Tuesday, May 1, 2012

More Neo Geo Favorites

Last year, I compiled a list of my Top 10 Neo Geo games. Since obtaining a 4-slot MVS cabinet, my fondness for the Neo Geo platform as a whole has grown leaps and bounds. While I'm sticking to my top 10 list, I thought I should mention some of the other games I find myself playing and enjoying. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Blue's Journey

This action platformer is SNK's attempt to ride the coattails of Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. franchise. While a far cry from Mario, Blue's Journey is cutesy, colorful, often (unintentionally) hilarious, and even has an environmentalist story line. One game feature that Blue beat Mario to by almost two decades is 2-player co-op play, a la Mario Wii. Very fun for kids or the casual gamer.

Captain Tomaday

I honestly cannot think of a more bizarre shmup than Captain Tomaday. The hero is a mutant tomato that flies around and punches other vegetables, and sometimes babies. He eats pills that mutate him into all sorts of things. Weird and funny, this one is worth at least a casual play.

The Last Blade 2

Never has there been a more beautiful 2D fighter than The Last Blade 2. This is a weapon-based fighter in the vein of Samurai Shodown, but with a completely different fighting system. The backgrounds and sprites are magnificently hand drawn. There is a stage consisting of  a dojo that is on fire. I can just sit and stare, not even playing, admiring the heat rippling over the burning wood. It's really something. The finishing moves, which I have yet to master, are brutal and creative. If you like fighters, you need to play this one.

Magician Lord

Magician Lord was one of the launch titles for the Neo Geo in 1990. It's similar to Sega's Altered Beast, except it doesn't suck. A fantasy action platformer that satisfies, this one holds up relatively well for its age.

Metal Slug X

My 2nd favorite Metal Slug game behind MS3. This is a "corrected" version of Metal Slug 2, which suffers from a programming error that makes the game lag horribly. That's a shame, because 2 is a nice game. X takes 2, corrects the lag, changes enemies and backgrounds, and adds some new weapons. The result makes for one of the crown jewels in the Neo Geo library. It's as good a 2D run 'n gun than you'll find just about anywhere. Addictive and creative game play, beautiful sprites, and some serious difficulty make this one a must-have.


This is a Tetris clone that changes game play just enough for SNK to not get sued. In each level, you need to clear lines in order to free a balloon character. It is a fun game. The Japanese name for the game is Joy Joy Kid, which is pretty funny.

Samurai Shodown V Special

The final official game in the Neo Geo MVS library. It's an updated version of Samurai Shodown V, where you can play as the boss characters as well. A beautiful and compelling fighter, it's arguably the best game in the series.

Sengoku 3

On a platform not really known for it's beat 'em ups, Sengoku 3 stands out. I admit I haven't played this one that much, but it's good looking and pretty fun. 

Shock Troopers

A top down run 'n gun that's pretty fun and addictive. Kind of an update to SNK's earlier Guerilla War. One of the gems of the genre. The sequel is good, but suffers from lag.

SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos

This game may have a flawed fighting engine, but the sprites and backgrounds are beautiful. The addition of Capcom characters, which many gamers are familiar with, make this game good to have around for people who aren't familiar with the Neo fighters. A very good casual fighter.

Spin Master

Odd platformer about a boy fighting evil with a yo-yo, among other things. Rescue the kidnapped girl, yada yada. Very campy and cartoonish, but oddly fun.

Top Hunter

A unique beat 'em up with two-plane action, meaning you can kick ass in the foreground, or hit a button and jump to the background to continue kicking ass. Interesting approach to the game clock as well, where you must acquire time-based power-ups to finish a given level.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

SNES and SCART: Reluctant Friends

Recently, I picked up what was basically the last (what I consider) essential system in my retrogaming collection, a Super Nintendo. I used to have one as a kid and was quite fond of it. I have a setup in my game room that consists of, among other things, a smattering of retro consoles attached via SCART to a 32" Sony PVM monitor. SCART delivers pure RGB video signals from consoles like Sega Genesis, Dreamcast, and Playstation, and let me tell you, they look fantastic. The NTSC SNES (v1) supports RGB via SCART as well, but with a caveat: you need to make sure the RGB lines coming out of the multi-out have 330 uF capacitors on them. If they do not, and you try to attach the SNES to a monitor, the picture will be too bright, and the colors will be washed out. I bought a cheap SCART cable from eBay, and sure enough it was wired incorrectly for my monitor. The RGB lines must be capped, and the ground, sync, 5v, and audio must be straight thru. After much soldering and hassle, I hit upon this configuration. You have never seen Super Nintendo until you've seen it in RGB. It's a thing of beauty.

