Damien McFerran

16/01/2019 - 2:52pm


The Rolls Royce of games machines gets the classic treatment



Back in the early "90s, Nintendo and Sega were the two gaming superpowers that ruled the global market. Between them, they sold millions of consoles and games, and became household names; if you"re over the age of 30, chances are you owned either a Mega Drive or a SNES.


However, around the same time Japanese company SNK released the Neo Geo AES, a home version of its popular Neo Geo MVS arcade hardware. The system cost significantly more than its rivals – understandable when you consider how much more powerful it was – and games retailed for around £150 to £200 each. Owning this beast of a machine was an impossibly lofty goal for the average teenage gamer, and the Neo Geo would become the stuff of legend; the closest many people got to one back in the day was down the arcade, playing the coin-op versions of the same games that graced the AES.


Skip to the present day, and your average smartphone is more powerful than the AES could ever hope to be. The wonders of technological advancement mean that we"re now capable of shrinking down what was once a top-of-the-line arcade machine into something small enough to fit in the palm of your hand (just). The Neo Geo Mini, at face value, appears to be a crude way of cashing in on the recent craze for "Classic Edition" hardware, but it is, in fact, something a little different; yes, it plugs into your TV like the NES and SNES Classic, but it also comes with a 3.5-inch LCD screen which means you can play it on any flat surface.


Neo Geo Mini Review: Design



While the SNES Classic, NES Classic and PlayStation Classic were all shaped like miniature versions of the hardware on which they were based, the Neo Geo Mini opts for a totally fresh design which replicates the look of an old-school arcade cabinet. The all-plastic unit has a joystick and four buttons, as well as Start and Select. The power button is located on the back, next to the HDMI-out socket and power port. There is no internal battery, so the unit has to be plugged into a USB socket at all times. You can, however, use a portable USB power bank to run the unit.


The Neo Geo Mini isn"t heavy by any means, and while we"d hesitate to call it portable, it"s compact enough to fit in your bag. As long as you"ve got a flat surface to play it on, you"re golden. On the sides of the unit are two USB Type-C ports, into which you can plug the official Neo Geo Mini controller – these are sold separately, as is the HDMI cable. This uses a mini-HDMI plug so you won"t be able to use an existing HDMI cable you get with other consoles, which is a shame.


The unit"s real selling point is that gorgeous LCD screen, which has the exact same resolution as the original Neo Geo hardware. That means everything looks pin-sharp and crisp when you"re playing using the built-in display.


Neo Geo Mini Review: Games



There are 40 games included on the Neo Geo Mini, which is more than the SNES Classic, NES Classic or PlayStation Classic could muster. However, there"s a strong focus on fighting games, which is perhaps unsurprising as SNK was very active in this genre during the "90s.


The complete list is:



  • 3 Count Bout

  • Art of Fighting

  • Blazing Star

  • Blue’s Journey

  • Crossed Swords

  • Fatal Fury Special

  • Foot Ball Frenzy

  • Garou: Mark of the Wolves

  • Ghost Pilots

  • King of the Monsters

  • King of the Monsters 2

  • Kizuna Encounter: Super Tag Battle

  • Last Resort

  • Magician Lord

  • Metal Slug

  • Metal Slug 2

  • Metal Slug 3

  • Metal Slug 4

  • Metal Slug 5

  • Metal Slug X

  • Mutation Nation

  • Ninja Master’s: Haou Ninpou Chou

  • Puzzled

  • Real Bout: Fatal Fury

  • Robo Army

  • Samurai Shodown II

  • Samurai Shodown IV: Amakusa’s Revenge

  • Samurai Shodown V Special

  • Sengoku 3

  • Shock Troopers

  • Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad

  • Super Sidekicks

  • The King of Fighters ’95

  • The King of Fighters ’97

  • The King of Fighters ’98

  • The King of Fighters 2000

  • The King of Fighters 2002

  • The Last Blade 2

  • Top Player’s Golf

  • World Heroes Perfect


While SNK arguably doesn"t have the same famous properties as companies like Sega or Nintendo, there are more than a few solid-gold gems included there. The Metal Slug series is brilliant, while King of Fighters was, for a time, the most popular one-on-one fighting game franchise on the planet. If you"re not a fan of competitive fighters then you may struggle, but there are other genres covered here – such as Magician Lord (action platformer), Top Player"s Golf (sports), Last Resort (shooting) and Puzzled (no prizes for guessing that genre that game is in).


Granted, it"s rather annoying that there are so many sequels included here, but if you were to pick 40 of the Neo Geo"s best games, you wouldn"t be far away from having the same kind of list. It"s worth noting that the Japanese version of the Neo Geo Mini has a slightly different selection of games, as well as a more appealing case design.


Neo Geo Mini Review: Performance



When you"re playing the unit in "tabletop" mode, it doesn"t fail to impress. The aforementioned LCD screen is perfect, and the speakers on the unit are surprisingly powerful, if a little tinny at really high volume. The joystick is the only real point of contention; while it"s still only registering simple directional commands, it feels like an analogue stick, which suggests SNK has used one of these more commonly-available sticks and simply opted for basic digital input. It"s not a deal-breaker, but an old-fashioned micro-switched stick – complete with clicky sounds – would have been a better choice. The buttons, on the other hand, are fine.


However, when you plug the Neo Geo Mini into your TV, things go downhill. Despite being a HDMI connection, the picture quality is pretty poor. It"s not so bad if you happen to sit quite far away from your television, but up-close the graphics look fuzzy and ill-defined. Compared to the output seen on the SNES Classic, it"s like night and day. When you take into account the fact that SNK is expecting you to pay extra for the HDMI cable, it"s disappointing.


Another letdown is the Neo Geo Mini controllers; while they look the part (they"re based on the Neo Geo CD pad, which launched alongside the CD-based version of the hardware) they also lack a micro-switched stick, which means it can sometimes be hard to push in the right direction. It"s not a disaster, but when you consider the additional cost of these pads, it"s annoying that they"re not better quality. The controllers included with the SNES Classic (as standard, we should note) are much better.


Neo Geo Mini Review: Verdict



If you grew up in the early "90s then the idea of owning a Neo Geo so small it could fit into your rucksack would have been utterly unfathomable; back then, this was the top-of-the-line console and most could only dream of owning one, let alone one with 40 games to boot. In that respect, the Neo Geo Mini is a success; sure, these games have been made available elsewhere many times over (there was even a Neo Geo X handheld not so long ago, but the less said about that, the better), but there"s a definite thrill to having them all in one place on an officially-licenced piece of hardware.


However, despite this wish-fulfilment, the issues raised do impact the overall experience. The HDMI-out image quality is dire, and the joystick could be a lot better. The lack of an internal battery is also annoying, as is the fact you have to pay for extras, such as the HDMI lead and controllers. It"s not a perfect package then, but it"s still something we"d cautiously recommend to those of you who fondly recall reading about this monster machine in games mags all those years ago, and want to finally tick off "owning a Neo Geo" from your bucket list.


Thanks to Accessory Outlet for supplying the Neo Geo Mini used in this review.





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