I loved going to arcades back in the ’80s and ’90s, and I loved seeing arcade machines in random places, like restaurants and grocery stores. One of the staples of that experience, however, was SNK’s Neo Geo MVS system, which I saw a lot of back then. So, I wanted to write a series of articles talking about my experiences with it, and what some of my favorite Neo Geo games were.
The Neo Geo was originally released in 1990. What made it unique was that most Neo Geo cabinets housed multiple games, and you could switch between them to choose which game you wanted to play. That gave the system an interesting kind of brand recognition. Most arcade games were standalone units, and you didn’t think about what hardware inside was running the game. But Neo Geo cabinets had a specific look to them with a red color scheme, and they really stood out in an arcade setting. The games, themselves, also had a really particular style about them. They were colorful and flashy, with detailed graphics and catchy sound, and they just begged you to play them.
The other unique thing about them was that there was also a Neo Geo home console, called the AES, and it was based on the same hardware as the arcade system. In other words, you could essentially get the exact same games at home that you played in the arcade. Nintendo kind of did this first with its Play Choice-10 and Vs. System arcade machines that were based on the same hardware as the NES (and in the case of Play Choice-10, also housed multiple games), but the Neo Geo approached it the other way. Instead of making an arcade system based on a home console, the home console was based on the arcade machine. This was a pretty big deal in the early ’90s, when home consoles were still lagging behind arcade technology.
Despite being a pretty cool idea in theory, the economics of it were a little screwed up. I understand that the point was to sell a premium game console at a premium price, but the logistics of it didn’t quite work out. When the AES launched, it cost $650, which, even without adjusting for inflation, is still the most expensive game console ever released. [EDIT – Actually, I forgot about the 3DO, but it’s close.] Even if you could stomach that, the individual games cost $100-200 each. I think the main reason for the high cost was to maintain the value of the arcade versions, but here’s the problem: if I took 100 dollars-worth of quarters to an arcade to play just one Neo Geo game, I would get tired of that game long before I spent all the money.
And don’t get me started on the memory card. Originally, AES consoles came with a memory card that allowed you to save your game progress, and you could actually use it to import your data into an MVS arcade version of the game (or vice versa). Again, it was a cool idea in theory, but it made no economic sense. After all, if I just spent a whopping $200 to have an arcade game at home, why would I then go back to the arcade to keep spending money on it there?
I guess that’s why the MVS was far more successful than the AES.
But nitpicking aside, I loved seeing Neo Geo games in arcades, movie theaters and pizza parlors. I think the first time I ever saw one was at a Red Robin restaurant. I was already familiar with the system from seeing it on TV (probably from the old Video Power show), but it was really cool to see it in person. It even had its own headphone jack, which was really classy! How many other arcade games had that?
I don’t think I played any games on it at that time, but the only one I remember seeing was Top Player’s Golf.
In the late ’90s, when I first got a home internet connection, and long after I assumed the Neo Geo was obsolete, I was shocked to learn that there were still games being made for it, and that a lot of them were sequels to games I remembered from the early ’90s! I had no idea that they were still making new King of Fighters or Fatal Fury games, and quite frankly, I had never even heard of Metal Slug until I read about it online. In fact, the Neo Geo was officially supported until 2004, giving it one of the longest life-spans of any video game system. (I always found it pretty ironic that SNK used the slogan “The Future Is Now” when they were still making games for 10-year-old hardware.)
Luckily, time has straightened out the economic factors, and many Neo Geo games have been re-released in compilations or as digital downloads for extremely affordable prices. That makes it easy for people like to me to finally own some of these classic games and build up a collection without having to sell a kidney or two.
But I’ll discuss some of my favorite Neo Geo games and series’ in upcoming articles. For now, I just wanted to do an overview.