." Pretty much the entire movie, there's this really uncomfortable feeling up in the air, where you just KNOW the dude's going to snap and his sister's too nice to really address it early on.

It may not be "Exorcist III" levels of scary, but the film no doubt knows how to give you the heebie-jeebies. In short? It's pretty much the perfect pre-Halloween flick to get you in the mood for what is undoubtedly the best time of the year.

Three stars out of four. Jimbo says check it out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

PROPAGANDA REVIEW: “The Turner Diaries” by William Pierce (1978)

Just how bad can hardcore white supremacist genocide-fantasy fiction be? As it turns out, it’s WAY worse than you would ever care to imagine. 

“The Turner Diaries” -- a 1978 book penned by National Alliance founder Dr. William L. Pierce under the pseudonym “Andrew MacDonald” -- is one of the most controversial things ever written. Indeed, outside of chi-mo handbooks and novels that teach you how to kill your children, there’s probably never been a printed work as loathed as this one.

I hate to be a populist, but this is one of those rare occasions where I think the general consensus has it right. This thing is a vile, morally-reprehensible piece of shit and it deserves every ounce of hatred hoisted upon it -- if not more.

The thing about “The Turner Diaries” is, as vehemently decried a book as it is, very, very few individuals have actually read the damn thing. It’s been on my to-do list for quite a few years, and even at a paltry 100 or so pages, it’s one of the most excruciating literary undertakings of my entire life. It’s over-the-top, slobbering hatred makes “Mein Kampf” seem downright lucid by comparison, and it’s approach is so preachy and self-righteous that it makes “Unintended Consequences” read like light George Orwell. On top of being a categorically offensive book, it’s also a poorly composed one. It’s a shitty ideological message wrapped up in a shitty speculative fiction tortilla -- it’s got so many levels of “bad” going on simultaneously that you really have no idea where to begin criticizing it.

For starters, the book is written in this really clumsy “historical” manner. As in, it opens and closes with a message from the future, with an “editor” from the year 3000 periodically popping up in the main narrative to explain what the metric system and contemporary racial pejoratives mean.

The foreword begins with some background on the title’s protagonist, Earl Turner, whose diaries serve as the primary meat of the tome. Chapter one places us in D.C., circa Sept. 1991, two years after the “Cohen Act” stripped all Americans of their firearms (oddly enough, the date given for the great “Gun Raids” is Nov. 9, 1989 -- the exact same day the Berlin Wall come a tumbling’ down.)

Well, as anyone whose read “Unintended Consequences” will tell you, depriving the angry white man of his guns is all we need for a citizen’s revolt, but before that, Mr. Pierce -- a man with a PhD in physics and a former instructor at Oregon State, it is perhaps worth mentioning -- lets us know about this thing called the “Human Relations Council,” which is a reverse racist government agency consisting of black personnel tasked with de-arming all the Chalkies.

So what does post-gun America look like, you might be wondering? Well, everybody gets a gas ration card/national ID, which has your social security number linked to it, with America’s only true patriots (that being, hardcore Jew and black haters) forced to live underground, periodically resurfacing to beat liquor store owners with soap blackjacks, “Full Metal Jacket” style and kill Hebrew deli owners to pay their power bills. Turner makes a quip about corrupt governments, not tyrannical ones, being the type that get overthrown. The vestiges of the Tea Party, I no doubt imagine, are probably wanking to this already.

Our heroes head to Pennsylvania, where in preparation for the national gun ban, they buried all of their weapons. They dig them back up and head back to D.C., where the eponymous Turner goes REALLY in depth in describing his apartment’s utilities.

From there, we’re introduced to Katherine, Earl’s love interest. She was a former congressional secretary who bought a gun after her roomie was raped and killed by a -- you guessed it! -- black intruder. Earl says some shit about Israeli foreign policy leading to a U.S. energy crisis (can you tell this thing was written in the 1970s yet?) and his plans to demolish the J. Edgar Hoover Building -- complete with some suspiciously detailed accounts of the bomb making processing.

If you’re looking for some sort of philosophical/ideological/genocidal underpinning to the book, here’s a fairly self-righteous, self-justifying (and anti-Semitic as fuck) passage from early on:

Indeed, we are already slaves. We have allowed a diabolically clever, alien minority to put chains on our souls and our minds. These  spiritual chains are a truer mark of slavery than the iron chains which are yet to come ... why didn't we rebel 35 years ago, when they took our schools away from us and began converting them into racially mixed jungles? Why didn't we throw them all out of the country 50 years ago, instead of letting them use us as cannon fodder in their war to subjugate Europe? 

By the way, the book tosses the term “libertarian” around quite a bit -- in one case, at least, as a couplet with the phrase “swarming hordes of indifferent mulatto zombies.”

