Here we are again for our regular roundup of quick-fire reviews and impressions of everything under the spotlight at Retro Arcadia this week, old and new and a bit of both. And this week I’ve mostly been snowboarding in Austria so it’s mostly handheld on Switch, and that Game Boy and Game Boy Advance stuff arriving on there couldn’t have been better timed!

Before that though, apart from its two Metal Slug outings, I’ve never spent much time exploring SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1 on Nintendo Switch since I got the cartridge for my birthday last year. Being mostly handheld this week though, it was the ideal time to try the rest out as nature intended! Really nice package too, with fully reproduced manuals, interactive 3D views of the boxes and cartridges, loads of display and mapping options and modern conveniences like rewind. I want to focus on the games here though, and I’m going to try and give a couple of sentences each on the ten games included in this, the first of what is now two collections…

Let’s start with those Metal Slugs. They’re both shrunk down and simplified, but the format works perfectly, with all the atmosphere and polish you’d expect from the series in 1999 (1st Mission) and 2000 (2nd Mission) – just a bit different! To me though, the first game feels a bit more Mega Man than Metal Slug where the second feels just right. Both good fun though, especially the tiny set-pieces! Moving on, as you’d expect from an SNK compilation on any system, there’s a decent representation of fighting games here, and the one I’ve spent most time with so far has been Fatal Fury First Contact from 1999. Loads of good-looking, well animated characters to explore, fairly easy to get to grips with and a clever two-button input system make this a great place to start your fighting journey on the compilation.

That would make SNK Gals’ Fighters a great second place to start too, with more to its combat at a faster pace but still very welcoming at lower difficulties. It comes from 2000 and features a load of familiar ladies from SNK franchises, and I can see me spending a lot more time here. Samurai Shodown! 2 is 2D port of Samurai Shodown 64: Warriors Rage from 1999, with all the characters here and a bonus card collection system on top. It’s a more methodical fighter than Gals with lots of depth but having just played a load of the Game Gear version I only dabbled with this one this time. We’ll quickly leave fighting games for a minute and mention Big Tournament Golf, a cut-down, cartoonified version of Neo Turf Masters from 1999. It’s very cute and very old-school in its controls and systems, but apart from it being too easy to rebound the ball off the flagpole in the hole on final approach, it’s a really compelling and fun handheld game of golf!

I hadn’t realised quite how dominated by fighting games this thing is until now! King of Fighters R-2, also from 1999, is based on King of Fighters ‘98 and has a load of modes and loads of characters (especially unlockable ones) but the combat didn’t really make it jump out at me over the others. It’s good but so are the rest! Well, the rest so far because I wasn’t so keen on the next, The Last Blade from 2000. It’s more of a story-focussed 2-D fighter, and while it’s very pretty it’s also a bit slow and honestly a bit boring. One more fighter to go but we’ll jump to Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 next, an action role-playing spin-off of the excellent Beast Busters rail-shooter arcade game where spirits captured from enemies can feed and evolve your weapons. It’s a nice change here but there’s not a lot else to its top-down explore and shoot and upgrade gameplay. Nice music though! Last up it’s SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium, and from what I’ve played so far I reckon this might end up being the cream of the crop for me once I’ve spent more time with it. All the characters, loads of modes, loads to unlock, good-looking with all sorts going on in the varied backgrounds and some cool music. Very impressive and it plays great! Overall, I’m glad to have found all these fighters I’d never played before and while I enjoyed the rest, if you’re not a 2D fighting fan and specifically in this shrunk-down format then maybe think twice.

Mario Kart Super Circuit was always a favourite on my GBA SP but one I’ve not really returned to since – loads of the SNES, GameCube and Switch variants, but apart from a dabble on my old GBA every now and then, not so much this. Which is madness considering this new Switch Online release has simply confirmed it’s probably my favourite in the series! I’ve had a blast playing through the various levels of Mario GP championships and some time trials on favourite tracks too. It still looks and sounds fine, especially handheld, and moves great, but it’s the gameplay where it still shines brightest – the challenge, the controls, the track designs and the feeling of fast and chaotic racing are spot on, just like I finally remember!

We’re running long so while I have played a load more stuff from the new Game Boy and GBA line-up on Switch Online, I’ll just pick out one game I’ve never played before that I’ve really enjoyed there, then we can come back to a few others next time! WarioWare Inc: Mega Microgame$ is a collection of over two hundred weird and wacky mini-games (or game$) with ultra-simple controls that focus on your quick reflexes. It’s all presented in a cool Wario wrapper and a bonkers set of story-beats, and it’s all such a joy! Everything lasts a couple of seconds and mostly involves a single button press, from sinking a basketball shot to a karate chopping to nose picking. It’s so intuitive and I already said a such joy but it really is! Absolutely loved discovering this and just these two games alone have already paid for that Switch Online Expansion Pass I’ve finally pulled the trigger on!

Finally this week, and back on home soil, I saw the credits on Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on the Mega Drive, and I have to say I was a little disappointed. It’s absolutely the most polished of the ten 2D Sonics I’ve now played through over the last couple of months, and it’s got all the speed and thrills of most of the rest combined, but it doesn’t always know when to stop. From the mid to late game, some of the levels go on way too long, and when you know you’ve still got another one based on more the same themes still to come, such is the stage setup, they can really start outstay their welcome. They’re great while that welcome lasts though, and I really thought this might top its immediate predecessor at the top of my emerging favourite Sonics list for a while, with some real creativity in their design and some nice boss fights too. Stunning game but proves you can sometimes get too much of a good thing. Sonic & Knuckles next I think!

In case you missed it last Wednesday, don’t forget to check out my deep-dive into Growl (or Runark), the totally bonkers arcade beat “em up with a cause played on Taito Egret II Mini and PlayStation 2. And be sure to check back on Wednesday for what’s hopefully the first of two reviews next week, this one for the Ninja JaJaMaru: Retro Collection on Nintendo Switch and then possibly Ninja JaJaMaru: The Great Yokai Battle +Hell on there too on Friday. If I have time!