Best Neo Geo Games
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Released in 1990, SNK's Neo Geo was referred to by some media outlets as the 'Rolls Royce of video gaming'. Compared to rival home formats, it offered the kind of power that people could only dream of, thanks to the fact that SNK used the same base hardware for both its home console variant (the Advanced Entertainment System, or AES for short) and its arcade sibling (the Multi-Video System, or MVS).

The upshot was that the domestic versions of Neo Geo games were identical the those you'd see in the arcade; there was no 'conversion' process here; you got arcade-perfect software in your living room. The obvious downside to this is that each game cost an astronomical amount of money compared to those on the Mega Drive, SNES or PC Engine. Owning a Neo Geo required a lot of cash and was a sign that you were part of the true gaming elite.

Neo Geo
The stuff of a madman's dreams. The Neo Geo AES in all its glory — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Despite the fact that Neo Geo games are available on a wide range of modern-day systems – including the Switch and PS4 – the market for the original hardware and software remains buoyant. If you're looking to start your own Neo Geo collection, be aware that the AES and MVS units are not compatible with one another. AES has fewer games, and they tend to be more expensive, while MVS titles require special 'consolised' hardware to run on. Alternatively, you can pick up the Neo Geo CD, which benefits from a couple of nice exclusives but mainly runs a cut-down selection of AES/MVS games using cheaper compact discs.

What are the best games on Neo Geo?

Our list features a selection of must-have Neo Geo titles across both AES and MVS. These aren't presented in any order, and we've tried as hard as we can to include a wide range of genres – although, as you'd expect, there are a lot of one-on-one fighters listed, as the console was famous for that particular genre.

Think we got something wrong? Take to the comments section and tell us what titles you would have included.

The King of Fighters '98 (Neo Geo)

Alongside Fatal Fury, Samurai Shodown and Art of Fighting, The King of Fighters has to rank as one of SNK's most beloved fighting game series. It began life on the Neo Geo with King of Fighters '94, and the series continues to get new entries, even up to the present day. However, when you're talking purely about the Neo Geo outings, you'll have to go a long way to beat King of Fighters '98. Effectively a 'greatest hits' release, it contains loads of characters from previous titles and boasts a brilliantly balanced combat system. Subsequent Neo Geo instalments are certainly worth a look too, but this is the one you probably want to pick first.

Blazing Star (Neo Geo)

How do you possibly follow up Pulstar, one of the best shooters on the Neo Geo? Well, developer Yumekobo (formerly known as Aicom) pulled it off with Blazing Star, which takes the same CGI-led visual approach but dials the action up a notch. Everything about this game screams excess; the graphics are intense and eye-catching, while the audio is constantly fighting for your attention – the high-pitched voice-over can actually get a little annoying, in fact. Overall, however, this is one of the best shmups on the console – and perhaps even one of the most notable of the '90s in general.

Neo Turf Masters (Neo Geo)

Arcade golf games have to tread a fine line between realism and quick-fire appeal, and Neo Turf Masters is arguably one of the best examples of the genre. Big, bold visuals combine with instantly accessible gameplay to create one of the most memorable representations of the sport ever to grace a gaming platform; it's utterly infectious and will hold your attention for a long time, even if you're not a fan of golf in general. A pint-sized Neo Geo Pocket Color version was released a few years later and is equally essential.

Garou: Mark of the Wolves (Neo Geo)

Technically part of the Fatal Fury series (it's even called Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves in some cases), Garou is considered by many SNK fans to be the absolute pinnacle of the developer's powers in the one-on-one fighting arena. Featuring silky-smooth animation, bold sprites, excellent music and a deep and rewarding game engine, this is a true legend of the genre – hence the fact it has been re-released on multiple systems since it hit the Neo Geo all those years ago. If you're a fan of this style of game, then chances are you already own Garou and don't need to be educated on its brilliance.

Metal Slug 3 (Neo Geo)

Metal Slug is one of those series which is practically synonymous with the Neo Geo; the system is home to five mainline entries, all of which are worth a look (although some are better than others). Picking the 'best' one is tricky, but we'd argue that Metal Slug 3 is perhaps the best one to start with if you're a newcomer; it feels like SNK at the height of its powers, offering a run-and-gun experience which is unmatched on any other platform. Metal Slug's trademark sense of humour is also in abundance here; expect to have a big, broad smile on your face as you blast your way through each level.

Pulstar (Neo Geo)

Developed by Aicom, which would later create the equally amazing Blazing Star, Pulstar is often compared to Irem's R-Type – which shouldn't be all that surprising when you consider that Aicom was formed by former Irem staffers. Its CGI visuals are unique and well-animated, and the difficulty level is stern enough to keep you hooked for prolonged periods. The music, too, is notable; it was composed by former Capcom staffers Harumi Fujita and Yasuaki Fujita. While its successor Blazing Star would offer a more intense experience, Pulstar is equally as worthy of your time and attention.

Twinkle Star Sprites (Neo Geo)

A unique combination of puzzle game and competitive shooter, Twinkle Star Sprites sees you clearing the screen of enemies, which, in turn, creates hazards on your opponent's side of the screen. The gameplay is wonderfully nuanced and will keep you busy for some time in the single-player mode – but, once you get another person involved, Twinkle Star Sprites becomes one of those essential social gaming experiences which take over your life. A must-have if you enjoy two-player titles.

Shock Troopers (Neo Geo)

A top-down run-and-gun shooter with gorgeous 2D visuals, Shock Troopers is a must for fans of Commando or MERCS. The action is relentless and the challenge steep, but hook in a second player, and you've got one of the most intensely enjoyable co-op experiences on the system. A sequel, Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad, also arrived on the Neo Geo and is worth a look – but its CGI visuals aren't quite as charming as the hand-drawn graphics in the original.

Nightmare In The Dark (Neo Geo)

Nightmare In The Dark was a relatively late release for the Neo Geo MVS (no AES version exists), hitting arcades in 2000. Because of this, it's gone down as something of a hidden gem in the system's library; it plays like a single-screen Bubble Bobble clone, albeit one with a rather spooky setting. You take down enemies by hitting them with fireballs from your lamp; hit them enough, and they will turn into a giant fireball which can be used to destroy other foes. The visuals and music are utterly fantastic, making this a title you should seek out as soon as possible.

Last Resort (Neo Geo)

An early attempt at a horizontally-scrolling shmup for the Neo Geo, Last Resort is perhaps best known for its dark and foreboding presentation (comparisons to the anime movie Akira have been made), but it has killer gameplay to match. Taking inspiration from Irem's seminal R-Type, Last Resort features a drone which operates very much like the Force Pod from Irem's aforementioned classic. Tight controls and a welcome challenge make this another essential Neo Geo shmup.