When you think back to the golden age of console gaming, names like the NES and Sega Genesis come to mind. However, few people are aware of a 3rd competitor called Neo Geo. This is a console that was designed to bring an arcade experience into your living room.
Sure, a lot of home consoles back then claimed to be “arcade-like”. But in the end, you’d be playing inferior ports of the original arcade game. With worse graphics and audio quality, that simply didn’t match up to a true arcade experience.
The Neo Geo AES was different. It actually had arcade-level hardware underneath the hood. And could output larger sprites with many more colors on screen compared to any other console of that time.
Unfortunately, all this innovation came at a steep cost. The retail price upon release was US$650 (nearly US$1350 in today’s money). And the individual game cartridges cost nearly 200 dollars each, which was outrageous.
The steep price of ownership meant that Neo Geo was a niche product for enthusiast gamers who wanted true arcade quality at home. And with the advent of the 3D era following Sony’s PlayStation, this futuristic console faded away into the backdrop. But, I must admit it had some excellent games.
So, here are the top 45 all-time Neo Geo games that you must play. Games released for the arcade were also available on the home console since zero porting work had to be done. And the memory card was also compatible with both the Neo Geo home console (AES) and arcade cabinet (MVS).
Metal Slug 3
Without a doubt, the single best shoot ‘em up for the Neo Geo MVS home console. Yeah, it isn’t an exclusive title and was also released on Xbox, PS2, Windows, Wii, etc. But my point still stands- this is the best shooter/ action game you will play on your Neo Geo.
Metal Slug 3 takes the 2D shooting genre to its logical extreme, combining over-the-top action set pieces with excellent gunplay. It’s pretty basic, you shoot wave after wave of enemies until the final boss of each level shows up. But the enjoyment lies in its presentation, how these action sequences are delivered.
Along the way, you can pick up tanks that bolster both your offensive and defensive moves. Unlike many other shooters of this type, Metal Slug 3 lets you attack in melee mode with knives and kicks. The enemies can also melee you, so be careful.
Samurai Shodown II
The first Samurai Shodown drew tremendous praise for its unique feudal Japan setting and variety of weapon-based combat. Samurai Shodown II takes all of the good stuff and amps it up a notch while also adding new characters and moves. The benefit of playing this game on Neo Geo as opposed to SNES or Genesis is the massively improved graphics.
Compared to regular 16-bit home consoles, the Neo Geo boasts far superior hardware. Which gives you a true arcade-quality experience. Samurai Shodown II encourages the player to focus on fast, heavy-hitting individual strikes rather than combos.
The King of Fighters ‘98
SNK created The King of Fighters as a crossover title, featuring characters from two other fighting games- Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. And unlike many other fighting games of its time, The King of Fighters pits teams against one another. So you don’t do a 1 v 1 duel in the standard battle mode, but 3 v 3 team battles.
In King of Fighters ’98, all the characters from previous games are present along with some new hidden characters. And for the first time in the series, it implements a handicap system (if you lose a round, your team gets a boost). You also have to decide who goes in what order before a match begins, so no more tagging in and out.
The Last Blade 2
A fighting game that seems simple on the surface, but with a story that is mature and grim compared to its rivals from the same era. The Last Blade 2 is set one year after the first game, and it tells the story of Death. You learn of the time before humanity existed on this planet, and how the “Messenger from Afar” was created alongside Death.
In The Last Blade 2, fighters look more detailed compared to the first game (and a new “EX” mode has been added for fighters). They are also colored in a way that sets a grimdark tone. Cutscenes are very well designed and much longer to focus on plot elements.
Aero Fighters 2
Vertically scrolling shooters had been done to death by 1994, and the genre didn’t carry any new or exciting concepts. Or so it seemed until Aero Fighters 2 launched along with a plethora of features that would inspire many similar games in the future. While the game itself looks gorgeous on Neo Geo, its true attraction lies in the simplicity of the gameplay.
Like many other shooters, you pilot a fighter aircraft, killing wave after wave of enemies. These enemies attack in different patterns depending on their type. You also get a special projectile that is rewarded after destroying buildings and heavily armored enemy units.
Garou: Mark of the Wolves
This is actually the final Fatal Fury game, rather than a brand-new IP. It incorporates many of the fighting mechanics from previous Fatal Fury games, while also adding some new features. In terms of sheer tactical depth and strategic possibilities, this is one of the best fighting games ever made.
If you block an enemy attack at the last moment, you are rewarded with a small chunk of health. The game also introduces a T.O.P. (Tactical Offense Position) position on your life gauge. This lets you unleash special moves and ranged attacks after your health drops to a certain point.
