How To Make Owning a Neo-Geo More Affordable
Note from racketboy: Forum regular, Nickfil recently shared his research on the different Neo-Geo options for mere mortals like us that would love to have the real SNK hardware, but aren’t loaded with all the cash to go with the purely expensive AES route. He was kind enough to let me share it here. Enjoy!
About 7 months or so ago, I got a huge lot of mostly retro games from a thrift store. A local gamer had died, and his mother was dropping off the stuff at the moment I was walking in the place. Real sad, but I was excited to get some retro consoles that I wanted to own, but was a pain in the ass to hunt down individually. There was a lot of random stuff in the lot. Among the obligatory NES/SNES/Genesis carts there were some complete Intellivision games, just about everything for a Colecovision but no Colecovision console, Vectrex carts, and the kicker- 3 complete Neo-Geo Pocket Color games. I was originally going to pop these up on eBay, or the buy/sell/trade forum here. I’ve always been a Capcom guy and SNK just kinda weirded me out. It had the style that I loved from Capcom, but a different control scheme that just didn’t make any sense to me. I was comfortable with my hadokens. Now, around this time of year I travel a lot. Thanksgiving and Christmas. About 20 hours in the car total, so I gear up with handhelds. I picked up a NGPC and the copy I already had of King of Fighters R2 blew me away. It got me thinking that I’m missing out on an entire section of gaming and I want to get into it.
For me, emulation was traditionally the route to go for new retro gear. However, the pocket has a weird clicking joystick that can’t really be emulated and contributes to the great feel of the games. The NGPC fighters need that thumbstick. This got me thinking that I should probably try to get the real Neo-Geo hardware rather than just software. That perhaps it is best to play it with the classic joystick and 4-button layout. Thing is, Neo-Geo was and still is quite expensive. It kinda blew me away at HOW expensive even the MVS (arcade) stuff was, let alone the AES (home console). There are many different options for owning Neo Geo gear though… I thought I’d list them here to help anyone out in deciding what to buy, and if to buy or just emulate.
The Differences in Game Prices: MVS vs AES
One of the biggest factors when it comes to collecting Neo-Geo software is the games. While there are a few affordable AES games, most of the games for the console can be quite pricey as the collectors usually focus on them with their cool-looking cartridges and cases. Below is a small sampling of prices for a variety of games (see links to look on eBay for yourself).
|Metal Slug 3||$30||$300|
|King of Fighters 98||$30||$100|
|King of Fighters 2001||$65||$87|
|Fatal Fury Mark of the Wolves||$80||$240|
|Samurai Shodown 2||$40||$30|
Neo Geo AES $200 / With MVS adapter $550
This guy is the no brainer. SNK made this to bring the arcade experience to the home. The controllers were full joysticks, although you can plug in gamepads from the Neo-Geo CD into it. They’ll work fine. On eBay they run from around $110-$250 depending on what they are bundled with, condition, and serial number. Different serial numbers mean slightly different motherboards and outputs of video quality, especially with RGB mods made to them.
- Sleek design- looks great on the shelf. If you are a collector more than a player this is the console for you. The reason for the high prices of the Neo Geo AES is the rabid collector mentality. The reason the AES system and carts are so expensive is because the AES carts are beautiful compared to the MVS.
- The Super MVS converter will run you about 250 bucks, but should pay for itself in the long run if you pick up many games. If you want one or two games only, it probably won’t be worth it . Made for the home, they have artwork on them in great packaging.
- Rabid collector mentality- the AES carts go for much more than the MVS carts. Games that arn’t as popular you might only see a slight difference in price, but the popular games get hiked up to a crazy amount even though the MVS is the same game.
- The audio is mono. Similar to the first Sega Genesis the AES has a circular plug with pins that plug into the system (din and 2 composite cables). One for sound and one for video.
