SNK Neo-Geo 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Neo-Geo 101

Presented by  Dylan, Christoph, and Racketboy

The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console that they don’t know much about yet.

The Neo Geo family of hardware began with the Neo Geo MVS (or Multi Video System) released by SNK in 1990.  Boasting incredibly powerful specs and high quality titles, the Neo Geo quickly built a strong following in the early 90’s.  An interesting aspect of Neo Geo arcade cabinets is that they were capable of holding and operating as many as 6 different arcade games, a unique advantage that could save operators money and floor space.

Due to popular demand, SNK decided to create a home console branch from the main Neo Geo series the same year its cabinets hit arcades.  Throughout all of its variants the Neo Geo systems always managed to remain a cut above its competition in terms of raw power, something that was especially apparent in its home console releases.

A side note, this article focuses on the arcade history and home console Neo Geo releases.  The Neo-Geo Pocket is a different enough offshoot of the Neo Geo family to warrant its own article.

Neo-Geo AES Console & Controller

Neo-Geo AES Console & Controller by Aaron Nanto

Background Information

  • Neo Geo is the name of a family of hardware created by the video game company SNK, making its debut with the Neo Geo Multi Video System (MVS) in 1990.
  • A series of home console versions of the Neo Geo hardware were produced starting with the Neo Geo AES which was also released in 1990, followed by the Neo Geo CD in 1994 and the Neo Geo CDZ in 1995.
  • The Neo Geo AES was originally only intended as a rental console for commercial establishments, but became popular enough among consumers to warrant a release as a home console.
  • The Neo Geo cabinets feature a unique system of storing games in cartridges rather than giving each game an individual arcade board.  This allowed cartridges to be swapped out or added and made the multi-cart set up on later revisions possible
  • Neo Geo pioneered the concept of storing multiple arcades games in a single cabinet, a notable feature that hasn’t been seen since.

Historical Impact

  • The AES was the first home console capable of running arcade perfect games, a possibility that wouldn’t be recognized until the generation after it.
  • The use of external memory cards was first seen on the AES, a feature that is now utilized by all modern consoles.
  • The AES has been the only console designed explicitly to play arcade games, a business model that didn’t catch on.
  • The Neo Geo family of hardware has remained popular among gamers to this day, despite being discontinued as of 2004.
  • The AES has become one of the most sought after game consoles in history, and has a large presence among collectors.
  • Neo Geo began in 1990 and finally ended production in 2004, giving it a 14 year lifespan.  So far, this is the longest lifespan any arcade system or home console has ever had.
Neo-Geo MVS Buttons

Neo-Geo MVS Buttons by Jared Lindsay

Strengths

  • Powerful hardware: At the time of its release, the Neo Geo was nearly unparalleled in terms of its raw power.  This was especially notable when comparing the Neo Geo AES to other home consoles at the time.
  • High Quality Titles: While the Neo Geo’s library focused predominantly on fighters and wouldn’t be as large as its competitors, the overall quality from title to title was very high.  This coupled with particularly strong showings in the Fighter and Shooter genres made the Neo Geo a software powerhouse.
  • Arcade Perfect Versions of Games: The Neo Geo MVS and AES were developed in tandem, and run off of similar hardware.  This allowed the AES to run arcade perfect versions of their games, a feat that wouldn’t be recognized by other consoles until the following generation (and even at that time it wasn’t always possible to make that perfect transition).
  • Strong Cult Following: Despite the fact that Neo Geo didn’t become mainstream in the home market and is now officially discontinued, it still remains widely popular among gamers and collectors.
  • Mobile Memory: A feature that wouldn’t be seen until the following generation, the Neo Geo allowed the user to transfer game save information via a portable memory card.  This card could also be used with actual arcade machines.
  • Region-Free: Though region-locking had become common practice, any Neo Geo cartridge can play on either a US or JP console.  This is especially notable because the Japanese versions of these games are often cheaper than their US counterparts.  Interestingly, the region setting of the console determines the region setting of the game.  As usual for the time, PAL consoles have complications due to operating at 50MHz at full screen.
  • Cheaper CD Console Variants: For those who don’t want to drop the cash on an AES and its cartridges, the Neo Geo CD and later the Neo Geo CDZ both offered much lower prices for the console and games.

