£200 a game! We look at the 90's powerhouse console, the Neo-Geo

Neo Geo AES Console

At £200 a game the Neo-Geo was an expensive console to own. Here's why this brilliant machine is a cult hit for gamers

Way back in the early 90’s a console came out that literally blew everything else away and for most was unobtainable due to its rarity and cost. If you were a kid back then as I was, you either were in one of two camps, Nintendo with the SNES or Sega with the Megadrive (or Genesis if you’re reading this in the states).

You might have debated with your friends at school, college or work about which console was the better machine, had the best games, graphics and so on just as it is continues today between the current generation of gamers.

However, all it took to stop everyone in their tracks back then was to simply utter two exotic and mythical words that made everyone stop and agree that yes, there was a third player in the 16-bit arena that would always win any argument about size and power. These two words were Neo-Geo and it really lived up to its name as an advanced entertainment system.

If you’re wondering why you have never heard of this beast of a console, the reason is probably a) it was a while ago so you might be too young to remember it, or b) no one you knew owned one, not that they weren't officially distributed over here (they were) but because of one quite important aspect that can put most people off…the sheer cost of owning one!

The SNK Neo-Geo (Latin for New Ground) was originally launched in 1989 as a powerful arcade system (the multi video system or MVS for short) to give arcade operators an interchangeable cartridge system which would save them money by not having to replace the whole arcade machine every time they wanted a new game for its punters to throw cash into.

SNK also decided to make a console version for rental in luxury hotels so that bored businessmen could be entertained in their opulent surroundings when overnighting between meetings. It proved to be a huge success with the same wealthy businessmen demanding their own one for home use. They saw an opportunity and marketed it as the ultimate console where size mattered and price would never be an issue.

The Neo-Geo retailed in the UK at £399 back in 1991 (the equivalent of over £700 today) and whilst most games on the consoles of the day at the time cost a fair bit, they were pocket money compared to the Neo-Geo’s with games costing upwards of £200 each (£363 in today’s money). This was pure excess in cartridge form.

Why was it so expensive? Well, rom chips were hugely expensive at the time and whilst games on Sega’s and Nintendo’s consoles were an average of eight to sixteen megabits in size at the time, the Neo-Geo’s massive cartridges initially packed up to 100 megabits and at the end of its commercial life in 2004 up to 708 megabits which was way beyond the machines original maximum specifications of 330 megabits. SNK did try to reduce the cost of games later on by releasing the Neo-Geo CD which thanks to the lower cost of CD’s made most games retail for around £60 each, however the loading times were very long and the Sega Saturn and the original Playstation were just being released in Japan at the same time in 1994.

Everything about the Neo-Geo was excessively large. The machine itself was a huge black monolithic slab of cutting edge technology giving it a sheer presence in the living rooms of the rich and even richer; its size dwarfed the other consoles of the day.

Arcades were at their peak back then and the games were exactly the same as their arcade counterparts running on the MVS system, there were no arcade conversions trying hard to mimic their big brother originals. These games were arcade perfect with huge, meticulously detailed graphics displayed in 4096 glorious colours matched with booming high quality stereo sound including lashings of speech in each game was the norm in every release. Even the controller was an arcade stick, hugely responsive and bestowing a quality that was unmatched by any distant rivals. It even had a memory card to save the game and if you felt like it, you could take it to your local arcades Neo-Geo cabinet, load it in to its memory card slot and carry on much to the envy and wide eyed shock of other patrons in the arcade realising that you must own the same game at home.

Early on in the Neo-Geo’s life the library of games was quite varied with luscious scrolling shoot’em up’s, platform beat ‘em up’s and sports games, however once Capcom’s Streetfighter 2 hit the arcades in 1991 and the sheer mania this game caused across the world, SNK like many other game developers saw the potential and started making similar games. The first of which was Fatal Fury which went to spawn multiple sequels over the years, followed closely by the beautiful Art Of Fighting in 1992. The Neo-Geo started to gain traction with the gaming press as a machine for fighting game enthusiasts and this is where it really found a fanbase. Yes there was still room for classic run and gun games such as Metal Slug (which in its original form can sell for upwards of £1500 on auction sites). The Neo-Geo also had around 180 games released for it between 1990 and 2004 when Samurai Showdown 5 Zero Special was the final game officially released for the system.

Is it worth getting one? In a word, yes…if you can. The only place to buy one now is on places such as eBay and you will need at least a couple of hundred pounds to get started. Some of the more mass produced games go for around £30 upwards. However if you do become a serious collector you will need to have deep pockets as some games can go for hundreds if not thousands of pounds each due to their rarity. The most expensive game is a European release of Kizuna Encounter which only had about five copies released in the region and that can exchange hand for five figure sums.

If you just want to experience what it’s all about then you can get quite a few of the games on Nintendo's Virtual Console, Xbox Live and PSN and there are also compilations of games out there too. There is also the Neo Geo X handheld console that comes with 20 in-built games and there are additional game packs available for it too.

So, overall it’s a fantastic piece of gaming history that probably will never be repeated again and because of this it really a truly great console. If your a fan of 2D fighting games then this is potentially a must have machine for you, if your not then there is still a good variety of shooters, sports and side scrolling platform games to keep you occupied.

What do you think of the Neo-Geo? Have you ever played one or owned one? Let us know below in the comments.

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