Real Talk By: “The Wizard” Jeremy Forest
If you are interested in collecting Neo Geo you are probably one of those people like myself who played Neo Geo in the arcades growing up and could never afford the home console. Or maybe you are a collector looking to expand your library of growing games. Unfortunately thing’s haven’t changed much since the 90’s and collecting Neo Geo home consoles and cartridges is still a very expensive hobby. Before you start collecting Neo Geo you need to ask yourself two questions.
1. Do you have an unlimited supply of money you are willing to spend on video games? If so then you can collect Neo Geo AES if you don’t mind spending a ridiculous amount of money on a single game almost every time.
2. Are you a average working class person, who maybe has a little extra money here and there to splurge on a game. If you answered yes to this question you are a Neo Geo MVS guy! You should look into getting a Neo Geo MVS setup to play arcade boards at home.
The Neo Geo MVS was the longest officially supported console of all time! Released in 1990 with a small library of games the final game Samurai Shodown V Special was released in 2004! And as the years went on the games got bigger, more polished, and better! There is a huge difference in quality between Fatal Fury and The Last Blade I and II. Just check out YouTube videos and see. Early games were of very small meg count. One of the first generation games Magician Lord clocked in at a measly 46 megs. Jump to 2003 and The King of Fighters 2003 clocked in at a whopping 716 megs or (89.5 MB)! To compare the largest Nintendo 64 game Resident Evil 2 had only only 512 megs or (64 MB)! That’s like comparing apples to oranges since the N64 had an amazing 3-D engine for the time, but to this day the Neo Geo is still a 2-D powerhouse capable of some 3-D games as seen in the impressive Viewpoint!
What does AES and MVS stand for?
So what is Neo Geo AES and Neo Geo MVS? We will start with AES. Neo Geo AES stands for Neo Geo Advanced Entertainmnet System. This is commonly called “Home cart” or “AES” for short. If you buy a Neo Geo home console you are collecting AES or Home Cartridge games when browsing online shops, or message boards where people sell Neo Geo stuff. Simply put, it is just the home retail version of the system that was released in the 90’s.
Neo Geo MVS stands for Neo Geo Multi Video System.. If you are collecting arcade cartridges that plug into an arcade board you are collecting “Neo Geo MVS” carts, or just “MVS” for short. Occasionally these will be labeled by people who sell lots of arcade supplies as Neo Geo PCB’s. The cool thing about Neo Geo in the arcades was that the system it used called the Multi Video System allowed you install up to 6 games on one machine! Hence the name the Multi Video System. There is a arcade board, commonly referred to as a “JAMMA Board” or “PCB” located inside the arcade cabinet that you just plug the cartridges into. Some of these boards even have controller sockets, headphone jacks, and memory card slots! This was revolutionary arcade technology at the time that allowed coin op arcade owners to have more games in one cabinet, thus raking in more cash with less space. It is also theorized that the MVS boards could have possibly been used as a home console, had the Neo sold more units, and that SNK was working on such a home console.
It is also worth mentioning there is a Neo Geo CD home console called Neo Geo CD or Neo Geo CDZ. CDZ is just a second revision of the original console with faster loading times. We will not really get into Neo Geo CD because personally I just don’t feel like Neo Geo CD is an authentic experience. I suggest sticking with AES or MVS. The CD system is pretty cool, and even had a few exclusive games, but the loading times are just so brutal you will literally spend more time loading than actually playing some of the games. We are talking minutes in some instances of loading and watching a screen. Also the CD controllers are hard to find and wear out quickly. The D-Pads fill up with all this dust from the plastic rubbing together. The D-Pads are amazing until they wear out, but they wear out fast. The controllers are also compatible with some of the Neo Geo MVS arcade boards, and all of the home consoles.