Weaknesses

  • Extremely High Cost: The AES’s cutting edge technology commanded a high price at retail for both games and systems.  You could expect to pay an exorbitant $900 for a system and around $250-$300 per game.  Prices on these consoles and games remain high even to this day.
  • Not Easily Accessible: Besides just being expensive, Neo Geo consoles and games are uncommon and highly sought after.  This means that finding them at a reasonable price can be rather difficult.
  • Slow loading times on CD based Consoles: The Neo Geo CD had a single speed (1x) CD drive, which meant that loading times on the system were very long.  This problem was addressed by the Neo Geo CDZ with its dual speed (2x) CD drive, but unfortunately it never saw a release outside of Japan.
  • Lack of Third Party Support: Though there are a few excellent 3rd party titles that came to the system, the costs of development and lack of mainstream presence in the home console market left the Neo Geo with a relatively low number of high quality third party contributions.

Official Hardware Variations

 

Neo-Geo MVS Neo Geo MVS: $500 – $700 (not including transportation or game carts)
The Neo Geo MVS was the original arcade platform for use in arcade cabinets.  Due to being developed in tandem with the AES, they share many properties and are nearly identical, but MVS games are in most case MUCH cheaper (also see below for ways to save money without buying a full arcade cabinet). 

The MVS was notable in that many revisions of its hardware allowed for multiple games to be inserted and operated at the same time, something other arcade boards weren’t capable of. As shown in this photo, there are 4 different cabinet variations, including a mini cab that features a relatively tiny 13 inch screen!

The MVS also has the biggest and truest library out of all the Neo Geo hardware, home to many exclusives. Also the Neo CD is home to 2 exclusives: Samurai Shodown RPG & Crossed Swords 2.
Shop For Neo-Geo MVS Cabinet on eBay

Neo-Geo AES Neo Geo AES: $150 – $300
The Neo Geo AES was the home console version of the MVS.  This system was originally designed for commercial businesses only, but found a niche market and sold well at retail in small quantities.  The AES is the most popular and convenient of the Neo Geo hardware for the home (the MVS probably has more units as they are still popular in arcades), and by extension the most sought after and expensive.
Shop For Neo-Geo AES System on eBay
Shop For Neo-Geo AES System on Amazon.com
Neo-Geo CD Neo Geo CD: $100 – $250
A CD based version of the Neo Geo hardware, this console was notable for costing significantly less than its AES counterpart for both the system and games.  Unfortunately, the CD drive was very slow and thus so where the load times.  It also is fairly unreliable, has trouble reading discs at time and the disc drive breaks on occassion.  If you don’t mind putting up with these issues, this console is a great option for people who want to get into Neo Geo without having to pay the hefty price tag on the standard AES.
Shop For Neo-Geo CD System on eBay
Shop For Neo-Geo CD System on Amazon.com
Neo-Geo CD 1 Neo Geo CD – First, Front-Loading Japanese Model): $150 – $200
While technically the first Neo Geo CD model, it was only released in Japan and is not nearly as common at only 25,000 units.  It featured a front-loading CD tray as opposed to the later top-loading model (much like the Sega CD models)
Shop For Neo-Geo CD Front-Loading System on eBay
Neo-Geo CDZ Neo Geo CDZ: $200 – $300
The Neo Geo CDZ is just about the same as the Neo Geo CD, with the exception that the CD drive had superior caching that decreased load times and it is more reliable in reading discs.  However, this version was never released outside of Japan, and can be difficult to get a hold of.  And while the hardware can still  be unreliable to overheating issues.
Shop For Neo-Geo CDZ System on eBay

 

Consolized MVS Hardware

A Consolized MVS is an original Neo Geo MVS arcade system modified and installed in a custom enclosure to play through your home theater setup. These are built by do-it-yourselfers or crafted and designed by businesses. The general purpose of a Consolized MVS is to gain access to the largest Neo Geo library at the cheapest cost. Not only are MVS games the cheapest in the world of Neo Geo but also the easiest to consistently find compared to the AES. Although purchasing a CMVS comes at a higher initial investment – they ultimately offer the easiest, most economical and authentic way to play in the world of Neo Geo. Not only that, but a CMVS offers more features (video output selection, HDTV ready, Unibios) than ever possible on any stock Neo Geo!

