Ah, 1994, the middle of the golden age of arcade gaming that a huge Japanese game company called SNK helped to usher in.
Neo Geo MVS
In 1990, SNK released the Neo Geo MVS unit which would revolutionize the arcade industry. It was basically a standard cabinet which could house multiple MVS game carts (depending on the cabinet, some held 2, some 4, the highest number was 6).
The system was a breakthrough in Japan and America for both SNK and arcade vendors. MVS cabinets and games were relatively cheap and games such as Magician Lord, Ninja Combat and Baseball Stars were way ahead of their time in terms of graphics and arcade style gameplay, making them insanely popular in Japan and even garnering a cult following in America.
Neo Geo AES
With this arcade launch, SNK planned to merge arcade gaming and home gaming into one, thus they had ready to launch that same year, the Neo Geo home system, which would use AES cartridges. There were some problems with this launch however. First, the AES cartridges with enormous; though they had a certain charm and feel of force (look at a Neo AES cart and see how dinky a Super Nintendo cartridge looks next to it), they seemed inconvenient to store for some gamers and ultimately were turned off by the look.
The biggest problem at launch was the system and game price. For $699.99, you got a Neo Geo, 2 awesome arcade sticks, and your choice of a game. O.K., not casual dough, but the next generation was expensive back then, but how about when the games are $200+ a piece? Certainly to pay that amount of money The Super Spy or Raguy was ridiculous to a lot of people, and so, the home system didn’t sell well. But it sold well enough however, and SNK’s popularity and success in the arcade market made the company realize that they could really sell some serious numbers if they could make perfect Neo Geo games for the home for a low price that everyone could afford. 1994, SNK had released the breakthrough Samurai Shodown 2, the soon to be worshiped King of Fighters 94. They knew how they were going to sell these games, CD form.
Neo Geo CD
So in 1994 in Japan, the Neo Geo CD was born. The system was still expensive, $599.99 for the system, a controller, and a game; and the side loading design of the unit wasn’t very popular, but finally, perfect copies of Samurai Shodown and ViewPoint were available for only $50! The system was successful in Japan and soon a new top loading model was designed for the American launch.
The American response to the system was lukewarm however, as many gamers didn’t feel they wanted to shell out $399.99 (price of the new model) to play some old arcade games when they could buy a shiny new Playstation. The system was loved and hated by many people, as it was somewhat affordable, gamers learned they got what they paid for in excessively long load times that made games such as King of Fighters 95 almost unplayable; though older games were little affected by the loading. CD-ROM games were slightly improved to make up for the loading; SNK remixed and cleared up the sound to a lot of games (compare the AES Magician Lord to the CD-ROM version and you’ll see exactly what I mean), added new features such as art galleries, hidden goodies, and new play modes.
Neo Geo CDZ
The load times became so notorious however, that in 1996 SNK designed the Neo Geo CDZ, which was a double speed system that played all Neo Geo CD games. Unfortunately, the double speed made little difference for some odd reason, as the load times were only a second or two faster at best, or unchanged at all.
The Neo Geo CDZ also had some technical glitches, like overheating after only about a half hour and crashing CDs in the middle of play. There were also accounts of CD games being destroyed by overheating. The CDZ was never improved and released in limited numbers in Japan only. After 1996, it seemed the game industry was changing. The power of new game systems like the Saturn and Playstation were arcade games translate flawlessly to home, and sometimes even better. Arcades began closing down, and SNK suddenly was forgotten by the American mainstream. SNK still had continued success in Japan however, and in 1999, they released a little black and white handheld game system called the Neo Geo Pocket. It was huge in Japan, so SNK decided to make the system in color and make an investment in it on American shores. Despite high quality game titles such as Bio Motor Unitron and Samurai Shodown!2, the system failed miserably, practically no one bought it. SNK began having financial trouble. Even the ill-fated Hyper Neo Geo 64 couldn’t bring SNK into the times. SNK, after years in the game industry, finally closed it’s doors in 2001. We will always have Terry and Metal Slug 🙁 RIP
Neo Geo CD Front Loader
There was also 2 other RARE Neo Geo CD models made. The Front-loader (left) is classed as extremely rare – only 25,000 models were ever made. This machine was the original Neo Geo CD – it was released before the popular Neo CD top loader.
The Neo Geo CDZ (right) was released to combat the infamous Neo Geo CD ‘load times’ – it still had a single speed CD Rom drive but using more modern technology the games loaded quicker on this machine. The CDZ was rather small and was only released in Japan.
From left to right is the Neo Geo CD, Neo Geo CD Front Loader, Neo Geo CDZ: