The Docking Station
The fact that it looks awesome and is well-made are going to be about the only positives said here about the Docking Station. While it does look like an AES and there’s a lot of novelty to be had using it, there are stupid design flaws that make it the weakest link of the package. The most noticeable one is that even though it’s a dock and the cartridge slot is about the same width as the console itself, it must actually be opened to plug the handheld in. As the connectors could have easily been moved to the bottom and the ports moved into the cartridge loading slot with a open hole, it’s simply stupid that it was designed this way. It’s not much of a hindrance (contrary to what reports have said, it’s not all that hard to plug it in even if it feels weird to do it), but it’s nonsensical enough to go back to the idea that the handheld was originally intended to be something else and no hardware design elements were changed on it, so the dock had to to be designed around it.
Another issue is that the “Menu’ button on the console is actually just a passthrough and pushes a little tab to hit the menu button on the handheld when pressed. It feels fine, but it’s a lazy design choice and pushing it hard could carry the possibility of damaging the handheld. Worse yet, when using the Docking Station to play on a TV, the only way to quit a game is to walk over to the Docking Station and press said menu button.
Charging is also quite confusing. The handheld must be switched off to charge and the docking station switched on, meaning that seemingly the handheld is always fully on when charging, as this is also the combination for it to send a signal to the TV. The manual states that charging outside of the dock or while playing is impossible, which is quite frustrating, though apparently so long as the handheld is switched off, this can be done via USB. This is not ever mentioned in the manual, however, so tread carefully if you decide to try it. Another annoyance is that there are no LEDs on the outside of the Docking Station, so it must be kept open to know when the handheld is done charging. It’s one of those weird things about this package that doesn’t effect the core experience, but could have been easily been implemented better.
The back of the console has both AV and HDMI out to hook up to a TV; which is used will likely be a personal preference, as both offer advantages and drawbacks inherent to the format. In general, though, games look quite good on a TV and will certainly look the best if the console is hooked up to a CRT monitor. A bonus is that set of RCA and HDMI cables are included, with the HDMI being seemingly of great quality.
Boneheaded design choices aside, there’s admittedly something novel or warm about actually having to go to an AES looking thing to play games. Many will enjoy seeing an AES on their gaming racks and it’s certainly novel to plug an AES arcade stick in and see the action on a big screen, which brings us to the final part of the packge…
The Arcade Stick
Included in the Neo Geo X Gold bundle is a AES replication arcade stick. As there’s been some issues in other areas with faithfulness, it’s refreshing that the stick is basically an exact replication of the original AES one. We pulled out our old one and could hardly find any differences between the two — even in weight and materials. While it may be light, it feels absolutely awesome in all of the games and truly does recreate the arcade experience at home. The cord is a bit short, so those not planning to huddle around their TV on the carpet may have to buy a cheap USB extender. It’s appreciable that USB was used as the connector for it, as solutions like these can be used and in the future, it can probably be used to play games on your PC or other consoles.
Just to be talking about new Neo Geo hardware in 2012 is worth the release alone. If we could review the nostalgia from our experience with the unit the past week, it would receive perfect marks, and in many ways that’s exactly what Tommo was trying to conjure in gamers. Unfortunately, issues with authenticity hold-back its mission in some key areas. The screen should have been 4:3 native, plain and simple. Sleekness of the console may have been jeopardized to allow this, but it would have rendered it an experience that couldn’t be had anywhere else. There should be improved functionality, such as the ability to save games, add continues and tailor the games in custom ways to individual gamer’s fancy. Of course, while the dock looks awesome, it doesn’t serve much of a purpose and could have been improved by docking at the top (if a $10 cell phone accessory can do it, why not this?). All annoyances and nitpickings aside, however, there is a great console here. The build quality of everything is fantastic and it’s still the best way to experience these classic games outside of shelling out hundreds of dollars for AES carts or acquiring a consoldized MVS.
Is it worth it? Hardware-wise, absolutely. Three well-built items are included and it all comes in fantastic packaging (beautiful box complete with inner boxes and Neo Geo stickers) that the novelty of owning may prove worth it alone. Software-wise, the games are mostly great and play smoothly, even with a bad interface and functionality issues. Those with an above mentioned console may not have much reason to buy into the X, but even then, it’s still the best way to experience these classic titles on the go. Of course, if standalone game cards never come to fruition, it all might be for naught and be relegated to a space in the closet after the pre-loaded ones grow tired. An updated console addressing all the issues (which would be easy to do) would make this a perfect experience, but that isn’t likely. Unfortunately, waiting to see how well it’s supported is also an issue, as if there isn’t a substantial early adoption rate, future plans could easily be abandoned. That being said, those with the money and love for Neo Geo should buy first and ask questions later, while those who already own original hardware and don’t care about novelty and the most casual of gamers may be best to roll the dice and hold off to see what’s in the future for this endearing console. Whatever path is taken, great games, emulation, build quality and packaging for its reasonable price tag ensures that nobody, regardless of circumstances, will walk away feeling burned — and that alone is due praise for a new console.