So the FBI building gets blown to smithereens on Oct 12, 1991 with about 700 or so fatalities. The author describes the decimated bodies in gruesome detail, ironically lingering on the aesthetics of “black smoke” for quite some time. Turner displays something that kind of resembles regret for killing mostly innocent pawns, but a few sentences later, we get this cheery little rationale:

There is no way we can destroy the System without hurting many thousands of innocent people-no way. It is a cancer too deeply rooted in our flesh. And if we don't destroy the System before it destroys us-if we don't cut this cancer out of our living flesh-our whole race will die. 

We get some more rhetoric about the Jewish-liberal-democratic-equalitarian plague (while Turner, with just a smidge of hypocrisy, praises “an Oriental approach to life.”) And hey, what do you know, this Willie Pierce fellow is kinda’ anti-woman, too!

Liberalism is an essentially feminine, submissive world view. Perhaps a better adjective than feminine is infantile. It is the world view of men who do not have the moral toughness, the spiritual strength to stand up and do single combat with life, who cannot adjust to the reality that the world is not a huge, pink-and-blue, padded nursery in which the lions lie down with the lambs and everyone lives happily ever after. 

So after Earl bemoans Black Panther sex crimes and describes women’s lib as a “mass psychosis designed to deny one’s own racial identity,” he kvetches about his relationship with Katherine. Way to act like a pussy, you bomb-building, mega-racist mass killer, you!

Then, the Washington Post office gets bombed cause Earl don’t like their politics, and then he and his motley crew hitch a ride with a black taxi driver (whom they kill) before shooting an editor dead in his own home. Then, D.C.’s largest TV transmitter gets blown up, but a radio station siege gets all messed up and a couple of “Organization” members get killed. With a full on war against “mass media” as a construct raging, Earl brings up the “propaganda” used against Hitler by the Allied forces. Which reminds me: why is it that white supremacists can’t accept that Hitler killed a whole bunch of Jews, especially when their anti-Semitic screeds already encourage the mass extermination of the Hebrew peoples?

After that, a Washington Field Command mutineer is executed. “His were the motivations of a libertarian,” Turner writes, “the sort of self-centered individual who sees the basic evil in government as a limitation on free enterprise.”

From there, America falls into a chaotic orgy of traffic jams and brownouts. Earl’s buddy Bill makes grenade launchers out of shotguns, and we learn that the Supreme Court recently decriminalized rape to appease minorities … and women’s lib has lead to sexual assault victims being jailed for pepper spraying would-be attackers, somehow.

In Nov. 1991, a mortar attack takes place during a D.C. press conference, and a bazooka attack blows up a plane full of Jews. Earl said that, a long time ago, Jews had infiltrated the Christian churches and turned them all into “State Worshippers.”

Life is uglier and uglier these days, more and more Jewish. But it is still moderately comfortable, and comfort is the great corrupter, the great maker of cowards. It seems that, for the time being, we have already caught all the real revolutionaries in America in our net. Now we must learn how to make some more, and quickly.

Meanwhile, Georgetown has been overrun with devil worshipping queers, because all drug laws have been repealed. Then, Earl runs into Elsa, one of the many street urchin “dropouts” that he believes may be of “some use” to the insurgency.

Earl gets drugged by a command force psychiatrist and is shown THE BOOK. The doctor and a resistance major make him take a super-special anti-statist white man oath, and then he’s given a necklace with a suicide pill in it.

Some ruffian black fellas break into their compound, and they all got pummeled to death with crowbars. The editor from the future lets us know that heroin use was part of a government-enforced race mixing program, because that’s vital information, you know.

Earl then describes to us an “anti-racism” rally in Chicago that, irony of ironies, turns into a full-blown “honky cat-killing” riot:

Another incident in which the TV viewers were treated to close-up coverage was the killing of a cat. A large, white alley cat was spotted by someone in the crowd, who started the cry, "Get the honky cat!" About a dozen demonstrators took off down an alley after the unfortunate cat. When they reappeared a few moments later, holding up the bloody carcass of the cat, an exultant cheer went up from those in the crowd near enough to see what had happened. Sheer insanity! 

We then learn that organized crime controlled labor unions and had strategic partnerships with black nationalists. Earl visits Elsa’s underground dump society, where everybody smokes weed. He then describes her body in a creepily detailed fashion. All of the blacks, he feels worth telling us, surely wanted to rape her good down there. We’re then introduced to a character named -- get ready for this one, folks -- Kappy the  Kike, who is (surprise!) a Jewish criminal kingpin who exchanges TV sets with feral children in exchange for wholesale white girls.

Now it’s 1993. The gang is still all together, and they get into a shootout with the FBI secret police … which is run by “Col. Saul Rubin” of  Israeli Military Intelligence, for some reason. They talk about Eichmann’s “show trial” to garner global sympathy for the Jews; then, Earl gets anally probed by Rubin’s gang of all-black henchmen. Then, Earl gets tossed into a military prison for a year a half and talks about a Houston bombing killing 4,000 people on, interestingly enough, Sept. 11, 1992.

