Oh man, what a place to start in the 16-bit era. SNK’s Neo Geo AVS MAX 330 MEGA PRO-GEAR SPEC home console system. Hot damn I get excited just saying the name! It was revolutionary at the time for bringing arcade quality graphics to the home, and novelty gigantic cartridges to boot. It was a console of extremes; Bigger games! Bigger cartridges! Bigger controllers! The arcade experience right at home, an expensive dream that only the Neo Geo could fulfil, after it emptied your wallet.
It was marketed as 24-bit in 1990 when it was released to edge out the market on other 16-bit units like the Turbografx-16 and the Sega Megadrive, back when that crap actually mattered to people. It was actually a 16-bit parallel processing CPU with another 8-bit CPU dedicated to sound. Think of it like a dual core system in a market full of single core units, it was ahead of the pack.
The controllers came in all shapes and sizes, all reminiscent of an arcade machine. Four buttons and an extremely clicky micro-switch laden joystick. These are absolutely fantastic to use with fighting games, or any game for that matter. They have just the right amount of travel on the stick to feel comfortable, but not enough so that inputs are delayed. The revision above which looks closer to a traditional controller has a joystick so clicky and beautiful to use I wish I could use it for modern games.
The powerful hardware made it crazy expensive at launch, retailing for about $650 (USD) while other more popular systems like the Super Nintendo retailed for about $200 (USD). The games were also very expensive, coming in big fancy “shock boxes” with elaborate labels and marketing. Games were about $200(USD) a pop and today they vary wildly in prices. Some of the more common games can be as cheap as $50 (USD) today, while some of the other uncommon ones can be as high as $800 (USD). It does get quite ridiculous though, some games got a very limited release and today are priced anywhere from $4000 (USD) to $30,000 (USD) for the absolute rarest of rare.
So why are the cartridges so big? In the most simple of terms, it was to hold a bigger game. The biggest Super Nintendo game weighs in at 64Mbit, in comparison, one of the biggest Neo Geo games for the AES is an insane 334Mbit! The cartridges are big because inside there are about two dozen ROM chips which hold the game data. It was a proper arcade game you were buying. In fact, the only difference between a Neo Geo MVS arcade game, and the one people got to take home was a simple pin swap. The cartridges are otherwise identical.
Which is absolutely insane because the arcade games are actually cheaper to buy because they are more common! Nowadays you can buy a common arcade cartridge for as little as $5 (USD) for the most common games. The MVS cartridges did allow for larger games via bank switching memory technology, which increased the size to about 716Mbit, dubbed on the start screen “GIGA POWER PRO-GEAR SPEC” as they booted up. Some enthusiasts today make a device called a “Super Gun” to plug an MVS board and game directly into a television. Basically an arcade machine in a box. Since 90 percent of arcade boards use the standardised plug, it’s easy to plug directly into your television.
Ok, so I’ve paid a billion dollars for the unit and some games, are they any good? Short answer, yes! If you are into some really eclectic fighting games, then the AES has you covered. Classics such as Fatal Fury and the lesser known ultraviolent Samurai Shodown series are some of our picks for games you definitely should try. Although you should seek out the MVS cart for Samurai Shodown because all the violence is censored in the console release, and that’s just lame.
But of course we couldn’t forget the Metal Slug series. Possibly the best and most revered 2D run and gun series ever. Beautiful sprites and animation are only the side dish to truly fun and addictive gameplay. You will die a lot though, this game, like most of the Neo Geo arcade games were designed to take your money. Metal Slug especially because their carts happen to fall in the exceedingly rare category, so a set of Metal Slug may cost you thousands. Other picks are Strikers 1945+, a vertical plane shooter, and Neo Drift Out, an overhead rally driving game. Both are awesome, both we don’t own because lack of money.
If you’re into the arcade experience at home, you can’t beat the Neo Geo. It has such a fan following that people are still making games for it despite being discontinued early 2004. A group called the Neo Geo dev team still make homebrew cartridges to order in extremely limited quantities. If this hasn’t inspired you to collect for the Neo Geo, I honestly don’t blame you. This is super expensive and majorly impractical. But if this does piqué your interest, I recommend this website as it is a great resource to seek out all this retro goodness.
Last Updated: February 5, 2014