Neo Geo Mini Samurai Shodown
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

You might think that Nintendo has embraced the 'Classic Mini' craze with gusto thanks to its NES and SNES Classic Editions, but the company's efforts in this field pale in comparison to that of SNK, which has been pumping out miniature hardware with extreme prejudice for the past year or so. First, we had the Neo Geo Mini – available in both Japanese and international variants that featured different case designs and software line-ups – and then, for Christmas last year, the company released a third (mostly revolting) variant with a festive theme.

Now, to coincide with the release of the latest Samurai Shodown game (which is rather good and is coming to Switch later this year), SNK has produced three new models, each of which takes inspiration from one of the franchise's most iconic characters. We've got Haohmaru (White), Nakoruru (Red), and Ukyo Tachibana (Blue), and each one is limited to just 20,000 units. They all come with two controllers, a HDMI cable, a USB-C power cable, an 'anti-slip' cushion and a shiny limited edition collector's card. You also get two marquee stickers and a sticker which can be applied to the console's control panel.

Like the units that have gone before, the machine comes pre-loaded with 40 games, with the Samurai Shodown series being the obvious focus. All five (well, six if you included the revised fifth game) titles that were released on the Neo Geo hardware are present and correct, and because they're based on the Japanese versions, all that lovely gore remains in place.

Here's the complete list of games:

  • Aggressors of Dark Kombat
  • Alpha Mission II
  • Art of Fighting
  • Blazing Star
  • Blue’s Journey
  • Burning Fight
  • Cyber-Lip
  • Fatal Fury: King of Fighters
  • Fatal Fury 2
  • Garou: Mark of the Wolves
  • The King of Fighters ’97
  • The King of Fighters ’98
  • The King of Fighters ’99
  • King of the Monsters 2
  • Kizuna Encounter
  • The Last Blade 2
  • League Bowling
  • Magician Lord
  • Metal Slug
  • Metal Slug 2
  • Metal Slug 3
  • Ninja Commando
  • Ninja Master’s
  • Real Bout Fatal Fury Special
  • Real Bout Fatal Fury 2: The Newcomers
  • Robo Army
  • Samurai Shodown
  • Samurai Shodown II
  • Samurai Shodown III: Blades of Blood
  • Samurai Shodown IV: Amakusa’s Revenge
  • Samurai Shodown V
  • Samurai Shodown V Special
  • Sengoku 3
  • Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad
  • Soccer Brawl
  • Super Sidekicks
  • Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy
  • Top Player’s Golf
  • Twinkle Star Sprites
  • World Heroes Perfect

There's clearly a massive amount of overlap with the exiting Neo Geo Mini models here, so if you already own one then chances are you'll feel little compulsion to invest in this more expensive variant – unless you're a hardcore SNK fan, of course. It's a massive shame that SNK didn't find a way of including Samurai Shodown RPG; while it was only available on the Neo Geo CD and never received a western localisation, it would have made this a much more essential purchase for fans of the series.

There's a slightly different menu design but from a performance perspective, things remain very much the same as they were with the other models. The unit's LCD screen is fantastic, matching the resolution of the original Neo Geo hardware perfectly. It's bright, colourful and doesn't suffer from motion blur, and is effortlessly the best way to play these titles. Plug the unit into a TV via the HDMI cable and things take a nosedive; the picture is fuzzy and ill-defined, falling way short of the pin-sharp quality we're used to with Nintendo's Classic Edition range.

The Neo Geo Mini's stick is also a bone of contention; it's not micro-switched and feels almost like an analogue stick. Micro-switched sticks are more prone to failure so, in one way, SNK has done us all a favour by giving us an interface that isn't going to die after a few years. But, on the other hand, the stick just doesn't feel as precise, especially when playing games like Metal Slug which require pinpoint accuracy. The same is to be said of the two controllers which are included in the box; while they're based on the iconic Neo Geo CD pads from back in the day, the controller again isn't micro-switched like it was on those (admittedly failure-prone) units. Because of the flat, D-pad-like design, it's even harder to use than the stick on the main unit itself. It's possible to get by once you get used to it, but there's no denying it's a step down from the feel of the real thing.

Despite all of this, we can't help but warm to this little piece of hardware. It's less a console and more an objet d'art; something that looks amazing on a shelf and has the added bonus of containing 40 different games you can (occasionally) play for a bit of fun. Does that mean it's worth splashing upwards of $139 on? Probably not. But you'll want to all the same.

This article was originally published by on Fri 2nd August, 2019.