Earl, of course, is sprung by Organization liberators. Put on trial by the secret underground faction, Earl is forced to go on a suicide mission to redeem himself. Cue several pages of guerilla tactics fan fiction and some really, really heavy-handed “bread and circuses” bullshit.

Now, Earl is living  on the West Coast, under the assumed identity “David Bloom.” Then, he goes to Chicago, where he gets into counterfeiting money and plans to blow up an electrical grid, shell the D.C. Israeli embassy and then set off a “dirty bomb” inside a nuclear power plant. By the way, Pierce, the author of this fine little manifesto, actually WORKED at Los Alamos for a few years, if you can believe it.

The white folks take out a key telephone exchange in Dallas and a sheriff in Denver gets whacked.

When he arrived home that night after his TV interview, he found his wife on his living-room floor, with her throat cut. Two days later  his patrol car was ambushed. His bullet-riddled body was found in its burned-out wreckage.  It is a terrible thing to kill women of our own race, but we are engaged in a war in which all the old rules have been scrapped. We are in a war to the death with the Jew, who now feels himself so close to his final victory that he can safely drop his mask and treat his enemies as the ‘cattle’ his religion tells him they are.

With the Interstate exchanges blown up and the police departments overthrown, the white supremacists hijack a couple of military aircraft and turn L.A. into a full-fledged war zone. Eventually, the Organization takes complete control over California, and then, the pogroms doth begin:

Most Blacks moved along the streets leading into the designated areas a block or two ahead of the slowly advancing infantry, who made quick searches of each building as they came abreast of it. Blacks who had not already vacated the premises were roughly  driven into the streets at bayonet point. If they put up any resistance at all they were shot on the spot, and the sound of this occasional gunfire helped to keep the other Blacks moving along.

Of course, the author doesn’t pick up just the slightest taste of hypocrisy/irony when calling contemporary statism totalitarian. And just wait ‘til you read the passage about blacks resorting to cannibalism!

Next up, the motherfucking DAY OF THE ROPE is described. And if that has an air of bizarre familiarity to it, trust me, it ought to. Anyway, the “Day of the Rope” is the fateful evening all of the leftist academics and race-mixers were butchered by our freedom-loving, non-coercive, anti-statist protagonists.

The first thing I saw in the moonlight was the placard with its legend in large, block letters: ‘I defiled my race.’ Above the placard leered the horribly bloated, purplish face of a young woman, her eyes wide open and bulging, her mouth agape. Finally I could make out the thin, vertical line of rope disappearing into the branches above. Apparently the rope had slipped a bit or the branch to which it was tied had sagged, until the woman's feet were resting on the pavement, giving the uncanny appearance of a corpse standing upright of its own volition. I shuddered and quickly went on my way. There are many thousands of hanging female corpses like that in this city tonight, all wearing identical placards around their necks. They are the White women who were married to or living with Blacks, with Jews, or with other non-White males.

The author than describes how the Organization developed the Department of Public Resources, Utilities, Services and Transportation, because logically, the first thing any group of anti-bureaucrats would want to do is set up an entirely new bureaucracy. Then, they start driving nukes to Washington and New York, to blow up a whole bunch of blacks and Jews.

About 20 million people get killed by a nuclear holocaust in Baltimore and NYC. Then, the USSR gets involved and Detroit, LA and Israel all get blasted by atomic hellfire. But the author reassures us: “Fortunately, the heaviest death toll in  this country has been in the largest cities, which are substantially non-White.”

A few of the bit players get killed by black soldiers.

Katherine said nothing to the Black, but the icy look she gave him apparently injured his sense of ‘human dignity.’ He began the whining, ‘what's a matter, baby, don' you like Black people?’ approach that Blacks have found works wonders with guilt-ridden, liberal White girls who are desperately afraid of being considered ‘racists’ if they reject the unwelcome advances of rutting Black bucks. When Katherine tried to get out the shop door carrying two heavy suitcases, the amorous Black blocked her way and tried to run his hand under her dress.

Because nothing really beats typifying the cultural other as vicious savages after the “heroes” modeled after yourself just instigated nuclear Armageddon!

Earl then preps for a suicide mission on the Pentagon, stating he’s not worried about being detected since most of the staff is black, and therefore incompetent. To quote the great David Chappelle: “this racism is killing me inside!

We then get to the book’s epilogue, which tells us that the Jews were globally “expunged” and “white Europe” had been liberated by U.S. forces. The author cheerily describes what happened to half of humanity after China attempted to invade Russia:

The Organization resorted to a combination of chemical, biological, and radiological means, on an enormous scale, to deal with the problem. Over a period of four years some 16 million square miles of the earth's surface, from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific and from the Arctic Ocean to the Indian Ocean, were effectively sterilized. Thus was the Great Eastern Waste created.

