BokujinZero's Neo-Geo Legacy

There are many types of modern Neo-Geo collectors: Instagram influencers, YouTube content creators... that random guy on a Facebook group who might have just two AES* games in their collection but they love them to bits! 

So, why listen to another random bloke on the interwebs talk about stuff you can read on a wiki? Simple. Perspective from somebody who actually owned a Neo-Geo AES when they were a teenager in the 90's. The Neo-Geo AES wasn't a coveted treasure I wouldn't obtain until I was an adult - it was my life as a teenager and ultimately helped shape who I am today. 

No, I wasn't a lucky rich kid - I worked my ass off as a 16-year-old teen to purchase not only an AES and some of the best SNK arcade games of the era, I also owned many Capcom CPS2 and other arcade boards. My legacy with these games begins in 1991 and has never stopped evolving even 30 years later. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy a nostalgia laden story on my road from SNK curiosity, to purchasing my first AES in 1998, and on through to my current archive today in 2023.

*I'm referring to the Neo-Geo Home System as the AES throughout this article and the website. Back in the 90's "AES" was not a thing - this is a fan term coined by the community in the early aughts to quickly differentiate this piece of hardware from the arcade-centric MVS platform. 

Love at First Sight 1991 - 1997 

A guy can love a machine, right?

I remember walking into the old software retailer Babbage’s in 1991 when I was 10 years old and seeing a large box with some sort of console on the front. It had a big logo that read “Neo-Geo Advanced Entertainment System - GOLD SYSTEM.” Along with the console’s box, I saw what appeared to be huge game cartridge cases displayed with the system which included titles such as Nam 1975, Magician Lord, and Baseball Stars Professional. I also saw the SNK logo on most of the boxes. 

Like most kids into games at that age, I had read about the Neo-Geo in some magazines and knew it was a console with some good looking games, but I had never actually SEEN one. That said, I was very aware of SNK having recently rented their action RPG Crystalis on the NES and my dad owned a DOS PC port of SNK's Lee Travino's Fighting Golf

Mustering up my 10-year-old courage, I asked the clerk in the store how much the Neo-Geo was and he said it cost $700 including one game and two controllers. At 10-years-old he may as well have told me it cost $700,000,000. The nice guy laughed and told me to ask my parents if I could have one. Of course when I told my mom what it was and how much it cost...well, that pretty much shattered that dream. 

Over the next couple of years I would read articles and short reviews of Neo-Geo games in magazines and the like, but I didn't really process or realize what the hardware was doing at the time simply due to my age. As a young adolescent, I was just interested in the next new, big thing. Despite this, I did notice that local retailers quickly realized that the Neo-Geo just wouldn't sell in my area. So by 1993 most local stock was liquidated and there was little to no presence of this console anywhere around my city - not even many MVS arcade machines. While I was always aware of the Neo-Geo during the early 90's, it eventually became an afterthought...until a fateful day in early 1993.

The Neo-Geo Gold System Package Design

Nintendo Power Issue 47 Fatal Fury Review

In Nintendo Power issue number 47, I chanced upon a game called Fatal Fury that caught my interest in the Now Playing section of the magazine. Here the editor noted, "out of all the Street Fighter 2 look-alikes, this one is the closest to the original in look and feel." I knew I had seen this game before but couldn't remember where. After digging through some other magazines, I finally stumbled on some articles about Fatal Fury and its sequel on that super expensive Neo-Geo console. Unfortunately I was still in love with Street Fighter 2, and like many folks during that time I believed Fatal Fury and the other SNK fighting games to be simple knock offs of a better game (which we know now is untrue). While Fatal Fury did pique my interest, I had just purchased Street Fighter 2 Turbo (Hyper Fighting) on my SNES so why settle for a mere knock off?

Fast forward to mid-1994 - 12-year-old me was at the local Blockbuster Video with my parents renting some movies for the weekend. They told me I was allowed to rent one game. After taking a ridiculously long time making a decision, I finally settled on Fatal Fury 2 for the SNES. Remembering what I saw about Fatal Fury a while back in the Nintendo Power magazine, I thought the second game might be a good jumping on point as it did look graphically a bit better than the first after all and I may as well give it a chance. I mean, by 1994 there was only so much Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat a kid could play. Fighting games had become my favorite genre, and I was craving more variety.

After getting home and popping in the cart, I was blown away! The characters were big and colorful – full of vibrance and animation. The backgrounds were deeply detailed, and the music got stuck in my head for months. I already had a love affair with Street Fighter 2, but this was something else entirely. There was just something about the characters, gameplay, and music that hit a personal chord with me. I, I needed more. Off to the arcades I went, searching for any Neo-Geo MVS machine I could find.