The Last Blade
Set during the end of the Tokugawa shogunate, this game portrays a very stylistic vision of feudal Japan. You have plot elements that borrow heavily from Japanese mythology. In particular, this game focuses on the Four Gods, each of whom symbolizes a particular trait or virtue.
Much like Samurai Shodown, this is also a 2D fighting game designed primarily around weapon combat. There is quite a lot of violence and you can select between 2 different fighting styles (Speed/ Power). Deflecting an enemy’s attack at the last moment will temporarily leave them vulnerable.
A classic over-the-top action shooter in which you blow up enemies using a wide range of weapons while traveling through many scenic locations. The game has a plot, but trust me- its primary goal is to provide an excuse for you to go from point A to B. So there’s this mercenary hit squad that has kidnapped a scientist and his daughter to develop some kind of super-soldier serum.
And you must kill dozens of heavily-armed soldiers in jungles, valleys, mountains, etc. to rescue them. The game lets you choose between Lone Wolf mode and Team mode. Lone wolf means you get to play as one soldier for the entirety of the game.
Whereas team mode gives you the option to switch between 3 different characters on the fly. In Lone Wolf mode, you get a total of 20 lives at the start.
With team mode, you only have 10 lives per soldier. But the total number of lives on 3 soldiers is 30, so you still end up with more lives compared to Lone Wolf.
Fatal Fury Special
This is a game that will have you at the edge of your seat at all times with its fast-paced fighting action and amazing combo moves. It’s a Fatal Fury title, so expect gameplay similar to Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Special is an upgraded Fatal Fury 2 with even faster combat and new moves.
It has one new mechanic compared to previous Fatal Fury games. In Special, chaining moves is easy if you are skilled enough and have good timing. Because successfully landing an attack gives you a few microseconds of invincibility (you can’t be interrupted).
Neo Turf Masters
How did a golf game make it this far up the list? Well, that’s how good Neo Turf Masters is. It’s simply too much fun to the point of becoming addictive.
And a lot of Turf Masters’ game mechanics are very advanced, making it feel like a sim rather than an arcade game. Even the art style is realistic, with the usage of digitized sprites created from images of real golfers.
Unlike Aero Fighters, this is a horizontally scrolling shooter. But the fundamentals remain similar, you are flying a starship that shoots down incoming waves of enemies. And at the end of each level, you go up against large bosses.
In total, there are 8 stages. Apart from the enemies, you also have to contend with space debris that can damage your aircraft. Destroying large enemies has a chance of dropping powerups, and you can deploy a drone to act as a shield.
Art of Fighting 3: The Path of the Warrior
SNK is known for its excellent roster of fighting games, ranging from Fatal Fury to Samurai Shodown. But Art of Fighting is a series created in the early 1990s. Do the old mechanics still hold up today?
You bet they do, especially in Art of Fighting 3. Much like other fighting games, Art of Fury has basic kicks and punches. It also has a button that lets you freely switch between basic attacks to create combos.
But one thing that’s unique to the Art of Fighting series is its “Spirit” gauge. By performing special attacks or power moves, you use up this gauge. And consecutive special attacks will become weaker as the gauge gets lower.
WindJammers is what you would get if Pong went to college, got a gym membership, and started playing in a hockey team. It is more refined, with deeper mechanics and excellent graphics for the era. Sure, the underlying principles are very similar to Pong.
But in the end, you’re playing a virtual air hockey game. There is a roster of 6 playable characters, each with unique stats and special moves. Movement isn’t linear like Pong; you can freely move in all 8 directions (acting as both defense and offense).
Twinkle Star Sprites
Despite what the silly name and cover art imply, this is a shooter mixed with a puzzle game. Really absurd, but somehow all of this works together. You have a tactical shooter with plenty of strategic options, making Twinkle Star Sprites one of the most enjoyable Neo Geo titles.
Alpha Denshi created Magician Lord as a launch title for the Neo Geo platforms (both arcade and home console). These are the same guys who did the hardware for Neo Geo. So they know everything little quirk and detail of their own game system.
The result of Alpha Denshi’s involvement is an action platformer that is easily the most visually impressive of its genre. In the 16-bit era of home consoles, very few platformers even come close to looking and sounding this good. The gameplay is similar to Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (not as frustratingly difficult, thankfully).
Waku Waku 7
Initially, Waku Waku 7 was created as an exclusive for the Neo Geo MVS arcade. Eventually, it was also ported to the AES (home console variant of Neo Geo). Like many other SNK fighting games of the mid-1990s, screen-zooming is a feature in Waku Waku 7.
