To celebrate the 40th anniversary of SNK, Kakuchopurei and Retro DNA are teaming up to publish a series of weekly features about SNK, the Neo Geo, and its slew of first-party titles. This one’s a personal OP ED piece to get the ball rolling.
I remember browsing through a copy of EGM back in Malaysia at the Indian-owned magazine store (mags were expensive there). As I flipped through the pages, this caught my child-like eyes: the very first ad of SNK’s Neo Geo “Mega Shock” console:
Apart from the ad making me crave for fast food -alas, food trucks weren’t a thing during the 90s- I was wowed by the numbers and bright colours of the bottom right section. 4096 simultaneous colours! 380 sprites! Surely this Neo Geo AES (Advanced Entertainment System) console would be worth my time and money.
As a child, however, owning one of these was tough unless you’re a son or daughter of a tengku pre-1999 financial crash, or if you got lucky at the nearest Sports Toto raffle. US$650 was not an amount you’d find in a random alleyway in Cheras. Or Geylang if you’re a Singaporean reading this.
Thank goodness I learned at the time that all Neo Geo console games were originally from the arcade. The Neo Geo MVS (Multi Video System) arcade system allowed arcade operators to load up 6 games on a single cabinet, which was unheard of at the time. Rather than having one game loaded up on one arcade cabinet, company SNK opt for a more economical and practical solution which most likely influenced modders and arcade enthusiasts to take it a step further ala Pandora.
Why The Neo Geo Worked
In retrospect, the biggest selling points of the Neo Geo systems were both their creativity and their “go big or go home” approach. In a market filled with 16-bit and 32-bit consoles and “bit” being the buzzword of that period, SNK just said “screw it” and made a console that runs its own arcade games 1 to 1 without any sacrifice to fidelity whatsoever. They kept their aesthetics as pixelated and as detailed as possible, maybe to leave a lasting impression on many arcade goers and gaming fans from its inception until the end of time.
In fact, the same chipset in an MVS game is the same as an AES game. Your Neo Geo AES port of KOF 96 is the exact same version as the arcade. At the time, no other console can brag about that at all.
When you think fighting games, you think of the giant roster in King of Fighters. The giant pixels and scaling graphics of Art of Fighting 2. The swordplay of Samurai Shodown 1 and 2. The even more elaborate and revamped art style of Samurai Shodown 3. The latter series deserve mentioning just because of the aesthetics and the memorable sounds of swords clashing and the really satisfying SFX of you landing a heavy slash on your opponent’s tender flesh, complete with a split-second pause to register the hit.
When you think run-and-gun and shooting, you think of the crazy carnage and detailed destruction of the Metal Slug series. The methodical Blazing Star and Pulstar. The frenzied Shock Troopers 2. The ode to the 80s Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger action film tropes that was Ikari Warriors. All the gunplay, all the bullets from all the power-ups your ship/dudebro acquires, and all the explosions seared into every fortunate soul who came across these machines of pure joy.
Keeping It Simple
When it came to the visceral straight-to-the-point kind of games that are worth revisiting, you think of SNK and its slew of charismatic games. Sure, there was Capcom and Konami too with their arcade-exclusive features, but SNK at least offered the opportunity for most juveniles and young adults the opportunity to play perfect ports of arcade games in their own homes.
I may be a late adopter of the SNK way -I only got serious with the company when The King of Fighters 1999 came out- but looking back at my history of video gaming shenanigans, I do realize that half of the arcade games I keep going back to were from SNK themselves. The Ikari Warriors, Ninja Commando, and the first two Samurai Shodown games: I had a blast through and through. They controlled just fine and spot-on, and whatever action and obstacle they threw at me was difficult but manageable after much practice and honing of the reflexes.
Not only did SNK innovated, but they took the aspects of arcade coin-munchers that worked and then amplified it tenfold. And even if it was close to its twilight years, especially around the first time they folded- SNK were still shining bright with hits like Garou: Mark of the Wolves and The Last Blade titles.
I’m not sure how SNK’s current shot at relevance will pan out: it’s releasing a fan service-heavy fighting game and a specialized retro collection for the Nintendo Switch, and they released their Neo Geo Mini which seems fine for casual fans. And they had a couple of KOF mobile games which makes me wonder if they even have a direction at all.
Regardless, they’ll find a way to survive and still maintain their relevance. And even if it doesn’t pan out, we’ll always have their contributions to the 90s near and dear to our hearts, Megashock and all.
Plus, it’s hard to get that Neo Geo intro jingle out of your head…
…and whatever the hell this theme was supposed to represent.