The 15 Best Neo Geo Games that Defined a Generation: From Arcade to Console

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Intro

Diving into the golden age of the early ’90s, we spotlight the 15 Neo Geo titles that defined a generation, showcasing SNK’s ambition to bring the arcade experience home.

Key Takeaways

  • Pioneering Console: The Neo Geo, launched by SNK in 1990, aimed to replicate the arcade gaming experience in the home setting, standing out as a luxury console.
  • Iconic Titles: Despite a limited library, the Neo Geo is remembered for its legendary games that left a lasting impact on the gaming industry.
  • Nostalgic Legacy: Reflecting on the Neo Geo’s contribution, it’s celebrated for bringing top-tier arcade quality to living rooms, earning its place in gaming history.


Legends never die. Today, we’re going back to the early 90s, when Neo Geo was born. It was a golden age for video games, and many legendary franchises and consoles were born.

In the early 90s, the console war reached a climax, with the Sega Megadrive (Genesis) and the Super Nintendo (SNES) battling it out for pride of place under our CRT televisions.

In the midst of this fierce rivalry, SNK, a company renowned for developing and publishing games, unveiled the Neo Geo in 1990, with an ambitious goal: to make the arcade gaming experience a reality in our homes, without the slightest concession.

Known as the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of games consoles, the Neo Geo was synonymous with luxury and offered an unmatched arcade experience at home.

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Despite its relatively limited catalogue of titles, the Neo Geo left an indelible mark on the history of video games thanks to some legendary titles.

Having been lucky enough to own a Neo Geo and a Neo Geo CD, it’s with a heart full of nostalgia that I look back at the best titles the Neo Geo offered us.


Video Top 15 Must Play Neo Geo Games – A Retro Gaming Journey

Art of Fighting 3: The Path of the Warrior

“Art of Fighting 3: The Path of the Warrior” is a perfect example of why SNK’s fighting games were so famous. The story is one of revenge and redemption, revolving around the epic rivalry between Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia.


Thanks to the improved Spirit System, the fights are even more fluid than in previous titles. Each blow, throw or combo is perfectly linked.

The character sprites are huge, and the special moves are diabolical, with Sakazaki family’s ‘Hao Sho Ko Ken’ making a hadoken look like a beginner’s fireball.

Fun little trivia fact for you: Ryo was made by Takashi Nishiyama as a tribute to Ryu, the character created by Nishiyama at Capcom for Street Fighter.

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Art of Fighting 3 more than deserves its place on this list. It’s a shame that the series has come to an end, but the essential Art of Fighting characters can be found in KOF, so there are worse consolation prizes out there.

King Of The Monsters

The mention of arcade games often sounds like an invitation to let off steam, and “King of the Monsters” is the ideal Neo-Geo game to do just that.

In King of the Monsters, you play as colossal creatures battling it out for the coveted title of, you guessed it, King of the Monsters.

The confrontations take place in the heart of Japanese cities, which succumb helplessly to the destructive fury of the monsters.

Whether it’s a titanic gorilla or a petrified monster, nothing is left untouched – from crushed buildings and wiped-out funfairs to tanks that you can use as projectiles against your opponents.

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The gameplay is simple, fun and has a taste of home. Hard to classify, King of The Monsters is a sort of wrestling game between giants.

Each of the 6 monsters has its own style of attack, and the satisfaction of taking down an opponent against the backdrop of a ruined city is simply unrivaled.

In the midst of more conventional fighting games, King of the Monsters was a breath of fresh air.

It was one of the first Neo Geo games I had the privilege of playing, and the cartridge was always at arm’s length. A mix of fun and pleasure.

Blazing Star


Another Neo Geo speciality are Shoot-Them-Up games. The sequel to Pulstar, “Blazing Star” plunges you into a world where survival depends on your agility and the firepower of your ship. 

Each level takes you through enemy ships and bosses, each bigger than the last. The difficulty rises to a crescendo and literally becomes hardcore towards the end of the game,

featuring a plethora of ships, each with its own set of weapons and tactics.

The game was a showcase of what Neo Geo could achieve graphically, with a sublime intro. 

