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Hardware Review: Neo Geo X Gold & Mega Pack Volume 1

Posted by Damien McFerran

The Rolls Royce of games consoles goes portable

Gamers of a certain age will have fond memories of the Neo Geo, even if they didn't get chance to own one all those years ago. Considering the small number of consoles sold, the system had an incredible influence and impact on the gaming scene in the early '90s. Launched at a time when the 16-bit SNES and Mega Drive were the machines to beat, the Neo Geo offered arcade-quality visuals which quite simply blew away the competition. Its best titles have since become sizeable franchises in their own right — The King of Fighters, Metal Slug, Samurai Shodown, Fatal Fury, to name but a few — and the system remains a firm favourite with hardcore collectors. Owning one is akin to a badge of honour.

Such is this level of adoration that US firm Tommo has produced the Neo Geo X in conjunction with SNK Playmore. A portable console based on the classic Neo Geo AES system, it comes in a limited edition "Gold" pack which features a unique docking station shaped like the original console and a replica arcade stick which connects via USB. The console has 20 games pre-loaded and there's an additional SD game card — Ninja Master's Haō Ninpō Chō — thrown in for good measure, too.

The Neo Geo X console itself is roughly the size of the Sony PSP and features a glossy front panel and a rubberised back. The 4.3-inch, 480x272 pixel LCD display has a widescreen aspect ratio, which is rather unusual seeing as no Neo Geo games supported anything but 4:3. When you switch the system on the games are crudely stretched to fill the screen, but a tap of the L1 button allows you to revert to the standard size. The unit has a card slot for loading up new games, 3.5mm headphone socket, HDMI-out and a Micro USB port for charging. There are also buttons on the bottom edge to adjust the volume and screen brightness.

The console's 8-way micro-switched stick is based on the one seen on the Neo Geo CD pad and the Neo Geo Pocket handheld. It emits a loud click whenever you push a direction, but is absolutely ideal for fighting games and fast-paced platform shooters. The four main action buttons are firm and responsive, too.

The docking station has a flip-up lid which allows you to insert the main console itself. Once closed, you can use the dock as you would a standard AES system — it connects to your TV via composite or HDMI and can be plugged into the mains to provide power and charge the Neo Geo X console itself. The quality of the arcade stick makes this a surprisingly faithful experience; although the stick doesn't feel quite as robust as the original, it's such a close match that only existing AES owners are likely to tell the difference.

The list of pre-installed titles is comprehensive, but largely covers the early years of SNK's console — an intentional move, as additional games will be released in compilations, one of which we'll talk about a little later in the review. The games included are 3 Count Bout, Alpha Mission II, Art of Fighting, Baseball Stars 2, Cyber-Lip, Fatal Fury, Fatal Fury Special, The King of Fighters '95, King of the Monsters, Last Resort, League Bowling, Magician Lord, Metal Slug, Mutation Nation, NAM-1975, Puzzled, Real Bout Fatal Fury Special and Samurai Shodown II, Super Sidekicks and World Heroes Perfect. Many of these are already available on download services such as the Wii Virtual Console, and to be brutally honest haven't aged all that well. While Metal Slug, Magician Lord and Samurai Shodown II will always be entertaining titles, the likes of Mutation Nation and King of the Monsters will surely be played once and then swiftly forgotten, unless you happen to hold fond memories of them.

The first batch of fresh games launched in June, with five sets of three games making up "Volume 1". These can be purchased separately or in a "Mega Pack" collection, with all 15 titles on a single SD card packaged in a clamshell case based on the boxes used in the latter years of the Neo Geo AES' lifespan. Mega Pack Volume 1 also includes a cable which allows you to update the console's firmware and charge it using a power supply. The box also has space for the console itself, making it a fetching — if rather cumbersome — carry case.

