The SNK that we all know and love actually started out in 1978 as Shin Nihon Kikaku Inc. They produced a couple of arcade games during the late 70's and early 80's that no one remembers much less played. Then in 1986 they shortened their name to SNK and started making games for the Nintendo. Hit titles like Ikari Warriors and P.O.W. finally put SNK on the map.
SNK revolutionized the arcade industry in 1989 when they released the Neo·Geo Multi-Video System (MVS). The majority of arcade games are large printed circuit boards (PCB's) that hook into an arcade cabinet via a wiring standard called JAMMA (Japanese Arcade Machine Manufacturers Association). This system allows for only one game to occupy a cabinet at any time. The Neo·Geo MVS system allowed switching between multiple games in one cabinet thanks to a cartridge based system. Think of it like a big super Nintendo with as many as 6 slots for games, and the ability to switch between those games at any time. Arcade operators fell in love with the machine and pretty soon you couldn't go into an arcade, pizza parlor or laundromat without seeing a bright red SNK cabinet. Gamers also fell in love with the MVS machines thanks to hit games like King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, and Metal Slug.
High on the success that their MVS system was seeing in arcades SNK created a home version of the Neo·Geo in 1990 called the Neo·Geo Advanced Entertainment System (AES). When the system first came out it was light years beyond anything else on the market. This old advertisement compares the specs of all the systems at the time as well as their respective prices. The Neo·Geo originally sold for $650. This put it far beyond the reach of most gamers. With cartridges ranging in price from $25 to $300 the AES never shared the same success as its arcade brother the MVS. In an effort to reduce the price point of the machine SNK release a CD version of the console. Not only did the system cost less, around $200 but CD games were quite a bit cheaper to produce than cartridges. Many CD games also sported re-mixed soundtracks that took advantage of the new format. However the Neo·Geo CD was not without its shortcomings. Most games suffered from terrible load times and many popular arcade titles were altered for release on the Neo·Geo CD. Something many fans of the AES system, with its arcade perfect translations did not find to appealing. SNK tried to overcome these problems with the Neo·Geo CDZ which boasted more RAM and faster load times but they had already lost the battle for the home market. In 1997 SNK returned to the Arcade. In an effort to revitalize the Neo·Geo hardware they created the Neo·Geo Hyper 64. Built to compete with games like Virtua Fighter and Tekken, the Hyper 64 makes use of full 3D graphics. Fatal Fury and Samurai Shodown both made the leap to 3D, however both games received little or no attention. It seemed that the majority of arcade goers had forgotten about SNK. Only a few other games were ever released for the system each of them meeting with the same lackluster reviews. In 1999 SNK made one final attempt to get a foot hold in the home market with its portable system the Neo·Geo pocket and pocket color (NGPC). If you ask anyone who was actually able to find one of these beauties they will probably tell you how great it is. The tiny NGPC played host to portable versions of many of SNK's greatest series. Gamers were able to take versions of King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown , Metal Slug and countless others with them wherever they went. However the system was in direct competition with the Game Boy Color. Once again SNK produced a superior machine that failed in the market.
After the failure of the NGPC and struggling with financial problems SNK finally closed its North American and European offices in June 2000. in October 2001 the Japanese divisions were closed as well. During this time SNK was purchased by a company called Aruze that specialized in making pachinko machines. Aruze made a few gambling games using SNK characters but it was obvious to everyone that they had no intention of working to revitalize the Neo·Geo brand. After their brief stint with Aruze the company was recently purchased by Playmore. Playmore is essentially the new SNK of japan however there are other companies like BrezzaSoft and Noise Factory that are also helping to fuel a Neo·Geo comeback. Playmore has been working very hard to revive the Neo·Geo and introduce a whole new generation to its library of fantastic titles. Older games like Metal Slug X and King of Fighters 2000 are making their way to new systems like the Playstation and the Dreamcast. Playmore is also not giving up on the MVS or AES systems. With new games coming out this year like Rage of the Dragons, Metal Slug 4 and king of Fighters 2002 the future of the Neo is looking very bright indeed.
(I used the correct way to type "Neo-Geo", by using the · symbol instead of the hypen. The · can be obtained by holding down ALT and and pressing 0 1 8 3 on the numeric keypad.)