Blazing Star truly embodies the essence of the shoot ‘em up genre on Neo Geo, and is a must-have in the Neo Geo game library.

SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos

I dreamt about it, Capcom and SNK did it. “SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos” is a crossover between the two sacred monsters of the fighting games. After a Capcom version on Dreamcast with the excellent Capcom vs SNK, SNK offers us a Neo Geo version with the “SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos”.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the famous Garcia Financial Clique (SNK) and Masters Foundation (Capcom) fighting tournaments are going through a major crisis: most of the fighters have disappeared. They are caught up in a war between Order and Chaos, which will allow the winner to return to his or her original era.
The gameplay, taken from King Of Fighters, manages to integrate Capcom’s characters to perfection.

The main attraction of SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos, and its reason for being on the list of the best Neo Geo games, is of course its roster.

The excitement of seeing Ryu take on Kyo Kusanagi or Terry Bogard take on M.Bison is enough to justify owning this cartridge. Although it’s not the best fighting game on this console, it definitely has its place in the list of the best Neo-Geo games.

One of the latest titles to be released on Neo Geo.

World Heroes Perfect

World Heroes Perfect was SNK’s answer to Capcom’s Street Fighter 2. World Heroes Perfect featured characters inspired by different eras and traditions.

Its main feature was the ‘Hero’ gauge, a mechanism that rewarded players for their aggressiveness, making battles fast and exciting.


World Heroes Perfect has carved out a place for itself in the Neo Geo game library, although it hasn’t left the same indelible mark as Street Fighter.

Last Blade 2

Set at the end of the Edo period in Japan, Last Blade 2 is, as usual with SNK, a story about life and death.

What makes Last Blade 2 so special is its two fighting styles, Speed and Power. Speed mode lets you string together combos like in animated fighting games, while Power mode gives you an unlockable attack and more options for combining with super moves. Last Blade 2 also features a ‘Deflect’ button, which is in fact a parry/counter-attack mechanic. This system makes Last Blade 2’s gameplay fluid and dynamic.

Although often wrongly compared to Samurai Shodown, Last Blade 2 is closer to other fighting games, at least in terms of gameplay, with more combos and a faster pace than the Samurai Shodown series.

For fans of knife combat games, “Last Blade 2” offers breathtaking artistic direction and lively gameplay, and it’s a title that should not be overlooked.

Samurai Shodown II 

A work of art is the best term I can think of when it comes to Samurai Shodown II. With its highly successful budoshi atmosphere, like Last Blade 2, this game stands out for its knife fighting.

The samurai style is showcased, highlighting how even a small mistake can be fatal due to the immense damage certain strikes can cause. This leads to tactical battles that need a lot of focus to navigate through. Where Last Blade 2 is punchy and demands a mastery of combos, Samurai Shodown II requires a thorough knowledge of the character and flawless execution to hit every key.

The soundtrack is outstanding and adds to the atmosphere of Samurai Shodown 2.

With characters as varied as they are charismatic, SNK offers us a very complete choice for a second episode.

For me and many other gamers, Samurai Shodown II has always been one of the most loved episodes in the series. 

The King of Fighters ’98 

The fifth opus in the series, KOF’ 98 didn’t really have a storyline, which is quite rare for SNK. It was just a pretext for the whole gang of fighters from the SNK universe to clash again.

The KOF ’98’s roster features 38 different fighters and 13 alternative versions. There are 2 distinct game modes, Advanced, similar to KOF 97, and Extra, similar to KOF 95. The Ultimate Super Special Moves are part of the game and add spice to each fight.


This KOF is very well done graphically, and its animation is on par.


The King of Fighters ’98 is certainly the best King of Fighters, a perfect mix of everything that made its predecessors so famous. A must-have for the Neo-Geo.

Metal Slug X


If you’ve ever been to an arcade, chances are you’ve come across a Metal Slug.

The “Metal Slug” series is an explosion of action, humor and pixelated charm.

In each episode, players were drawn into a world of frenetic action, battling a horde of enemies with a myriad of weapons at their disposal.


