As the gaming public's appetite for retro gaming has grown over the past few years, so too has the market for associated items which make the process of playing vintage games that bit easier. Modern systems are packed with downloadable retro titles that have been lovingly emulated for a new generation to enjoy, and we've seen the likes of the SNES Classic and Mega Drive Ultimate Portable arrive on the market, pre-loaded with some of the best games of their respective eras. However, for those purists out there who crave the authentic experience of original hardware, a flood of flash carts have appeared which allow you to play ROM images on your dusty old NES, SNES, Mega Drive and pretty much every other major console in existence.
Flash carts remain a grey area, despite the fact that many of the machines they're produced for have ceased to be commercial concerns for platform holders or developers. We've discussed the positives and negatives of such carts in the past, so we'll avoid needlessly repeating ourselves as much as possible; suffice to say, with every flash cart there comes the issue of piracy. While they allow you to enjoy a great many titles which are no longer available commercially for whatever reason, they also permit you access to titles which are still in circulation, either in re-issued form or as digital downloads.
Throughout the history of flash carts we've seen the major systems covered, and many of these – including the NES and SNES – have libraries that are either relatively cheap to purchase on the second hand market (with some notable exceptions) or are still actively being monetised via the likes of the Virtual Console platform on Wii U and 3DS. The rapidly-expanding nature of the retro gaming sector means that even niche systems are getting these carts; recently, a one-man operation in the UK produced the superb Neo Geo Pocket SD cartridge for SNK's massively underrated handheld rival to the Game Boy Color. Keeping with the SNK theme, Spanish firm Terraonion has created a flash cartridge for the legendary Neo Geo arcade and home video game system – and as you've probably gathered from the title of this feature, that's our main focus here.
The NeoSD – which comes in MVS (arcade) and AES (home) flavours – is noteworthy for several reasons. Firstly, there hasn't been a proper flash cart for the console so far (although bootleg multi-carts have existed for a while, but these are known to damage hardware in the long term) so this is a welcome development. Secondly, the extortionate cost of Neo Geo ownership means that this is perhaps the ideal console for such a product, especially if you're collecting the domestic AES variant of the machine. Popular titles such as the iconic Metal Slug cost many, many times more in their AES guise than they do in the arcade MVS form, despite being practically identical in terms of code. Even at the time of release AES games cost between £150-£200 each, and while the passage of time has resulted in low-cost second hand titles, many have become even more valuable due to the small print runs associated with AES software. Even on the MVS side of things, prices are still quite high.
Taking all of this into account, it's obvious why the NeoSD has caused such a splash amongst the Neo Geo community; while hardcore collectors will accept nothing but the original games – and are prepared to sell their vital organs to procure them – the more "casual" fans will no doubt see the benefit of having every single Neo Geo game on a single cartridge; even for the asking price of around $500, it's considerably cheaper than buying a complete library and means there are less boxes to store (Neo Geo games come in cases that are the size of an average hardback book). Not only do you avoid having to take out a second mortgage to afford your next game, you still get the benefit of playing on original hardware.
The NeoSD's appeal is increased by the fact that it's a breeze to use; you simply convert ROM images to a ".neo" format using the application supplied by the NeoSD team and load them onto a FAT32-formatted MicroSD card before inserting it into the cartridge. Booting up by holding the Start button gives you a complete list of the games, and pressing A transfers the game to the cartridge's 768 Mbits of flash memory, which is enough to hold the largest officially-released titles with a little bit of space left over for system software. The flashing process depends on the size of the ROM and the speed of the MicroSD card you're using, with some of the later (and larger) titles taking a few minutes to fully load. Once a game is flashed to memory, it will load instantly the next time you switch on your console, just like a real AES cart. To access the game list again, you hold down Start when booting up or hold Start + A + D for around 3 to 5 seconds when the machine is running.
