We’ve had a few superfans on our blog and rightly so. People like Roberth (Jag superfan) and Rob (Moonstone Tavern creator) have given us lots of vital info and support. This guy is no different. We’ve been friends on Twitter for a while but it’s great to finally tap into his NEO-GEO knowledge and quiz him about his collaboration with Bitmap Books. So I present to you Adrian’s chat with NEO-GEO megafan Frazer, aka NeoGeoCollector! You can also have a chat with him on Twitter here.
Can you give our readers a quick background of your gaming history and why gaming is such an important aspect of your life?
My gaming history really started in the late 80’s when my parents bought me a second hand Atari 800XL for Christmas. I’d played games prior to this on the BBC Micro and ZX Spectrum but it was the Atari which was my first system. I was fortunate that the system came with several cartridges, tapes and 5 1/4 inch discs. I was able to immerse myself in games like IK+, Pole Position, Summer Games, Drop Zone and Green Beret. I genuinely spent hours on that machine and I guess it cemented my interested and enjoyment with gaming ever since. Gaming is just a wonderful escape and that’s just as true today as it was back then.
When the 16-bit era arrived I sold on the 800XL and stuck with Atari and bought an Atari STE Turbo Pack. It was around this time we started to see the 16-bit consoles being reviewed in the gaming magazines and being an avid reader of CVG, I was drawn to the early previews of Japanese import machines and particularly the NEO-GEO.
Do you remember the first time you played a NEO-GEO console and were you instantly impressed?
I played a NEO-GEO electrocoin arcade machine before I had the opportunity to play the home system. The first time I actually saw a home system was in a video game store in North West France whilst on holiday. Having read the reviews and seen the graphics, which were in a different league from other machines of the time, I just had to own one.
When did you first get the opportunity to own this powerful beast of a console and do you feel the high price was the main reason the NEO-GEO never truly competed with the likes of the SNES and Mega Drive?
Having set my sights on owning a NEO-GEO it actually took a while to achieve that goal. I was working a summer job and saving every penny towards buying one. I became more and more obsessed about the system and bought pretty much any magazine with a review or preview of SNK games. I even contemplated buying a memory card just to own a piece of this system. The NEO-GEO was significantly more expensive than other consoles of the time but I was really lucky. I’d saved around £200 and my dad spotted a second hand system for sale in the local paper. He picked me up from work and we went to go and see it. My dad didn’t let on till we got there the reason for the diversion but on arrival it was a PAL system with two games and he loaned me the extra £100 that I needed. A NEO-GEO, 2 games, and additional controller and a memory card for £300! I was over the moon.
By comparison a Super Nintendo and Megadrive in the UK were available for around the £120 mark for the console but the games had started to rise in price. New Super Nintendo releases started to hit the £59.99 mark and in the case of Street Fighter 2, this was £64.99 for the UK release (even more on import). The first releases for the NEO-GEO retailed at a whopping £200, but by 1991/early 1992 we saw a reduction in prices which coincided with a price drop in Japan. This saw the original title lineup drop to around £60 per game, rising to £85 for games that were 6 months old. This price point wasn’t too dissimilar from the latest Super Nintendo releases. However, new titles still commanded £120-140 and in the case of Viewpoint a whopping £225. Sadly because of the original price point and the fact that gamers wanted to play new releases not older titles, the cost was just too far out of reach for the vast majority of gamers. As a result the NEO-GEO ended up being a system that most gamers had heard of but few actually experienced.
What was the game that caught your attention during your early years?
Before owning the machine I really wanted NAM-1975 and Baseball Stars from the early titles but in late 91 we saw the release of Robo Army and Fatal Fury and SNK really cranked the games up a notch. Those two games looked streets apart from anything on other home consoles and ended up being the first two games I ever owned as they came with the second hand machine I bought.
At the time when SNK debuted the NEO-GEO AES, what made you say to yourself that the unit had to be in your possession?
For me the early 90’s were the best years in gaming (agreed – Ed), the number of systems coming on to the market was phenomenal, every month there seemed to be something new. When the NEO-GEO appeared on the scene, the initial game reviews were poor. Sadly, many of the magazines of the time couldn’t see beyond the price tag of the software. The sheer fact the system provided the arcade experience at home was however the big draw and it wasn’t long before a second wave of releases started to demonstrate the system’s power and I just had to own one.
We are huge SNK fans here at Arcade Attack and their life as a business has been bumpy to say the least! How did you feel when SNK was close to bankruptcy and did you ever dream they could come back so strong?
No doubt SNK went through a troubled time, filing for bankruptcy and putting its IP up for sale in 2001 was sad to see but the buy-back by Kawasaki through Playmore was a wise move. He certainly saw the value in those assets and so does the current parent company who have gone into overdrive when it comes to licensing and generating revenue from merchandise. Thankfully SNK seem to have retained a focus on gaming as well releasing their back catalog and developing new titles, it’s genuinely good to see SNK doing well again.
Why do think SNK has now become so big again and what are your personal views of their latest titles?
I see the growth of SNK in recent years down to making the best use of their extensive history and IP. In January this year, Hamster Corporation announced that their combined worldwide sales for all the ACA NEO-GEO games exceeded one million. That is absolutely staggering given some of the original NEO-GEO cartridges on the home console had a production run of 500-1000 copies. What was once a niche gaming company is now accessible to many more gamers worldwide. With regards to the latest titles, I must confess my ‘modern’ gaming only extends up to Dreamcast era however the release of the new Samurai Spirits next year on the PS4 has certainly grabbed my attention and I’m looking forward to seeing that in action.
Do you think there is room for a new NEO-GEO console on the market?