If you want a CMVS, they typically range at $400-$900 depending on what features you want as well as what kind of enclosure is being used:

Multimods Multimods CMVS – $400
While not the prettiest, Unenclosed CMVSs are the cheapest, but only offer low grade video output selection as well as a bare arcade board with wires showing. May not be appealing for most, and dust is truly an issue while having this out in the open on a regular basis, it can be the start of a truely budget Neo-Geo experience (if there is such a thing) 

Features: Unibios 2.0, S-Video and Composite video outputs
Source

Neotropolis Neotropolis CMVS – $470
Another unenclosed CMVS, still lacking quality video output selection, dust problems. At the least – a neater and cleaner version of the Multimods CMVS. 

Features: Unibios, S-video and Composite video outputs
Source

Analogue Interactive Analogue Interactive CMVS – $649
The newest entry into the CMVS market, and probably the most polished and professional so far.   Built and designed completely from the ground up using 100% Walnut instead of plastics or metal for the case.  In addtional this unit has  working dust flaps in addition to pure RGB & Component video output. Crafted with every single feature that a CMVS is capable of having. A truly fully loaded unit. 

Features: 100% Walnut,, Real Dust Flaps, Unibios 3.0, Pure RGB, Component, S-video and Composite Video Outputs, Stereo Sound RCA Jacks, Internal Rechargeable Battery, Works Worldwide
Source

Neotropolis 2 Neotropolis CMVS – $780
The Pre-built and cut plastic enclosure that offers component video ouput make it a sure step up from the cheap, unclosed units, but the lack of pure polish and price point keep it from being a good value compared to the Analogue Interactive Unit.  It also does not have RGB and still has some dust problems due to last of dust flaps. 

Features: Unibios 3.0, Component, S-video and Composite Video Outputs, Stereo Sound RCA Jacks
Source

Arcade Shock Arcade Shock CMVS – $900
This extra-pricey unit features a pre-built and cut plastic enclosure that offers component video ouput. It is probably the best-looking of the older units, but it comes at a cost.  It also still does not offer RGB or dust flaps. 

Features: Pre-Built & Cut Plastic Enclosure, Unibios 3.0, Component, S-video and Composite Video Outputs, Stereo Sound RCA Jacks
Source

Accessories

There weren’t a lot of Neo-Geo accessories, official or otherwise, but here’s the main things to be on the lookout for:

Joystick Controller Joystick Controller
Before arcade-style joysticks became popular for enthusiast home users, SNK made it the standard controller for the AES.  NFGWorld has a wonderful set of controller reviews, and in its piece about the Neo Geo Joystick, it stated: 

“In play, the NeoGeo stick was better than any other at the time, bettering even the Capcom Power Stick which was the mainstream king.  The stick mechanism was a perfectly balanced short-throw unit with a delightful click, and it was – as required by the fighting games that dominated the platform – totally accurate…The stick’s buttons were a little less awesome than the stick.  They were perfect examples of SNK’s schizophrenic engineering, with every brilliant design choice matched by one of dubious merit.  These buttons, which looked great and felt good, used arcade switch mechanisms, but unlike arcade buttons they were not inside a sleeve.  Instead, they sat high on an internal mount, and had a great deal of horizontal movement.  They worked well enough, but the overall effect was a bit cheap, and they tended to rub against the stick’s shell.  Right from new they tended to squeak and they were noisy and annoying to use, cheapening the whole experience.”

So while the Joystick might now hold up as well to the newer, high quality releases from the likes of Hori, the SNK stick was an excellent standard controller that had a library of so many arcade-style classics.
Shop For Neo-Geo Joystick Controller on eBay

Neo Geo CD Controller Neo Geo CD Controller
For the NGCD’s standard controller, SNK went with a more conventional gamepad.  And as NFG World shared in their review, “The Neo Geo CD pad is typical SNK: it’s strong, impact-resistant, supremely comfortable and utterly unique in its manufacture.  It’s also fundamentally flawed and so prone to failure that you’re virtually guaranteed to get a flaky one if you buy it used.”
Shop For Neo-Geo CD Controller on eBay
Neo Geo CD Pro Controller Neo Geo CD Controller Pro
A much lesser-known follow-up to the NGCD controller is a “Pro” controller that is is kinda like a hybrid between the joystick and the gamepad.   I can’t say I’d really want one, but it’s an interesting collector’s item.
Shop For Neo-Geo CD Controller Pro on eBay

Game Library

There are are many wonderful 2D titles in the Neo-Geo library.  If you’d like a good read about the best Neo-Geo titles, check out our Best Games That Defined the Neo-Geo.  But, if you want a short-and-sweet list, here are the essentials.