And now that a good ninety percent of the human race has been exterminated, we come to the book’s big, fat, insanely prejudicial happy ending:

He helped greatly to assure that his race would survive and prosper, that the Organization would achieve its worldwide political and military goals, and that the Order would spread its wise and benevolent rule over the earth for all time to come.

…yes, because “benevolent” is PRECISELY the term I would use to describe the ideology of this book, for sure.

I’m not quite sure how to conclude an analysis of this one, because its contents not only thoroughly explain itself, but critique the ever-loving hell out of it at the same time. As non-fiction devoid of ideological overtones, it’s really, really shitty, and as a polemic, it’s among the worst ever penned. It makes “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” read like Malcolm X’s autobiography, and makes “Camp of the Saints” look like Tolstoy’s cheeriest by comparison.

“The Turner Diaries” has been trashed and decried for decades now, allegedly serving as the inspiration for several high-profile anti-statist terror incidents, including the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The SPLC calls it the “bible of the racist right,” and next to perhaps something like “Hitman” or one of the myriad “how-to-commit-suicide” books out there, it’s probably the novel most frequently challenged by moral guardians over the last half century.

For a work this turgid, criticism just doesn’t suffice. The fact that it exists is its own worst commentary, a mirror of Pierce’s own homicidal insanity -- this is the same guy that dedicated another racially-charged novel to a man who killed mixed race couples, after all.

Alas, all good things (and horrifically racist ones, too) most come to an end, and Pierce caught his in 2002. His racist organization wound up ceasing operations last year, and considering today’s “multicultural uber alles” idealism, it’s a safe bet to say that old Willie boy would be none-too-pleased with today’s pan-racial utopia. Dude never even got to see Obama get elected, which, to be fair, probably would’ve killed him all over again.

Should you read “The Turner Diaries?” Eh, you can, but it’s a waste of time. It’s everything you think it would be, only written in a far shoddier manner. It’s hate-filled and hypocritical and almost slobbering- insane at times, and even at a scant 140 pages or so, grinding through it as an absolute chore.

Beyond the controversial content, there’s nothing really of note here. Yeah, it’s an astoundingly racist tract, but it’s also an astoundingly boring tome as well. Shock only goes so far, and I’m afraid “The Turner Diaries” carries little more than a slight perverse jolt before deteriorating into absolutely stultifying monotony.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Five Things You Didn’t Know about Juvenile Justice in the U.S.

...and probably didn't WANT to know, honestly.

For almost three years, I covered the United States juvenile justice beat. I went into detention centers and spoke with correctional officers and interviewed at least a hundred incarcerated kids and their parents. It’s a sector of America not a lot of people mull over, and even fewer seem to care about. Seeing as how only half a million predominantly ethnic youths are shoved in and out of the nation’s largely crumbling juvenile system each year in America, perhaps there’s a reason why it’s not such a big blip on the national radar.

I would like to say there are a lot of popular misconceptions out there about the juvenile justice system, but that would mean people actually think they know what the system itself is like. The reality I’ve encountered is that about 98 percent of the populace has no earthly clue what youth corrections -- and especially the juvenile legal system -- entails, so I’ve taken it upon myself to give you folks some straight talk.

Here are five facts about America’s juvenile justice system that you probably weren’t aware of. Prepare to be enlightened … and probably horrified.

FACT ONE: “Scared Straight” is a bunch of hooey 

Whenever I told people I worked in the juvenile justice sector, I almost always received the same response: “Ah, man, I LOVE 'Beyond Scared Straight!'”

As in, "Beyond Scared Straight," the A&E program that revolves around the filmed exploits of juvenile delinquents taking adult prison tours. The average episode revolves around teens having urine tossed on them, getting their shoes yanked off by inmates and occasionally being threatened by Bloods and Crips while prison guards hang out in the back and chuckle. Each episode has the exact same narrative: the kid acts a fool, gets the living daylights scared out of him by convicted rapists and murderers, and then he goes home, learning to respect and love his momma and not do any more crimes.

There’s quite a few problems with the whole Scared Straight shtick, beginning with the fact that the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention refuses to fund such programs, citing them as potentially harmful to youth and likely to increase the likelihood of a juvenile re-offending. Study after study has found that programs following the model  are generally ineffective. A 2013 Campbell Collaborative report said it loud and clear: “the analyses show the intervention to be more harmful than doing nothing.”

On top of that, there’s this little thing called the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which explicitly mandates “sight and sound separation” for of-age and under-age inmates in adult prisons. So, we have an outmoded form of shock therapy that has not only been proven to not work, but actually MAKE more crime than prevents it, that quite possibly violates Federal law.

But hey, at least it makes for interesting cable drama, I suppose.