You have punches and kicks, along with heavier versions of these same attacks. Combining your basic attacks in a predefined sequence will set up special moves and combos. The characters in this game are pretty unique.
And despite a limited roster, each individual character is extremely divergent in terms of playstyle and abilities. Funnily enough, SNK parodies their own characters from other fighting game franchises in Waku Waku 7.
A beat ‘em up that feels refreshing and unique. Granted, it’s not a Neo Geo exclusive since you can also play it on the SNES. However, the SNES version doesn’t look as good and lacks certain key features.
For instance, this game lets you switch between various forms after defeating special types of enemies. On Neo Geo, you can freely toggle between these forms. But due to hardware limitations on SNES, this toggling isn’t possible ( instead they stay for a fixed amount of time and vanish).
If you play the international version of this game, you’re spawned into Madrid airport at the start (Spain). However, in the Japanese version, you spawn into the American Airport in America. No seriously, that’s the name of the airport.
And then, you use yo-yo’s to beat up thugs while collecting ninja stars from treasure chests. Sometimes, these treasure chests also contain guided missiles. The game has a co-op mode with the characters Johnny (green color) and Tommy (red color).
The gameplay of Crossed Swords is similar to another SNK title called Super Spy. However, this one is a hack & slash game with sorcery and role-playing. Super Spy is a shooter with bits of hand-to-hand combat.
Crossed Swords received fairly positive reviews thanks to its co-op gameplay and unique visual style. It utilizes a wireframe graphics system, resulting in a pseudo-3D look. You are encouraged to block with your shield and use magic attacks.
This game is also known as Bust-a-Move in Japan. And kind of feels like a weird, inverted version of Tetris. It uses colored bubbles instead of tiles, which are fired from a special gun controlled by a pointer.
Bubbles can bounce off the walls, and you need to make sure 3 of the same color are touching. If bubbles go past the bottom line, you lose. And if you don’t manually fire the bubble gun, it will automatically shoot bubbles.
Super Sidekicks 3: The Next Glory
An old-fashioned arcade soccer game featuring spoofs of actual teams and tournaments. You can play against AI in single-player mode, or go into multiplayer with a second person. The game uses a top-down view with some really high-quality sprites that looked exceptional for the time.
Game rules are similar to real soccer with some concessions made in favor of fun over realism. There is a top-scorer board to show players who made the most goals for their team.
A shoot ‘em up that’s heavily inspired by R-Type. This game doesn’t have a whole bunch of levels or enemy variety but compensates for these shortcomings via gameplay. Boss fights are methodical and simply spamming your guns to bring down their HP bar won’t work.
Much like Pulstar, you have a robot drone that functions independently. It can act as a shield against incoming projectiles or morph into a specialty weapon. Powerups upgrade your aircraft’s speed and damage output.
Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy
In Top Hunter, you will often find robot-like vehicles similar to the tanks in Metal Slug. Which probably took some inspiration for its character designs from this game. Top Hunter is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up though, so it plays very differently from Metal Slug which is a shooter.
You can play with another person in co-op mode. One of you controls Roddy, while the other controls Cathy. Four stages exist, each inspired by one of the following elements- fire, ice, wind, and forest.
SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos
This is the 3rd part within a series of crossovers featuring fighters from SNK and Capcom. In SNK vs Capcom 2, the plot shows a post-apocalyptic world where teams from both sides are fighting each other in a war of Chaos vs Order. This game continues the timeline from its predecessor, using a gameplay system taken from King of Fighters.
This means you have 4 basic attacks, along with special moves and combos. However, these are 1 v 1 duels between individual fighters in a traditional best of 3 matches. SVC Chaos introduces a forward dash move that lets you evade enemy attacks (can be used from the guard position).
The King of Fighters ‘99
King of Fighters is back for the 1999 season. It brings a brand-new storyline involving a man called “K” and a shadowy organization simply referred to as “NESTS”. Plot aside, this KoF installment also introduces a brand-new gameplay mechanic called the “Striker” system.
As usual, you select 3 fighters from the roster for your match. But you can summon a 4th fighter into the match to execute special moves. Another big change is the removal of switchable fighting styles, in favor of a single style that’s based on the Advanced option from previous games.
World Heroes Perfect
The 4th (and last) World Heroes game to be developed by Alpha Denshi. Perfect makes some big changes to how attacks are executed. You have a 4-button attack system now, unlike previous installments in the series.
And pressing down on 2 buttons at the same time unleashes heavy attacks. You can also push down 2 buttons together to get upgraded versions of special attacks. New characters and moves have been added to the roster, allowing for much more variance in playstyles.
