With titles such as Kileak: The Blood and Sega's lackluster port of VF3tb under its belt, developer Genki's history is a tad spotty. While hardly a perfect game, Super Magnetic Neo is a refreshing change from the company's usual fare and delivers an original and amusing diversion in the rather thin category of Dreamcast 3D platformers.
Given his dedication to world peace, The Professor must act when the Pinki Gang takes over Pao Pao Park. To defeat the evil, foul-mouthed baby leading the Pinki Gang, The Professor sends Neo, a rubbery, Teletubby-esque robot. Imbued with the powers of Super Magnetism, Neo must free the four worlds of Pao Pao Park and defeat Pinko and her banana milk-sucking henchmen.
At first glance, Super Magnetic Neo looks a lot like the games in Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot series. While the "running into the screen" and side-scrolling aspects may be the same, Neo's gameplay is decidedly fresher. As a robotic monopole, Neo can generate red or blue magnetic fields around his body. As with real magnets, opposite poles attract and like poles repel. Red or blue platforms dot the vast landscapes, as well as other magnetic doodads to help Neo progress through the game's sixteen stages. If you generate a red field while standing on a red platform (likewise, a blue field on a blue platform), the principles of magnetism will propel you skyward. Many enemies come in red or blue, and they can be repelled with the like color or attracted and boxed with the opposite color - non-charged enemies can be defeated by throwing boxed enemies at them.
While a little confusing at first, the core concepts of magnetism take far less getting used to than the other red/blue game, Treasure's Silhouette Mirage. Each of the game's four worlds end with an impressive and inventive boss, ranging from mutant plants to animated building blocks. While a relatively short game, Super Magnetic Neo does feature some odd replay value. Each stage contains eight Pinki Coins, a Cactuar-like "Hidden Item" and a best time to beat. Collect the first two and beat the third and Neo will be awarded with a treasure. While mostly there for bragging rights, treasures can be used to decorate Neo's cozy room.
While the core concepts are interesting and easy enough to grasp, Neo's gameplay can be frustrating at times. Neo is given many opportunities to die, made worse by the sometimes-less-than-responsive control. While you can mosey through the game's levels at any pace you desire, the game encourages Sonic-like speed. The game is certainly hard enough to control at walking speeds, thus crisper controls are needed to make the time trials an enjoyable possibility. Additionally, Neo's default button layout is simultaneously is somewhat problematic. The red and blue magnetic fields of intuitively keyed to the red and blue Dreamcast buttons. Unfortunately, every other Dreamcast platformer uses the red button to jump, requiring players to fight previously learned standards in order to succeed. These control issues are generally minor, but add an occasionally maddening frustration to a few of the game's situations.
Perhaps Neo's most admirable feature is its impressive presentation. While the character designs are of the crack-addled Pen Pen TriIcelon variety, the game's overall look is clean and colorful. Each character is constructed out of an impressive number of polygons, and the technicolor environments are also detailed and alive with animation. While bits of slowdown do crop up every now and then, Super Magnetic Neo runs at a clean 60fps a vast majority of the time. Neo's sound is appropriately upbeat, mixing peppy rock and techno tunes in Sonic-like fashion. While nothing here's overly hummable, the music fits the game and environments perfectly. While they play a fairly minor role, the game's sound effects are up to snuff as well.
Despite its few frustrating control issues, Neo is a surprisingly polished product. It's not going to win awards, but it's a solid and unique enough game to warrant a look.