Advantages and disadvantages of collecting AES vs. MVS
There are a few disadvantages to collecting Neo Geo AES. The first is that AES collecting is just so damn expensive! I am talking literally thousands for some games, there are even people out there willing to pay over $50,000 for a single game! And yes games have sold for that much even recently. After collecting for a while you will collect all the cheap good games, but then you will have a list of games you want, and will become frustrated that every game you want costs over $350.00! For someone who is not rich AES collecting is just not even an option. You will want games like Garou Mark of the Wolves, and Metal Slug, and for the average working class person it just isn’t realistic to be able to obtain these games. The third disadvantage is that not every Neo Geo game was released on the home console. So if you want to play something like Gururin, or Super Dodge Ball you are going to have to pay money for an expensive conversion made from an arcade game, or for a expensive adaptor to play MVS games on a home console. People also make conversions of rare games and try and pass them off as authentic copies! So AES collecting can be scary if you are shelling out $3000 for a English copy of The King of Fighters 2000 on Ebay that might be a fake. There are some shady characters in the AES business you have to be very careful.
There are some advantages to collecting AES though. The main thing that draws AES to collectors is that the games have boxes and manuals and look slick! Some of the later titles with the snaplock cases are really nice. The games can easily be put on a bookshelf and look neat and organized. The second thing is that even though games are really expensive the initial cost of obtaining a home console is fairly cheap. There are a good amount of games in the $35.00 to $60.00 range to keep you busy for quite a while. AES collecting can be a good stepping stone to save up for a good MVS setup. Most Neo Geo collectors just dump their AES stuff on ebay, or the http://www.neo-geo.com forums when they have enough to purchase an arcade setup after selling them. Neo Geo products hold their value really well, so you can just buy an AES console and games as a way to save up for an arcade setup. I collected AES for about 2 years before selling my setup and scoring an Arcade Cabinet on Craig’s List. Best move I ever made!
As for the MVS the main disadvantage is that you will most likely spend more on the initial setup as opposed to AES. However, if you shop around you can score one for less, or only slightly more depending on the route you go. There are many different routes which we will cover shortly. The other disadvantage is that the games do not look as good as the AES counterparts. Normally all you get is a loose cartridge with a barely legible label, sometimes written in Japanese or Korean, English if you’re lucky. Sometimes the labels are missing completely, and replaced with obvious fake labels. It is also worth noting that every officially released game in cartridge format is available for MVS. So if you want to own every game for Neo Geo then you are set with the MVS route. Do note that there are a select few games released recently exclusively for AES. These are third party releases that generally companies make because they know Neo Geo collectors will pay anything for them. So don’t worry too much about those games unless you want to pay $800.00 for a unofficially released game.
You can also run into fake Neo Geo MVS cartridges as well just like with the AES games. These are commonly called “bootlegs” and sold on eBay so you have to learn how to spot them. Signing up on the neo-geo forums and asking the community is always a good option until you learn to spot them on your own. The best defense is to just buy from trusted sellers with high feedback on the Neo Geo forums, and trusted sellers on ebay. Again just ask on the forums who the good ebay sellers are. Yaton use to be a really good one. Bootleg cartridges are normally not marketed to make a profit, and are a lot of the time unknown even to the seller. Back in the day games would break, and the chips inside would be replaced to fix the game. A lot of the time these work great, but sometimes they can be glitchy. You can generally pick up these “boots” a lot cheaper so being in the know can save you money and frustration. If a game has a fake label that is a good indication it could be a fake but is not a determining factor. A lot of times the labels simply get wore out and replaced. To really know for sure you need to open the cart and make sure the game has authentic SNK and or Toshiba EEPROMS. So after buying on ebay this needs to be the first thing you do. If you open a cart and the EEPROMS have a small hole in them, or have holes covered with electrical tape then you have a boot for sure.
The main advantages of MVS collecting is that the games are much cheaper and readily available in most cases. MVS collecting is often referred to as “The Dark Side of Neo Geo collecting” because it is mostly games in gamer condition that are cheap and affordable. Very rarely does a loose MVS cartridge command a higher price than it’s AES counterpart. After you get the cash to afford a decent MVS setup you are pretty much set. The MVS setup will pay for its self when you decide to pick up Metal Slug on MVS for $45.00, as opposed to spending $2000.00 on the home cart version.