Ninja Master’s is a 2D fighting game that stands out thanks to a combination of good character design and gameplay mechanics. Fighters come from a wide range of backgrounds and many possess wildly different skillsets. For instance, you have a rogue ninja looking to seek revenge for the murder of his father.
Then, there’s an exorcist character with limitless potential in the dark arts. Then there is a peace-loving monk. All these guys can switch between weapon or hand-to-hand combat spontaneously in the middle of a match.
Metal Slug X
Like the first Metal Slug game, you go through several waves of enemies to reach a final boss while picking up items along the way. These items can range from basic power-ups and weapon upgrades to giant robot tanks. Metal Slug X is less of a new game in the series and more of an upgrade for Metal Slug 2.
You see, when Metal Slug 2 initially launched on the Neo Geo MVS arcade system it faced performance issues. The game would run slow and glitch out at times. Metal Slug X was created to fix these issues, while also adding new transformations and weaponry.
One of two Bomberman titles released for the Neo Geo platform. If you aren’t familiar with the series, it’s a maze puzzle game. In which you around a grid planting bombs to take out enemies.
You can also blow up blocks with your bombs and uncover hidden items. Not all blocks can be broken, only designated soft ones that are visually different from the rest.
Baseball Stars 2
An arcade-style baseball game that features 18 teams divided between 2 leagues. There is absolutely zero focus on realism, unlike Super Sidekicks 3 which at least tries to be somewhat believable. In Baseball Stars 2, you can power up your batters by making their bats magically grow larger.
And compared to the first game, there are more tactical options. Like the ability to seamlessly change defensive field positions. The graphics and animations have also been improved significantly over Baseball Stars 1.
One of the few futuristic space-fiction shooter games on Neo Geo. Cyber-Lip tells the story of how humanity tries to colonize space to combat overpopulation on Earth. As a result, they create androids to work on outer-space colonies.
These androids eventually go rogue and partner up with hostile alien forces. Humanity sends two of their best special ops soldiers to destroy a supercomputer controlling these androids. Armed with machine guns and grenade launchers, you engage in a bloodbath as wave after wave of murderous androids rushes at you.
While most other games of this time were set in entirely fictional universes, NAM-1975 is very clear about what it’s portraying. Which is the Vietnam conflict. However, the game doesn’t follow a biography or historical document.
Instead, it makes up a fictitious scenario in which 2 soldiers are sent to rescue a former American scientist and his daughter. This game uses a crosshair to select where you’re firing, and you can move the crosshair with your joystick. A fast diagonal movement of the joystick while running will make your character do an evasive roll to avoid incoming fire.
King of Fighters 2002
It’s truly amazing how much life the developers were able to extract out of a hardware platform that’s over a decade old. This game was released in 2002, nearly 2 years after the PS2 was made available. For reference, even the first PlayStation came out nearly 5 years after the Neo Geo AES.
Granted, KoF 2002 isn’t a massive graphical upgrade over older titles in the series. Nor is it in 3D. Which makes things slightly easier for the actual hardware running this game.
Metal Slug 5
If you thought KoF 2002 was pushing the Neo Geo hardware to its limits, I have something even more impressive. Metal Slug 5, which was released in 2003. At this point, the Neo Geo AES home console was practically ancient.
Still, it functions well enough for a 2D run ‘n gun game. You won’t have any slowdowns if you play this on original hardware. But I assume most people reading this article will use an emulator.
Prehistoric Isle II
I guess the developers of this game were stoned one night while watching Jurassic Park. And decided to come up with their own wacky action game based around it. No, it isn’t Dino Crisis but it’ll do for anyone who wants some good old-fashioned dinosaur shooting.
The background is beautifully drawn, constantly scrolling across your screen. There is plenty of detail in each dinosaur sprite, and the animations look smooth even by today’s standards. You are on a helicopter trying to rescue people while shooting at various dinosaurs who try to attack you.
Nightmare in the Dark
Yet another Neo Geo AES game that was released at the dawn of the 21st century. Its reception by both gaming press and the general public was quite lukewarm, thanks to a botched official release and poor marketing. However, Neo Geo enthusiasts would recognize this as one of the few titles worth playing in the modern era on an aging platform.
Nightmare in the Dark is about a good-natured ghost who goes around stopping gravediggers from defiling the dead. You attack with fireballs that can ignite enemies into giant balls of flame. These can then be tossed into waves of other enemies.
Originally released for the arcade machine, this side-scrolling shooter was eventually given a home console version. Not that any porting had to be done since arcade code runs natively on AES hardware. In Andro Dunos, you are tasked with fighting off an invasive alien force using advanced space aircraft.