FACT TWO: There is a LOT of sexual abuse going on…by women

In 2013, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report finding that roughly one out of every 10 youths in U.S. juvenile facilities have experienced some form of sexual abuse. That’s actually a decrease from the first National Survey of Youth in Custody in 2009,  which estimated that about 13 percent of locked-up juvies were sexually victimized.

That’s pretty darn shocking in and of itself, but what’s really flabbergasting is who is doing the abusing. While about three percent of incarcerated juveniles said they were victimized by fellow inmates, roughly EIGHT percent of the population said they had been victimized by detention center staffers. In some facilities, the rate of sexual abuse climbed as high as 30 percent of the entire incarcerated youth population.

And the kicker here? It looks like we’re primarily dealing with a female-on-male problem, with nine out of 10 male sex abuse victims saying they were victimized by staffers lugging around XX chromosomes. Nearly 90 percent of staff-abused youths say they were victimized more than once, with a staggering 20 percent of the population saying they were sexually abused more than 11 times.

FACT THREE: There are WAY more adults in the juvenile justice system than you’d think. 

One of the things that shocked me most about the US juvenile justice system was the staggering number of adults held in juvenile facilities. As in, grown men in their early 20s, who are held in the same centers alongside 15-year-old truants.

Depending on the jurisdiction, offenders can be held under juvenile justice department supervision well past the age of 18, with some states allowing inmates as old as 25 to remain in youth facilities. This isn’t a handful of adults we’re talking about either: in West Virginia, for example, roughly a quarter of the state’s entire juvenile detention population consists of adult inmates.

But that’s not the really concerning part. Remember the Prison Rape Elimination Act we discussed earlier? While PREA strictly enforces juvenile and adult offender separation in adult jails, the exact same provision -- the Youthful Inmate Standard -- doesn’t apply to youth facilities.

FACT FOUR: States have no earthly idea what they’re doing. 

From my personal experiences, it seems as if juvenile justice departments are probably the worst-run state agencies across the nation. Executive turnover is alarmingly high, transparency is comparatively low compared to adult correctional systems and corruption, malfeasance and outright ineptness is more of a norm than an exception.

The heart of the problem is likely the bureaucratic skein propping up most juvenile justice systems. Most short-term detention centers are county-operated, while the long-term holding facilities are state-operated. Of course, other agencies -- usually the Department of Child and Family services equivalent -- are tasked with handling juvenile aftercare, while the Department of Health is in charge of linking kids up with both in-and-out-of-home treatments and services.

Unsurprisingly, the lack of interdepartmental (and even intradepartmental) communication usually leads to oversights and flat out service failures. Nobody is really sure who is supposed to do what, and many states have decided to turn over their juvenile justice services to privatized contractors to avoid the headaches. Florida is probably the most noteworthy, since they recently became the first state in the nation to privatize every last one of its short-term youth detention facilities.

So, US juvenile justice systems are pretty much left with two options: leave the kids at the behest of lumbering, ineffective and uncoordinated state-and-county level agencies, or contract the job out to privately held entities, who allow virtually zero transparency at all -- and periodically, sell youth offenders like chattel for their own financial gain.

FACT FIVE: Everybody wants alternatives, but nobody knows how to implement them. 

It’s not a secret: the juvenile justice system in U.S., for the most part, is seriously messed up. Over the last decade or so, there have been some pretty large movements to shift the juvenile justice industry into something kinder and gentler -- but there’s definitely some problematic spots regarding the “juvenile justice reform” trend.

To begin, it’s not exactly a grassroots revolution. Instead, the two biggest forces for juvenile justice reform in the nation just so happen to be two of the largest foundations in the US -- the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. Needless to say, they have spent a TON of money to convince states to adopt their own juvenile justice solutions and models, with practically every pro-juvenile justice reform report or study you’ll read nowadays having their financial backing.

Their pitch is relatively simple: they want less incarcerated youths, and more “detention alternative” programs. Since the average jailed youth costs taxpayers a ton of money -- the average annual cost to house ONE juvenile offender in Illinois is $85,000 a year -- a lot of conservatives have hopped on the reform bandwagon, too.

The problem is, we’re not exactly sure HOW to properly implement these highly touted reform programs. Sure, there are quite a few activist judges out there sending kids to “restorative justice” community service instead of lock-up, but there’s no real guarantee that jurisdictions can successfully fund such programs on their own. While it’s probably true that low-level youth offenders would be better served by targeted community services like drug treatments and Functional Family Therapy, I tend to wonder if cash-strapped counties have the funds set up for it -- and especially if they have means of keeping the programs sustainable.

The most effective treatments for young offenders are generally multisystemic “wrap-around” services which consist of state aid from the juvenile justice department (or its equivalent) in tandem with support from local child services, probation officers and health departments.

The juvenile justice reform solution, then, is basically getting kids wrapped up in MORE departmental care. Sure, you may not be spending $85,000 a year in direct incarceration costs, but I’m pretty sure linking a kid up with family and children, health department and probation services -- in addition to any number of privatized community alternatives -- isn’t going to be all that much cheaper. Reform efforts, under that model, aren’t saving taxpayers money -- its just diversifying the revenue stream to different agencies and contracted players.

