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Everything old is Neo again: NG:DEV.TEAM on GunLord


The Neo Geo X has people contemplating the possibility of buying "Neo Geo" hardware in 2012. But SNK and Blaze aren't the only companies bringing back the 24-bit platform in the new millennium. In fact, there's a group with an even keener eye for accuracy.

Indie developer NG:DEV.TEAM has been steadily releasing games developed specifically for the vintage hardware since 2006, and porting them to Dreamcast for an extra touch of retro accessibility.

Its latest work is GunLord, a Turrican-inspired side-scrolling run-and-gun. For those of you not familiar with Turrican, that means vast levels that expand out in every direction, full of platforming challenges and tons of enemies to shoot Contra-style. The first stage of GunLord alone features scenery varying from a wooded mountainside, to a waterfall-fed underground cave, to a series of ruins against a stormy sky.

Along the way, you pick up a variety of power-up items – icons that semi-randomly change your weapon from a ricocheting sphere to homing missiles – to help you survive the non-stop onslaught of enemies. They fly at you, run toward you, grab you from the ceiling, and generally do a great job of preventing you from making any progress.

Despite the hand-drawn pixel art look and side-scrolling design of GunLord, designer Timm Hellwig told me NG:DEV.TEAM always has an eye on modern game design. "We always include more modern elements in our games," Hellwig said. "Games got a lot better in time and less frustrating. We try to slowly evolve the old genres." One obvious example of the modern influence: GunLord actually has an online ranking system. Of course it doesn't connect directly from the Neo Geo or Dreamcast, instead spitting out a code that you can enter from your computer.

GunLord impressionsinterview
GunLord is an authentic Neo Geo game, technologically. "It was directly developed for Neo Geo in C and assembly," Hellwig said. "We reverse engineered the Neo Geo and developed our first game in 2000. We developed our own cartridge PCBs and development systems."

That kind of devotion to Neo hardware means the imitative Neo Geo X fails to impress Hellwig. "As purists of real 16 bit hardware and CRT monitors we are not much interested in it," he said, "but we will buy one out of curiosity."

As for bringing authentic Neo-style games to more modern platforms, Hellwig has more interest in handhelds than consoles. "These style of games are not accepted on XBLA/PSN," Hellwig said. "A release of GunLord on XBLA/PSN would require a costly complete HD remake, without ever knowing whether the game would be accepted or not."

"The best fit for our games is the awesome 3DS," rather than console download services. "The 3D effect work best in 2D games anyway."

GunLord impressionsinterview
The audience may be limited by ownership of vintage platforms – and NG:DEV.TEAM did not tell me exact sales numbers for GunLord – but the developer has built a loyal audience. "We suspect that 90 percent of our customers are returning customers," Hellwig said.

After playing GunLord, I can see why people come back. GunLord is a big game, full of hand-drawn art, original synthesized music, weird bosses, and massive, massive levels punctuated by side-scrolling shmup segments. It feels like something that would be a full-size release now, to say nothing of the actual Neo Geo era. NG:DEV.TEAM is rewarding the people who continue to play games on their Neo Geos or Dreamcasts with games like this.

GunLord is available directly from the developer or from Play-Asia.

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