The audio when using SCART is another issue. There is insufficent shielding either in the SNES or the SCART cable for the audio circuitry, which causes some buzzing noise. It is such that the brighter the image onscreen, the louder the buzz. There exist SCART cables with dedicated RCA outs for audio, which minimizes or alleviates the buzz, but those are currently inadequate for my setup. I just keep the volume low and try to ignore the noise.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Agetec Dreamcast Stick Full Sanwa Mod

I got the Agetec Arcade Stick for the Sega Dreamcast for Xmas. What a great gift! The stick is built like a tank, and it's meant to mimic a Japanese arcade machine, AKA a candy cab. I no longer had to use the standard Dreamcast controller for 2D-shooters and fighters, which encompass my favorite DC games. The standard controller is ill-equipped for titles like Marvel Vs. Capcom, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Gunbird 2, and Mars Matrix. The Agetec stick is made for those games. But as much as I liked this arcade stick, something was missing. The sticks and buttons felt good, but not great. I read that people were unlocking the full potential of this controller but removing the standard stick and buttons and replacing them with a Sanwa stick and buttons, and replacing the Agetec's 4-way joystick gate with a Sanwa octal gate. Sanwa is the most popular arcade control manufacturer in Japan. They make great looking, durable, reliable, accurate, and comfortable sticks and buttons. I read a couple tutorials about how to do this mod here and here. Looked simple enough, so I placed an order for a white-top Sanwa JLF stick, octal gate, and 6 white 30mm buttons.

I used a Dremel to enlarge the button holes from 28mm to 30mm so that the new buttons would fit. I also removed some of the mounting plastic for the old stick so that the new one would fit, and drilled holes to mount the new stick. I installed the Sanwa buttons and the stick, soldered the wires in place, closed it up, and tested. (All this is covered in the above tutorials.) The buttons all worked right away, but both tutorials had the wrong colors listed for splicing the stick controls. I had to do this manually by testing at the Dreamcast menu screen. After a while I found the right combinations. The correct joystick wire color combinations are as follows:

Agetec          Sanwa
Yellow   >     Black
Orange   >    Yellow
Red        >     Green
Brown    >     Red
Black      >    Orange

The stick is now perfect. The 8-way gate makes fighters feel like they should. The buttons are a bit lighter and more respnsive. Plus, I think it looks pimp in white. If you have the Agetec stick, this mod is highly recommended, especially for shmup and fighter fans. I'd consider it essential.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Game Room Update

In November, I bought a Neo Geo MVS cabinet from someone off of Craigslist. It was in very good condition, fully functional, except for a half dead power supply. I replaced the PSU and several other cosmetic components. It fit into my apartment with no problem. Here's some before and after pics:


Here's the full list of what I replaced:

Marquee Artwork
Monitor Bezel
Power Supply
Coin door bulb
Sticks + Buttons
Door locks
Coin reject button

I love this thing. I have 5 games for it now (Metal Slug 1,2,X, Puzzle Bobble, Baseball Stars 2), with 5 more coming (Last Blade 2, Samurai Showdown 2, Blue's Journey, Blazing Star, Neo Turf Masters). I'm beyond happy.

I also added some Ikea shelving to hold all of my controllers. Very nice. Here's a pic of the room as it looks now:

One of my Xmas gifts was the official Dreamcast Arcade Stick, which can be seen on the shelf. It makes playing Dreamcast fighters much more enjoyable than using the stock controller, which I'm not a fan of. I need to get another stick for 2-player fight sessions. Highly recommended. I may swap out its stick and buttons for Sanwa ones, but that's another project.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sony PVM + NES + Comb Filter = Awesome

I recently gave away a Sony 32" TV and swapped in a Sony PVM pro monitor for use with the retro consoles in my game room. This was a good decision. The PVM is an RGB monitor. All my consoles, like my Genesis, PS2, Dreamcast, and Xbox look their best in RGB, and almost every system supports it. Except the NES. The NES only supports composite out (unless you wanna hack the hell out of it for RGB, which I'm not a fan of). The extremely unforgiving composite input on the PVM made my NES games look like ass. I found out that what I needed was a comb filter, something the TV I gave away had, and something my PVM lacks. I found a Kramer FC-10D comb filter on eBay for $14 shipped. This little box has composite in/s-video out and s-video in/composite out. I'm using the former. Man, what a difference in picture quality! The images below tell the story. Super C and Mega Man 2, respectively. Without the Kramer, and with, respectively. If you're using a monitor without a comb filter with your NES, I highly suggest getting one. The Kramer FC-10D is cheap and works great.