The games included in Mega Pack Volume 1 are far more enticing than those installed on the console itself. They are Metal Slug 2, Sengoku, Top Hunter, Samurai Shodown III, Savage Reign, Super Sidekicks 3, The King of Fighters '96, Blazing Star, Kizuna Encounter, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Shock Troopers, World Heroes 2 Jet, The Last Blade, Blue's Journey and Art of Fighting 3. While some are better than others, the quality of the stand-out games makes for an impressive compendium, and the packaging shows that Tommo understands the appeal of the system. In fact, the same can be said of the packaging for the Neo Geo X console itself; the company has even used the original Neo Geo stickers which graced the original system back in the '90s to seal the boxes.

Although the Neo Geo X manages to capture the premium feel of the console on which it is based, there are elements which dilute the overall experience and remove a lot of the sheen. The LCD screen is the worst offender; it's dull and strangely lifeless, even on the highest brightness setting. The Neo Geo has some of the best-looking 2D games ever made, and it's a real shame that a better display couldn't have been used here to really show them off.

Battery life is another disappointment, with the console lasting around 8 hours on a good day. When you consider the age of the hardware in question, it really should offer more stamina. The lack of staying power could be related to the handheld's innards — instead of running a scaled-down version of the original AES hardware, it uses a Linux-based emulator running on a 1GHz Jz4770 system-on-chip. The demands of emulating the console at full-speed could be to blame for the weak battery life, and it would have been nice to see slightly better optimisation to make the system less of a juice-guzzler. Another mild annoyance is that the battery isn't accessible by the user, which means once it gives up the ghost, the console is effectively useless — a prime concern for collectors.

When you connect the Neo Geo X gold to the TV, there are other shortcomings. Both the composite and HDMI connections offer less-than-stellar image quality, especially when compared to the gorgeous RGB SCART that was outputted by the original hardware. Having said that, most casual players won't notice the difference, but therein lies the problem — casual buyers aren't going to be the ones who pick up the system — it will be seasoned SNK fans that will buy this product, and they are the ones who are going to be the most critical of any failings.

Finally, the mechanic for disturbing new games feels outdated. While collectors will love the idea of "going physical" with new Mega Pack compendiums, a smarter move would have been to link the system to an online store where the Neo Geo's entire library could be offered for download. Priced competitively, this could have generated a steady income for Tommo and SNK Playmore — sadly, unless a newer version is released, we're stuck with physical SD cards for the time being.

We're glad that the Neo Geo X exists; it's clearly been made with good intentions and from the moment you open to the lush packaging to the first time you click that fantastic micro-switched stick, it feels like a celebration of one of gaming's most iconic brands. The ability to connect the console to your TV — thereby replicating the feel of the original hardware — is a neat extra which will appeal to those who badly craved an AES twenty years ago but simply couldn't afford it (just about everyone, then).

However, the elements which hold the Neo Geo X back — the poor quality screen, unimpressive battery life and outdated game delivery method — sour the experience slightly. The Neo Geo X may well end up being more authentic than intended — it's destined to be adored by SNK devotees and is unlikely the find mainstream acceptance — just like the original system.


The Neo Geo X Gold Limited Edition and Neo Geo Mega Pack: Volume 1 can be purchased from FunStock.co.uk.

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User Comments (73)

datamonkey

#1

datamonkey said:

The AES was awesome back in the day but it was horrendously expensive. I think the games were about £100 and that was back in the 90's!

No wonder hardly anyone had one!

Snkfiend

#2

Snkfiend said:

How much because I want it now and I hope its lower the the last one I bought.

XyVoX

#5

XyVoX said:

Whats the point in something like this is IF ALL IT OFFERS is software emulation utterly pointless, its not even recreated a 1:1 hardware match but externally looks the part, and in this day and age where very good high quality small LCD's panels are available for little money kind of kills playing the games on a poor screen all added up it just makes know sense.

MAB

#6

MAB said:

You can just download these games on the Wii for a fraction of the price... Then play em once or twice and never touch em again ;)

Ristar42

#7

Ristar42 said:

While Neo Geo had some excellent games (that I only got to play later, initially through Saturn and Dreamcast ports), as a piece of hardware there seems little benefit here over playing the games on say, the original PSP (at least those that are available).
Shame I can’t download Garou: Mark of the Wolves on PSN, one of my favourite fighters ever, at least I have it on Dreamcast.

