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Neo Geo WTF By Bryan 'Laserkid' Johnson

Neo Geo, the name instantly brings either great joy and/or great frustration to ones mind. Often associated with 2D fighting games, the Neo Geo was an (very expensive) alternative console to the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. The idea was simple:

Turn this... ...into this

But let's back up a few steps, in 1988 SNK (Shin Nihon Kikaku - or in English New Japan Project) had developed what they called the MVS (Multiple Video System) arcade board. The concept was to take a pre-set arcade board and have the games be game cartridges that could be swapped out for new ones. They eventually made these into 1, 2, 4, and 6 slotted machines. These became very popular to arcade operators at first due to the ease of changing games (no new hardware, just new game cartridge). This was the beggining of the Neo Geo as we all know it, for this same technology would be converted into the home console you saw above around 1990 calling it the Neo Geo AES (Advanced Entertainment System - an intentional knock on the Nintendo Entertainment system). Before living as a purchasable console, however, it had a short life as a hotel rentable "personal arcade" unit - the popularity OF this run inspired SNK to bring the Neo Geo home.

The system ran for 599 US Dollars: The same pricetag that would later plague Ken Kuturagi and the PS3 also plagued the Neo Geo in sales. The only diffrence is the Neo Geo had a sort of ACTUAL collector value to it, and they quickly lowered the price to $399 with a pack in game, "Magician Lord". The reason it garnered what the PS3 tried for, and actually suceeded, is that it was arcade machine - in your own living room - at a time where most (if not all) home arcade ports had a serious downgrade to them. Sure, the system was expensive, and so were the games (around $200+ a pop), but to a collector'S market it was still gold. The game cartridges that ran on the system were exact duplicates of the MVS game carts for the arcade, just with different pin outputs to prevent arcade operators from getting the cheaper AES carts. In short, these games weren't just arcade perfect, they WERE the arcade.

Like me though, you can get all this general history and way more off Wikipedia - but thats not why I'm writing all of this. A few months ago, as those of you on the forums may remember, I went insane and bought a Japanese Neo Geo off ebay with several games. Why did I buy the Japanese version? Simple, the English Neo Geo hardware force censors many of the games, and the Japanese console was produced more than the US one was (thus also cheaper off of ebay). I need to finish this preface by saying I adore and love the Neo Geo, but I still have to admit there are some rather serious WTF issues going with the design. The first thing you need to know is the designers of the Neo Geo were either Giants or Yeti, because EVERYTHING is huge. Not just huge, fricking meat hands huge. Pictures of the games, controllers, et al, don't give that vibe. But when I first looked at a game cartridge in real life, I litterally did a double take for how humongous these really are. First let me just show you Fatal Fury Special* in and out of the box all by itself.

*Technically this is Garou Densetsu Special, since it's the Japanese version.

Oh you chuckle, that's not too big you silly chimpanzee! No no, I hear you, don't deny it, and I don't blame you. By itself it doesn't look so big, I never realized how big they were until I saw my first Ebay Neo Geo cart arrived. So here's a flood of perspective images to give you an idea of JUST how big this gargantuan beast is.

Yeah you can stop laughing, and start gawking now. Seriously SNK what the hell is this? I know its the exact same cart innards outside of the pin output of the arcade carts, but if you were going to rework the pin output then maybe you could've used a little more streamlined of a process. I mean it takes TWO super nintendo games stacked sideways and next to eachother to be your size. Maybe this was a marketing tool? GAMES SO KICKASS AND EXPENSIVE THEIR SIZE IS UNPARALLELED! Wait, no, that isn't what the ads were, at least not here in the USA. Oh you want to see how "appetizing" the ads made the Neo Geo look here in the states. You poor poor naive soul. Prepare yourself grasshopper. This is the ugliest damn mascot ever.

