Children of the 80s will fondly remember the Neo Geo, probably as the unattainable, super-expensive console that existed only in arcades and wishful dreams. For more than two decades it has remained so, and in addition to the arcade machines littering the world still, the console has engendered a fervent fanbase of sprite-loving nostalgia hounds.
SNK discontinued the hardware years ago, but the internet is a wonderful place where even the sparsest population of enthusiasts can gather together and create a meaningful market. In this case, Neo Geo fans appear to still be numerous enough that both a new handheld version of the console and a real-life new game on cartridge are being released.
The Neo Geo X is a handheld rather like the Supaboy and Retro-bit devices: a blast from the past made not to be a blockbuster gaming device but simply to turn a modest profit and capitalize on a small but energetic fanbase. It has just been confirmed for UK and US distribution, though at around £500 (nearly $800) it may be as much beyond their grasp as it was when they were kids. At least it comes with 20 licensed games built in.
But the excitement doesn’t end there. The original companies are always game to make a buck on hardware licensing, but developers too have a healthy respect for the Neo Geo and every once in a while, a new game appears — years after the hardware has ceased being manufactured or even supported.
This week brings news of Gunlord, a great name for a game if I ever heard of one. It’s a Turrican-inspired 2D shooter, and the developers are releasing it for Neo Geo and Dreamcast (!). They’re keeping the pricing scheme intact for both systems, and the cartridge will set you back €439 — around $570 — you can pick it up for Dreamcast for less (€32). But some would say they’re both priceless.
The question is, of course, why didn’t they make the game for PC and release it on Steam or as a self-published title?
For the same reason some people still choose to write their novels on a typewriter, or paint with real brushes, or put their album out on vinyl. Sometimes the medium is the message.
It’s an amazing world where there is room for both Angry Birds selling scores of millions, and a fan-made cartridge for a long-dead system selling scores. Modern memetic distribution and the long tail in beautiful, complementary harmony.