Jellitoe

#8

Jellitoe said:

I got a Neo Geo for free, when I was a kid, my Brother in law broke his and told me if I could fix it I could keep it. So I fixed it :)

Loved the thing

WhiteTrashGuy

#9

WhiteTrashGuy said:

Looks like it's going for about $175.00 on Amazon. Don't know if that includes the arcade stick, though. It retails for $199.99.

MussakkuLaden

#11

MussakkuLaden said:

No matter what its shortcomings may be, the design of the hardware is absolutely gorgeous! Wished a 3DS would not anything like this, then I'd buy one immediately.

ToniK

#13

ToniK said:

@MussakkuLaden
Tell me about it! I have no emotional connection to this console or the games, but that piece of electronics is just amazing. Shiny things always get me...

unrandomsam

#14

unrandomsam said:

I wish SNK sold their own 150 in 1 cart. (All the arcade controls places sell the bootlegs).

MVS Board and a Supergun is not bad in terms of cost. (Universe bios for AES mode).

Think I will get one eventually.

unrandomsam

#15

unrandomsam said:

The emulator is final burn alpha.

D4 should have done it. (Using an FPGA like they did with the MSX).

Tasuki

#17

Tasuki said:

I got this system a little less than a year ago and I have to say its a good system for collectors and people who are Neo Geo enthusiasts. While it doesn't replace my 3DS as my primary handheld system its nice to have a few Neo Geo games on the go like Metal Slug or Samurai Showdown.

Tasuki

#18

Tasuki said:

@RantingThespian: You know I am getting sick and tired of people like who who comment stuff like This is Nintendo Life why are you covering X system on a Nintendo fan site? If you are that dense in the world of gaming you need to go elsewhere and leave the stupid comments there. They are other video game manufactors out there than just Nintendo. But I guess if you had opened your eyes you would have seen that.

soundcircus

#19

soundcircus said:

@Tasuki

So we can expect a review on the latest xbox next week then? How about a review on the new PS Vita slim? Oh wait there's already fan forum sites for those said consoles.

ACK

#20

ACK said:

Oh my, what a disappointing handheld. This thing should be glorious, but the missteps are far too numerous and inappropriate. The display and battery concerns, in particular, are outrageous considering the price. This seems designed to sap helpless collectors rather than offer a truly functional and durable device. What a shame.

soundcircus

#22

soundcircus said:

@Tasuki
Indeed so those other machines DO HAVE THEIR OWN FAN FORUMS so they have no need to be on Nintendolife.
So your silly reply to that other person was totally pointless then, as actually they did have a point after all. Lame.

soundcircus

#24

soundcircus said:

@Damo

I think we are all aware of what is supported.
The neo geo X gold is a stand along console... Not on Wii U virtual thing.
Tasuki was being a jerk and I responded by telling him so.

SphericalCrusher

#25

SphericalCrusher said:

Been wanting one of these since it was announced. I still have my Neo Geo home console from awhile ago with several games — King of Fighters, Samurai Showdown, Fatal Fury, Metal Slug, etc... always was a fan of SNK and would love to have a dedicated handheld!

DamoAdmin

#26

Damo said:

@coalmoore It's stand-alone but is relevant given that many of the games are also available on the Wii Virtual Console. Besides, the retro section of this site has a pretty wide scope.

soundcircus

#27

soundcircus said:

@Damo
Yes Damo I know this. However, actually the point is/was that blah blah blah was being a jerk and so I told him so. The end.

Tasuki

#28

Tasuki said:

@coalmoore: I am sorry but it gets old when people start assuming that because this place is called Nintendo Life that only Nintendo stuff can be discussed here. Am I being a jerk no. Are others being sort sighted yes. So I wonder if those people go to a Ford car lot and complain that they are a Ford dealership and why are they selling Dodge, Toyota, etc.

FritzFrapp

#30

FritzFrapp said:

Strokes launch model Neo.... 'There, there. Won't let the cheap, nasty imposter near you.'
Seriously though, I was so excited when news of this machine first broke. However, when it emerged that it was running an emulator and had a widescreen, my heart sank. It could so easily have been a fantastic console for retro fans.

