A games console constructed from wood may sound as sensible as a chocolate teapot but Analogue Interactive’s walnut-encased SNK Neo Geo is unquestionably a thing of utter beauty. We’re lucky enough to have one of the only units in existence, and we’ve gone hands-on to show you why this is a retro gamer’s dream come true. Read on for our thoughts, with bonus images and hands on video!
The History of the Neo Geo
There’s a good chance that many of you won’t be aware of what a Neo Geo is, so here’s a little primer. Produced in 1990, the Neo Geo system was considered to be the Rolls Royce of gaming platforms. It comprehensively out-performed rivals such as the Sega Mega Drive and Nintendo SNES, but at a cost – the system was sold for around £400 (by comparison, the Mega Drive was launched at £189.99 in the UK) while the games retailed for well over a hundred sheets each, sometimes more. And yet, you can see the sort of fervour it created in fans in this slightly creepy but never less than impressive music video below.
The reason for this extravagance was the technology involved – the Neo was an arcade machine first and foremost, and this was back when all of the biggest and best games were found not in your living room but in the local amusements or chippy. The coin-op Neo Geo hardware was known as the Multi Video System (MVS for short) while the domestic variant was called the Advanced Entertainment System (AES). The same games were released on both formats, but the cartridges were not interchangeable due to physical differences. This was because SNK didn’t want cheeky arcade owners buying the cheaper home carts and using them on their MVS cabinets.
While the AES system’s software has risen exponentially in value as the years of rolled by, the price of MVS carts has dropped and remained relatively low – largely due to the sheer volume of copies out in the wild. For that reason, the MVS system is more attractive to serious players because the games are, by and large, less likely to require you to sell a kidney in order to buy them.
It’s good in wood, but what is it?
You can see it in action in our hands on video below:
Analogue Interactive are the team behind this wooden wonder – they’re a talented team from the US that specialise in crafting innovative products within the spectrum of vintage gaming.
The correct term for this intriguing piece of hardware is a Consolised Multi Video System – or CMVS. To cut a long story short, this is basically the original MVS arcade hardware inside a smaller, console-like casing. The system has been professionally modified so that you can use standard AES controllers and a conventional power supply, as well as hook it up to your modern HD telly. The upshot? You’ve got an antique gadget that acts as a coffee tablet talking piece, as well as an awesome machine for having fun when your guests have gone.
The MVS board inside the machine is protected by a hand-crafted wooden casing, fashioned from 100% walnut. It even has working wooden, spring-loaded cartridge flaps which prevent dust from getting inside the machine when it’s not in use. Most impressively, not a single screw is visible anywhere on the unit – although the bottom of the console is removable, rubber pads conceal the metal screws that hold it all together.
Around the back of the machine you’ll discover a dazzling array of AV outputs, including RGB SCART, component, composite and S-Video. In short, you’ll be covered no matter what your home entertainment setup happens to be. The machine ships with a component cable as standard, so LCD owners can get stuck in immediately. However, if you want to make use of the excellent RGB signal, you’ll need to pick up a SCART lead direct from Analogue Interactive.
Another item that isn’t included in the box is a controller – you’ll have to invest in a second-hand Neo Geo stick (or pad) in order to get you game on, but these can be located fairly easily on eBay. The power supply provided uses the North American two-pin standard, but it will work in the UK when used in conjunction with a cheap and cheerful shaver adapter.
A brief instruction sheet is also provided, and warns against leaving the system running for more than eight hours straight. While it’s tempting to consider a wooden console to be something of a fire hazard, it’s actually the power supply which gets hot rather than the console’s internals – and that is entirely separate from the wooden casing. In short, we wouldn’t worry about this burning your house down.
As for software, the second hand market is your best bet. Because many MVS carts have seen a life of dutiful service in amusement arcades all over the globe, they’re usually a little grubby and as a result don’t tend to cost all that much. Some titles are extremely common and can be picked up for as little as £10. Rarer games obviously cost more, but on the whole you’ll be able to amass a decent collection without having to break the bank – and the same cannot be said of the AES equivalents, which often fetch prices well into the thousands.
When you consider that Analogue Interactive’s CMVS comes encapsulated in walnut and boasts a price tag of $650/£400, one might postulate that an illness of the brain is required to even contemplate a purchase. However, compared to other CMVS systems – which are produced mainly by amateur engineers in their grubby garages – the price tag is actually quite reasonable.
Like a classical piece of art or a particularly fine sports car, Analogue Interactive’s wooden CMVS is only going to increase in value as the years roll by. Putting aside thoughts of profiteering for one moment, it’s also important to remember that this is one of gaming’s most beloved platforms – in fact, it holds the record for the longest-running, continually supported gaming system. Since its launch in 1990, the Neo Geo has seen a steady stream of titles, the last of which was Fast Striker – a German release from late last year.
If you’re truly serious about retro gaming and have a large amount of cash burning a hole in your pocket, then this is a fine way to blow it all. With titles such as Metal Slug, King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown, Super Sidekicks, World Heroes, Puzzle Bobble and Art of Fighting, the Neo Geo is retro royalty, and owning Analogue Interactive’s unique wooden edition is the ideal way to earn some serious kudos with your savvy gaming mates. The fact that it looks like a piece of expensive Hi-Fi equipment from the ‘80s only adds to the appeal, if you ask us.
Due to limited availability, we have not given the Analogue Interactive Wooden Neo Geo CMVS a score.