  • The King of Fighters – The Neo Geo’s largest franchise, King of Fighters is perhaps the most well known series on the platform.  Notable for its enormous rosters as well as its innovative gameplay mechanics like the Team Battle System, this series quickly gained popularity among fans of fighting games.  While many fighters coming out at the time were mere Street Fighter clones, King of Fighters did a great job standing out from the crowd and through its own merit became one of the giants of the fighting game genre.
  • Samurai Showdown – Another highly popular fighting game series on the Neo Geo, Samurai Showdown is notable for being one of the first fighters to focus on weapon-based combat with great success.  Like other fighting games developed by SNK, Samurai Showdown did a good job differentiating itself from the Street Fighter clones at the time.  This series quickly became known for its fast pace and de-emphasis on combos, which coupled with its excellent weapon mechanics created a unique fighter that attracted a large fan base.
  • Metal Slug – Metal Slug is likely the Neo Geo’s most popular non-fighting franchise.  This series practically redefined the Run and Gun genre with its simple controls, blistering pace, breathtaking graphics, and fantastic personality.  This game remains one of the most widespread and easy to get into series the Neo Geo has to offer.
  • Other Fighters – There are far too many to mention here, but the Neo Geo housed a large number of excellent fighters.  Titles such as Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Last Blade, etc helped the Neo Geo become one of the greatest platforms for fighters that’s ever been seen.
  • The Best Undiscovered Neo-Geo Games – if you want to branch out into the hidden gems of the Neo-Geo library, this is the guide for you.
  • The Cheapest Neo-Geo Games Worth Your Time – most Neo-Geo games are downright expensive, but here’s a few great games that are actually rather affordable.
  • The Rarest & Most Valuable Neo-Geo Games – and if you want to go the other way and see which games are going to command the most finances, here’s that list as well.

Affordability

As mentioned numerous times before, the Neo Geo is not the console for cheapskates.  Both the hardware and the games can be very expensive.  Here are some financial points to keep in mind and some links to help you out.

Emulation

  • Emulation for the MVS/AES is very well developed, most all titles can be played through your choice of emulator.
  • Kawaks is a very popular emulator due to its ease of use and high compatibility.
  • NeoRageX is also highly popular due to its high compatibility and accuracy.
  • As always, MAME is another option for emulating arcade games.
  • We also happen to have a review of the Neo-Geo emulator for the Nintendo DS that works enterprisingly well

Disclosure: one of the contributers to this guide, Christoph, is not only a long-time Racketboy forum member in high standing, but he is also the owner of Analogue Interactive, the company behind one of the newest Consolized MVS system mentioned above.   Nick (aka Racketboy) reviewed text to avoid any potentially biased descriptions of hardware to be fair but maintain proper information for the end-consumer.

12 Comments

  1. Galaga says:

    GPH Caanoo GNGEO runs NEOGEO at full speed. Great emulation handheld.

  2. Eudes says:

    Man, those NGCDs were really unreliable. (or I was really unlucky).
    Two units died with the same problem: drive error.
    After the second one I gave up. (and i got the first one repaired once)

    The 4 controllers I got also had the same problem: the clicky sticks (which were awesome) stopped registering commands.
    And they were really hard to find in Brazil (the arcade sticks even more).

  3. Droid_party says:

    Last night I went to the local bowling alley for the first time in years and to my surprise they had a neogeo cab there with Metal Slug (my favorite series in the neogeo library) playing. It’s the first time I’ve seen an MVS here in my sleeping little town since I was a kid and my excitement was almost uncontrollable, I grabbed my rental shoes off the counter and rushed for the cab fumbling my hand through my wallet for the required change on the short walk toward it. Pulling all the coins out of my pocket and shoving them into my pocket for easy access I dropped the first coin into the slot… rather than the cachunk sound of a coin falling into the hopper I was greeted to the sound of the coin falling back out the front of the machine. I figured that maybe the machine just didn’t like my coin so I grabbed another with the same disappointing result, in fact every coin I put in had the same result.