Our local arcades were generally Capcom first - meaning that we had very few Neo-Geo MVS Big Red arcade cabinets in the area. When you did run into one it often had Baseball Stars, Nam 1975, and maybe Ghost Pilots. Our local Aladdin's Castle arcade did have a single Big Red arcade cabinet tucked in the back of the store next to a Capcom Buster Bros. cab, and for a short while in 1994 they not only had a copy of Fatal Fury Special loaded in the machine, but also a copy of the recently released Samurai Shodown I had read about in magazines over the last year. There was one more Neo-Geo surprise waiting for me in 1994, though.

King of Fighters 94: Member Order Select

When visiting the mall a few months after I discovered Fatal Fury Special and Samurai Shodown at Aladdin's Castle, I returned to the arcade to find a game called The King of Fighters 94 prominently displayed at the front of the store on a huge 64 inch projector monitor and control pedestal. I had never heard of this game before, but when I saw the SNK logo and Terry Bogard's face appear in the opening attract sequence my heart skipped a beat!

I hastily popped in a couple tokens and immediately selected the Fatal Fury team. I had never seen anything like this game before! I got to play three characters on one credit, and all the characters were from other SNK games like Art of Fighting

Using my knowledge of Fatal Fury 2, I dominated the game in the arcade that day as one after one my real-life opponents fell at the hands of Terry Bogard and the Fatal Fury bunch. I even beat a kid from my middle school that thought he was hot shit at fighting games. It was a good day. Sadly, the arcade didn't keep King of Fighters 94 around long, and it wouldn't be until 1997 that I got to play the 95 edition!

By late 1994 I was fully aware of the Neo-Geo and its growing stable of impressive fighting games due to the coverage of Samurai Shodown and its sequel in almost every single gaming magazine between 1993 and 1994. Being the first serious weapons-based fighting game, it was a revolution for the time and everyone was taking notice. While the second game was on the verge of release in 1994 on the Neo-Geo, the popular home consoles at the time were just then getting ports of the first game around the holiday season. 

My dad had a good year at work, so for Christmas 1994 my parents surprised me with a 3DO console and the port of Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo - which was the only home console at the time with a port of that game. A short while later we went to the mall to return a few things at Walden Software and my dad bought me the 3DO port of Samurai Shodown. I ended up playing Samurai Shodown more than any other game on the small 3DO library, thus further cementing my love of SNK's universe. 

Other series like Art of Fighting and World Heroes were also getting 16-bit ports around this time, and I rented each one I could get my hands on back in the day. SNK had made a huge impact on my perception of fighting games, and it is their constant innovation and interesting characters and mechanics that would hook me in a way that Street Fighter 2 just couldn't muster three years into its life. 

In early 1995 Takara/SNK released a port of Fatal Fury Special on the Super Nintendo on a massive 32-mega bit cartridge (the Neo original is 150megs). Having played Fatal Fury Special a bit on the Big Red MVS cabinet at the local Aladdin's Castle over the last year, I was first in line to get a copy when the good sales people at Walden Software tipped me off that it would be out soon. While the SNES was seriously under powered comparatively, this port of Fatal Fury Special is nothing short of amazing with its own unique spin on the soundtrack, large characters who retain a surprising amount of animation, decent Dolby Surround sound, and a large amount of (low bit-rate) voices. 

After having time to really dig into the game now that I could play it at home, I was hooked. This game was the definitive Street Fighter killer I was looking for, and it remains one of my favorite Neo-Geo and fighting games to this day. Sadly, it was the last Neo-Geo port I had access to for almost two years and my fortunes didn't faire much better in the arcade proper. Thank god for some awesome arcade-centric and hardcore gaming magazines that kept me abreast of new some new SNK offerings in my "dark years."

In mid-1995 I was one of the first kids in line to get a Sega Saturn at the surprise US launch. Being a staunch follower of gaming media, I knew that many SNK games would start to be ported to these new 32-bit systems with much more accuracy than what came before. Even though the Neo-Geo CD would have been the better option for me for my beloved SNK games, I had heard some reports of the slow speed of the CD drive and there were no stores locally that even stocked the thing. 

Sadly, the Sega Saturn seriously under performed in the US, so none of the Neo-Geo ports ever made it out of Japan. The Sony Playstation's laser sharp focus on 3D games in the US also led to most home ports of Neo-Geo games staying in Japan on that console as well; curiously, except for the ports of King of Fighters 95 and Samurai Shodown 3

By 1996, I knew that there were yearly King of Fighters games being released. But the local arcade had gotten rid of their copy of King of Fighters 94 long ago, and their one MVS machine still only had Fatal Fury Special left. Thankfully, the local theme park had a huge arcade, and in it they had some MVS machines with brand new copies of Samurai Shodown 3. I had seen this game in magazines, but to see it in motion was something else. Coming off of playing a ton of the first game on my 3DO, and getting to play the second game one time in an arcade out of state, playing Samurai Shodown 3 for the first time was a real treat - I had never seen 2D graphics so lush, with so many layers of animation. Needless to say, I spent the entire summer honing my skills against new opponents from all around the country at that theme park arcade - much to the chagrin of my friends who just wanted to ride roller coasters and pick up girls. The rest of 1996 wouldn't fare much better as the only other new Neo-Geo game I got to play that year was King of Fighters 96 at a local-ish mall's arcade...for just one credit. 

