SNK NEO GEO
SNK, which already was a large player in the arcade cabinet industry, introduced the MVS (Multi Video System) in 1989. This system allowed an arcade cabinet to store between 1 and 6 arcade games and, more importantly, allowed arcade operators to swap the games as they see fit (games were stored on cartridge) – thus greatly reducing the maintenance costs over the traditional arcade cabinets. This proved hugely successful, and SNK knew that if they could get the MVS into homes, then would be onto a sure winner.
And so work started on the Neo Geo Advanced Entertainment System (AES)
which was in essence an exact replica of the MVS – no compromise! The system was launched in the US in 1991 for $599 with two controllers and either Baseball Stars or Nam 75. The games regularly retailed at $200, and, realising the profits were going to be made in the software, SNK quickly reduced the hardware costs.
With such a high outlay, the Neo Geo AES was always going to be a slow burner, but demand was steady, and in 1992 the AES had its first killer app – Fatal Fury, which was released in response to the worldwide phenomenon that was Street Fighter II, and led to many arguments as to which one was best.
Through 1992 – 1994, SNK saw an unprecedented uptake in both its MVS and AES systems, and with ground-breaking titles such as Samurai Showdown, King of Fighters, and Metal Slug they seemingly had it all, but didn’t allow for one thing…….3D. Arcades and new home consoles were moving over to 3D gaming worlds, and SNK didn’t have an answer (much like Fez).
In an attempt to increase sales, SNK developed a CD based version of the AES – the Neo Geo CD. It had greatly reduced hardware and software prices to the AES, and came with game pads instead of arcade sticks. However, it was plagues by a single-speed CD drive which made loading times painfully slow and numbed the ‘arcade experience’ somewhat.
The Neo Geo CD initially sold well, but by 1996 the gaming landscape had changed significantly: 3D had grown up, and yet SNK hadn’t adapted. A failed attempt to bring a 3D outlet into the arcade, the Hyper Neo Geo 64, confirmed that 2D was SNK’s bread and butter.
At this time, the handheld gaming market was looking very lucrative, and SNK went about developing a handheld system that would pitch against Nintendo Game Boy’s dominance of the market – aiming it at the more ‘mature’ gamer. The Neo Geo Pocket was launched in 1998, and in terms of hardware it surpassed the Game Boy in all respects (it even had a better battery life). The problem was that within months of the Neo Geo Pocket’s release, Nintendo announce the Game Boy Colour – and made SNK’s monochrome handheld obsolete overnight.
Unsurprisingly, sales of the Neo Geo Pocket plummeted, but undeterred, SNK went about developing an updated handheld offering – the Neo Geo Pocket Colour. It was released in June 1999, andafter an initial slow start, it managed to gain a 2% market share in less than 12 months – thanks in part to titles such as SNK vs Capcom: Card Fighers, Metal Slug and Sonic Pocket Adventure. This would prove to be a false dawn for SNK, and would not be enough to save them. Sadly, they were declared bankrupt with debts of over $260 million and ceased all operations and distributions in 2000.
Every cloud has a silver lining and, like a phoenix from the flames, the head of SNK bought back some of its IP from the liquidators and setup a new company in 2001 – SNK Playmore, with many former employees also joining its ranks. This company can be considered the spiritual successor to SNK and has continuously been developing titles ever since.
And to come full circle, the “Neo Geo X” has recently been announced for a Q2 2012 release. It is a retro handheld system that will allow the user to play a number of old Neo Geo AES titles – bring it on baby!
Sorry to all the guys out there but “size does matter”. From the time you open the box and feast your eyes on the behemoth of a joystick, to the time that you insert the pizza box of a cartridge, you know that every facet of the Neo Geo AES system has an ‘in your face’ attitude that is constantly asking you “Are you man enough to play with me”?
As soon as my friend in our street proudly showed off his new black shiny console and my jaw was lifted off the floor, I knew I MUST get one somehow. An unhealthy amount of pleading, pestering and blackmailing of my Dad, followed by an eternity waiting for the delivery man to arrive and at last….it was mine, oh yes it was mine…
Fatal Fury was my first game (the “100 Meg Shocker”), and I spent the weekend alone in my bedroom – me and the Bogard brothers vs the World.
First of all the graphics….OMG! (and that’s even before texting existed)…..the idea that you could have an arcade in your bedroom was almost inconceivable in those days, and it made my Atari ST look like a Speccie. Then you start to play, and you realise why the joysticks cost so much (£50-60 a pop). They were, by far, the best joysticks I’d ever played with (I bet they would even hold up against the dedicated sticks nowadays). Each movement and button press was met with a solid click – you could not “blame your tools” for any mistakes with this baby! I’m sure they weighed about 10 pounds each, and was the reason for my ‘Popeye’ right arm as a teenager (can’t think of anything else J).
With the games costing SOOOO much, each title I had was treated with the utmost respect, and would be completed and replayed to within an inch of its life. I was fortunate that I could swap with my friend in the street, but then that brought about its own issues: each trade was like a protracted G8 summit, with anything from money to bikes to other consoles included to sweeten the deal.
I had my Neo Geo for about 2 years, by which time I’d worked my way through about a dozen titles. I can’t exactly remember why or how I got rid of the Neo Geo, but it probably had something to do with the new Sony Playstation – my mate was now showing off with his Jap PS and ‘Ridge Racer’, all in 3D (oooooohhh).
I soon realised I was missing the old girl and dabbled briefly in the world of the Neo Geo CD. It was a pleasure to actually buy games at normal prices, although those loading times…zzzzzz. The joy pad was phenomenal (best 2D pad ever!), but the titles were drying up and the wow factor had gone, and we were soon departed again. L
Thank you Neo Geo and SNK – for giving me so many fond memories, and so many empty pockets. As a mark of respect I have your loadup jingle as my text message ringtone…nuff said.
Top 3 Games
1. Samurai Showdown II
a) It has swords! When you first play the game it feels so natural and right, that you can’t understand why it not in all games. Each weapon can do light/med/strong damage, and you can even disarm or destroy an opponent’s sword.
b) Getting hit REALLY hurts. Hits in general take off more energy than other fighting games, and are more powerful than doing special moves – games therefore feel more primeval. The winner will be the most adept fighter, not the person who can memorize the most moves, or do the fireballs the quickest.
c) There are no hyper/ultra/air/chains/combos (delete as required). Can’t stand them. If I mess up I will take my medicine and get hit once, not xx times, whilst my opponent is furiously bashing ↑,↓,←,→,A,B,C,D,LT,RT (repeat ad nauseam).
2. Alpha Mission II
When I decide to revisit my Neo Geo past for some reason this tends to be the game that gets played most. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but this game is so much FUN you don’t have to be. As soon as you sample the intro of “B-b-b-b-b-b-baseball Stars Twoooooooo” you know that you are in for some arcade quick fire action (this is by no means a simulation). Single player is enjoyable enough, but two players is where this is at (there are two levels of difficulty to even matches up). I have dabbled in lots of baseball games since this, but none have the immediacy and playability of this Neo Geo classic.
Written by Paul Whittingham