The standard for home consoles upon its release for consumers, the Neo Geo console was literally the arcade ported to the television screen. Costing a fortune, this Rolls Royce of gaming sported some of the biggest, brightest graphics and loudest sound of any system out there. If you wanted arcade action at home, the Neo Geo was the way to go for almost a decade.
Not exactly priced to move units, the Neo Geo catered to a high-end clientele, with carts ranging anywhere from a hundred or so dollars US to several hundred. Each game was an investment so you can bet that people were picky with what they actually purchased. As said before, the system was literally the arcade brought home, and its games reflect that ethic in price and quality.
SNK, Neo Geo’s in-house developer and publisher, was known for its massive library of hit fighting game titles, many of which make the list below.
Narrowing it down to just 10 games for the Neo Geo was tough – there are so many amazing titles for this strange, beautiful system. But here are the 10 top Neo Geo games of all time as far as we can tell:
10. Metal Slug
Now a veritable gaming series, this classic side-scrolling shooter was first released for the Neo Geo back in 1996. The game is iconic for its humor and beautiful animation, much of which was hand drawn. But gamers keep coming back to the series for its addictive and challenging gameplay which is some of the most explosive on the console. Loud and in your face, the action really never lets up and you truly feel the arcade vibes coming off of this title in waves. The stream of enemies faced by the player is continuous and unforgiving but never unfair. As you improve, the game gradually ramps up just a bit more. At its crescendo, the action is truly madness on the screen. The game features 6 lengthy levels that are packed to the brim with action and fun. If you own a Neo Geo, Metal Slug needs to be on your shelf.
9. World Heroes
A Street Fighter II clone that is more bizarre than Street Fighter II itself, World Heroes does what Fatal Fury can’t – and that is not take itself seriously. World Heroes features a cast of characters ripped from history – heck, even Russian lothario and mystic man Rasputin makes an appearance – but the inspiration from Street Fighter II is clearly there. But then it isn’t. Take the character of Brocken, for example: Just what exactly is he? This whole game is a batch of 1990s insanity and its all the better for it. And you know what? The gameplay is tight and the fighting system spot on. SNK may be known for pumping out fighting games, but they’re not known for being garbage. World Heroes is an awesome Street Fighter II clone that is perfect for gamers that find Fatal Fury a little too angsty or Art of Fighting a little too obscure. The graphics and sound are, once again, bright and crisp with a clearly arcade aesthetic applied to the whole game. World Heroes is a must-experience for fighting game fans and Neo Geo fanatics alike.8
8. Ninja Combat
Another quintessentially SNK arcade game experience, Ninja Combat is on this list because it came out in 1990 when stuff like this was fresh and original. Now it may be overly challenging in some places (to eat quarters, of course), but the core gameplay is solid and the presentation is great. Really the game’s environment draws the player in more than anything. It’s the perfect combination of 1980s East Asian action movie with side scrolling shoot ‘em up action. Players can be either the red or the blue ninja, though there is no difference in abilities between either, and they battle through what can only be described as Final Fight meets Big Trouble in Little China. There are a variety of magical attacks the ninjas can deploy to clear the screen and the action never relents in intensity, much like Metal Slug. Though dated by many conventions today, Ninja Combat was one of the reasons to seek out a Neo Geo arcade cabinet back in the day.
A fast-paced sports game from Data East for the Neo Geo, Windjammers is essentially a version of pong on steroids. Players have six athletes to select, each of which has their own talents and strengths, and basically engages rounds of competitive air hockey. There are also varying terrain and court types that also have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. The game was relatively unremarkable upon launch but has since gained appreciation among the gaming press.6
6. King of Fighters 98
The 1998 installment of SNK’s long-running King of Fighters series of fighting games, the Dream Match That Never Ends is the fifth installment and recalls most of the fighters from previous games in one of the largest rosters in fighting games at the time. This game eschewed the series ongoing storyline to make this happen but resumed the story with the next installment – a bizarre move in hindsight but one that made the game possible from a lore standpoint. Many critics and fans alike consider this game to be the best in the series. The graphics are muted compared with other SNK fighting game titles, but the sound and soundtrack stand out as exceptional pieces of work. The expanded roster, and the depth that adds to the gameplay, is probably reason enough alone to merit the game’s position on this list.
5. Garou: Mark of the Wolves
Garou: Mark of the Wolves is a 1999 entry in the Fatal Fury series of SNK fighting games. It is the eighth game in the Fatal Fury series and one of the last for the Neo Geo system. The game is noted for really pushing the then-aging Neo Geo hardware to its limits, resulting in a beautiful game that not only felt crafted and well executed but also nuanced and quirky enough to merit distinction among its kindred in the Fatal Fury family of games. The game features highly technical gameplay and is beloved by fans for being less accessible than most.
4. Neo Turf Masters
From developer Nazca and publisher SNK comes another amazing sports game for the Neo Geo – Neo Turf Masters, a golf game that could only come out of the 1990s. The game moves at a brisk clip compared to a normal golf match and features arcade style gameplay elements that shift it up a notch. Again, players can choose one of six golfers, each of which has different talents and attributes. The golfers compete across one of four fictional courses throughout the world from Japan to America.
3. Fatal Fury Special
An updated version of Fatal Fury 2, Fatal Fury Special helped break the game out of Street Fighter II’s light and into its own mold. With several gameplay changes and an updated character roster, Fatal Fury Special sped the gameplay up while simultaneously introducing a new combo system. The game’s greatest strength is in the variety of characters it offers gamers but also in the depth of gameplay. While more accessible than most on this list, Fatal Fury Special also had a few arcane features that, if mastered, distinguished veterans from the wannabes.
2. Samurai Shodown
Samurai Shodown is so high on this list because it was another one of those games that screamed Neo Geo and made players forget it was a Street Fighter II clone with fantasy swordsmen from different eras of history. Sporting loads of charm and unique fighting gameplay, Samurai Shodown was quintessential SNK. Big, beautiful sprites that looked like hand-drawn animation. Loud, clear sound effects that made you feel like you were in the middle of a windy forest. And an iconic, thundering soundtrack that put arcade speakers to the test with booming taiko drums and a howling zither to announce the samurai match. Neo Geo was the arcade, and Samurai Shodown was the culmination of so much of its mastery in this realm.
Pulstar is a shoot ‘em up par excellence. Back in the day, shoot ‘em up games could be some of the most technically taxing on the market as they typically required tons of different pixels appearing and reappearing on screen at all times. Pulstar was no exception to this and, indeed, became the rule for how to do it. The gameplay is often compared to R-Type, and there is even a conspiracy theory that it was developed by Irem. Perhaps what people see is that Pulstar is nearly perfect in its execution of core gameplay elements, much like R-Type. The graphics, sound, and atmosphere are all there as well. Everything about this game is of the highest quality and exemplary of the Neo Geo’s capabilities when compared with other home consoles.