In mid-1997 my fortunes began to turn. I was out shopping with my mom one summer afternoon and my sharp eye spotted the Playstation port of King of Fighters 95 in the budget game bin at the local Toys-R-Us for $20. After agreeing to cut the grass when I got home, my mom bought me a copy. With the grass cut I quickly showered, sat down in my room, fired up the Playstation, and played King of Fighters 95 for what seemed like an eternity. While a few sacrifices had to be made in sound quality and animation, I didn't care. The game was and still is bloody brilliant! Being set to turn 16 later that year, I put a plan in motion to get a job ASAP so I could save up enough money to buy my very own Neo-Geo home console...and a car. 

While I had already begun sourcing Japanese import Saturn games by this time, I decided to eschew getting ports of the Neo-Geo games on the platform. I was done with ports. The only thing that could satiate my desire for these most coveted of video games was to get my own Neo-Geo no matter the cost. 

1998 - My First AES and Meeting my Best Friend

Life long rivalries and spending lots and lots of money

After turning 16 in 1997 and landing my first "real" job at Target, I saved up a few hundred dollars over a few months in order to get an AES and the three games I wanted most: Samurai Shodown 2, Fatal Fury Special, and King of Fighters 95. Because I had no access to SNK games at local arcades, and only knew about new releases if I saw them in gaming magazines, I was largely ignorant of many games in the Neo's library up to this point. Metal Slug? Never heard of it. Kizuna Encounter? What's a Kizuna? The Real Bout Fatal Fury series? A mystery to me. That all would soon change, though, as I got into the Neo-Geo at just the right time.

Eager to learn more, I found a Neo-Geo email listserv on America Online (AOL) and joined in the conversation. I met many awesome folks from the early Neo-Geo collecting community that are still active members today on the forums (along with myself). But the coolest part is I also met my lifelong best friend through this mailing list. 

Bally's Aladdin's Castle Arcade Facade - Circa 1995 - Source Retro Junk

It was in February 1998, shortly after I got my AES that January, and I put out an email to the listserv about a get together interest in the Cincinnati area. Low and behold, the soul response I got from that email was another 16-year-old kid from a couple towns over, in the same county, who also had recently turned into a Neo-Geo fanatic! What luck! We agreed to meet up at the local Aladdin's Castle arcade that next weekend at the X-Men Vs. Street Fighter machine, beginning a 20+ year friendship. 

We were well suited for each other as he had recently purchased a Neo-Geo CD, and me the AES. Given he could get games much, much cheaper than I could on AES, he already had King of Fighters 97, Samurai Shodown 4, Metal Slug, and a few other games I hadn’t played before. We would spend almost every weekend at one another’s houses playing every manner of fighting game. Through this we became not only great friends, but also lifelong rivals. 

We had many Neo-Geo adventures, but one stand-out story was when we learned that MVS carts for the arcade were typically far less expensive second hand than the AES carts. My buddy found a 4 slot MVS Big Red cabinet for sale from a community member in nearby Columbus, OH but didn’t have the money to purchase it outright. After a $700 loan from me (which he made good on a few months later), we purchased the MVS together and set it up in his basement. 

Throughout the next few years I would go on to collect not only Neo-Geo games, I also invested in a Supergun - a device that allows you to play (most) arcade games at home on consumer displays. By the time I graduated high-school in the year 2000 I had amassed a respectable collection of all manner of arcade titles, including some surprise Capcom CPS2 games that did not get a release in the US. Titles like Street Fighter Zero 2 Alpha and Vampire Hunter 2 were instant favorites of mine despite it going against popular opinion (an opinion I still hold today, I might add). Arcades in the US were closing fast around this time so the ones left in my area generally didn't invest in new experiences. I spent all my hard earned money on my arcade collection so me and my friends could play games that nobody else in our area even knew existed. 

Through my obsession with SNK fighting games, my best buddy and I built a community of talented fighting game players who would meet every few weeks for an entire day of matches on games many players on the US didn't get a chance to play until years later. We made friends with folks from all over our city and got to know local arcade operators and amusement machine rental service owners as we built up our arcade game libraries. In our early college days we even ran a mom & pop video game shop together where we set up our 4-slot MVS cab inside the store to play Neo-Geo at work and run local tournaments! To my knowledge it was the only MVS Big Red in my entire tri-state area that had the most recent SNK releases - because we purchased them ourselves - and we amassed quite the following because of it. It was much fun!

