A few days later than expected, but yes indeed, my NGX Gold has arrived. I also got a few other games as you can see in photo 1. Journey: Collector’s Edition (which is a great set of games non-gamers out there need to check out), my other copy of The Walking Dead (Best Buy screwed up and sent me the standard edition and not the BB version with the poster) alongside the Telltale version with the sticker on the case. Eh, whatever. It was the same price and I have no room here for anything on the walls but games) and The Glory of Heracles, which I couldn’t pass up for five dollars new. It didn’t get knockout reviews, but I played it for about half an hour and found it pretty amusing. I have a Heracles no Eikou game for the Super Famicom here in the library, so it’s nice to see that old series continue in the present day. OK, let’s get even more nostalgic and take a look as what’s in the box…
First and foremost, I have to bitch a little about Best Buy’s choice of shipping packaging. My Wii U I bought from them was wonderfully packed into a sturdy box and arrived in perfect shape. On the other hand, the sent the NGX wrapped in a white plastic bag with no protection, so one of the corners of the box got a bit crunched and there’s some light dings here and there. Boo. While I’m not as anal a collector as I used to be, I can see some hardcore folks going mildly mad, putting the package into a real box and shipping it back for a refund or replacement. Fortunately, Tommo and SNK went and packed the small suitcase sized box (which is bigger than I thought) like they were shipping a fragile snow globe and the contents inside were perfect.
Two boxes sit inside the bigger outer box (which actually has a handle on it), one has the handheld NEOGEO X system, the charging unit/carrying case, HDMI cable and instruction manual while the other has a big, clicky arcade stick that looks and feels like the original console’s, a standard AV cable, power supply and the bonus Ninja Master’s game card. Yeah, “Master’s” is grammatically incorrect, but that’s how it’s always been spelled (SNK’s arcade games weren’t known for their stellar localizations) and as much as I’d love to change it, I’m leaving it as is. Setting things up is easy as pie, but I wanted to do it right and charge up the handheld fully before hopping into the included games. You need to flip open the charging unit, make sure the X is turned off, slide it into the ports carefully, plug in the AC, close the case and slide the front power switch on.
It’s actually a really cool thing to see the case closed up because it looks like you have a brand new (slightly smaller) NeoGeo in your home. I was initially hoping the X would pop into the cartridge slot and stick out, but this works better because it keeps the unit free from dust and curious folk who might take the thing out when it’s charging up. It takes about two hours or so to get a full charge and the battery life is about four hours. The manual and charger warn you to NOT try and charge the X outside of the base, so I’m not about to try that and potentially fry the thing anytime soon. As I’ve a bigger standard definition TV in the living room, I was thrilled to not need to run out and buy cables (a problem certain other consoles have). Between that and the twenty included games built into the X, this is plug and play gaming at its best. You can be out of the box and gaming on your TV within five minutes tops.
SNK wants you to experience the games as they were originally played at home or in the arcades, so that controller is as important as the system it’s made for. The arcade stick here is fantastic, period. There’s a note in the manual about the ball on the top being glued down instead of removable to eliminate a potential choking hazard, but other than that, the sturdy design and lovely clicking sounds are all intact. If you’re more used to modern analog controls, old-school D-pads (or lawd help you, ONLY touch controls), there’s a possible learning curve that’s going to hit you in the head for a bit. But that’s a great thing, as the different genres represented all make for great practice material. I’ll touch on them in a future post, but for the record, you get 3-Count Bout, Alpha Mission II, Art of Fighting, Baseball Stars 2, Cyber-Lip, Fatal Fury, Fatal Fury Special, King of Fighters ’95, King of the Monsters, Last Resort, League Bowling, Magician Lord, Metal Slug, Mutation Nation, NAM-1975, Puzzled, Real Bout Fatal Fury Special, Samurai Showdown II, Super Sidekicks and World Heroes Perfect FREE and ready to play from a straightforward menu screen.
As for the handheld itself, without a web browser, camera or other functions expected by some techies, I can see some of these folks ripping the X for what it DOESN’T have. However, as a dedicated gaming system, it’s amazing because it sticks to what it NEEDS to do with no frills for the gamer who doesn’t need them. you can choose from the original arcade or widescreen 16:9 views and unlike some emulations of classic games of the era on other platforms, you don’t get a blown out image with blurry text when you play in widescreen mode.Even the ancient sounds from the arcade games is properly replicated, although that’s not a good thing for those expecting higher quality audio. Any voice in the games sounds as if it’s coming from an old radio, but that’s how it was in the arcades, folks. Headphones or earbuds help a lot here, but other than that, the audio is pretty loud for a handheld system.
As for where this handheld fits historically, well… it’s not “competing” with anything else out today, so wasting ink on point by point comparisons with iOS or other technically superior devices is useless. If I HAD to compare it with something, it would be those well-intentioned but lower quality handhelds and retro-themed gaming handhelds and plug ‘n play units that that run 8 and 16-bit carts and/or have in built in software. The X smokes them all thanks to its beautiful design, sturdy construction, and responsive buttons. Before you ask, that disc pad is as loud and satisfyingly clicky as the arcade stick. Between that and a big, shiny SNK logo on the grippy ribbed rubber back, it’s quite clear that SNK/Playmore WANTS people to know what you have in your hands should you take this system on the road, so be warned. You’re going to have someone ask you what you’re playing and I’m betting the company is counting on that word of mouth to drive a few sales their way.
If anyone says there’s no room for dedicated handhelds anymore, I’d say once they give this a try, something’s going to click other than that controller. In closing, while it’s absolutely a niche system in this era of smartphones and download-driven content, the NEOGEO X is still an outstanding product because you can see and feel the quality and care that went into putting it together. SNK has a large enough games library to support the system with releases for a while, but I’d also love to see the possibility of new content as well as users tweaking the handheld to play other games. As always, we shall see… but with something this well made and perfectly priced, I can’t see things going anywhere but up should core gamers give the X the proper respect it deserves.