The NeoSD's internal hardware – which is comprised of an ARM Cortex M4 and two Lattice XP2 FPGA chips – means that this is a powerful and reliable setup which won't damage your precious hardware in the same way some other flash carts can. The cart also allows you to switch the game region without tinkering with the BIOS, and it also accepts Neo Geo CD exclusive ROMs, such as Ironclad and Crossed Swords 2.
In short, it's a remarkable piece of kit and one that hasn't left our AES console since it arrived in the Nintendo Life office. Yet it leaves us in a rather sticky moral position, especially as we're all passionate supporters of the Switch. Japanese firm Hamster is slowly but surely working its way through the Neo Geo library with its Arcade Archives range, and since launch has populated the Switch eShop with classics such as King of Fighters '98, Samurai Shodown, Blazing Star, The Last Blade and Garou: Mark of the Wolves, to name but a few. We've gleefully snapped up the majority of these titles, all of which can be purchased for a tiny, almost insignificant fraction of what real AES and MVS cartridges exchange hands for on the secondary market. Surely, purchasing a device like the NeoSD and using it to play ROMs is like a slap in the face to companies like Hamster (and, by association, SNK itself), which are doing their utmost to ensure that these classic games remain playable for years to come, and can be purchased legally so that their creators benefit in monetary terms?
We're not here to lay own any moral or ethical guilt-trips, but in speaking from a purely personal perspective, the arrival of the NeoSD hasn't dampened our enthusiasm for Hamster's ACA Neo Geo range on Switch; far from it. In fact, having played some games on the NeoSD that we'd never experienced before, we've duly go on to buy the Switch version also. And besides, having purchased titles like Metal Slug and King of Fighters several times over on several different systems over the past few decades, we're not going to ignore the wealth of options now that the NeoSD is here; Neo Geo games on Switch offer a massive benefit as they're portable and can be played anywhere; they also come with new features such as high score tables and challenge modes. Perhaps most importantly of all, the Switch allows these games to become multiplayer attractions when you're out of the house; it's like having your own personal arcade you can take with you anywhere.
The NeoSD may stop us from needlessly filling up our cupboards with AES cartridges – the purchase of which only benefits the current owner, as SNK sees no monetary reward on second-hand sales – but it won't stop us from seeking out Neo Geo games on other systems, especially – as in the case of the Switch – when they offer a more convenient, connected way to play.
Thanks to Stone Age Gamer for supplying the NeoSD cartridge used in this feature.
This article was originally published by nintendolife.com on Fri 5th January, 2018.
I'd still stick with switch. More convenient.
Flash carts are cool but buying the system, the cart, setting it all up and having yet another box sitting by my TV isn't worth the hassle imo.
It's fun to look back at that machine today though. When I was in elementary school we all had the SNES and the Neo Geo was for the 1 rich kid in class. I guess it could kind of be compared to kids with the XBONE X today.
I mean, I would love to have this. But you'd need a NeoGeo first. Not to mention there are hundreds of other ways to easily access NeoGeo games if you really wanted to. I think Hamster will be fine.
Although that does bring up another issue I've thought of... Are NeoGeo compilations done for? I had Samurai Showdown and Metal Slug comps on my Wii that were pretty good, both released for relatively cheap when you compare it to buying Hamster ports individually. But I can't see those ever coming to the Switch now, which is unfortunate.
I see the benefit of the cart being an MVS owner myself. I also see that this doesn't threaten the Switch's Neo library in the least bit so long as portability is considered. From the Switch's launch, $7 a game was and still is highly acceptable in my world considering how many years I've syphoned off SNK's great library without investing like so many hardcore fans.
Overall, this is great for many whom want that arcade experience on a RGB CRT .
It might not beat the experience of playing them on original hardware but the portability factor Switch offers as well as the various options Hamster include with their ports means if I had the choice, I'd choose Switch any day.
I've never liked the button layout of the joysticks. I managed to find one of the Neo Geo CD controllers when I had my system. These days I'll stick to my Switch.