A god damned attack dog. BUY OUR SYSTEM AND YOU'LL BE MAULED TO DEATH! Reeeaaaal appealing there SNK. Oh, and yes we all know you're "24 bit" (but not really, just a bunch of coprocessors, again look at wikipedia for details on that). Oh, but for all the cool features on "24 BIT AWESOME GRAPHICS LIGHTYEARS BEYOND ANYTHING ELSE" hype, SNK forgot to mention something to you... that the system only has a mono sound output!

EPIC PHAIL Waiiiit... what the hell is that?!

But wait you say, the MVS Neo Geo arcades DEFINITELY had stereo in them, and you'd be right. As you can see above they didn't fail to totally miss the stereo bandwagon (which was coded into the game carts themselves). You see, in a brilliant moment of insanity, SNK put a headphone jack with stereo output in it on the front of the system. So the system is capable of outputting stereo sound into your, erm... head. The good news is Neo Geo modders out there have been able to tap into that and make a standard AV cable output for the system. But that really shouldn't have been necessary, especially for a system as expensive as the Neo Geo. But I digress, for game size and odd sound choices are not all of the weirdness. While in this case comparison won't be necessary, I've still included it, behold the arcade stick for the yeti.

Yeti likes big yeti controller! Yeti think small wavebird controller funny! HAHA!

So yeah. I get it, they're trying to make the "arcade authentic experience" with the yeti controller. They DID later release a more sanely sized controller, but this is still just a bit on the odd side. But the oddness doesn't quite end there. The wonderfully insane people at SNK also developed a memory card... for a cartridge system, and they also did something rather odd with the power switch you just have to see to believe.

Geese Howard will torment ye no longer! The power switch is backwards? On is on the LEFT side?!

Okay, so first off I should mention the "feature" of having the memory card. Lets say you're in the arcade and you hit the last boss BUT YOU'RE OUT OF QUARTERS! OHNOES! But wait! You have a Neo Geo AES, this game, AND a memorycard which you smartly brought with you (nevermind why you'd be playing an arcade version of a game you bought for your home for over $200, as we've seen logic doesn't seem to phase the technology developers at SNK), well toss your memory card into the arcade and your progress is saved. When you get home you just toss that baby in the system and wham, final boss time. To be fair, this does allow unlimited continues on many fighting games at home, and considering most of them limited you to around four continues, being able to start with four whole new continues from where you left off actually made the home version playable. Then there's the power issue... OFF is to the right. ON is to the left. At first I thought this was just my Japanese system, but I've heard and seen otherwise from others. Considering the norm is the opposite, this inverted power option is certainly an odd choice. One that's left many to accidentally leave their systems on (there's even a popular system mod that puts an LED in the reset button so you can easily tell if the system is on or off).

Oh but we're not QUITE done yet, there is ONE more issue left. As you can see above I own both US and Japanese games, to play on my Japanese system, because the system is NOT region locked... not exactly, anyway. You can totally play all region games, but your system will automatically choose the language for its region... even if the cartridge is for a different region. This was really fun when I was trying to play Aero Fighters 2 - as I will show in a video below, it took my US game and made it Japanese - because both versions are on the cart. To prove I'm not fooling around with you all, I've also got above the video a screenshot of the neo geo with my computer behind it getting the video capture of my playing. And yes, I went with a stupid easy setting and died quick. This wasn't meant to show skills off. Oh, and the odd distortion during the Neo Geo boot up on this video is my fault, the capture card fell down so it spiked the image. That's not how it normally boots up.

Oh, but it gets better. On my JAPANESE Copy of King of Fighters 97' it allows me to change the language to many options, including english, in the options screen. This is my final thought for this article. If you can make it an option like that, why not just write that TO the system, not one time per game? It sure would make more sense. Ah well, below is a video/screenshot of this being recorded.

Thats all folks, just goes to show you, even legendarily awesome systems can have very very odd quirks. So, Neo Geo, WTF.

-Bryan "Laserkid" Johnson