Choosing a setup:
First it is important to know that all Neo Geo games whether Japanese or English, or European are ALL compatible with with any Neo Geo system. So don’t think you need a English system to play English games, or that a Japanese game will not work on a English home system because they all will. The same goes for Arcade Cabinets. There is no region lock or modification needed whatsoever! No Exceptions! However, Home cartridge games will NOT work in a arcade cabinet and vise versa. The only exception is that you can get Arcade games to work on a home system with a special converter. Sadly there is no converter to play home cartridge games on a arcade.
If you decided on the Neo Geo AES setup above just get online, purchase a console, and a game or two and you’re done. AES collecting is easy but expensive. If you can find a console with a universe bios chip installed which we will cover later then go for it. These are on ebay on a daily basis and are a nice thing to have. Also most people prefer the old style arcade controllers. There are newer controllers commonly referred to as “kidney bean controllers” because they look like a kidney bean. I would suggest purchasing a console with 2 original style controllers.
Going MVS can be a bit trickier though. If you have room the ideal setup would be to get on craigs list and look for an arcade cabinet with at least 4 buttons. If you can score a Neo Geo arcade cabinet that would be ideal, and they are easy to find. Arcade cabinets are easy to work on as long as the monitor and wiring is good. So don’t be scared because a button or joystick is broken, that kind of stuff is a fast fix. You will most likely gain interested in other non Neo Geo related games in the future, as Neo Geo collecting is a gateway drug to Arcade JAMMA board collecting. So getting an arcade cabinet that is JAMMA wired can play almost any game ever made after the Pac Man era. If you live within driving distance of a major city just check the craig’s list postings daily, a Neo Geo cabinet will pop up. After you get an arcade cabinet if it does not have a Neo Geo motherboard you will need to locate one. These can be found easily online on eBay or http://www.neo-geo.com forums. Generally the ideal motherboard will be 4 slots with a socketed bios chip. Slots are just a easy way of saying cartridge slot. The Neo Geo motherboards come in 1,2,4, and 6 slot versions. I suggest going to http://www.hardmvs.com and reading about the motherboards to see what works best for you. I however highly suggest a 4 slot, or a 1 slot, with a socketed bios chip. Never buy a 6 slot board! They are too large and break easily. One final thing to mention is you need to make sure when buying a Neo Geo motherboard that it has the feet to support the board. You don’t want a board sitting on the ground. If not get online and pick up some PCB feet. I like to shop at http://www.therealbobroberts.net they are a very good seller. Also a lot of cabinets may need a little TLC on the control panel. Installing new joysticks, and buttons is very easy. The main seller in the USA is http://na.suzohapp.com/. They make the best American joysticks and buttons. I suggest convex buttons, as opposed to concave buttons. Convex buttons are rounded and concave are indented. There are two more options you have if you have no interest in owning a big arcade cabinet in your home.
The first is a handy little console called a “Super Gun”. These nice little devices allow you to play arcade JAMMA boards in the comfort of your home on a standard television. These are normally made by respectable, and sometimes not so respectable people online. So do some investigation work and if searching online forums ask for some references before purchasing. You can attempt to build one of these on your own there are quite a few guides online. Additionally there are also some retail sellers that sell SuperGun systems. One of the retail systems is called the Mas Supernova Arcade System. This company also made awesome arcade stick controllers for lots of different consoles. Sadly they shut down but you can still find their stuff popping up on eBay and video gaming forums. Here is a link explaining more what exactly a supergun is and some of the previous models manufactured in the past.