- If you are anything like me, you need many many many quarters to get through a Metal Slug game. AES carts give you about 4 (maybe 5?) continues. There is no way I could get through the game on that. You can get a debug BIOS chip to pop on the board to be able to change these settings, but more on that when we come to the modded AES
This is the cabinet. It’ll play MVS cartridges only, and comes in a couple of different options. Pictured is the 4-slot which means that inside the cabinet, there is a motherboard with 4 different slots on it. It will take any MVS cartridge in those slots and when you fire this guy up, you’ll have the option of choosing which game to play. There are also a number of other sizes/form factors of MVS cabinets to choose from.
Additional cartridges can be bought cheaper than the AES cartridges, and are easily swapped out of the machine. I’ve seen the occasional stand up arcade machine for as low as 200 bucks. That might have been a moment that was few and far between though.
They usually are on eBay and other sites for about $700-$1,500 plus about $300 or so shipping. The best option for getting an arcade machine is local pick up from somewhere to save on the shipping. Beware when buying one however.
Genuine MVS arcades have ports for headphones and memory cards. Back when they were released you could slide a neo geo memory card into the slots and save where you last died in the game. Then when you come back with more quarters you could resume. A lot of cabinets that are custom built, or built from other different cabinets won’t have these features.
- Plays the cheap MVS carts.
- Creates the full arcade experience at home.
- If space is an issue, this isn’t your option. The 4 slot (don’t know if they come smaller or bigger depending) clocks in at 76″ in height, 26″ wide, and 27″ in depth. Make sure you have the space, before pursuit.
- Ugly game carts. If you are a collector and like seeing shiny nice complete games on your shelf, the MVS isn’t for you. The MVS carts are made to be in an arcade machine out of sight. They are simply black rectangles with a white lable on top. You can find them with the marque stuff for the arcade, but also loose. They come with no case.
The Neo Geo CD from $100-$200
The Neo Geo CD is a distant 3rd option for playing Neo Geo games on original hardware without hacks or mods. I didn’t originally include the NGCD in this list as it doesn’t have the same experience as playing on the cartridges, but I thought it would be beneficial the mention. (Especially since you can find them realitively cheap on eBay)
While the Neo Geo CD library consisted primarily of ports of MVS and AES titles, there were a few MVS arcade games, which were not officially released for the Neo Geo AES and ported instead to the Neo Geo CD. This includes Puzzle Bobble, Janshin Densetsu (a Mahjong game also released for the PC Engine), Power Spike II, Neo Driftout and Futsal – 5-on-5 Mini Soccer.
A few games which were unreleased in MVS and AES formats were also released exclusively for the Neo Geo CD. These includes Iron Clad, Crossed Swords 2, Oshidashi Zentrix, ADK World, The King of Fighters ’96 Neo Collection and Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits: Bushido Retsuden (an RPG spinoff of the Samurai Shodown series that also released for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn). Idol Mahjong Final Romance II, an arcade game which was not an MVS game, was also ported to the Neo Geo CD. Packaged with the neo geo cd was a gamepad rather than a full joystick.
Neo Geo fans panned the NGCD controller at the time for changing up the normal arched button layout and stiff feeling thumbstick compared to the joystick of the neo geo. Luckily- it had the same controller type as the Neo Geo and you could plug in your old joystick into the system. People have also compared the thumbstick on the neo geo cd to the neo geo pocket thumbstick, which in my opinion works fantastic and doesn’t feel stiff at all. Having never played the NGCD – I can’t comment one way or the other.
- A CD-based format for games means that the information on piracy and piracy of the actual games are pretty easy to get a hold of. So if you are more of a player than collector, you can cheaply play neo geo games on original hardware.
- Long Load Times. Because of the early release of the Neo Geo CD – the optical drive is only 1X speed. This makes load times between cut scenes and matches last over a minute. Far too long for even the most patient gamers. The CD format also bounds you to region and unable to play imports. And depending who you talk to, the stiff controller makes it a necessity to buy the old controllers if you don’t have them on hand already.
Modded Neo Geo AES $500 / $800 With MVS Adpater
Note: From this point on we are heading into mods and hacks. These will always fluctuate wildly in price based on quality and type of the hack. Everyone should be cautious when buying something hacked so that they know exactly what they are getting and condition it is in.
These modded consoles usually feature 2 things: more options with connections to televisions (Component, S-Video, and Compsite are featured in the pic), and a Uni-Bios or debug BIOS Upgrade. The new BIOS will allow you to change the basic functions of the games like amount of continues. This beast will run you about 500+ but you might be able to find it cheaper if you are willing to sacrifice some options.
If all you want is the chip- neo store also offers that at a modest 17 dollars, however you have to do all the grunt work yourself. It requires a soldering iron and basic experience with it to install.
- All the advantages of the standard AES mentioned above, with the obvious bonus of more options.
- Price point. This plus the conversion cartrige for MVS games and you are up to about $800. You don’t even own a game yet.
Superguns and Motherboards $400-$600 Total
You can get a console-like MVS arcade system without a lot of technical skill. The supergun is your solution. It is a box that can connect to the JAMMA motherboard. They usually boast a 15 pin connector for the controlers. This lets you plug in any Neo-Geo controller, or custom built arcade sticks.
Be wary when buying one though, as nothing is standard. Some might come with controllers, some might not have the JROK encoder inside (i’m not very knowledgeable on encoders) Look to make sure it’ll run neo geo boards. I’m also not sure if it’ll run a neo geo board that isn’t a JAMMA. Anything 1 slot is JAMMA, and if it is more than that (2, 4, or 6) it has an MVS harness type.
Not owning one, I can’t say for sure if it can be plugged in so do your research on the harness. Before buying- read up on the specific supergun you are buying. Ask questions. It of course has the same cart disadvantages and advantages as the arcade, as it runs the same carts.
If you’re interested in one, Mass Systems sells a nice one with a couple different options you can get. There are also some slight variations here and there on eBay (like on this eBay Store), and a couple custom jobs too.
- Most Superguns will allow you to connect and run pretty much any JAMMA board. Meaning that you get the option of MVS carts with a neo geo board, but if you were so inclined, you could pick up a Killer Instinct motherboard and run that as well. To put it simply, it turns jamma harnessed motherboards into cartridges.
- It does not have a sleek design, and has an exposed motherboard. You might want to build a case to put a Supergun/motherboard in, and if you don’t, you certainly don’t want to leave it laying around. If you have kids/roommates/dogs you run the risk of destroying a motherboard as it’s not protected at all.
These come in all shapes and sizes. The bottom one was made by the infamous modder Ben Heck, and he put together a brief how to on Engadget for it, although doesn’t get into building the actual case. Most look like the above one made by Neotropolis. Mostly- it has the same advantages/disadvantages as the supergun. You can get them on eBay of course, and Neotropolis
- Looks a little more sturdy than the supergun and exposed motherboard. but not by much.
- You could build a better case now that you have all the working parts together.
- Unlike the supergun- you can’t swap boards. You are bound to NEO GEO only.
Build Your Own MVS Console – $150-$300
If you build everything from scratch it should run about 150-200. If you buy an NTSC converter it’ll run about 250-300
If you are crafty, love a hobby, and a soldering god this is probably your best bet. Everything is up to you. All options. You’ll need a motherboard, JAMMA harness, ATX power supply, toggle or slide switch, and rgb to ntsc video adapter. The video adapter is the toughest to build and might be out of most people’s league. They run about 80-100 bucks. The rest of soldering seems easy for an experienced person. I’m not so experienced. Ben Heck put together a tutorial on Engadget and our very own mrtie put together a little guide as well here
- Full control over everything. Build it how you want
- You could really screw up a nice piece of hardware. Sometimes its best to leave things to the professionals.
The Neo-Geo is the expensive gaming hobby. I think I’m going to emulate it on my PSP/Apple while keeping an eye out for a cheap arcade cabinet. The emulation of Neo Geo is near perfect, and is a great option for anyone that doesn’t want to invest in an expensive system, or simply wants to check out the library before making the plunge. Pretty much every option other than doing it yourself will cost you an arm and leg from the beginning. If you do stick with it, the MVS is the way to go for the non-collector who wants many games, and AES for the collector who wants to look at a collection like an investment.
And hey- this is just research i did over the last couple days because it has been on my mind. If i left anything out or i am just wrong about something- let me know. I’ll edit it.