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Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The 'classic console' market is getting pretty busy right now, what with the NES Classic, SNES Classic and PlayStation Classic sure to keep the tills ticking over this Christmas, and the Mega Drive Mini to look forward to next year. SNK is another company that has entered this niche but profitable arena; earlier this year, we went hands-on with the Japanese version of the Neo Geo Mini, a tiny arcade cabinet-style system which featured 40 classic titles and could plug into your TV for the full console experience.

Strangely, SNK didn't feel that a single Neo Geo Mini unit would be suitable for global consumption and quickly announced that a second machine – with a different software line-up and a modified case design – would be made available to buyers outside of Japan. We've now been able to secure a review unit of this model, and while we'll perhaps stop short of analysing it quite as deeply as we did the Japanese edition, we'll nevertheless aim to tell you if this more readily-obtainable version is worthy of your cold, hard cash.

Neo Geo Mini International Edition Review: The Hardware

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Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

First things first, the international version of the Neo Geo Mini is a slightly different beast when it comes to pure aesthetics. The Japanese model had a bright and eye-catching colour scheme, mixing white, red, blue and black to good effect. It also came with a sticker which could be applied (painstakingly, we might add) to the control panel for an even more appealing look. Compared to this version, the international model is rather dull; the marquee is still blue and has the Neo Geo logo on either side, but the main bodywork is now purely black and white. Why SNK has opted for this more austere colour scheme for the global version is anyone's guess; what makes the choice all the more confusing is the fact that the packaging is much more vibrant and colourful than what the Japanese edition ships in.

It's also worth noting that the control area of the unit has undergone some changes too. The control panel has a different shape (and comes without the option of fitting a sticker) while the shaft of the joystick has a metal cover; on the Japanese version, it is entirely plastic. The final big change is that the blue power LED that sat below the screen on the Japanese model has vanished, and instead the base of the joystick is illuminated to show when the machine is turned on. We have to admit, we vastly prefer this to the Japanese original; it looks seriously cool.

The controllers that are available alongside the system are identical to those that launched in Japan, and connect via the two USB Type-C ports situated on either side of the machine. They're based on the iconic Neo Geo CD pad but the button placement has been changed; it's also worth noting that the directional pad is not micro-switched. This has caused some consternation among hardcore SNK fans and while it's arguably less precise to use (and doesn't feel quite right, either), we can understand why this decision has been made from a production standpoint – the micro-switches inside the original Neo Geo pad didn't have a very long lifespan.

The LCD screen on the console is fantastic and has the exact same 320x224 pixel resolution of the original Neo Geo hardware. As a result, everything looks pin-sharp and there's no unsightly blurring of pixels. Sadly, things aren't quite as appealing when you plug the console into your TV using a HDMI cable (not included in the box, we should add); everything looks soupy and fuzzy, and the optional image enhancement setting simply applies an emulator-style pixel-smoothing filter over the top, which is somehow even worse. From a distance, the Neo Geo Mini doesn't look too bad on your big-screen telly, but it's a real shame that SNK couldn't match the image quality generated by the NES and SNES Classic Editions.

Neo Geo Mini International Edition Review: The Games

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Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Outside of the aforementioned hardware changes, the 40 games that come pre-installed on the console are slightly different on the international version. While the Japanese model was keen to highlight SNK's proud fighting game heritage, this global edition offers a wider selection of genres and is perhaps a more 'balanced' offering, as it doesn't rely so much on you being a rabid fan of one-on-one brawlers.

Here's the complete line-up:

  • 3 Count Bout
  • Art of Fighting
  • Blazing Star
  • Blue’s Journey
  • Crossed Swords
  • Fatal Fury Special
  • Foot Ball Frenzy
  • Garou: Mark of the Wolves
  • Ghost Pilots
  • King of the Monsters
  • King of the Monsters 2
  • Kizuna Encounter: Super Tag Battle
  • Last Resort
  • Magician Lord
  • Metal Slug
  • Metal Slug 2
  • Metal Slug 3
  • Metal Slug 4
  • Metal Slug 5
  • Metal Slug X
  • Mutation Nation
  • Ninja Master’s: Haou Ninpou Chou
  • Puzzled
  • Real Bout: Fatal Fury
  • Robo Army
  • Samurai Shodown II
  • Samurai Shodown IV: Amakusa’s Revenge
  • Samurai Shodown V Special
  • Sengoku 3
  • Shock Troopers
  • Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad
  • Super Sidekicks
  • The King of Fighters ’95
  • The King of Fighters ’97
  • The King of Fighters ’98
  • The King of Fighters 2000
  • The King of Fighters 2002
  • The Last Blade 2
  • Top Player’s Golf
  • World Heroes Perfect

Having the entire Neo Geo Metal Slug series is a massive bonus which will make this particular edition appealing to seasoned SNK fans, and games like Crossed Swords, Robo Army, Magician Lord, Last Resort, Ghost Pilots, Mutation Nation and 3 Count Bout – while not what you'd call essential – offer a much better view of the Neo Geo's library than the fighting-focused Japanese version. Of course, the model you ultimately opt for will be based on your personal taste in games, but it's rather maddening that SNK has given us two different selections. To confuse matters further, a special Christmas edition of the system is also on the way which offers a third line-up of titles, although there is naturally a lot of overlap between all three units.

Neo Geo Mini International Edition Review: The Verdict

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Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

While it may seem like there's little difference between this model and the Japanese original, the revised case design and slightly different software line-up mean that there's actually a lot to mull over before making a purchase. If you're a fan of SNK's fighting games and like your mini-consoles to be bright and colourful, then the Japanese edition is the one to go for. However, if you don't mind a more understated design and want to sample a wider range of genres, this international version is by far the better choice – and you've got the added bonus of being able to order it domestically, too.

Tricky region-based decisions aside, there's no denying that the Neo Geo Mini is something of a rough gem; on the plus side, the LCD screen is fabulous and the selection of games is fantastic, but the quality of the image generated via the HDMI cable is annoyingly poor. It's also a shame that an internal battery wasn't included, as it would make the unit a little more portable. Ultimately, it's not perfect, but we can't help but love this dinky little arcade machine, and if like us, you recall when SNK's prohibitively-expensive console was first released, the prospect of being able to own a mini version with 40 games without having to sell any of your vital organs is something we're not sure we'll ever grow accustomed to.

This article was originally published by on Wed 28th November, 2018.