Ever since its inception back in the early 90's, SNK's Neo-Geo system has managed to carve its own little niche in retro gaming. With a grand assortment of fighting games (Samurai Shodown, Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, King of Fighters) and other platforming/shooting/action titles, it was a hit both in arcades and on the home market, even though the heavily priced console (around $500 at the time) and the VHS cassette-like games (at $200 a pop) left a lot to be desired by casual gamers.
That was then, and this is now, and SNK, still devoted to their classic gaming audience, have come up with a way to conveniently enjoy some of their Neo-Geo titles, without needing to spend an arm or a leg on hardware and games – and freeing up some room for their entertainment centers as well. The NeoGeo X handheld, which came out last month, enables portable play of 20 classic titles, with more expected to be announced in the form of game cards that plug into the side of the system.
The system is similar in some ways to the PS Vita, though the screen is smaller and the hardware is set up mostly in emulation terms – in other words, it's not made to run anything outside of the Neo-Geo library, at least for the moment. It does have a 4.3" full color display, with 480 x 272 display resolution, so you can see each of the games with very little problem. The controls have also been built for the sake of convenience, as you can use the built-in analog stick and buttons with ease.
Perhaps the most notable feature with the NeoGeo X is being able to play it on a TV. Along with an HDMI output that enables easy play, you can also pick up a Limited Edition bundle of the system (ranging at $199, handheld included) that comes with a plug-in base that resembles a classic Neo-Geo home gaming system, as well as an arcade stick that feels quite similar to the ones you played with in the arcade units – complete with four-button side-by-side layout. This bundle also comes with power supply and its own HDMI cable.
This represents the "retro" feel of the original Neo-Geo console, but obviously without the high cost. The handheld system conveniently plugs into the base system so that it can replicate the display, at either 16:9 or 4:3 resolution (not high definition, as the original Neo-Geo games didn't have it). It also stores memory cards when they're not in use, which come in handy if you wish to save your best scores and, with some games, your progress. (SNK will be updating more on this soon.)
The real thing you'll want to look at with the system when it comes down to whether it's worth it or not is the games. The NeoGeo X comes pre-loaded with 20 classic Neo-Geo titles, along with the option of a 21st in card format with the Limited Edition, a fighting game called Ninja Masters. Let's look at each of the individual titles…
3 Count Bout- an arcade style boxing game where you face a variety of opponents. Punch-Out it isn't, but if you're a fan of games like Taito's Final Blow, it's not bad.
Art of Fighting- an exquisite if technically unbalanced fighting game that some folks have come to appreciate over the years.
Alpha Mission II- a classic top-down space shooter where you can hit enemies both in the air and on the ground. Hardly original, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Baseball Stars II- one of SNK's better sports games, which perfectly recreates the thrill of arcade baseball with cartoon-style graphics and simple gameplay.
Cyber Lip- a thrill-a-minute space shooter where you take on a variety of alien and robotic enemies before they try to overtake the Earth. Contra fans should love this one.
Fatal Fury- a good fighting game that's limited by its character choices (only three), but still has enough diversity with its opponents to be worth a look.
Fatal Fury Special- a vast improvement over the original Fury, with even more characters and improved fighting techniques.
The King of Fighters '95- one of the best fighting games you can find for the Neo-Geo, with over 30 playable characters and outstanding gameplay.
King of the Monsters- a ridiculously goofy take on the old Godzilla films, with various heroes and villains fighting each other while tearing cities apart. Good fun.
Last Resort- a challenging yet entertaining side-scrolling shooter where you take on an armada of automated enemies while trying to take back a city in peril.
League Bowling- though not as sophisticated as Silver Strike Bowling (or even Wii Sports Bowling), League Bowling does offer some retro-based ten-pin entertainment.
Magician Lord- a magnificent side-scrolling adventure where a magician uses various forms to defeat supernatural enemies and come face to face with a would-be warmonger.
Metal Slug- an offbeat yet wildly rompous side-scrolling shooter where you take on an enemy army using an array of power-ups, including a mobilized mini-tank, the Metal Slug.
Mutation Nation- a quirky side-scrolling beat-em-up where you take on vile creatures while transforming into weird mutations. Think Altered Beast meets Final Fight.
Nam 1975- an arcade shooter where you work your way through the hell that is Vietnam, destroying enemies while picking up new power-ups. Not bad, for what it is.
Puzzled- though it's pretty much a variation of the classic game Tetris, Puzzled is a good time, especially if you're competing against a friend.
Real Bout: Fatal Fury Special- another take on the Fatal Fury franchise, this time with some fresh new characters and some new fighting techniques to learn.
Samurai Shodown II- another compelling fighting game from SNK, this one has you playing traditional warriors, samurai and otherwise, in a fight to the finish.
Super Sidekicks- though it's lacking in original content, SNK's take on soccer is pretty good when it comes to playing against friends and setting up some quick scoring goals.
World Heroes Perfect- the third entry in the World Heroes series, this fighter has players choosing combatants all across the globe for a powerhouse tournament.
Most of these games have seen release previously in SNK-based compilations (like SNK Arcade Classics V1 for Wii, PlayStation 2 and PSP, as well as direct release on the Wii Virtual Console service), but as you can see from the line-up, there's plenty of diversity, whether you like sports, puzzle games or action.
Some other titles should've been considered for pack-in, though. There are future card-based releases coming, but stuff like Top Hunter, Blue's Journey, Shock Troopers and Super Baseball 2020 (one of the Neo-Geo's sleeper hits, if you ask us) should've been included.
Overall, however, if you're a classic gaming enthusiast, or you've always wanted a Neo-Geo but balked at the original pricing model, the NeoGeo X is a great addition to your home library. Plus, being able to play your games either on your HDTV (with HDMI support, no less) or on the go is a convenient choice – especially if you can't get enough Magician Lord. And who can, really?
Check out more information on the system, and its availability, over at http://www.neogeox.com.