The NeoGeo ports on Switch are still better, you get them cheap and legit with more features plus the portability aspect for under $9 each. Unless you're a die hard collector, still owned a NeoGeo AES or MVS machine and got more money to waste, these flash cartridge are good alternatives.
as much as i would love to own a Neo Geo, they cost like £800 for used ones. Collectors items now i believe.
@Razer You can get one for less than half of that. They're not as expensive as you would imagine.
Still buying this and a NEO GEO. I'm loving the games on the switch but I still want to own the hardware.
This sites is promoting yet another device that is used purely for pirating IP's.
Or you know, the Wii did get a couple of decent Neo Geo collections (Couple more if you include the PS2/PSP collections).
@Angelic_Lapras_King - Those Wii/PS2/PSP collections sound nice, but have serious emulation glitches and sound issues.
Too tempting to buy this and a Neo Geo. I guess Nintendo UK are ok with NintendoLife promoting the use of ROMs and backup devices? Will download ROMs on a PC emulator from now onwards. No need for a Virtual Console on Switch.
What a cool thing imo.
And, pretending for a moment that my fantasy idea of the SNES Mini having a working cartridge slot (even a mini one) was actually a reality, Nintendo could have released a small set of multi-game cartridges like this down the line for the SNES Mini, with say 20-50 games on each cart, that ultimately could have contained basically the entire SNES library across the set (where possible), which I think would have been awesome.
Note: The reason I talk about this option rather than just allowing people do download more games to the SNES Mini from some eShop or whatever is because I'm thinking of a solution that's as clean and simple as it was back in the day, without the need for setting up online shopping accounts, probably having to agree to very restrictive EULAs (which would likely say you don't even own the digital versions of the games and Nintendo could take them away at any time), and all that rubbish.
But hey, I just keep coming up with cool ideas--and nobody listens. lol
@impurekind Aw, you poor man. I'll give you a like for some moral support, hope that stops the bleeding...
@retro_player_22 Better is arguable, especially if the ROMs are running on original hardware. I would agree that the newer versions have more/better features, which are more suited for today's gamer.
I still have my NEOGEO home cart, but the Arcade Archives deliver clean HDMI output, which is friendlier for my recording purposes. Even if I could splurge for the cart, $500 actually more than covers the probable full roster of ACA NEOGEO games (including the ones I don't like). So there'd be no point.
If you have an MVS cabinet, maybe. But one could put their consoles into an arcade cabinet if they really wanted to. And it's worse starting from scratch.
The better option is already here if you're willing to wait.
As one with an actual Neo Geo cabinet I've been tempted, and there's another (currently proto and buggy as hell) coming too. The Terraonion (NeoSD) crew is very open about much of their process and development of that kit and the quality is top notch.
One correction I think is fair, the coding in a MVS or AES game yous aid are almost the same, no they are the same. You can buy converters for the AES that allow MVS games to run. They re-pinned the boards just (crudely put) like the Famicom where you went from a 60pin to a NES 72pin array. The ROMS (game) are identical, but the boards pins are different so back in the say SNK could hammer arcade operators for hundreds of dollars more over the price of the AES version.
I don't have an issue using ROMs, never really have unless they're brand new games and you're just being a punk effing thief. As it is now, if you're going to buy them in the original format for either hardware most the games are very prohibitively expensive in that $50-300~ range (and a few up) on MVS, and the AES stuff can be even lower for the most common, but up to like 10K for the holiest of rares for the format. The nauseatingly cute bit is that it kind of goes both ways (Magician Lord/NAM are cheaper on AES than MVS) but Metal Slug and Neo Turf Masters are cheap on MVS and they're into the thousands and up club on that one so they hurt the worst. (Probably why so many consolized single slot MVS machines exist for home now.)
If you're using ROMS fine, just don't use them as an excuse to be a thieving douche and not support the game on Switch, PS4, Humble Bundle (I got the 21 pack years ago there) or on GOG (or Steam) now too, or whatever else. Throw SNK (and Hamster) a little coin for their work, but totally choose to pay a board seller a crap load of money game after game, or just buy the $400 kit and be done with it.
