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After the initial flurry of interest in micro-consoles – triggered largely due to the release of the excellent NES and SNES Classic Editions – we've seen some pretty left-field entries into this niche sector of the hardware market. SNK's Neo Geo Mini added an LCD screen and presented itself as a miniature coin-op cabinet which could connect to your TV, while Koch's recent Capcom Home Arcade gave us a two-player monster shaped like a gigantic Capcom logo. The micro-console sector is clearly big enough to allow some room for experimentation, and that's why we have the Neo Geo Arcade Stick Pro – one of the many hardware projects the resurgent SNK hinted at a while back.

On the face of it, it's a massive arcade stick with a micro-switched stick, eight face buttons and a host of inputs and switches. 20 games come pre-loaded, and it connects to your TV via HDMI, while power is supplied by a USB-C port. However, there's a lot more to it than meets the eye, which we'll come to shortly. To begin with, let's take a look at the build quality of this thing, and how it controls – two topics which will be of great concern to those who have already invested in the Neo Geo Mini and perhaps felt a little robbed.

The Mini was a marvellous little machine that was hamstrung by some irksome issues – the lack of a micro-switched stick being perhaps the most obvious. The good news here is that SNK has clearly listened to feedback and has equipped the Arcade Stick Pro with a clicky and responsive stick with a square gate. It's not quite up to the standard of the Sanwa stick on the Capcom Home Arcade – and the face buttons aren't as nice to use, either – but overall, the control setup here is a huge improvement over the one on the Neo Geo Mini. It also has two USB-C controller ports on the bottom edge (with a 3.5mm headphone jack sandwiched in-between) into which you can plug Neo Geo controllers – essential for when you want to play against a friend.

The other big problem with the Mini was video output; while the on-board LCD display was fantastic and matched the original Neo Geo hardware's resolution almost perfectly, HDMI-out was a different story; a horrible filter was applied to the image which made every game look fuzzy and ill-defined – and there was no way to turn it off. Again, SNK has learned from its mistakes and included a 'pixel-perfect' option here; while it's still not quite as sharp as we'd like (the system outputs at 720p, rather than the crisper 1080p resolution of the Capcom Home Arcade), it's still a massive step up from the Mini. A smoothing filter option is also included, as are three different scanline options, but they're all terrible and not worth bothering with.

The unit's UI is a total rip-off of the Switch's home screen, right down to the way the pop-up menus at the bottom of the screen look. This is no bad thing as the interface benefits from being clean and intuitive, but it's also rather cheeky and lacks refinement (the font used for the text is especially cheap-looking). On the upside, save states are supported and you can drop back to the menu at the touch of a button when you're in any game; there's no lengthy wait to endure, as was the case on the Capcom Home Arcade.

Oddly, SNK has decided to cut down the number of bundled games in this new release. While the Neo Geo Mini boasted 40 titles covering a wide range of genres (well, as wide as the Neo Geo's arcade-focused library would allow, at least), the Arcade Stick Pro only has 20 games installed from the moment you turn it on (more on that in a second), and they're all fighting titles. Now, this might not seem like an issue when you consider that the Neo Geo was famous for its brawlers, but it does rather limit the appeal of the system.

Why willingly omit classics like Blazing Star, Pulstar, Puzzle Bobble, Neo Turf Masters and 2020 Super Baseball when they're readily available to use and could have been included with little effort? And it's also worth pointing out that some of the choices for fighting games are odd; do we really need three versions of World Heroes? As much as we love King of Fighters, six instalments from the same franchise feels like overkill.

On the upside, there's no denying that some of the fighters included in the roster are genre classics. Garou: Mark of the Wolves is arguably one of the best of all time, and certainly a shining jewel in the Neo Geo's library. King of Fighters '98 is also utterly fantastic, and it's nice to be able to play games like Kizuna Encounter, The Last Blade 2 and Ninja Master's. Oh, and the versions included here default to the Japanese region setting, so while you have Japanese text, you also have stuff like blood in applicable games and Mai Shiranui's gravity-defying jabber-clackers. Ahem. Some of the games include the option to switch to the English version, but not all of them.

UPDATE: 21/11/19: Since we published this review it has come to our attention that the console has been hacked and that a further 20 games have been discovered. How SNK intends to make these titles available remains to be seen, but we've been told by the company that "the hidden games will show up shortly. Please stay tuned!" How exactly this will happen remains to be seen, and it's rather odd that SNK has chosen to keep these titles a secret – a move that is surely only going to damage sales and interest in the system.

