The Neo Geo is an arcade system known more for its deep one-on-one fighting games. So, perhaps it’s only natural that SNK’s Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy contains a few elements reminiscent of a fighting game.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward. You play as either Roddy (player 1) or Cathy (player 2), and you move to the right, attack enemies, and collect treasure. At the end of every level is a boss. The main hook is that the action takes place on two planes, a foreground and a background, that you can jump between at anytime. A lot of the boss fights are designed around this, and the strategy is knowing when to switch planes.
The combat is fairly deep. Your main action is to punch, but you can also grab and throw things if you’re up close, or you can hold down the attack button to stretch your arm out for long range attacks. There are also special attacks that you can do by making special controller movements, similar to a fighting game. For instance, doing a quarter-circle fireball motion actually causes your character to throw a fireball. There are similar motions for other moves, including even a Shoryuken-like move.
The main problem, however, is that the controls are a little stiff, and they don’t always respond as quickly as it seems like they should. Especially considering that there are a number of traps and enemies that rush onto the screen before you have much time to react. Multiple playthroughs are necessary in order to memorize when and where all of the dangerous areas are so that you can be ready for them in advance.
It can also be a little confusing determining which plane enemies are on, particularly when they’re in the air. The shadows they cast on the ground help, but it can be hard to keep track of everything that’s going on.
The game is gorgeous, with very colorful and detailed backgrounds, and the characters are well animated with a lot of personality. The stages themselves consist of the usual grass, ice, wind, and fire environments, but they’re presented very vividly, and it’s just beautiful. The music is also suitably cartoonish and playful. It’s almost Treasure-like in its art direction, and it gives you a sense of a bigger world.
I don’t recall ever seeing Top Hunter in the arcades, so I assume it was a little less common than other Neo Geo games. I suppose by the time it came around in 1994, arcades were favoring more straightforward games, like the aforementioned one-on-one fighters. However, it is available for download on the Wii Virual Console, as well as in SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 for the PS2, PSP and the Wii. I quite enjoyed playing this game, and it’s a shame that there wasn’t a sequel to it.