There are 2 aircraft- the Yellow Cherry, and the Red Fox. Player 1 controls the former, while Player 2 gets the latter. You can cycle between various weapons and charge up your current weapon for a powerful shot by holding down the fire button.
Aggressors of Dark Kombat
Yeah, it might seem like a rip-off of more successful 1 v 1 fighting games from that early 1990s era. But Aggressors of Dark Kombat has tons of personality and features some amazing fighters. Its name is a play on the initials of Alpha Denshi (the developers) and Mortal Kombat.
The gameplay is rather unique since your fighter can move towards or away from the screen (in addition to left and right). Grappling your enemy is given higher priority than simply striking. And there are ways to break out of grabs while launching counterattacks.
In most beat ‘em up games, you fight gang members or random thugs. But in Mutation Nation, you have to go through a gauntlet consisting of 6 levels that are filled with everything from mutants to cyborgs. But don’t worry, your player character is more than well equipped for this task.
You see, in a regular game of this type you would pick up objects laying on the ground. Like pipes or hammers. But here you pick up elemental spheres that give you magical super attacks to blow away enemies in rapid succession.
It’s kind of like Mutation Nation, in that you have 2 players fighting various goons on their way to a big bad boss at the end. However, this is more of a traditional beat ‘em up game. And this time, you’re playing as cyborgs rather than fighting against them.
Unlike the elemental spheres that give you super attacks, this game has objects lying on the ground. Pipes, tire irons, robot arms, etc. You can pick any of these up and smack some baddies around.
The Super Spy
Someone took the hand-to-hand combat from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! and combined it with a first-person dungeon crawling system from Ultima. No, this isn’t a roleplaying game or dungeon crawler. It’s best classified as a first-person beat ‘em up with shooting segments.
You can evade enemy attacks by ducking, rolling, and blocking. In certain rooms, you can find hostages to rescue. Or even upgrades for your weapons.
This is the Neo Turf Masters of bowling games. The gameplay is just realistic enough to draw you in. But with enough action and goofiness peppered in to make sure that you don’t confuse it with a simulator.
The rules are similar to regular bowling, and a maximum score of 300 can be had with all strikes. The game has a competitive aspect to it since you can compete for top-score with 3 other players.
Magical Drop III
It’s a visual upgrade over the earlier Magical Drop games, which were puzzlers based on Drop-Drop. While Drop-Drop itself was inspired by Tetris, Magical Drop features slightly more rules and new mechanics. Bubbles fall from the top, and you must align 3 of them that are the same color in order to destroy these bubbles.
It is important to destroy bubbles before they reach the bottom line. If you destroy multiple groups of bubbles it will create a chain reaction, destroying more bubbles that are nearby.
Double Dragon was the undisputed beat ‘em up genre king, and SNK created Burning Fight to make a dent in that section of the market. Since this was one of SNK’s earliest forays into this genre, you’d think that Burning Fight would be a very flawed product. However, it does a good job of taking the best elements from excellent games and combining everything into a formula that just works.
Interactive environments let you generate bonus damage on enemies. You can smash people into phone booths and pick up objects laying on the street to use as weapons. There is a roster of playable characters to choose from, all of whom are fairly balanced with regard to combat abilities.
King of the Monsters 2
Imagine pro wrestling, but with huge monsters instead of wrestlers. In the first game, monsters fought among each other to decide who was king. But now, powerful alien overlords are invading Earth.
So the monsters must fight together to stop this threat, resulting in a new challenge to decide who’s king. There 3 monsters to select from, and a variety of scenic locations for you to demolish while fighting. Grappling and power attacks are a big part of the combat system in this game.
You might think “what gave the Neo Geo all this extra processing power?”. After all, it used a Motorola 68000 processor- just like Sega’s Genesis. However, this chip was clocked higher resulting in a 50% higher processing speed compared to Genesis.
But that’s not all, the Neo Geo also features custom chips for sprite scaling and audio effects. It could display 65,536 colors with up to 4096 colors being displayed on the screen at any given time.
Even more impressive was the fact that it came with two giant 11” x 7.4” arcade-quality controller pads. The joysticks felt less like video game controllers and more like gear shifters on a Ferrari. With the accompanying buttons feeling clicky and heavy-duty rather than cheap and rubbery.
The Neo Geo even had a built-in headphone socket, alongside a memory card slot that could save game progression. Remember guys, this is 1991- separate memory cards for game saves weren’t a thing. And headphone sockets built into your home console?
That was genuinely innovative, a feature well ahead of its time. The Neo Geo was the king of 16-bit consoles, and you could take your game saves in a card to the arcade center. If you were willing to pay the price, you were several years ahead of the curve.
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