The market for the NEO GEO Arcade Stick Pro, which is really a console that comes with a fighting stick, will be small. But for those who loved that era of niche fighting games, it is a joyous return.
Available through Amazon Australia for about $300, the Arcade Stick Pro is basically NEO GEO's answer to Capcom's Home Arcade. Rather than just paying $150 or above for a fighting stick, you're paying a premium to have a versatile fighting stick that ships with 20 classic games. The whole thing is about the size of a normal arcade stick at 43cm x 21.4cm, and there's two plugs in the front for extra NEO GEO mini controllers.
Here's the full list of games on SNK's console-in-a-stick:
- The King of Fighters ’95
- The King of Fighters ’97
- The King of Fighters ’98
- The King of Fighters ’99
- The King of Fighters 2000
- The King of Fighters 2002
- Fatal Fury Special
- Fatal Fury 3
- Garou: Mark of Wolves
- Samurai Shodown II
- Samurai Shodown III
- Samurai Shodown IV
- Samurai Shodown V
- The Art of Fighting
- World Heroes 2
- World Heroes 2 Jet
- World Heroes Perfect
- Ninja Master’s
- The Last Blade 2
- Kizuna Encounter
The console plugs in much the same way as other mini consoles: a cable ships in the box, but you'll need your own wall adapter or access to one of your TV's USB ports. Once it's plugged in, you flip the switch and the whole thing's ready to go.
The entire unit is encased in plastic, which helps with the weight. The rear has a USB-C port powering the device, a HDMI out and a USB-A out port for using it like a normal fighting stick with other consoles. There's an eight button design that's coloured off the original NEO GEO controllers, and the right hand side of the stick has your SELECT/START, options and turbo button, as well as some switches for changing modes for using the stick with a NEO GEO Mini.
The screen size options are fairly standard - overscan and aspect ratio - while the quality settings let you determine different scaling and scan line options, with a pixel perfect option included. There's also an option to update the firmware, allowing more games to be added down the track. Only just this week, Metal Slug and Metal Slug 2 were added, and SNK announced on Twitter that more "hidden games" would be unveiled:
【NEOGEO Arcade Stick Pro】
Access to the following URL and get your "METAL SLUG" and "METAL SLUG 2" unlocked!https://t.co/e3QWfmfoWn
— SNK GLOBAL @SAMURAI SHODOWN - Available Now! (@SNKPofficial) December 16, 2019
The pixel scaling option will be the happy default for most. Loading times are pretty quick and the stick and buttons are decent enough, although it doesn't use Sanwa parts (mainly to keep the cost down). If you've got Sanwa buttons or joysticks, you can install those yourself later, as some fans have done already:
Of course, the sticking part with all of this is the SNK part. If you weren't a fan of SNK games or those older titles, you're not going to see the value here. SNK fighting games can be notoriously difficult. Fatal Fury Special, the updated version of Fatal Fury from 1992, features two lanes that fighters can move between.
It's actually a much faster game than other fighters from the era, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter 2 particularly. The AI is a right pain in the arse too, so if you have no experience with the series, you'll need to get wailed for a little while until you pick everything up.
The King of Fighters and Samurai Showdown games are known quantities. I'm not going to get into the intricacies of each of the variations - newer Samurai Showdown games added command rolls, removed aerial blocking, added evading and side-stepping for instance - but the experience plays well enough solo. There wasn't any noticable delays in the emulation or delays in the sound, and the performance of the games I tested was basically flawless.
The only real complaint is that the box doesn't ship with a spare NEO GEO mini controller. If you're not a collector, or someone that has a fellow fighting fan in your life, it's a bit of a lonely experience. The library is getting updated, and the solo games will probably come pretty close to the list of what's on the NEO GEO mini right now (ie. more Metal Slug, Super Sidekicks, Ghost Pilots, probably some golf).
But the hardware is good at what it does. It looks good on the table, is easy to set up and get playing, handles well and the internals are solid enough to emulate other games as well; some have already gotten the Simpsons arcade game running already.
As is, it's a great collector's unit and an addition to a gaming shelf. The price is pretty reasonable given the versatility of the fighting stick with other platforms (yes, you can use it with Smash if you want) too. If you're the kind of person who would question the need for a fighting stick, then this is absolutely not for you - but for SNK fans, and fans of fighting games, it's a perfect addition to the shelf.