My 20's Sucked...

Broke College Student Doesn't Even Cover It

It's hard being twenty something, graduated from college, and absolutely no direction in life. My evangelical parents didn't want anything to do with a queer son once I "came out," so they didn't support me at all during these days. College was rough, and I worked two jobs to make ends meet on top of a jam packed class schedule. After graduating I had to regrettably sell the vast majority of my video game library over the course of a few years - including my cherished Neo-Geo and arcade game collections - just to get by. 

This wasn't a small collection of cheap games, either. Straight through 2004 I got to own and play every new Neo-Geo release that came out, along with many other arcade games that came my way. This collection included some truly coveted games in the modern era like US AES editions of Metal Slug X, Mark of the Wolves, Last Blade, Real Bout Special, and many others.

My saving grace during this period was emulation. By the mid-aughts Neo-Geo emulation was just accurate enough that I could continue playing these games on my PC even though I had to let go of my physical game collection. Going from a purely physical game collection to a digital one gave me some important perspective as a lifelong gamer that I'm still thankful for today. What's funny is that just as I was forced to exit the arcade collecting scene for a while, this is when many of the popular YouTube creators and other modern SNK collectors were just getting into the hobby with gusto. 

It was hard to part with these games, I'll have to admit. The emotional toll it took on me was significant and I went through a period of true grief giving up so many emotional treasures. Still, I knew that one day I would reclaim what I had lost. I had to. The Neo-Geo was important to me not just because I liked the games, but because of the emotional impact these games had on me during my all important teenage years.  

Because of the Neo-Geo I found my best friend. Because of the Neo-Geo I found community. Because of the Neo-Geo I found a universe of amazing characters and games to escape to. This brand, this hardware, these games were a part of me then and are still an important part of me now.

The Modern Era

Reclaiming What I Lost

In 2018, after finally settling down with a loving partner and establishing a stable career path, I decided to dive back in. In the decade or so between selling my initial collection through 2018, the used game market had changed significantly. Prices were starting to sky rocket in all segments, and I found that the Neo-Geo had survived the 2008 recession with values far in excess than what they were when I dipped out to focus on creating a life for myself. Regardless, this was my time rediscover a part of my identity that was lost so many years ago. 

Now, over five years after I made that decision, I've amassed a highly curated arcade game archive that includes an extensive Neo-Geo library spanning all hardware lines with my Japanese AES collection as the crown jewel. It brings me untold amounts of joy to share these amazing experiences with friends and acquaintances that come over to play. 

Over the years I've come to realize that my experience with these games and this hardware during the height of the their popularity is unique among modern Neo-Geo and video game collectors in general. The Neo-Geo AES and SNK's games were my life as a teenager. The community that we built, the friends I made that I'm still in touch with today, the drama at the forums over 23 years of membership (and even before that on the DHP mailing list and Dolphin Lord's site) - all of these experiences shaped and molded me into the gamer and person I am today. The Neo-Geo, arcades, and the games you'd find in them were and still are an integral part of my life. 

My aim with this blog is to provide you with insight you legitimately just can't get anywhere else. As a semi-competitive fighting game player to this day, I don't just like these games, I know how to play them very, very well. In my reviews you'll find generous breakdowns of game mechanics, glitches to watch out for, and honest opinions that take into account historical significance and modern tastes. What you won't find is a detailed, database style layout of every game with historical pricing information and other bits. There are incredible resources others have built that already satisfy this niche. 

So, if you're just exploring the Neo for the first time, I highly recommend checking out the Resources section to maximize your curiosity. The hardcore Neo-Geo community is known for their detailed historical work and passion for the hardware, so you'll find access to informative databases, community message boards with decades of information, and much more. 

Just got an AES or MVS but need some recommendations on games? Start with the Reviews section to explore detailed write ups and historical overviews of over 85 games in the Neo-Geo library along with many of my other arcade favorites across multiple platforms like the Taito F3, Capcom CPS2, and more. 

There are two YouTube channels I run: The League of Game Philosophers (a game philosophy podcast) and Bokujin's Room, the official YouTube channel for this site. I recently published this channel in March of 2024 and am working on some incredible content focused on the Fatal Fury series to be released in the Summer of 2024.

Thanks for stopping by!

YouTube Channel

I've launched a new YouTube channel in 2024! Check out this short (very hasitily put together) intro and welcome video. 

Lots of cool content covering the history of SNK, Fatal Fury, and more coming soon! These longer form videos will be supplemented by a short-form series I'm calling "One Game Life to Live" where you'll experience real classic games, on OG hardware with no assist tools where we'll see how far I can get either on just one life or one credit (depends on the game).