The appeal of a console with no future

Welcome to Living in the Past, a weekly column about what's new in old games. Now get off our lawn.

A new dedicated handheld game console from a company that is neither Nintendo nor Sony, with support from only one publisher and with absolutely zero prospects for new games, would seem like an impossible sell – especially at $200. And yet, upon seeing Blaze's Neo Geo X system, I was overwhelmed with the desire to possess it. Other usually rational Joystiq staffers have expressed similar feelings.

I have a hard time understanding why I would be so interested in a new console that only plays old games. But I think the dedicated nature of it is exactly the draw.

If I wanted to go get those 20 Neo Geo games, it wouldn't be difficult. The SNK Classics Vol. 1 disc collects many of the same games, like King of the Monsters, Art of Fighting, and the ubiquitous Magician Lord, and that's available as a budget-priced Wii or PS2 collection. If you want to play those games on the go, you can even get it for 20 bucks on PSP, directly from the PlayStation Store.

Furthermore, there's a nice selection of Neo games downloadable separately on both PSP and PS3 through the "NeoGeo Station" – and they're on sale right now. There's also a variety of Neo Geo content on the Wii Virtual Console, at $9 a game.

The appeal of a console with no future

If it's so easy to get Neo games on hardware that does other stuff, why would anyone want expensive new hardware that just does that? In my introspective search for why I want one, I've identified a few reasons.

  1. Accurate controls: The Neo Geo CD and Neo Geo Pocket both use a sort of eight-way mini-stick instead of a d-pad, and the Neo Geo X appears to replicate that controller function more accurately than an analog stick or d-pad would.

  2. Even more accurate controls: By plugging into the base station, you gain the use of an arcade stick controller that looks just like the one that shipped with the original Neo Geo hardware. Whether it feels the same or uses similar components is currently unknown, but it sure looks the part.

  3. It's legitimately forward-thinking in design, which is unexpected for a Neo Geo device. The optional "base station" allows you to play the same games on your TV, without having to own a separate console or "sync" saves. You just pop the Neo Geo X into it! Brilliant.

  4. Owning a dedicated device makes the user feel more dedicated. Buying Fatal Fury on Virtual Console is low-investment, but buying a thing just to play Fatal Fury means you are serious about the undertaking.

I don't think the Neo Geo X has a big audience waiting for it, but then neither did the original Neo Geo. I do think that more than a few people will find the idea of a new console designed exclusively to play old games enticing. It doesn't hurt that the Neo Geo is, by default, the domain of hardcore gamers. After all, it was originally a $600 console with $200 games.

Actually, looking at it that way, this Neo Geo X thing is a great deal.