Really cool article and device! NeoGeo is one of those systems that is way too expensive to collect for so I am so happy that hamster is putting games on the switch. With the RAP V and ACA you get pretty close to having an authentic MVS experience on the Switch, but this product now makes playing on the original hardware economically feasible for more people.
I would love to be excited for this, but the collector in me will not allow it. I already have a pretty good collection of AES and MVS cartridges. There is no stopping me now except my bank account.
I'm a huge fan of flashcarts and have lots of the Everdrives, but I don't have any nostalgia for the Neo Geo and its games and this doesn't change that. My bank account is happy! This is great news for Neo Geo collectors out there though, or those with the consoles but not many games. I know how liberating these flash carts can be.
@GravyThief Same page here, though more of a dragged kicking feeling to it. I can no longer support blowing money on crooks who jump into the gaming hobby just to speculate and price wreck it like some oil or stock trading commodity. Which in itself is asinine since oil is kind of a necessity and little to supplement it currently in many respects(outside fuel.) Games though, paying up $50 or $1000 or even $10K for an old board, a pretty sticker, and a hunk of plastic is dumb. Flash kits, emulators, hybird cart using emulator boxes, android emulation, whatever ...you pay a few bucks for an adapter or a 1:1 quality thing (like buffalo SNES controller for PC) and you're on the nose.
I'm up to a Super ED+DSP, Everdrive GB, I have an Everdrive N8 in the mail, and have the NGPC Kit from retroHQ too. I'm done feeding punk scalpers and wish more would do the same to cause the mess to implode as the collectard types eat themselves alive until the bottom drops out like other historical similar antics.
Also the kits allow at times for instant classic game shark/genie/action replay codes, sometimes load/save state stuff too. They're really quite practical and still a 1:1 play on real parts.
Sorry, but I think this piece is not very good.
You fail to understand that these flashcarts are made to ensure preservation of your own collection and their convenience comes from not having to handle your carts all the time.
They're not made with the intention of piracy, so you shouldn't have any moral issues in the first place.
Second, the whole point of playing in original hardware is outputting to a CRT with RGB, the setup on the video is just preposterous, widescreen? Seriously?
That's no different than just emulating it on whatever toaster you have around, it makes the illusion of original hardware with flashcarts even more ridiculous.
Even the slightest suggestion of the $1000+ setup required to properly output AES hardware to an HD TV with a flashcart conflicting in any way with the Switch releases cracks me up.
I use an R4 card on my DS to play ZX Spectrum games and it's all kinds of awesome!
@ThanosReXXX Cheers--I'll take it.
@impurekind Good man.
And a Happy New Year...
@tanookisuit I've got all the Nintendo ones (incl. the Game Boy ones, and SD2SNES rather than the Super ED), and they've been a revelation. I've got Jap consoles so I get full NTSC 60hz gameplay, and just play the US ROMs from them. Much better than spending £1,000's on inferior PAL carts.
I actually like the fact that the NES/SNES ones aren't 100% compatible either. It means I've still had to buy a few carts for those games that I want to play, like the FX chip games on the SNES or the NES games with audio chips like the Jap version of Castlevania 3. I scratch that collecting itch but in the most efficient way possible. And I get to enjoy the games, which ultimately is what it's all about. Playing Conker on the N64 a few months ago without having to pay £150+ was joy.
@GravyThief I pity your market ever having to tolerate PAL. Good on you righting a long bit of suffering that way. None of the Everdrives are 100%. The NES (N8) can do the US stuff fine licensed and unlicensed too far as I can recall, but there are dozens of screwball Japanese mappers that are partial or totally not there. SNES that one is a mess, Everdrive or his SD2SNES they can only handle a few special chips (ED just DSP if installed) and SD2SnES is ED+C4(MMX 2 and 3 only.) Neither handle the very best 1st party releases the SA1(SMRPG, 2 Kirby games, Parodius 3), no FX (Starfox1+2, Yoshi's Island, Doom etc), no SDD1 (SF Alpha 2 or Star Ocean) stuff like that. But either will run all the non-chipped games which is like 95+% of the library.
