My neo legacy

My personal legacy with SNK and the Neo-Geo hardware. As a teenager in the 90's the Neo-Geo was my holy grail of video game systems. As an adult it sits as the crown jewel in my curated archive. Why do I love this piece of hardware so much? Dive in and find out!

Author: M.E. Williams

Love at First Sight 1991 - 1997

A guy can love a machine, right?
Neo-Geo Gold System Box: Image Source Deviantart - Arcade-tv

I remember walking into Babbage’s in 1991 when I was 10 years old at the local mall 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, and Baseball Stars Professional. I also saw the SNK logo on all of the boxes. While I had no idea what the Neo-Geo was at the time, I had played SNK games in the past, like Ikari Warriors and Baseball Stars on the NES. 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. While I wanted it just to want it, I didn’t yet have a reason to want it. While it would be another 7 years before I got my mits on one, the dream of owning the true arcade experience at home never left me.

About a year or so later an issue of Nintendo Power highlighted all the “Street Fighter” clones that were coming out on the SNES after the massive, unprecedented success of Capcom’s Street Fighter 2. In this list I saw a game called Fatal Fury by SNK – said to be the best of the bunch. I knew I had heard of this game before, but not on the SNES. After digging through some other magazines, I finally stumbled on some blurbs about it on that super expensive Neo-Geo console. Color me interested.

Fast forward to mid 1994 at a Blockbuster Video with my parents renting some movies. They told me I was allowed to rent one game for the weekend. 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, 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.

After getting home and popping in the cart, I was blown away! The characters were big and colorful – full of vibrancy 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. Immediately, I was arrested at the level of “cool” that exuded from the game.

After discovering how amazing Fatal Fury 2 was, I begged my parents to take me to the local Aladdin's Castle as I knew they had a Neo-Geo MVS Big Red machine. When I got there they had the recently released Fatal Fury Special AND Samurai Shodown. I was in heaven for over an hour and spent a good $10 (a lot of money for a 13 year old kid in 1994) playing the two classics. Armed with the knowledge that there was a sure-fire way to play these games at home on real arcade hardware, my mind was set. I MUST have a Neo-Geo.

King of Fighters 94: Art of Fighting Team Vs. Fatal Fury Team

A few months later in 1994 I visited the local arcade again and saw one of the huge, 64 inch projection screen set-ups with a game called King of Fighters 94. I popped in a couple tokens and on the selection screen saw the Fatal Fury team with the three main characters from Fatal Fury 2: Terry, Andy, and Joe. While I didn’t know who anyone else was in the cast, the graphics, animation, and tight gameplay instantly had me hooked. This was like Fatal Fury 2, but even better!

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 weapons-based fighting game, it was a revolution for the time; 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. For Christmas 1994 my parents got me a 3DO because it was the only system with a port of Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. The day after Christmas we went to the mall to return a few things and my dad bought me the 3DO port of Samurai Shodown. While not arcade perfect, I had read that it was the best port of the game available outside of the original. I ended up playing this 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, but I didn't get into these series until much later when I got my first Neo-Geo AES.

In early 1995 Takara/SNK released a port of Fatal Fury Special on the Super Nintendo (and other consoles) on a massive 32-mega bit cartridge (the original is 150-mega bits). Here was a game that, like Street Fighter 2: Hyper Fighting, took the best of what Fatal Fury 2 had to offer and rebalanced the gameplay, added new characters, gave the ability to play as the 4 bosses, added extra background details, upped the game speed, and made a bunch of other quality of life improvements. 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. Having played Special in the local arcade, I got this port the second I heard it was released. After having time to really dig into the game now that I could play it at home, I was hooked. This game was the 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...

King of Fighters 95

By late 1994 Neo-Geo games were too big and complex for a meaningful port to any other console on the market. Due to this Samurai Shodown 2 and KOF 94 never had a home port until years later. Most Neo-Geo games from 1995 – 2000 received ports on the Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation, and eventually the Sega Dreamcast and Playstation 2. By the middle of 1995 the Neo-Geo was largely out of the public eye in the US because of the high price of the system and games. Even the vastly cheaper Neo-Geo CD failed to make an impact. Oddly enough, the Neo-Geo CD never did interest me due to the gaming press blasting the system for its absurdly long load times. I wanted the best of the best, and only the AES would fill that void.

