In the early 90’s silver age of video gaming the most outlier-est of outliers would have to be a second party developer for the Neo Geo, of all things, but Alpha DenshiKabushiki gaisha, better known as ADK, still managed to carve themselves a respectable legacy on SNK’s 100 Mega Shock Holy Grail, crafting well regarded classics like Magician Lord and the World Heroes series. ADK’s output on the system wasn’t close to being limited to just that though, and the compilation ADK Damashii, originally released only in Japan for the PS2 in 2008 and recently made available on PS4 as part of Sony’s PS2 backwards compatibility initiative for that system, elucidates the great, the curious, and the inexplicable of the unsung second most prolific Neo Geo software producer.
Ninja Master’s: Hao Ninpo Cho (1996)
Of the 5 games featured on ADK:D, Ninja Master’s (everyone loves a grocer’s apostrophe) is easily the weakest. Judged on its own merits, the fighting feels intuitive and moves combo and cancel into one another in an ahead-of-it’s-time way that feels like the recent Arc Systems Works fighters. Vibrant colors and smooth animations can’t save the tiny size of the Fighter sprites though, especially on a system that prided itself on exactly the opposite. Add in that NM treads the same well-worn feudal Japan thematic grounds as stone cold NG classic Samurai Shodown and its fan favorite spiritual successor The Last Blade, and you’re left with a game that didn’t have much reason to exist back in 1996, let alone now.
Ninja Combat (1990)
Now this is more like it. From all the way back at the Neo’s summer 1990 launch, Ninja Combat initially comes across as straight up kusoge, a ninja themed (ADK suuuuuure did love their ninjas) Double Dragon clone replete with blue and red clad puffy haired gaijin twins (who look a hell of a lot like Conan O’Brien) rounding out the initial playable cast. NC gooooooes places though. Less a traditional beat ’em up and more a belt scrolling shooter in the Sunset Riders vein, our heroes’ seemingly endless supply of flaming shuriken lead them through a handful of levels worth of colorful carnage perfectly befitting of something called “Ninja Combat” that was released in 1990. Gunstar Heroes style multi sprite segmented bosses await, and mini bosses become playable after defeat, adding a Mega Man-like layer of strategy to each pre-level character selection.
Ninja Commando (1992)
A sequel to Ninja Combat? If that’s the case then main character “Joe” has traded in his Conan O’Brien visage for a “Duke head glued to a Snake Eyes body” look. Ninja Commando is literally Ninja, Commando. A top down run and gun a ‘la Capcom’s Commando, now with 100% more ninjas. But don’t let its lack of originality in concept fool you into thinking it isn’t worth your time, Ninja Commando is a hyperkinetic slaughter fest on par with Midway’s Smash TV or Total Carnage, light years ahead of SNK’s somewhat staid in-house Commando-like Ikari Warriors.
Tsuukai GANGAN Koushinkyoku AKA Aggressors of Dark Kombat (1994)
Probably the most famous, or infamous, game on this list to fighting game nerds, ADK (get it!) the game still stands as an incredibly strange conglomeration of ideas that don’t really gel together, even for ADK the company. Though panned upon release and cited as a symptom of the Neo Geo being out of touch with the rising tide of 3D fighters on the market like Tekken, Virtua Fighter and *shudder* Toshinden, ADK still manages to pull some 3D fighter staples out of the primordial polygonal muck that birthed Namco and Sega’s technological powerhouses and graft them onto what turns out to be an enjoyable if slight 2D fighting experience.
Basically, adding eight way movement to a typical 2D fighter makes it play like a beat ’em up, and this isn’t a distinction that ADK completely avoids, even adding weapon pick-ups to the gameplay, but it’s tough landing a clean hit on your opponent, as grappling is mostly the order of the day here. A surprisingly deep system of throw chains and reversals make this feel like a Fire Pro or Aki wrestling game at times, but there’s also a fair share of traditional quarter and half circle fighting game maneuvers as well, and a super meter even offers “Crazy” supers, AKA Guilty Gear style instant kills, though good luck performing the finger twisting button combinations necessary to pull them off.
Aggressors feels more like Capcom’s Saturday Night Slam Masters or SNK’s own weird off brand Godzilla punch ’em up King of the Monsters than any of Neo Geo’s other fireball and uppercutting 2D also rans. Aggressors of Dark Kombat as the game’s US title didn’t help it much either, as Clinton era arcade goers found this gave to be hardly that aggressive, dark or anything like Mortal Kombat. ADK definitely has its problems, and possibly deserved the critical drubbing it received in the overcrowded fighting game landscape of 1994, but not many other games let the time traveling red clad ninja Fuuma from World Heroes run a Walking Dead style spiked baseball bat across a smug looking Japanese high school student. So it’s needless to say that I’ll be back.
Twinkle Star Sprites (1996)
Featuring neither ninjas nor combat (or Kombat) but easily the ADK: D (and ADK in general) game with the most considerable legacy, TSS was ADK’s final game for the OG Neo but saw ports to the NG CD, Saturn, Dreamcast and even a sequel for PS2. The game’s cute ’em up / vs. puzzle mash up gameplay is so simple yet brilliant that I’m surprised it hasn’t been ripped off ten times over, but then again these aren’t exactly the most lucrative mainstream genres, especially today.
The vertically scrolling 2D shooter (don’t say shump or shmup to me, please) gameplay sets you against an opponent in typical Puzzle Bobble / Puyo Puyo fashion except here you must destroy enemies faster and more stylishly, with a series of leveling charge shots, than your opposition to send “garbage blocks” their way in the form of fireballs that can eventually be reversed and reflected into screen filling bosses to doom them for good.
Unlike Ninja Master’s’ disappointing 1996 AV presentation, TSS is quick and bombastic no matter how frantic and bullet hell-ish the onscreen action becomes, with colors, art and animation right on par with anything Capcom was doing with the Street Fighter Alpha or Marvel Vs. Series at the time. Twinkle Star Sprites is an addictive, responsive gem when played both against the computer but especially with a friend, that truly earns its reputation as one of the best non-fighting Neo Geo games.
At 14.99, ADK Damashii may not be the easiest sell to the casually curious, especially given that, bound to this comp’s PS2 origins, these aren’t the most full featured ports out there, lacking the wealth of options found in Hamster’s more recent (and, of course, more expensive) standalone Neo Geo Arcade Classics releases, which are finally making their way to the Xbox One and Switch now after a prolonged period of PS4 exclusivity. For the more adventurous “classic gamer” though, ADK:D is an interesting and varied cross section of the Neo Geo road less traveled.