The Neo Geo is an arcade system board and home video game console released in 1990 by Japanese game company SNK. The MVS (Multi Video System), as the Neo Geo was known to the coin-operated arcade game industry, offered arcade operators the ability to put up to six different arcade titles into a single cabinet, a key economic consideration for operators with limited floorspace.
With its games stored on self-contained cartridges, a game-cabinet could be exchanged for a different game-title by swapping the game’s ROM-cartridge and cabinet artwork. Several popular franchise-series, including ‘Fatal Fury,’ ‘The King of Fighters,’ ‘Metal Slug,’ and ‘Samurai Shodown,’ were released for the platform. The Neo Geo system was also marketed as a very costly home console, commonly referred to today as the AES (Advanced Entertainment System).
Initially, the (AES) home system was only available for rent to commercial establishments, such as hotels, bars, and restaurants. When customer response indicated that some gamers were willing to buy a high end console, SNK expanded sales and marketing into the home console market. Compared to other contemporary home consoles, Neo Geo’s graphics and sound were largely superior. The MVS was one of the most powerful arcade units at the time. Furthermore, since the AES was identical to its arcade counterpart, the MVS, arcade titles released for the home market were perfect translations. Also, the arcade machines have a memory card system by which a player could save a game to return to at a later time and could also be used to continue play on the home console. The console first sold in the US in 1991 for $650; for the AES, two arcade sticks, and one game (‘Baseball Stars’ or ‘NAM-1975,’ a war themed action shooter). Other games were priced at about $200 (and up). Although its high price tag kept it out of the mainstream gaming market, a strong game lineup likely contributed to the cult status of the Neo Geo, enabling it to outlast the more popular Sega Mega Drive/Genesis.
When realtime 3D graphics stormed the arcade industry, the Neo Geo’s hardware was unable to follow along. However, its games remained popular in arcades, particularly in Japan, where the newest installment of its flagship franchise, ‘The King of Fighters,’ caused a stir with every new release. The last official game by SNK for the Neo Geo system, ‘Samurai Shodown V Special,’ was released in 2004. SNK decided to abandon the video game hardware business due to the rampant piracy of game-cartridges, which SNK believed was partially responsible for its bankruptcy in 2001. SNK ceased to manufacture home consoles by the end of 1997, but continued to release games for both arcade and home for another 8 years. There is a thriving collector’s scene for the Neo Geo home systems, especially the original AES home console. This is mainly because of the limited runs received by cartridges, the massive arcade library available, and the system’s reputation as a 2D powerhouse. It is still common even to this day for both Neo Geo consoles and cartridges to fetch extremely high prices on eBay and other auction websites, particularly English versions of cartridges as these were produced in lower quantities.
The Neo Geo was particularly notable for its ability to bring arcade-quality graphics directly into the home. As time went on, programmers were able to further tune the games to produce higher quality graphics than previous years and eventually beyond what was initially thought possible for the system. However, the initial Neo Geo games were, graphically speaking, a little less polished than SNK’s non-Neo Geo games. By 1990, games like ‘King of the Monsters’ demonstrated the Neo Geo’s ability to produce graphic detail that matched or surpassed contemporary arcade games from the period. In 1992, SNK’s ‘Art of Fighting’ marked the beginning of a series of 2-D fighting game innovations. This landmark game brought visual graphic damage to the characters’ faces when hit, as well as large character sprites in combination with zoom effects to intensify the action. This zoom feature was also used in the following year’s ‘Samurai Shodown’ with even more elaborate graphics and gameplay. The Neo Geo also became known for its shooters, such as 1994’s ‘Aero Fighters 2.’
By the mid-1990s, SNK was trying to move onto a new platform, notably the Hyper-64. However, when the new 3-D system failed to take off, SNK found itself still developing games for its old 2-D engine. Six years after the Neo Geo’s initial launch, Nazca Corporation surprised the video game industry with ‘Metal Slug.’ A take on the ‘Contra’ series, it was a run and gun game that featured cartoonish, hyper-active graphics and gameplay that also launched a very successful franchise. Since the Neo Geo was unable to produce the 3-D games that began dominating arcades in the 1990s, SNK focused on mastering the realm of 2-D. While the system became primarily known for its fighting games in the late-1990s, 1998’s ‘Blazing Star’ updated the previous ‘Pulstar’ with more detail. This trend of adding more detail to 2-D environments reached a plateau with 1999’s ‘Garou: Mark of the Wolves,’ an update of the ‘Fatal Fury’ series, as well as 2000’s ‘Metal Slug 3.’