The pro-reform mantra is that such non-incarceration programs cut down on recidivism, which in turn, saves states in future expenses. That very well could be true, but at the present, I have deep, deep concerns about the viability of the “detention alternative” solution.

For example, Georgia recently passed a sweeping juvenile justice reform bill, which invested more money in community-based solutions and made it illegal to jail youths for truancy and running away from home. Now, giving detention alternative grants to counties sounds nice and all, until you realize many of the counties awarded such grants didn’t actually have any community-based programs in place before receiving them. There are also profound concerns that juveniles may receive worse treatment and services in the alternative programs than they would through the DJJ, and that erratic funding would mean some counties receive a surplus of grants while others receive literally nothing at all. And ironically, closing down youth detention centers largely means youths have to be shipped further away from home to receive services they would’ve gotten locally just a year ago.

The big one, however, is a service provider shift that no one in the pro-reform camps seem to be talking about. With status offenses no longer garnering DJJ involvement, what we’re seeing statewide now are large numbers of youth being placed under the supervision of DFCS instead. That means more children being taken out of their homes and placed in less-funded foster services that are completely unequipped to handle youth with even moderate behavioral issues.

As bad as outcomes for incarcerated youth are, the outcomes for youth in foster services is statistically even worse. Unintentionally -- or at least I hope unintentionally -- Peach State juvenile justice reform has thus far meant nothing more than shifting costs from one agency to another, with tentative outcomes looking to be far worse for taxpayers and juveniles alike.

Hardly anybody wants kids in prisons, yet there’s hardly enough proof out there to demonstrate that most communities can successfully implement and support detention alternatives without major state investments -- or outside privatized services.

There may be a better way to handle juvenile offenders, but the solutions we’re being sold at the moment, I am afraid, are far from the cure-alls being advertised.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The 50 Greatest Neo Geo Games of All Time! (Part Three: #30-#21)

Part three of a five-part series celebrating the best SNK and pals had to offer! 

HEY! Looking for the previous installments in the countdown? You can find them at the links below:

PART ONE: Counting down games #50 to #041
PART TWO: Counting down games #040 to #032

The Neo Geo is one of the most beloved consoles of all-time, and pretty much the definition of a gamer’s system. Originally released in arcade board form, the Neo Geo Multi Video System (MVS) delivered some of the absolute best coin-op titles of the 1990s, via an ingenious cartridge set-up that allowed gamers to play four different titles on one machine. With its impressive hardware specs, it provided gamers with some of the era’s most dazzling graphics, and introduced players the world over to such acclaimed franchises as Samurai Shodown, Metal Slug and Fatal Fury, not to mention tons of less heralded, underappreciated gems such as The Last Blade, Pulstar and Top Hunter. Not content with dominating arcade parlors, SNK also released the system as a high-powered (and absurdly expensive) home console, known as the Advanced Entertainment System (AES) which LITERALLY brought the arcade experience into players’ living rooms.

For almost 15 years, SNK and other developers published titles for the AES and MVS, giving it one of the absolute longest life spans of any console in gaming history. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the console’s official retirement, THE INTERNET IS IN AMERICA is rolling out a special, five-part series, counting down the 50 greatest games to ever grace the Neo Geo.

Before we continue, a few notes about the criteria for the list:

001.) Both MVS and AES releases are eligible for the countdown. Unless explicitly stated, the versions of the games referred to on this list are the MVS iterations.

002.) Only official games, produced during the console’s original lifespan, are eligible. Sorry, homebrew enthusiasts.

003.) SNK games from the era, which were not released on the MVS or AES, are ineligible for this countdown. In short, that means no Neo Geo CD or Hyper Neo Geo 64 games are in the running.

004.) Yes, an SNK versus Data East crossover fighter would have been awesome. Considering the two companies chummy relationship, how comes that shit never happened, anyway?

With the fine print out of the way, who is ready to hop right into the countdown? All aboard, just say “S-N-K…”

Number 30:
Samurai Shodown (1993)

In an arcade market glutted with piss poor “Street Fighter II” clones and “Mortal Kombat” imitators, “Samurai Shodown” was definitely a breath of fresh air. With its unique weapons-based combat system, the game was one of the most innovative of the 1990s -- and of course, the cornerstone of one of the most important fighting game series of all-time.

The graphics and audio in “Samurai Shodown” (known as “Samurai Spirits” in Japan) were downright fantastic, and the visual effects -- such as the camera zooms -- really set the game apart form its genre contemporaries. With rock solid gameplay and character sprites that remain impressive to this day, it’s easy to see why this game made so many waves when originally released.