    Crushed I went away still never having played MS on the original hardware, all I could do was go home and play via the wii compilation.

  4. eSPy says:

    great article, but im not sure about the CDZ having a faster drive speed. i think the difference was that it had a larger cache.

  5. lokkenjawnz says:

    Great article, though a couple of issues:

    You refer several times to the AES games as “ports” however as far as I know they’re literally the same as the MVS games, so they really aren’t ports simply because the AES and MVS are functionally identical (more or less anyways)

    Also, in the section on CMVS, it seems a bit like you’re trying to sell the Analogue Interactive CMVS. Most of the other pre-built CMVSes are compared to the AI one, and seem to specifically highlight negative issues between them. I have no issue with the AI CMVSes, as I find them to be thoroughly amazing, I just think it’s a bit weird for an article like this to come off as almost a commercial, at least in that small instance. Maybe I’m too sensitive, I dunno. Maybe I’m just jealous because I can’t afford any Neo Geo hardware! Damn!

  6. shallowgamer says:

    eSPy is right. The CDZ is not a proper “double speed” drive. caching was superior, which meant games loaded faster.

    and as far as the price quoted, the Neo Geo Gold System in the US went for 650 bucks, with the initial launch games at $200. (except for league bowling at $150). Prices did go up for certain titles later.

    and it sounds like whoever wrote up the CD controller Pro writeup hasn’t actually touched one. I’ll give a general overview. It is a joystick and still retains the “clicky clicky” feel. This is also known as the “bean” or “kidney” controller. There isn’t a proper “ball” on the top, more like a ball with a huge indentation on top. Perhaps one could rest their thumb on it. The base is much smaller than the original sticks, the buttons feel cheap, and the general concensus is that the Pro controllers aren’t as good as the originals. Still, I would take this over the pad.

  7. racketboy says:

    I fixed the parts about “ports” and the CDZ drive. I guess I didn’t think of how the word “ports” would be viewed when I read this over. I changed the word to “versions”.

    As for the wording of the Consolized MVS units, I think the wording we settled on was rather fair. I honestly think at this point, it would be hard to recommend anything but the Analogue Interactive unless you really wanted to trim some cost from the price in exchange for less features or you didn’t like the walnut look.

  8. Eddie says:

    I always enjoy reading your articles. Thank you for posting this.

  9. Patrick BBE says:

    I would save up in order to get the Console made of Wood.

  10. Braille says:

    “Neo Geo began in 1990 and finally ended production in 2004, giving it a 14 year lifespan. So far, this is the longest lifespan any arcade system or home console has ever had.” Actually the Atari 2600 is the longest lifespan of any home console to date. Being released in 1977 and ending in 1992, bringing it’s lifespan to 15 years.

    “The AES’s cutting edge technology commanded a high price at retail for both games and systems. You could expect to pay an exorbitant $900 for a system and around $250-$300 per game. Prices on these consoles and games remain high even to this day.” I believe the Neo Geo sold for $650 for the Gold system which included 2 joysticks, the system and 1 game. Where as the Silver system was $400 and only had the system and 1 joystick. How that comes out to $900 is beyond me. Also the games started off at $200, not $250. However more popular titles did sell for more.

  11. Braille says:

    You should the Omega Entertainment Machine’s CMVS to the list of CMVS’s. It can be found at arcadeworks.net
    It contains all the features of the Analogue Interactive model, but for $150 less, also the look of it is more AES in nature.

  12. GameFreako says:

    SNK is my favourite company when I have their games on the NES system. Unfortunately SNK wanted to be like the big player and made the Neo Geo. Although Neo Geo was a powerful machine with great games, it should never be a home system rather than be an arcade system board. SNK should port the arcade games to the 16bit and 32bit machines at that time to ensure profit flowing in and more capital. Another problem is that SNK develop too much fighting games and less on genres which led the company downfall.