ACK

#33

ACK said:

Some of us like to be informed. Are we seriously harping on these staffers for going above and beyond to write informative articles that only occasionally veer outside the realm of Ninten?

DamoAdmin

#34

Damo said:

@Tasuki It's a tough one to score. I really like the machine, and I hope some of that came out in the review. It has its fair share of problems, but I can't help but like it.

ACK

#35

ACK said:

A portable without an accessible battery is like a console hard-wired to a TV. Completely unacceptable at this price range. And that's not even the biggest concern about the hardware. Can't objectively score it very high if using the same scale as other portables. If Vita and 3DS are in the 8-9 range, I don't see how this could score higher than a 6, really. Which is unfortunate.

shonenjump86

#36

shonenjump86 said:

Was not expecting a review of the Neo Geo X here, but I'm glad there is one. I picked up the handheld a couple of months back and I enjoy it a lot. Never had a Neo Geo as a kid. I did not even know what it was back then. I always saw arcade machines of them like World Heroes and Fatal Fury games and played a few on the SNES. Love playing Blazing Star. :)

Tasuki

#37

Tasuki said:

@Damo: Yeah I know how you feel. Its no 3DS or Vita but its nice to have some of those classics on the go. :D I was just curious about the score. Great review.

CanisWolfred

#39

CanisWolfred said:

Very thorough review. Me like. I'm tempted to grab the portable one along with that Mega Pack, but the pack costs $80...and I can't get just the portable right now, either...

soundcircus

#40

soundcircus said:

Next time, please just report the offending comment and move on. Thanks in advance! — TBD

Anyway back to the story at hand. The neo geo x gold looks pretty cool, however it's a shame it has a widescreen.

Kirk

#41

Kirk said:

The original Neo Geo console is still a beautiful piece of hardware design.

AVahne

#42

AVahne said:

Most of the reviews I've seen of this have been largely negative. Poor handheld build quality, stick on the handheld is too loud, the connector pin to dock the handheld looks easy to break, and emulation quality of the games is poor compared to the original console.

Ryno

#43

Ryno said:

Interesting, but never was much of a Neo Geo guy so I will pass on this. Got enough collecting to do with the NES and SNES. But this is just another example of how incredible the 90's era of video game was.

retro_player_22

#45

retro_player_22 said:

Though the games were good, the emulation on this thing is horrible especially when you play them through HDMI. Better to just get the many Neo Geo Collection for PS2, Wii and PSP.

bezerker99

#46

bezerker99 said:

I've never played a NeoGeo game. I remember the console was like $500+ when released back in the day. lol

KnightRider666

#48

KnightRider666 said:

I only knew of one person in school back in the day who had this. I heard the system alone was $700, and each game was $300.

Tasuki

#49

Tasuki said:

@KnightRider666: You would be right, my best friend at the time had one of these. I couldnt believe the price heck I still dont believe that price for a video game system. Still the way things are going I am sure in a few gens the price will be that high.

KnightRider666

#50

KnightRider666 said:

@Tasuki: I saw some of the games in an old game player's magazine and couldn't believe how 8-bit it looked. You really had to have wealthy parents to own this system back in the day. I hope we don't see $700 gaming systems for quite some time to be honest.

SparkOfSpirit

#51

SparkOfSpirit said:

I keep hoping for Neo Geo Pocket Color to be announced for the 3DS and Neo Geo for the Wii-U. I'm wondering why SNK hasn't jumped on it for easy money.

Ren

#53

Ren said:

I don't get what anyone needs this for but it sure does look gorgeous. can it play ps4 games or something? :)

SmaMan

#54

SmaMan said:

I still remember when this thing got hacked within days of it being released.

We all know it's just running a Linux port of Final Burn Alpha, right? Well it turns out there's loads other working emulators in the system memory for GBA, PS1, SNES, and others. If one could get the roms in you essentially have an emulator to go.

BulbasaurusRex

#55

BulbasaurusRex said:

I wish you guys would give us some way to search through old hardware reviews, so I can go look back at some of them on occasion without searching through a massive amount of archive pages.