The vibrant backgrounds put pretty much every other fighting game from the era to shame, and the combatants all played differently from one another. Instead of relying upon fatality gimmicks and secret characters, “Samurai Shodown” was a fighting game that reveled in being simply a great fighting game. It’s an outstanding game, through and through, and to know it is to fucking love it.

Number 29:
The Super Spy (1990)

There were a ton of offbeat offerings on the Neo Geo, and even among the weirdest games on the platform, “The Super Spy” stands out as one of the zaniest.

The appeal of “The Super Spy,” which was one of the very first Neo-Geo releases, is that it’s technically a first person shooter. And, uh, a first person stabber like “Sword of the Berserk” on the Dreamcast. And also, a first person puncher a’la the Xbox cult classic “Breakdown.” So its, in essence, “Final Fight,” as seen through the eyes of Haggar and company!

To be fair, the game does have some downsides -- probably the most important one being a lack of blocking of any kind.  While the backgrounds are repetitive and the core combat system is incredibly simplistic, there’s just so much weirdness going on here that it’s impossible to tear your eyes from the screen and your hands from the joysticks. Trust me; by the time you take an Uzi to a ninja attacking you with a stun gun and a lead pipe and you nearly get head butted to death by a Yakuza boss, you’ll know you’re playing something mighty damn memorable.

Number 28:
Aero Fighters 3 (1995)

The third and best installment in the beloved “Sonic Wings” franchise, this is a damn solid SHMUP with plenty of character and some downright brutal bullet hell gameplay.

The wacky characters (this time, there are eight selectable) are out in full force again, and each pilot plays very differently, with their own unique, chargeable attacks. With 18 stages in all (with 8 being “choose your own adventure” branching path levels), there is definitely a lot of stuff to blow up in this one. And, as always, the gameplay here is just astoundingly challenging; unless you have the skills of that autistic kid from “The Wizard,” you’re likely to be jamming quarter after quarter into the machine just to make it to the third stage!

Two things really make “Aero Fighters 3” stand out. For one thing, there’s all sorts of neat secrets hidden throughout the game, including two secret bosses who hold the key to two secret endings. And then, there’s the super satisfying co-op play; try tag-teaming with your buddies and you’re sure to be in store for some good times…and perhaps some frustrating ones, depending on your own knack for demanding shoot ‘em ups.

Number 27:
Super Sidekicks  3: The Next Glory (1995)

There were quite  a few soccer games on the Neo Geo, but I personally think this one was the best. In fact, the footy engine was so solid that three years after the game was originally released, SNK re-released the title as “Neo Geo Cup ‘98” with hardly any changes at all!

The game plays like a more arcadey version of Konami’s “International Superstar Soccer.” The character sprites are very large, and the controls are smooth and intuitive. A score-fest through and through, you’ll have to break out plenty of dirty hits to jar the ball loose from your adversaries; it’s not quite the futbol version of “Blitz,” but it’s definitely a game that  nonetheless takes a shining to red card-baiting mayhem

While the game, structurally, plays very similar to the second game in the series, there are definitely some palpable improvements. For one, there’s WAY more teams on the roster, with 64 squads in total. While the game lacks FIFA licensing, some of the players do indeed bare a pretty fair resemblance to soccer stars from the era…come on “Klinger,” you ain’t foolin’ nobody. Ultimately, this is just a super fast, super enjoyable, offense-heavy sports game; in short, it’s precisely the type of game that made arcades, and SNK in particular, so damned awesome back in the ‘90s.

Number 26:
Over Top (1996)

When you think “Neo Geo,” you probably think of several different genres. Fighting games, shoot ‘em ups, arcade sports titles. One genre that may not immediately spring to mind is racing, which is a shame, because there actually were quite a few awesome racers on the platform.

“Over Top,” in my opinion, trumps games like “Thrash Rally” due to its unique combination of isometric, “RC Pro-Am” gameplay and Sega-esque, time trial based gameplay. It may not be the best hybrid of “Rock N Roll Racing” and “Outrun,” imaginable, but its still a really fun and inventive experience, nonetheless.

The levels are all very well detailed, and the tracks are pretty enjoyable -- if not just a tad too easy. You’ll be tearing through cobblestone streets one minute and then hauling ass through forested lands the next, with some neat weather changes, and even a day and night system, thrown in to the mix. To be fair, most of the cars handle the exact same (whether you are commandeering a motorcycle, a Ferrari wannabe or a standard sedan), but there are plenty of cool touches throughout the game. And because the developers of the game wanted to give you your money’s worth: the C button turns on the headlights, and the D button honks your horn.

Number 25:
Neo Bomberman (1997)

There were two “Bomberman” games released on the Neo Geo, including a “Puyo Puyo” variation called “Panic Bomber.” That said, I’d vouch for “Neo Bomberman” as the system’s absolute best “Bomberman” experience -- even if it isn’t exactly on par with franchise classics like “Bomberman ‘94” and “Saturn Bomberman.”