Metal Slug X was released after a somewhat disappointing Episode 2. Although relatively short, Metal Slug X is a game that you’ll come back to as soon as you can.

The main feature of the series was its hand-drawn animation and humorous gameplay. The variety of vehicles and weapons, as well as the co-operative gameplay, make each mission an outpouring of fun and chaos.


Metal Slug X is one of those games that marked the history of SNK and the Neo Geo, and if you’ve never tried it, you know what you have to do.

Garou: Mark of the Wolves 

Fatal Fury has always been my favorite Neo Geo franchise, and its last installment is the best so far. Garou: Mark of the Wolves brought a breath of fresh air and nostalgia to the fighting game genre. Released in 1999, it benefited from all the fighting game know-how developed by SNK.

On the script front, SNK has done it again, delivering a high-quality lore that brings the Fatal Fury series to a brilliant close. It also introduced a new generation of fighters while paying homage to the old guard, including an aged but devilishly charismatic Terry Bogard.


The game’s mechanics are well thought-out, and come very close to the excellent Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike. This “Garou: Mark of the Wolves” is more accessible than the majority of SNK titles, which has greatly contributed to its success. No more breaking your thumbs to get out a Super Special. Rear quarter circles and front half circles are out the window in favor of more intuitive controls.

The “T.O.P” (Tactical Offense Position) system allows you to choose a portion of your life bar. When your health is in this portion, it unlocks certain TOP super specials, and other benefits such as health regeneration and increased damage. This adds a big strategic dimension to combat.


Garou: Mark of the Wolves also features a “Just Defend” mechanism that allows you to gain back some health, and block any attack without having your defense gauge depleted. Basically, it’s a system similar to the parry in SF3 3rd Strike. The gameplay is, in my opinion, the richest SNK has ever offered us in a fighting game.

If you’re looking for an amazing game on Neo Geo, look no further than Garou: Mark of the Wolves.

Real Bout Fatal Fury Special

“Real Bout Fatal Fury Special” is the most accomplished ‘Real Bout’, despite being the number one in the Real Bout series (yes Real Bout 2, is currently number 3).


This ‘Real Bout Fatal Fury Special’ refines the combat system and introduces new characters. The multi-layered combat mechanic offers strategic depth, allowing players to switch from one plan to another to dodge or attack. The game also stands out for its fluid animation and detailed graphics.

“Real Bout Fatal Fury Special” offers more content than its replacement “Real Bout Fatal Fury 2”, with match intros, more special moves, destructible scenery edges, hidden bosses, and even EX versions of some characters (Andy, Mary, Billy and Tung Fu Rue).


It’s hard to understand why SNK didn’t do as well with the sequel to this Real Bout Special. But in my opinion, if you’ve only got one Real Bout to choose from, it’s the Special.

Magician Lord

“Magician Lord, one of the launch titles for the Neo Geo, is a veritable ode to the action-adventure genre. This game plunges you into a fantasy world, where you take on the role of a powerful magician on a quest to find eight mystical tomes in order to defeat an evil sorcerer. What makes “Magician Lord” so special is its ability to transform the main character into different forms, each with unique powers, offering a variety of play styles.

The visuals pop with vibrant colors and intricate backgrounds, flawlessly bringing the game’s mystical world to life. The character sprites? They’re on par with SNK’s quality—massive! And let’s not forget the standout feature: the extraordinary soundtrack deserves a special shoutout.

The difficulty level, typical for games of this era, is a real challenge and would make Elden Ring look like a walk in the park.

It’s a classic that deserves its place in Neo Geo history for its spellbinding atmosphere and innovative gameplay. Magician Lord is the Castlevania of the Neo Geo.

Aero Fighters 2 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbdLuRJaTXg

Another shoot ’em up comes in the form of “Aero Fighters 2”, which is an often underrated nugget. You can choose from a variety of fighter planes, each representing a different country and equipped with unique weapons. The levels are diverse, ranging from metropolitan cities to snowy landscapes. Enemies and bosses offer a rare plurality for the genre, with jets, helicopters, ground vehicles… The choices are endless.


