Dark Arms: Beast Buster 1999 for the Neo Geo Pocket Color is quite an oddity of a game. It is sort of a sequel to, or probably more accurately a spin-off of, the 1989 arcade game Beast Busters. The original Beast Busters is an oddity of it's own, considering it was a relatively early arcade light gun game and it is one in which you shoot zombies that came out seven years before House of the Dead. This is just another case of SNK simply dropping the ball.
When SNK finally released the actual sequel to Beast Busters, Beast Busters: Second Nightmare, in 1999 it failed for a few reasons. The game was just too old fashioned. It played much like the original, but it was just rendered in 3D (see: not SNK's strong point, especially not in 1999), and it just felt dated compared to House of the Dead, which came out three years earlier, let alone the amazing House of the Dead 2 which came out the same year. Of course, none of this matter on account of the fact it ran on the Hyper Neo Geo 64 hardware (see: failure).
|What could go wrong?|
That's enough of a history lesson, onto the game itself. Dark Arms is neat title that really shows what the NGPC could have done had SNK not exploded a few months after the handheld was released. It is a horror-themed action RPG. Your first response to this is probably “but I thought you said SNK made this game, that doesn't sound like King of Fighters, or even Metal Slug!” You see, there used to be a time when instead of SNK using money earned from Witch Touching Simulators to fund the King of Fighters, they use the money earned from the King of Fighters to fund interesting little projects like this. But I guess that model didn't work and it ended with the accountants at SNK trying to fund KoF 2000 and getting their kneecaps busted by Yakuza or something.
|Yeah, this guy looks like he's on the up and up.|
Okay, the history lesson is over for real this time. In Dark Arms you play this guy with a gun, and he has to bust some beasts. I think you're working for the Grim Reaper or something, which I guess means you're indirectly working for Dracula, but whatever. Just because the game has RPG elements does not mean it needs a strong story. The game plays from a top-down view, and you move and shoot in eight directions. A nice feature is that if you are holding in the direction of a wall you are standing next to, your character turns around and fires in the opposite direction, which is very convenient when you are running from stuff and want to shoot it. The mechanics of the game are pretty simple. One button fires and the other alternates weapons.
The interesting part of the game is way you level up and, for lack of a better word, evolve guns. You start off with handgun and a weaker gun that you always have called the catcher. If you kill monsters with the handgun, it gets experience and levels up and does more damage like you might expect, but when you kill monsters with the catcher, you don't get experience, because the catcher does not level up, but you capture the monster's soul. The souls do nothing for you immediately, but when you return to the starting area where you can save and talk to Death, you can feed the captured souls to your handgun. Enemies souls can have different attributes such as fire or ice, and whichever attribute is dominant (the one that most of the souls fed to your gun have) determines the attribute of your shot. After you've fed your handgun enough souls, it can evolve into a shotgun, sub-machine gun, or laser gun, all of which have unique play styles. After you level one of those up, you can evolve it to an even more powerful gun.
|I hear the Dark Grab is lovely in the moonlight.|
Even though the action of the game is rather simple, the weapon system is really interesting and it is a fun game. I suggest people give it a try, and then you can set it next to your copy of Faselei! and cry over the fate of the NGPC. I'd love to see a modern rendition on DS or something, but I am certain this will never, ever happen.
|Yeah, my gun eats zombies for breakfast, literally.|
Just a little aside, the Neo Geo Pocket Color's d-pad/arcade nub whatever you want to call it is awesome, and if I could finagle that thing into place on all of my controllers I would be a very happy man.