TheRealThanos

#56

TheRealThanos said:

@KnightRider666 And exactly which games on Neo Geo looked 8 bit to you?
No offense but the Neo Geo was the only console that offered a 1:1 arcade experience at the time with more colors, bigger sprites, more extensive (and therefore better) animations AND an arcade joystick. No other console could beat it. You probably guessed it: I'm a fan.

As for curious people who want a system on the go but not pay the ridiculous price that the in my opinion rather worthless Neo Geo X is going for, just take a look at the GCW Zero: it's not out yet, but it's your best bet for retro gaming. It has all the needed hardware, a better screen (and most importantly: the correct screen ratio) and it will be cheaper.
http://www.gcw-zero.com/
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_HMl00OlQX9DoItQPN2MemZkgn_eSd3e

KnightRider666

#59

KnightRider666 said:

@TheRealThanos: I don't remember which game it was. I did own a Neo Geo Pocket though with most of the games available in the short 8 months it was around, so I'm not hating on Neo Geo in general or anything dude.

TheRealThanos

#60

TheRealThanos said:

@KnightRider666 Didn't think you were, so no offense. I was just curious.
Cool that you had a pocket. Because I already had a Gameboy Color and a Gameboy Advance at the time (which for me had the better games) I never got around to buying one and personally I don't think the graphics hold up very well today. I saw one in action in a Retro shop a few months ago and tried it out. It seems amazing to me that they offered so few colors in the games, while the technology to make a true competitor for Nintendo was already there.
Anyway, besides that I also connect the name Neo Geo to these big Arcade titles so I stuck with them.

KnightRider666

#62

KnightRider666 said:

@TheRealThanos: The Neo Geo Pocket had some cool exclusive games. I bought one day one. When I found out it was being discontinued, I bought every game I didn't have that was still available at the time. I ended up selling it a short time later. Biomotor Unitron was my favorite game on it. Capcom vs SNK was the best handheld fighter at the time. I don't believe GBA was even out yet while the NGP was. Of coarse Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival GBA blows any fighter on the NGP out of the water;)

TheRealThanos

#63

TheRealThanos said:

@KnightRider666 I guess I wasn't able to see through it's short comings then, from the quick impression I had in the retro shop. And because I was already biased because of my Nintendo handhelds. Oh well...
So, are you also still into retro nowadays then, seeing as you appear to have an interest in the Neo Geo X? I'm anxiously awaiting the GCW Zero I previously mentioned, mainly because of all the positive buzz surrounding it coming from the beta testers and so on, and it's forbears (Dingoo and Canoo) didn't do that bad either, but they were slightly underpowered in some departments, which is now thoroughly fixed.
The thing that worries me the most with retro gaming on tablets, phones or on newly made handhelds like this Neo Geo X is that the screen is not tailored too older games, making it VERY unfriendly on the eye, or the screen ratio is bad because of the higher resolution. The GCW Zero has fixed this by sticking to a retro aspect of 320x240, which is your regular 4:3, making it perfect for retro games out of the box, without having to use some software options to fix the image. It isn't out yet but I'm hoping to get my hands on one before the end of this year.

KnightRider666

#65

KnightRider666 said:

@TheRealThanos: I love retro gaming. I have zero interest in the Neo Geo X to be honest. I prefer gaming on the original system each game was on to be honest. I always loved the Game Boy line more than any handhelds, hands down.

TheRealThanos

#66

TheRealThanos said:

@KnightRider666 Yeah, I can agree with that. The X could have been very interesting if it actually used original hardware (should be easy and a lot cheaper to make nowadays) or a better emulator that would at least make the experience on TV similar because of the joystick, but since they didn't this is off my list as well. I expected more from SNK's involvement with this console.

MayhemStaff

#68

Mayhem said:

"Finally, the mechanic for disturbing new games feels outdated."

Why, are there new methods to disturb games today compared to yesteryear? ;)

On a serious note, having tried the Neo Geo X myself, I am mostly in agreement with Damien's assessment...