There is also another option if you want to play Neo Geo MVS carts. This is called a Consolodized MVS. A consolodized MVS is a Neo Geo MVS board from a arcade cabinet that is modified with usually S-Video or RGB output to play MVS games directly on a home television. I personally think a supergun is a better option, but if you want a Neo Geo exclusive console then the Consolodized MVS is a great option. Some of these are really well made with custom art and look amazing. I wouldn’t even be surprised if they make Componet or HDMI Super Guns and Consolodized MVS systems now.
Finally the last option is a hybrid option consisting of being able to play AES and MVS games. This is a really good option that lets you collect both versions of games but is rather expensive. You could probably just buy an arcade cabinet for the price you’re going to pay for this setup. You simply play home cartridge based games on your system as normal but to play MVS games on your console you buy a MVS adaptor. The adaptor simply plugs into you cartridge slot and you plug the MVS cart into it. Buyer beware though when it comes to these cartridges. There are a lot of these on the market and only a handful are of any quality. I will save you the time and point you to this thread for the Daedalus converter which as far as I know is the only converter with 100% compatibility. That is unheard of until this came out recently! I doubt these will be around forever so you may want to snag one sooner than later.
Making your MVS games look presentable
If you are a neat freak and can’t stand to have a bunch of dirty MVS games lying around your house, or if you are worried about your games getting dusty or damaged, then you’re in luck!
If MVS appeals to you, but you like having complete games, you can collect MVS kits which can be almost as expensive as AES collecting. Most of the later releases have matching serial numbers on the cartridge and cardboard kit box, and come with a mini marquee, and sometimes move stickers, random art papers, bubble wrap sack for the cartridge, and dip switch flyers. These are good for protecting the cartridges, and keeping things neat and orderly. This option mainly appeals to collectors with lots of money that could most likely afford AES collecting but are into the arcade scene. I personally just look for the loose cartridges with the mini marquee art to place on my arcade cabinet.
Another option is to purchase Big Bear Shockboxes. Big Bear Shockboxes are custom Vinyl cases designed by a member of the Neo-Geo forums called Big Bear. Shockboxes were designed to protect MVS game cartridges, and also to make them look like the AES games. People print out custom art inserts on high quality paper and place them in the Shockboxes to get an authentic looking AES feel, with a cheap MVS pricetag. These are out of production but can be found online with a little persistence. Most games have authentic inserts scanned from the original AES inserts, in high resolution PDF format online. I use the Shockboxes and I love them!
The Universe Bios Chip
The Universe bios chip is why I mentioned earlier to buy a motherboard with a socketed bios chip. With a socketed bios you can install your Universe Bios with only a flat head screwdriver. This is a really nifty chip that when plugged into your Neo Geo home System or MVS motherboard lets you do some amazing things. It was designed by another member of the neo-geo forums called Razoola. With the universe bios chip you can unlock the full potential of your games. Neo Geo MVS and AES cartridges have the exact content inside them, but depending on the region, or whether it is AES or MVS, content is locked out. The game content in say for example English Homecart Last Blade 2 is exactly the same as Japan Arcade Last Blade 2. But in English Last Blade 2 there would be no blood, but you would have a survival mode. In Japan Arcade Last Blade 2 you would have blood but no survival mode. So installing a universe bios will let you pick any region, and Home or Arcade format for that region, so you can have every version of the game released. It will even unlock boss characters in some games never even meant to be used, and game genie type stuff like extra lives, life, continues etc.. The Universe bios is a really handy tool that I highly recommend to get the most out of your Neo Geo collection.
This is the one stop spot for buying, selling, trading, and just talking about Neo Geo games. If you want a consolodized MVS, AES System, MVS Board, Arcade Cabinet, Neo Geo game, or Supergun system then this is the place to look. If you have a question about Neo Geo it will most like be answered here. The forums are also popular for just being active, and a lot of fun. If ever in doubt just ask in the forums and you will get an answer. Also a good place to ask if a game is a bootleg. The people here are experts at looking at ebay auctions and spotting fakes. They are also really good at defending members against scammers and will go above and beyond to take legal action against unruly members, and ebay auctioneers. I can not recommend the Neo forums enough. It is mandatory for a Neo Geo collector to join the forums.