I honestly don’t think that’s viable. The whole concept of the NEO-GEO was that it was streets ahead of the competition, it was also about the size of the cartridges, the joypads, the meg count. A new NEO-GEO console would need to replicate that with specs that are far in advance of the competition, meg counts don’t really mean anything and there’s no need to have physical games anymore (sad I know) so I just don’t think it’s realistic.
NEO-GEO: A Visual History is absolutely a thumping good read for veterans and newcomers alike Frazer. You’re assistance with Bitmap Books regarding it was extensive and well thought out. How did this venture come about between you two and how did SNK acknowledge you to participate to make it a reality?
Thank you, I’m glad you liked the Visual History book. A lot of effort went into creating it and it’s exceeded all our expectations. Working with Sam Dyer at Bitmap Books on the visual history was a pleasure. The book came about as a result of purchasing Super Famicom: The Box Art Collection. I really enjoyed that book and thought this is something which could be replicated with the NEO-GEO. I had amassed a complete Japanese NEO-GEO collection by this point so I emailed Sam in June 2016, he got back in touch straight away and it started from there. The initial plan was to replicate the Super Famicom book but then we started to add more content and the scope of the book increased. We also brought on board NEO-GEO fans Massimiliano Macri and Brian Hargrove to the team. At this point having the book officially licensed by SNK seemed the best approach and meant we could have access to their achieves. SNK were very complimentary about the book and described it the perfect portfolio for their gaming history.
What are your top 3 NEO-GEO games of all time and why?
My favourite games on systems shift a lot, ask me again in 12 months and I’ll have probably changed my mind but at present i’d say Metal Slug 3, King of Fighters 98 and Nam 1975. Slug 3 because the level of detail and effort that went into that game is just incredible, all the different routes, the variety of stages. That game pushed the system to its absolute limit and it’s just sheer class from start to finish. There’s just so many fighters to choose from and games like Last Blade, Mark of the Wolves and Samurai Spirits are exceptional but it’s King of Fighters 98 that I often return to. I think its the best of the series and it was the fighting game I really wanted to own back in the day. Finally Nam-1975, the first game on the NEO-GEO, NGH001 would be in my third choice. I think it still plays well to this day and its a good blast as a single player and even better in 2P mode. I suspect it’s partly nostalgia but it’s a classic and will always be a firm favourite of mine.
A number of games were never completed for the NEO-GEO. Which of these titles which were in development would you have loved to see completed?
For a number of reasons some games never made it. I guess some titles just didn’t test well. I’d like to see Fun Fun Brothers, Sunshine (Block Paradise) and especially Last Odyssey for the fact it would have been the only pinball game on the system. Certainly the roms exist for these titles and perhaps one day we’ll see those made available. The one title which we know was started but never completed is Mark of the Wolves 2. I’m sure all NEO-GEO fans would love to see that completed someday.
Have you ever wished to create your own NEO-GEO game, and if so, can you describe your ideas below?
I’ve never really had a desire to create a NEO-GEO game personally but its a shame SNK didn’t develop another driving game. Following Riding Hero and Thrash Rally, the home system only saw Overtop which is a shame. I’d have loved to have seen an Outrun/Chase HQ style racer on the system (so would we! – Ed).
Your NEO-GEO collection is truly amazing. How did you acquire so much retro gaming goodness and how close are you to a complete NEO-GEO set?
I’ve sold a couple of NEO-GEO collections in my time. The first in 1994 when I was expecting the CD console to be the nail in the coffin for the cartridge system (how wrong I was…), then again in 2002 when I sold a large English collection to buy an apartment but I held onto to around 15 of my games and then slowly but surely started to buy games back, this time Japanese releases. Most of my current collection was bought in 2005-2007, a few trips to Japan certainly helped and compared to current prices the games weren’t that expensive. That said, I’ve certainly gone without in order to buy games but I think that’s the same for any collector who is keen to acquire games they have been searching for. I completed the full Japanese set in 2008, the last game I needed was Overtop. Since then I’ve been picking up flyers, NEO-GEO club magazines and other SNK collectibles, many of which appear in the NEO-GEO book.
What is the rarest/most expensive game you have for it?
I would say the rarest game in the collection is possibly Chibi Maruko-chan Deluxe Quiz which was a Japanese only release in 1995. It’s exceptionally hard to find given most NEO-GEO owners opted to buy other titles around that time, notably the latest King of Fighters. The most expensive is probably is the original Metal Slug. Whilst not the rarest, the popularity of this game means its always in demand by collectors worldwide.
Apart from the NEO-GEO do you collect for any other consoles and if so, which games and other consoles are close to your heart?
I collect for and play a range of consoles mostly from the 80’s and 90’s. I find the obscure consoles the most interesting, everything from the PC-FX to N64DD. I’ve a fairly substantial FM Towns collection which is probably my second favourite after the NEO-GEO and I’ve recently started to build a Pioneer Laseractive collection. I would say I own around 50 consoles and over 1000 games currently. At some point i’d like to open a retro video game exhibition to display it so I can share it (we’re there! – Ed).
When you think of NEO-GEO, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
I think of an exciting time in the early 90s when a ‘wonder console’ from Japan was going to be released meaning arcade graphics at home! Talking about the NEO-GEO console with friends and boring my parents thoroughly and reading and re-reading game reviews and searching for any news on the console and games. An all too brief period but i’m glad its something I experienced.
Are you working on any projects currently?
I’m supporting a couple of exciting projects at present. I can’t say what those are right now but safe to say that SNK and NEO-GEO fans will have plenty to look forward to in 2019! (better get following him on Twitter then – Ed)
If you could share a few drinks with a video game character who would you choose and why?
Ha good question, well it would be too obvious to pick Terry or Andy Bogard so how about Silver and Brown from Nam 1975, to hear their tales of defeating Dr. R Muckly over a beer or two!
Adrian and Anthony