This title is very much your classical “Bomberman “ game. You commandeer a tiny terrorist who drops explosives at strategic points on a playing board. The object is to wipe out all of the enemies onscreen, proceed to a special checkpoint, and continue onward to the next mission. The big appeal in this one, I suppose, are the somewhat 2.5D visuals. It also seems that the enemy AI has been ratcheted up, so don’t expect your foes to mindlessly waltz into death traps like they do in some other installments in the series.

The single player campaign is fun -- if not admittedly unspectacular -- but the battle mode MORE than makes up for whatever shortcomings the solo mission has. There are very few experiences in gaming as fun as multiplayer “Bomberman,” and this arcade release is certainly no exception -- especially when you and a pal are duking it out alongside three AI adversaries. And hey, did I mention there’s a co-op story mode, too?

Number 24:
Metal Slug X (1999)

Goddamn, is it ever hard to dislike the “Metal Slug” games. Sure, the game may play identically to the second game in the series (this is actually a beefed up re-release of “Metal Slug 2”), but the “Contra”-on-crack gameplay -- in addition to the game’s hilariously un-P.C. humor -- makes it an absolute hoot and a half to play through.

This time around, you’ll find yourself gunning down paramilitary troops in unnamed Arabian countries, popping caps in mummified rats in Egypt, fighting a jumbo jet that throws tanks at you (while you’re riding on a speeding train, no less) and blasting through the city streets (and sewers) of what appears to be mainland China before finally going toe-to-toe with an armada of squid-aliens and their miniature UFOs. By the way, the animation and music is absolutely stellar, and the gameplay is about as satisfying as you’ll find in any run and gun title from the late ‘90s.

If I have to tell you all of this is awesome, I believe you have already failed at life, my friend.

Number 23:
Strikers 1945 Plus (1999)

Imagine the most hardcore version of “1943” imaginable, and you pretty much have this kick-ass SHMUP from Psikyo  -- a company, it is probably worth noting, was also responsible for the Dreamcast cult classic “Cannon Spike” and several X-Rated mahjong games.

Conceptually, “Strikers” is your pretty standard vertically scrolling shooter. It’s actually a remake of the second game in the series, and it TOTALLY blows away its forerunner in every category. The graphics are great, the soundtrack is understated yet enjoyable and the gameplay is just goddamn bananas. Not only is this one of the most accessible bullet hell games out there, its probably one of the of the few to be palatable for the genre hardcore AND wimpolas who can’t get past the first stage in “Gradius.”

The boss fights are incredible, the challenge level is WAY the hell on up there and each stage looks vibrant and diverse. It doesn’t deviate too much from the genre formula, and that’s ultimately what makes this one such an awesome experience; its all about sheer SHMUP gameplay, and that kind of old school gaming rarely gets better than it does in this super-underrated late ‘90s classic.

Number 22:
Ninja Master’s (1996)

Picture "Samuai Shodown,” but without the weapons. Well, that’s half of “Ninja Master’s,” the super-underrated SNK fighting gem that excels at both hand-to-hand an armed 2D combat.

The big selling point for “Ninja Master’s” is its really ingenious combat system. Each character has a weapon he or she may sheath, and each character has some nifty melee attacks. The thing is, you can only use one or the other, and wouldn’t you know it, to really make the most of the game you have to constantly switch between the two combat systems. It’s a really clever gimmick that makes the game way more strategic and cerebral than most button mashers from the timeframe; I seriously wonder why more games from the timeframe didn’t use the same hook.

Graphically, “Ninja Master’s” looks pretty good, although I’d say the character sprites and designs in “Samurai Shodown” and “King of Fighters” definitely bests this one. The backgrounds are also a bit too static, and the music is far from the best on the Neo Geo. All of that said, this off-the-beaten-path fighter is one of the more nuanced you’ll find on the system, and for those of you looking for a brawler that requires a bit of grey matter, you should definitely try to track this one down.

Number 21:
Windjammers (1994)

Leave it to Data East to make an air hockey video game that’s not only nuanced, but insanely fun and addictive. Yes, “Windjammers” is really nothing more than a high-speed, super-intense virtualization of the analog hobby, but holy shit, is it ever enjoyable.

You get your typical cast of international stereotypes to choose from, and about a half dozen or so different playing fields. The graphics are really good, and the music is rather nice. But all of that is secondary to the game’s true selling point, which is sublimely engaging gameplay.

Each player has their own goal: the top and bottom most sections of the net are worth three points, while the middle section is worth five points. A net separates the two combatants, who have the ability to chunk the Frisbee up against the walls of the playing field -- the physics in this one are really, really impressive, considering the timeframe. And of course, this being a video game and all, players can charge up and unleash some “Shaolin Soccer” shit once their power meter is full. It may sound like nothing more than a fanciful “Pong” variation, but trust me -- this game is WELL worth going out of your way to experience.