TheRealThanos

#69

TheRealThanos said:

@KnightRider666 Amen to that. Which leaves us with two options (besides emulation) and that is to buy a second hand console and hope it will last you long enough or try and find a new one which will probably cost you a fortune. Oh, the hardships of being a console owner with retro feelings... ;)

sdelfin

#70

sdelfin said:

@TheRealThanos, I was an extremely early adopter of the Neo Geo Pocket, having pre ordered the original black-and-white model before its Japanese release and going on to run a leading internet site with a friend of mine covering the NGP. I was a big fan. The first model NGP came out in Japan in Oct 1998 with US release in 1999 some time. The GBA released in 2001 so NGP was not competing with it directly. In fact, I recall that the Gameboy Color was announced after the NGP was, and they were both released the same month in Japan. Both the NGP, and Bandai's Wonderswan, also black and white, were designed to compete with the Gameboy. I think the Gameboy color was a big surprise to the industry. Both NGP and Wonderswan would have color versions shortly after. It seems SNK and Bandai did what they could to meet certain benchmarks of performance, battery life(both excellent) and price point, as opposed to just having powerful hardware. Also, at the time, I don't think low-power color LCD screens were good enough to justify hardware with great color output. I also believe that NGP's limited color output for sprites was a result of the system not being originally designed with color in mind.

As for the Neo Geo X being an emulator, I doubt using actual hardware would be cheaper. Some standard chips might still be available, but Neo Geo had some custom stuff as well. They would have to try to shrink everything down, design new PCBs, remove the cartridge and replace that with SD card if that's even possible with the old hardware. That's not my area of expertise, so I'm just guessing, but I think the route of actual hardware would be way more expensive than off-the-shelf parts they used. I suspect the modern parts would be more efficient in terms of power as well.

I bought a Neo Geo X as a toy for myself and knew what I might be getting into when I did. I like the thing. I found the battery life pretty good, actually. Some of the issues stated in the review are valid, like the video output to TV(I don't know if the firmware update addresses that). I'm glad I got it because it re-introduced me to some great games I hadn't played in ages, and some I had not played at all like Mutation Nation which I think is rather good. I had forgotten how awesome Metal Slug actually was, and having it in portable form made it convenient to play(I didn't know about Metal Slug 7 until after, what a game that is!). Playing these games sparked a long-dormant love of what we now call retro games, so for that alone the Neo Geo X has been more than worth it to me. I'm also waiting for a GCW Zero unit.

TheRealThanos

#71

TheRealThanos said:

@sdelfin You're right as far as releases are concerned: the Gameboy Color arrived in November 1998, so in that sense it came 'after' the original Neo Geo Pocket. Of course it actually didn't, since Nintendo always plots it's own course and does not respond to what any perceived or real competition does, as we all know. It was simply the next Gameboy and quite a few months after that came the Neo Geo Pocket Color (august 1999 in America and even later in Europe)
As far as the Neo Geo X is concerned, the only thing I don't like is the screen, and unfortunately that goes a long way into ruining the entire system for me. To remake the hardware actually wouldn't be that expensive, since PCB's like that can now be produced faster (thus cheaper) than in the 90's and they can also make them smaller with or without custom chips that would be able to run the software instead of just having some software emulate it. When I first saw the Neo Geo X I was instantly interested, mainly because it looked so well made and especially the arcade joystick and of course the ability to play on the big screen, but since then I read a lot more info and reviews and a lot of them are only mildly positive and quite critical of the handheld part of it. (although almost all of them love the micro switched joypad, which is, of course, the very essence of retro)
Good to hear that you rediscovered Metal Slug, it's still a very enjoyable game. There's actually a collection disc available for most home consoles (although I can't remember seeing a 360 version) and I have one for the Wii that contains parts 1 to 6 and Metal Slug X, but there's also a collection for Playstation and I have a homebrew-made collection for my Dreamcast.
If you want to discover what other Neo Geo titles you might like, you should look up NeoRAGEx for Windows PC.

retro_player_22

#73

retro_player_22 said:

@CanisWolfred

There is the Samurai Shodown Anthology on PSP which got Samurai Shodown III along with five others SS games), the rest of those other SNK games could easily be play on PSP via emulator which runs better than what was on Neo Geo X.

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