I just wish my N8 would arrive, and I could get the funds collected and transferred to my card (due to no paypal option) as I'm getting a Terraonion Super SD 3 kit for a Core Grafx 2 console so I can do all those nice TG16 games/CDs I once had and then some.
@Parfait You're absolutely right, the suggestion that someone would buy a $400 NeoGeo and a $500 EverDrive, just to pirate games and avoid paying $7 for a NeoGeo port on Switch is beyond hilarious.
I really don’t think there is a piracy issue, it’s not illegal to sell or buy flash carts and it only potentially becomes illegal if you download ROMS of games you don’t already own the physical cartridges for, and nobody does that right?.....right?
Considering how expensive and rare the original hardware is I doubt anyone besides the kind of serious collectors who already have one will care.
@Amsterdamsters Flash carts original design and intended use is to play your legal backups of software you own the license to use. Can't be helped if other people use it for questionable reasons!
@ThanosReXXX To you too!
Pretty rad, but this doohickey from Terra Onion (available from the same store as the above product), the Super SD System 3, is MUCH cooler:
Here's hoping that they'll release something similar for the Mega Drive.
Nice, that they finally made it, but I stick to ROMs and emulators, thank you very much
What now for switch owning SNK fans??? literally a ridiculous comment. Well i guess they'll keep buying games on their switch???
I'm a sucker for playing on original hardware... but I can't get their stupid checkout to take my money. So I guess they don't get any from me. And yes, I've approved the transaction through my bank multiple times...
Regardless, the Neo SD and the Super System 3 look to be amazing pieces of gear, especially for original hardware types like myself. The lack of something like this is the exact reason I've not yet got into collecting anything Neo Geo related. That, and the fact that some of the best carts cost thousands of dollars, of course.
EDIT: So I finally got an order to go through, but I've not received any sort of shipping confirmation in nearly 2 weeks. I opened a support case 2 weeks ago, updated it multiple times, and still no response. @Damo Did they send you the product, or did you place your own order? Any past experience with the company? Getting a little bit worried, especially given the cost.
EDIT 2: My bad, I see it was sent via Stone Age Gamer. I've ordered from them before, guess I should have tried them this time. I thought you had to buy from the neosd store direct. Uhg... hope this all works out.
Still no resolution on my issues, so I've decided to make one last post, hopefully saving someone else from such issues. I cannot recommend against giving NEOSD enough. Regardless of the quality of this product, the company behind it appears to lack any custom support whatsoever, and have failed to ship my order, even after multiple attempts to make contact.
I've ordered plenty of electronics and retro gaming accessories from smaller companies - Huge shoutout to people like Ed Mandy (Flash Masta products) and SainT (RetroHQ) for excellent support and communication. However, NEOSD and parent company TerraOnion is not one anyone should feel comfortable giving their money to. I should have purchased from a reputable retailed (Such as Stone Age Gamer) instead of the neosd store directly, but I will now refuse to buy this product from anywhere, even if they do get me money back. I'm now over 2 weeks in, several hundred dollars down, and in the process of disputing with my bank to see if there is anything they can do to get me my money back. Buyer beware.
EDIT 2/20/18: I felt bad leaving the last post of the article so negative, so wanted to provide an update to any future buyers. I eventually did get my order. I never received a response from customer support after several weeks of trying. This is still extremely alarming. I would still caution interested buyers, and recommend going through a trusted retailer (Stone Age Gamer) rather than purchasing direct. At least Terraonion aren't complete crooks - they just have truly terrible (Non-existent) customer support. On the upside, both the products I received from them are outstanding.
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