|SNK NeoGeo Mini
Find it on: Amazon
The fourth-generation console wars of the 90s were mostly defined by the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. But there were other consoles (Turbografx 16 and CD-i to name two) that were on the periphery of this battle. A third console that stood out in particular at the time, sometimes for the wrong reasons, was the NeoGeo.
It was exorbitantly expensive, even by modern day standards, costing a user $650 just for the console, and on top of that, the games were $150-$300 each. But it also delivered uncompromisingly high quality arcade games right to your television. NeoGeo was not a console version of the arcade game. It was not a diminished or portable version. It was just the actual arcade game made for the home. As a result, there was always a niche market that was willing to shell out insane amounts of money for the NeoGeo. It had a limited scope, but helped to define and push the boundaries of home consoles.
Fast forward 30 years and the folks at SNK have put together a NeoGeo Mini arcade cabinet with a 3.5-inch LCD screen. And much like it’s predecessor of the 90s, it’s got some good and some not-so-good features. On the one hand, the Mini features 40 games with flawless emulation that does pay homage to the NeoGeo classic. But the Mini is far too heavy on fighting games and lacks the premium form factor that one would expect for the price you pay, which will be anywhere between $60 for the international version and around $100 for the USA version. Of note, the USA pro version comes along with two controllers, which I have no use for since I have it sitting on my office desk. You can, however, hook the unit up to an HDMI connection and play that way, though you’ll need to find a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable. The unit also lacks a battery, which means that you’ll need to be tethered to a wired connection the whole time.
I mostly remember the NeoGeo for Metal Slug, the side scrolling adventure game that I remembered as a pumped up version of Contra. The Mini has editions one through five, and the emulation is smooth. The other nice feature of the Mini is that it has an exit menu that features save and load states, which is a must for any retro-gaming in the 2020s. While Metal Slug certainly took me back, I was disappointed to find that the game selection was heavily focused on fighting games. Out of the 40 titles, approximately 30 of them are the side scrolling fighting games, which is fine if that’s your genre—but it was never mine. Noticeably absent from the selection include Windjammers, Neo Turf Masters, Drift Out, Puzzle Bobble and Blazing Star, just to name a few (all of these are non-fighting games).
Also, for the price range we’re in, I was expecting a little more out of the form factor. When Sega released its Astro City Mini, the joystick truly felt like a premium item, with soft clicking feedback when engaging with it. The Neo Geo Mini joystick gets the job done, but there is as much feedback as an Atari 2600 (in other words, there is none). Then there is the 3.5-inch LCD screen, which adequate and from a straight on view, the viewing angles are fine, but an IPS screen would’ve been welcomed here. One other note about the packaging: you need to install the stickers on the control deck and the marquee. If you misapply the stickers (fortunately, I did not), it further cheapens the unit. Would it have killed them to install the stickers for us?
As it stands, the Neo Geo Mini has flaws that prevent it from being a truly great gaming unit, much like the Neo Geo Classic. SNK has done a good, though not a great job, and whether the purchase is worth it or not depends on whether you were fortunate enough to have access to a NeoGeo growing up, and if you love a huge catalog of fighting games. If you’re like me, and the answer is no to either or both, it’s not an automatic purchase to make.