“Aero Fighters 2” is very pretty, has a soundtrack that fits in well with the atmosphere of the game, and offers a consistent lifespan, especially as you’ll have to finish the game twice to see the end.


What sets “Aero Fighters 2” apart is its mix of humor and action, a rare combination in the genre. The colorful graphics and addictive gameplay mechanics make this game a classic for fans of the subgenre.

Viewpoint 

Developed by Sammy, “Viewpoint” stands out in two ways. Firstly, the game is very difficult, and when I say very difficult, I mean it. Although the gameplay is simple and straightforward, you’ll need to be patient and learn the bosses to get through it. But, it’s well worth the effort.

Secondly, “Viewpoint” was a UFO when it was released in 1992. Sammy, the developer behind this legendary title, used cutting-edge technology for the time: 3D graphics pre-rendered and redrawn in 2D. Let’s just say that if Viewpoint came out on PlayStation, it would never garner that much attention.

The game’s graphics are exceptional, with original environments and a wide variety of enemy designs, from animated set pieces to insects and spaceships. The textures, colors and scenery change dramatically from one phase to the next, offering deep visual immersion, from the heart of a gigantic space station to exotic planets.

The ‘Viewpoint’ sprites are remarkable, offering a convincing 3D illusion.

In terms of gameplay, “Viewpoint” is played with a unique isometric perspective and a 45-degree camera angle that really gives you the sensation of playing in a 3D game – it’s amazing.

The soundtrack is memorable, and is certainly one of the best on Neo Geo.

If you’re not the type to be put off by hardcore challenges, ‘Viewpoint’ is a treasure that every Neo Geo owner should at least consider.

Super Sidekicks 2

“Super Sidekicks 2” delivered football excitement to Neo Geo, a far departure from FIFA’s simulation; instead, it’s an arcade-style blast of fun. It’s like the Virtua Striker of the Neo Geo era.

This second episode sees the end of the SNK Cup and the start of the World Cup.

This game is distinguished by its refined graphics: the players’ sprites are larger and have a higher level of detail. There is an appreciable diversity in the appearance of the players – from skin tones to different hairstyles – offering a more realistic and individualized representation of each player.

The perspective of the pitch has been redesigned for a more immersive experience. The viewpoint now resembles that of a spectator in the stands, with particular attention paid to the details of the turf and a more realistic palette of greens.

In terms of gameplay, “Super Sidekicks 2” has gained in precision. The game introduces an extra button that lets you switch players at will, correcting some of the gameplay shortcomings of the first installment. The teams are distinct in terms of attributes such as technique, defense, speed, attack and shooting power, faithfully reflecting the real-life characteristics of each national team.

The game also incorporates a ‘goal opportunity’, activated when a player is well positioned in front of goal, leading to a first-person view of the shot.
I can’t talk about Super Sidekicks without mentioning the foul system. It’s possible to hit your opponent, and if by chance you only get a yellow card, you can always make up for this injustice by pushing the referee to finally see him issue the famous red card. It’s not something you can replicate on a real football pitch, but it’s great fun in this game.

As you’ll have gathered, “Super Sidekicks 2” stays true to the arcade feel so characteristic of the Neo Geo. It’s a must-have title if you’re even the slightest bit of a football fan.

Conclusion


Choosing 15 titles from the library of this video game legend is no easy task. The retrogaming community and the attraction surrounding the Neo Geo continue to grow today, and this craze only serves to strengthen the rating of the games and the console.

Never has the Neo Geo deserved its title as the Rolls Royce of consoles more than it does today. 

When it came out in 1990 it was already the most expensive console in history with a price tag of $649. Today, buying a Neo Geo MVS in good condition will cost you at least $700, and with cartridges easily exceeding $1000, you’ll need quite a budget to be able to enjoy this legend.

For those who want to relive these classics without breaking the bank, modern alternatives exist, such as compilations on current consoles or emulators, making these legendary games accessible to a wider audience.

The legacy of the Neo Geo lives on, not only in the collections of its loyal fans, but also in the minds of any gamer who has had the privilege of holding one of its legendary controllers in their hands.

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