SNK Neo Geo Arcade Stick Pro Review: Full Games List

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  • THE KING OF FIGHTERS ’95
  • THE KING OF FIGHTERS ’97
  • THE KING OF FIGHTERS ’98
  • THE KING OF FIGHTERS ’99
  • THE KING OF FIGHTERS 2000
  • THE KING OF FIGHTERS 2002
  • FATAL FURY SPECIAL
  • FATAL FURY 3
  • GAROU: MARK OF THE WOLVES
  • SAMURAI SHODOWN Ⅱ
  • SAMURAI SHODOWN Ⅲ
  • SAMURAI SHODOWN IV
  • SAMURAI SHODOWN Ⅴ SPECIAL
  • ART OF FIGHTING
  • WORLD HEROES 2
  • WORLD HEROES 2 JET
  • WORLD HEROES PERFECT
  • NINJA MASTER’S
  • THE LAST BLADE 2
  • KIZUNA ENCOUNTER

SNK Neo Geo Arcade Stick Pro Review: Hidden Games List

  • FATAL FURY
  • FATAL FURY 2
  • REAL BOUT FATAL FURY SPECIAL
  • SAVAGE REIGN
  • ART OF FIGHTING 3
  • THE LAST BLADE
  • SAMURAI SHODOWN
  • METAL SLUG
  • METAL SLUG 2
  • METAL SLUG X
  • METAL SLUG 3
  • METAL SLUG 4
  • METAL SLUG 5
  • NINJA COMBAT
  • THE SUPER SPY
  • SHOCK TROOPERS
  • SHOCK TROOPERS 2ND SQUAD
  • LEAGUE BOWLING
  • SOCCER BRAWL
  • SUPER SIDEKICKS

Things get even more interesting when you realise that you can use the Arcade Stick Pro as an external controller for your Neo Geo Mini. Hidden away in the base of the stick is a full-size USB cable which, when used with the bundled USB-C adapter, can be plugged into the side of the Mini. That means you can use a superior stick with the Mini's superior library, but you are of course still limited by the system's terrible video output – and playing on the Mini's 3.5-inch screen with a stick this size just feels silly.

The USB cable hints at connectivity with other systems, and it is indeed possible to plug the Arcade Stick Pro into your PC and use it with an emulator. However, at the time of writing the stick cannot be used with consoles like the Switch without a special third-party adapter, which costs extra. This is clearly a big selling point as some retailers are already advertising the stick with a special 'Gamelinq' connector which allows it to interface with PS3, PS4 and Switch, but in all honesty, this should be a feature that's available right out of the box. Given that the Arcade Stick Pro has a full-size USB port on the top edge for firmware updates, we'd hope that SNK will enable this function in the near future (and give us some decent scanline filters while it's at it).

SNK Neo Geo Arcade Stick Pro Review: Conclusion

Like the Neo Geo Mini before it, the Arcade Stick Pro gets almost as much right as it does wrong. On the upside, the clicky stick is gorgeous and the ability to use it as an external controller with the Neo Geo Mini is a bonus. If you're a fan of fighting games then this is going to be very attractive, even if the selection of games is a little limiting. Finally, the promise of being able to use this with consoles like Switch is tantalising. On the negative side, it's almost as if SNK has launched this in an unfinished state with some of its key selling points not present; the screen filters need work and not making it compatible with other consoles right out of the box seems like an oversight – and the 20 hidden games are great, but why not just make them available right away, rather than keeping them secret and potentially putting off buyers?

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Still, a few firmware updates down the line and we could have a real contender here. The design is great, the build quality feels good and we're genuinely excited by the fact that this can operate as a stand-alone games console and potentially be one of the best arcade stick controllers available for other systems. If you're a massive SNK fan then you've probably already laid down the cash to get this, but those of you who are on the fence might want to wait to see how the firmware side of things develops in 2020 and beyond.

Oh, and if you're rich enough to be making the choice between this and the Capcom Home Arcade, then it really comes down to personal choice; were you a Capcom or SNK fan back in the day? While Capcom's product only has 16 titles to the Arcade Stick Pro's 40 (20, plus the 20 secret games), is more expensive and looks rather silly, it has better controls and online leaderboards. It really is a matter of personal taste, but these are both excellent (if a little expensive) products.

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