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 were starting to be ported to these new 32-bit systems with much more accuracy than what came before. 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 as well; curiously, except for the ports of King of Fighters 95 and Samurai Shodown 3.

By this time I knew that there were yearly KOF games were being released, but the local arcade had already gotten rid of their copy of KOF 94, and their one MVS machine still only had Fatal Fury Special and Samurai Shodown 1. In my local arcades, it was mostly about Capcom games. Thankfully, the local Kings Island amusement 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 gaming 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 SS3 for the first time was a real treat - I had never seen 2D graphics so lush, with so many layers of animation. There were two other arcades a ways out that had a few newer MVS releases (like KOF 96), but I was still a couple years away from getting my drivers license so I only got to go when my parents would go shop in those malls.

In mid-1997 I was out shopping with my mom and saw KOF 95 for the Playstation 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 KOF 95 for what seemed like an eternity. While a few sacrifices had to be made in sound quality and animation, the PS1 port is extremely solid. I was loving this game even more than KOF 94 in the arcade. 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 AES. While I had already begun sourcing import Saturn games from Japan by this time, I decided to eschew getting ports of Neo-Geo games as I knew that having my own “arcade” at home was going to be the only thing to satisfy my craving for Neo-Geo games. I was done with ports - I wanted the real deal.

1998 - My First AES and Meeting my Best Friend

Life long rivalries and spending lots and lots of money
Bally's Aladdin's Castle Arcade Facade Circa 1995 - Source Retro Junk

After turning 16 in 1997 and landing my first "real" job at Target (I worked a bit for my dad when I was 15), I saved up a few hundred dollars over a couple 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 Neo 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.

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 Neo-Geo collecting community that are still active members today on the forums. But the coolest part is I also met my lifelong best friend through this mailing list.

It was in February 1998, shortly after I got my AES that January, and I put out an email to the list 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. 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 KOF 97, Samurai Shodown 4, 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. I held onto my AES for a while, but eventually I (sadly) sold my entire AES collection (worth about $30k in today’s market - no lie - it was almost all US releases with some heavy hitters like Metal Slug X and the like) and moved to the MVS exclusively for a while.

College - Present Day

Mid-life crisis and a passion for the art

Unfortunately, my 20's landed me in dire financial straits due to hardships at home and no support from my family. Having to put myself though college and make ends meet with little help from my folks, I had to sell my entire video game collection spanning over 27 game systems and hundreds of games for much less than what it was all worth just to make ends meet. The whole process of selling my vast video game collection took a few years, but by the time I turned 26 my entire physical game collection dwindled down to just a handful of consoles and games. This is where my story for Collection 1.0 ends, and where my mostly digital Collection 2.0 begins.

Over the years I was never without Neo-Geo games. By the time I sold most of my physical collection (circa 2005), Neo-Geo emulation was finally at a place where games could be played with a relative amount of accuracy. SNK's games and the Neo-Geo have been a part of my gaming history since 1994, and I don't see that changing through the rest of my life (sans the apocalypse).

My personal copy of ViewPoint: A rare early Neo-Geo shoot-em-up with a killer soundtrack.

I’ve been an SNK fan for over 25 years, and now that I’m much older with a stable career and income, I’m finally able to begin collecting back what I lost so long ago. The Neo-Geo AES is a big part of my past, and is the most important part of my adult archive titled Collection 3.0. As of this writing I've gained back almost every game I had lost, and have amassed a respectable archive of SNK hardware, games, and memorabilia. What does a geek do with all this knowledge? Start a website! (I bet you thought I was going to say YouTube channel...).

My hope through this website and the reviews, articles, and resources I've put together will not only get you energized to learn more about the Neo-Geo, but will help you discover if collecting for this legendary piece of hardware is right for you. Collecting for the Neo-Geo is not for the faint at heart, but it is also not impossible to do it on the cheap (relatively speaking) either. So sit back, relax, and enjoy some SNK goodness as you explore the rest of the site. A good place to begin is in the Reviews section. Enjoy. :)