In the past couple years, I’ve written a number of these “happy birthday” posts, as the Famicom, Game Boy, Mega Drive, and PC Engine all had significant milestone anniversaries. Today, we celebrate the 30th birthday of the Neo-Geo!
I was aware of the Neo-Geo’s impending release from the video game magazines I read constantly in the 8- and 16-bit era. I was in high school at the time, and enjoyed games like CyberLip and Alpha Mission II in the arcade, but the real punch to the gut was the first time I experienced the home console.
We were lucky enough to have a great little independent video game rental shop in town (literally just called the Game Shop), who rented NES, Genesis, and TurboGrafx games. When the Super Famicom was released in Japan, the Game Shop got one with a handful of games, and my friends and I got to check it out before the SNES was released. But of course, the cream of the crop was the fact that they also had a Neo-Geo and all the launch games.
A buddy of mine was the first of our group to rent it, and when we went over to his house, he fired up Nam 1975 — and home video games as I knew them were blown out of the water. It had a fully-voiced introduction! Huge graphics! Arcade-style joysticks instead of control pads! And look at the SIZE of that CARTRIDGE! With TWO boards in it!! He’d also rented Ninja Combat and Super Spy, and the scaling and rotating graphics, arcade-quality music and sound effects, and just sheer overall coolness were overwhelming. No wonder this thing was so expensive.
Not long after that, I put my name on the waiting list to rent the Neo-Geo myself, and I do remember playing it for hours and hours, late into the night, cementing it into my gaming history. It was at this time, too, that I played Riding Hero, and fell in love with its silly charm.
Of course, I could never afford to buy one back then — but I always thought, “someday, when I’m older, I’m gonna have one.”
Someday-when-I’m-older came about 7 years later, when, on a Saturday morning in early 1998, I got a call from another gamer friend. It seems that he was made aware that the owner of another local video rental shop (not the Game Shop, which was long gone by then) had two Neo-Geo home consoles, complete with joysticks, memory cards, a total of 8 games, and even two of the official nylon carrying bags, and he wanted to unload the whole shebang for $400. I immediately said “YES. Call him back right now and tell him yes!!” We agreed to kick in 200 bucks each, buy the lot, and split it up, and that’s what we did. Before the day was out, we were both Neo-Geo owners. He got Magician Lord, Top Player’s Golf, League Bowling, and Blue’s Journey, while I got Baseball Stars Professional, Ninja Combat, Sengoku, and my beloved Nam 1975. (Side note: this also happened to be the same day that the girl I was dating at the time decided to kick me to the curb via e-mail. Clearly, by replacing her with a Neo-Geo, I definitely traded up.)
Over those late-’90s and early 2000’s years, older Neo-Geo cartridges were not yet terribly expensive. I got a lot of them from eBay or other video rental stores; I know I got CyberLip, Alpha Mission II, Samurai Shodown, and Blue’s Journey for around $35-$50 each. Some online sources still had NOS (new old stock) games they were trying to move for $50-$70, and I took advantage of some of those deals as well. Although I liked the fighting games, I wasn’t a huge fan of too many of the Neo-Geo fighters other than Samurai Shodown (I do like the other weapon-based 1-on-1 games, like Last Blade and Tengai Makyou Shin Den), so since fighters became the Neo-Geo’s main output after a while, I really came to appreciate those early titles as my favorites, and I still do.
I did get myself a Neo-Geo MVS 1-slot cabinet (it was a conversion from a Data East Ghostbusters) in late 2003, and that allowed me to experience some later games, such as Last Blade and Blazing Star, for affordable prices! Sadly, I had to relinquish the cabinet due to space concerns years ago — but I held onto my 1-slot board and the Neo-Geo marquee, and all my MVS carts, so that one day, I could possibly use them with a Supergun.
The Neo-Geo Pocket Color also found its way into my collection when it was released in the US, and I kept up with new releases for the short time it was available.
Unfortunately, while new home games were still being released at retail prices of $250-$300, I still couldn’t justify buying them. Hindsight being 20/20, I wish I would have taken the plunge on some of those now! Nowadays, at their collector’s value, most Neo-Geo games are way out of my price range. The most I’ve ever spent on one was $150 — ain’t no way I’m spending 4 digits on any single game. So, as much as I love the Neo-Geo, I’m never going to be one of those collectors shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for a full set, as impressive as it is. But I am really happy with, and proud of, my small collection as it is, and the Neo-Geo will always bring me joy.
Above: In loving memory of the only two Neo-Geo games I ever sold
And that brings us to the present — 30 years later, SNK is still keeping the Neo-Geo alive with products like the Neo-Geo Mini and Neo-Geo Arcade Stick Pro, which may have been received with varying levels of enthusiasm from the Neo crowd, but I personally think are really fun items.
The Neo-Geo has so much to love! So happy birthday, Neo-Geo. I have throughly enjoyed 30 years of giant cartridges in cool packaging with that awesome plastic chemical smell (I will legit open a Neo-Geo case and just huff that smell, which still lingers decades later) and questionable English verbiage both on the package and in the games themselves. 30 years of pushing the limit of 16-bit hardware. 30 years of a scrappy company like SNK, who is not nearly as big as Nintendo, NEC, or Sega, turning the entire concept of a home video game console on its head and offering something no other company would have the guts to offer.
Oh, and of course: 30 years of this classy, magical intro to every single game, that still gives me the feels every time:
Thank you, SNK!
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BONUS: My Top 5 Neo-Geo Games!
What are YOUR favorite Neo-Geo games? What memories do you have of seeing, playing, buying, or otherwise experiencing the Neo-Geo? Do you huff Neo-Geo package smell too? Let me hear it in the comments!