Neo Geo X: Hands-on with SNK’s retro throwback

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Most gamers above the age of of twenty will have probably heard of SNK’s fabled Neo Geo console at one point during their youthful years. Being an exact hardware copy of SNK’s MVS arcade system, the Neo Geo quite literally brought the power of an arcade machine into the living room. Too bad it cost $600 for the console and $200 for each game.

Some twenty years later and SNK Playmore and Tommo have given players the opportunity to live out their retro gaming dreams with the much more affordable Neo Geo X. The little handheld comes with 20 built in Neo Geo games and can be bought as a “Neo Geo X Gold” package that includes a docking station, an arcade stick and the ability to play the console on a television.

After speaking with David Chitty of FunStock, the European distributor and retailer of the Neo Geo X Gold, at MCM London, I sat down with the Neo Geo X Gold to get a better feel for the console that time forgot.

The Neo Geo X Arcade Stick Is the Star Of The Show

It was pretty easy to find FunStock’s table at MCM London. All I had to do was follow the sound of Metal Slug. Fortunately the Neo Geo X FunStock had hooked up to a HD television was unoccupied and the cult classic arcade shooter was running its demo. A moment later my friend and I were co-operatively gunning our way through enemy forces.

My initial reaction to the Neo Geo X’s arcade stick was that it felt as though it was made of cheap, lightweight plastic. However, this spoke nothing of its actual quality, which was fortunately very good. The joystick itself was rigid and responsive, and the four buttons had the perfect balance between sponginess and “clickyness”; hopefully “clickyness” will mean something to arcade aficionados.

neo geo x preview

According to FunStock, the Neo Geo X arcade sticks are 1:1 replicas of those that came with the original Neo Geo, with the only difference being the USB output. I’ve only played a Neo Geo once at Gamescom 2012, for fifteen minutes, so my memory of the original stick is a little hazy.

Even though I can’t vouch for its authenticity, I can say that it’s a damn good stick. Considering that the the stick can be bought separately for less than $50 and that it reportedly works on PCs, Android devices and even the PlayStation 3, the Neo Geo X stick is worth buying as a simple and inexpensive arcade controller.

The Neo Geo X is Let Down By Basic Menus and a Lack of Options

After battling my way through Metal Slug‘s first mission I thought it time to explore the Neo Geo X’s user interface. All Neo Geo X games can be paused, but must be done so via a “home” button on the docking station itself. A peculiar choice that I’m more used to seeing on a Sega Master System rather than a 21st century console.

From this small home screen the entire list of games is accessible. It’s a rudimentary scrolling list of available titles that gets the job done despite being a bit of an eye sore. Of great disappointment is the lack of options regarding arcade dip-switches and the set amount of credits one can play with. The Neo Geo X also has no option to create save states or even save high scores, which is a real let down considering the score-focused nature of Neo Geo games.

There’s been many reports on the internet of the Neo Geo X offering less than ideal visuals when being played on a television. The Neo Geo X I was playing was hooked up to a 16:9 HD television displayed at 4:3 via a HDMI cable. I spent a good deal of time with the machine and can honestly say that there was no distracting visual anomalies to be seen. The picture was clear and bright and was of much higher quality than that of the Neo Geo I played last year. I will say though that the resolution is a little off which results in individual pixels lacking the definition they should have, and the screen did tear at times across the middle. Again, these were very minor issues with the visuals that barely detracted from the overall gaming experience.

Neo Geo X Gold

Neo Geo X: Is it Worth It?

It should be noted that, at this moment in time, only the Neo Geo X Gold package is available to European customers meaning that the handheld console cannot be purchased separately. As such I only had the chance to play the “console” version of the Neo Geo X where the handheld is inserted into the docking station which is in turn plugged into a television.

I had a ruddy good time playing on the Neo Geo X with my friend at MCM London, but considering we were playing with $225 of kit, I’d think twice about buying one myself. My main reservations are the not-quite-perfect visuals, the lack of high score saving and the high price of the additional games which are currently $25 for three, or $80 for all fifteen. Simply put, I can get my retro gaming kicks elsewhere for much, much cheaper.

This being said, David Chitty clearly said to us that user feedback had resulted in the development and release of a Neo Geo X firmware update that improved aspect ratios and resolutions issues on some televisions. So hopefully there’ll be more firmware updates in the pipeline that’ll make the Neo Geo X a truly fitting tribute to SNK’s ambitious home arcade console.

Site [Neo Geo X] US Distributor [Tommo]

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