Great website to read up on different revisions of Neo Geo arcade cabinets and motherboards. If you are interested in the Universe Bios chip by Razoola then there is a nifty chart that shows all the boards that have socketed bios chips so you can install your bios without soldering.
This is the official page where you can buy the universe bios. If you have an EEPROM burner you can get it for free.
Here you can download high resolution PDF insert scans for use in Big Bear Shockboxes. Also you can just purchase inserts here and avoid going to kinkos and dealing with the clerks there because sometimes they will refuse to print them. The ones directly purchased from here are of exceptional quality and I highly recommend just buying directly. If you want the actual shockboxes you can look here, or search ebay auctions and the neo-geo forums as they are out of print. When looking for inserts on the website always print the ones that are Southtown certified. They fit the shockboxes perfectly. Other inserts will be a little too tall.
If you want a supergun system this is a good place to start. The buttons on these are higher quality than the English HAPP controls. I have only played on one of these a handful of times but they seem to be the highest quality manufactured supergun ever made. Alternatively you can search ebay or the Neo-Geo forums for users who may be selling a supergun, or this actual supergun. It may be better to google search then translate the page instead of using the link since it’s all in japanese.
Buy american joysticks and push buttons here.
Great place to buy anything arcade part related except for buttons and joysticks. Also have a good selection of converters to make classic PCB games JAMMA compatible. You wanna play Pac-Man, Galaga, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, or Donkey Kong on your new JAMMA arcade cabinet? Then Bob Roberts has you covered. They also sell Neo Geo MVS to JAMMA converters. Note that only a handful of Neo Geo PCB’s are NOT Jamma compatable. You need to chack Hard MVS and see because they may work on a JAMMA arcade cabinet but are a ticking time bomb. Go to http://www.hardmvs.com click PCB guide on the left and the harness type will say JAMMA or MVS. If MVS you will probably need a converter unless you have a dedicated Neo Geo cabinet of the exact model the board was designed to be used in. If unsure this is a question to ask in the forums.
Another great forum that caters to shooter fans. Not first person shooters but spaceship shooters. They have a very good buying and selling forum.
This is another great forum for buying and selling video game related items. You can find some very rare stuff here that even doesn’t pop up on ebay often.
That about wraps it up for my in depth guide to Neo Geo collecting. I spent a lot of time working on this but I am sure I missed something. I am always available to answer questions. Even better the more knowledgeable fellas at the Neo forums are always around as well. So if you are looking to get into Neo Geo I hope this was a good article to get you headed in the right direction. I am by no means an expert on Neo Geo but I do know more than enough to help people out. I highly recommend when getting into Neo Geo to be smart about it. Do your research. Learn to spot shady sellers. And don’t be scared off by talk of JAMMA boards and PCB’s. Just remember a JAMMA board is basically a very large game like a Super Nintendo game without any plastic casing. And JAMMA is just one of the many systems. Before JAMMA every game had its own system. Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, and such were all arcade games but could not be changed from cabinet to cabiniet without re-wiring the whole cabinet. Then games moved forward to CPS1 (Capcom Play System), and games like Street Fighter II, Willow, and Ghosts ‘n Goblins were all of the CPS1 library and could be changed between other CPS1 cabinets. Then the wonderful world of JAMMA was introduced to do away with having to have a seperate cabinet for every game and is still the industry standard. All of your later systems use these pinouts CPS2, Taito F-3, Sega Naomi and Neo Geo, and hundreds more. A JAMMA arcade cabinet or supergun is a great thing to own because it opens up a library of thousands and thousands of games. As I depart I will leave you with a quick definition of JAMMA…
JAMMA – Japanese Amusement Machine Manufacturers’ Association
A trade association based in Japan; it also the namesake of a trade show hosted in Japan; additionally, JAMMA is a wiring standard for arcade machines that allows for interchangability of video game PCBs without having to re-wire the arcade machine.
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