Nintendo's NES and SNES Classic Edition consoles may not have been the first systems to capitalise on the rising interest in vintage gaming, but they are certainly the most high-profile so far – and predictably, their arrival on the scene has triggered a surge of interest in the concept of repackaging old games in new, miniaturized hardware.
As well as the hype-beast that was the SNES Mini, we've got a brand new Mega Drive Mini to look forward to later this year, but SNK has beaten Sega to the punch with a pint-sized replication of its legendary Neo Geo console.
Like Nintendo and Sega's efforts, the Neo Geo Mini comes pre-loaded with classic games and connects to your TV via HDMI, but the twist here is that it has a 3.5-inch LCD screen and has built-in controls, so it's a lot more versatile.
Price and availability
The Neo Geo Mini comes in two flavors – one aimed at Japan and another at 'international' markets.
There are key differences in the games included on each, and the Japanese version comes in red, white, black and blue color scheme, while the international variant is a rather more boring black, white and blue.
The international version doesn't launch until September and is expected to retail for around $130 / £100; the Japanese version recently launched and costs 11,500 Yen (around $103 / £79).
Readers can expect to pick one up from Funstock when it's released later in the year.
Design and features
Weighing 390 grams and made mostly from plastic, the Neo Geo Mini is, from a purely aesthetic perspective, a lovely object to behold. It's small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and, despite its diminutive stature, is perfectly playable on any flat surface.
The joystick and four-button setup works much better than you might expect; SNK's prestigious line of one-on-one fighting games provide the perfect test, and it's surprising how quickly you adapt to that stubby-looking stick. Special moves aren't a problem, put it that way.
The 3.5-inch LCD screen completes the 'mini-arcade' feel, and is bright, sharp and has excellent viewing angles. Games look superb on it, but sadly the stereo speakers aren't quite as impressive – they're quite weak and lack bass. Thankfully, a 3.5mm headphone socket is included and things sound much better when using a pair of headphones.
The fact that it has its own screen and is small enough to fit in your backpack might lead you to assume that the Neo Geo Mini is totally portable – sadly, that's not the case.
The unit doesn't have an internal battery and uses a USB Type-C connection for power. A Type-C to USB lead is included in the box, but you'll need to source your own wall charger – the one you use with your smartphone or tablet will do. If you're really keen to take the unit out of the house then you'll be pleased to learn that you can run the Neo Geo Mini from a portable power bank.
To connect the Neo Geo Mini to your TV, you'll need a mini-HDMI cable, which unfortunately isn't included in the box. This isn't a common connection type so you may find you have to purchase a lead before you can play on the telly; they're not expensive, but it seems rather mean-spirited that SNK hasn't bothered to include one.
It's also worth noting that although SNK has released a controller along with the console – which is based on the excellent Neo Geo CD pad from the mid-'90s – you have to pay extra for that, too. There are two controller ports on the machine, although it's still possible to use the unit's main controls when plugged into the TV.
The Neo Geo Mini comes with 40 pre-loaded games to tie-in with the fact that the company is 40 years old.
The Japanese version – which we're reviewing here – comes with a different selection of titles to the international version.
The games included with the Japanese version are (deep breath): the entire King of Fighters series ('94 through to 2003), Samurai Shodown 2, Samurai Shodown IV, Samurai Shodown V Special, Fatal Fury Special, Real Bout Fatal Fury, Real Bout Fatal Fury 2, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, World Heroes Perfect, Kizuna Encounter, Art of Fighting, Last Blade, Last Blade 2, Ninja Master's, Aggressors of Dark Kombat, King of Monsters 2, Cyber-Lip, Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad, Top Hunter, Ninja Commando, Burning Fight, Metal Slug, Metal Slug 2, Metal Slug 3, Sengoku 3, Alpha Mission 2, Twinkle Star Sprites, Blazing Star, Top Player's Golf, Super Sidekicks and Joy Joy Kid.
That's a rather fighting-heavy selection of titles, with over half the games being brawlers. This perhaps shouldn't be surprising given SNK's fame within the genre – during the '90s, it seriously challenged Capcom for the fighting genre crown – but the lineup ignores some of the hidden gems within the console's library.
Thankfully, the international version's roster addresses this issue somewhat.
The games included on that version are: 3 Count Bout, Art of Fighting, Blazing Star, Blue’s Journey, Crossed Swords, Fatal Fury Special, Foot Ball Frenzy, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Ghost Pilots, King of the Monsters, King of the Monsters 2, Kizuna Encounter: Super Tag Battle, Last Resort, Magician Lord, Metal Slug, Metal Slug 2, Metal Slug 3, Metal Slug 4, Metal Slug 5, Metal Slug X, Mutation Nation, Ninja Master’s, Puzzled, Real Bout: Fatal Fury, Robo Army, Samurai Shodown 2, Samurai Shodown IV, Samurai Shodown V Special, Sengoku 3, Shock Troopers, Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad, Super Sidekicks, King of Fighters ’95, King of Fighters ’97, King of Fighters ’98, King of Fighters 2000, King of Fighters 2002, Last Blade 2, Top Player’s Golf and World Heroes Perfect.
The quality of emulation on the Neo Geo Mini is perfect; everything runs as expected, and while there is some slowdown in games like Metal Slug (and its sequels), that slowdown isn't unique to this hardware; it's also present when playing the game on the original Neo Geo console, which shows how accurate the emulation is.
When playing via the console's 3.5-inch screen the image quality is striking, but sadly the same can't be said for playing on your TV via HDMI.
The standard image is depressingly muddy and ill-defined, and nowhere near as clear and clean as the quality seen on the NES and SNES Classic Editions. There's an option to optimize the image, but this simply applies a filter which smooths out all of the pixels, and it's not a pleasing look – especially if you're a retro purist. There's also no scanline option, but thankfully you can adjust the image so you get that 'proper' 4:3 look.
Because the Neo Geo Mini uses emulation, you can expect a few creature comforts. It's possible to save your game at any point and return to it later; pressing Start and Select at the same time brings up a menu from which you can both save and load your game.
You can also change the UI language on the Japanese model to English, which will be music to the ears of importers. However, because the games are based on the Japanese ROMs, all of the in-game text remains unchanged. There's not a lot of text to read, to be honest, but if this kind of thing bothers you then you'll want to wait for the international version of the system.
The Neo Geo Mini looks amazing, and the fact that it can be used independently from your TV offers a big advantage over rivals like the NES and SNES Classic Editions.
The 40 games are generous, too – more than Nintendo offers you in its micro-consoles – and the stumpy-looking controls are actually quite comfortable to use, even for prolonged periods. The 3.5-inch screen is also a pleasant surprise and offers bright colors, good contrast and pin-sharp quality.
The lack of an internal battery limits the system's portability, and the image quality when playing via the TV leaves much to be desired.
It's also rather annoying that the Neo Geo controller costs extra, especially when you consider how many of the included games rely on having a second player handy. The lack of a mini-HDMI cable in the box is also an annoyance.
There are some annoying niggles with the Neo Geo Mini – TV image quality being perhaps the most egregious – but we like the fact that it offers a slightly different twist on the micro-console concept with its unique design and built-in 3.5-inch screen.
The cost of ownership is high, however, as not only do you have to shell out for a HDMI cable, but you'll almost certainly want to buy at least one Neo Geo controller. Still, given that the original Neo Geo was famed for its eye-watering cost, you could argue that this new model is simply keeping a proud tradition of expense alive.
- If you're looking for a more modern, high-end gaming experience then check out our list of the best games consoles right now